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William Breathes's DIA hell night: How not to travel home in a thunderstorm

Traveling is always a learning experience. Sometimes you learn things when you get where you're going, and other times the journey itself was the lesson. And sometimes that lesson is a real fucking pain in the ass.

Take last night, for example, when I learned more about DIA than I have since 1995, when it opened.

Let's start with this factoid:

Did you know that if there is lightning around DIA, the powers-that-be will not let you off the plane? Well, they won't. Not even if you've already been sitting in that tube for two-plus hours before taking off in Washington because the pilots got turned around right before takeoff for "re-routing" -- after which you sat through a 45-minute diversion and then a half-hour more of circling Colorado Springs before enough of a window opened up in the sky to get the plane on the runway at DIA.

Apparently, pulling out the sky bridges to the planes is too dangerous for the person who gets to drive it up to the side of the plane. And even when you do get off the plane, your bags aren't going anywhere. The same lightning rule applies to baggage handlers, who are all ordered inside until the lightning passes. It's kind of like being at the pool during a summer thunderstorm, minus the coconut-oil smell and the pool.

Another lesson: You can't count on the kindness of anyone at DIA, even when things are falling apart around them.

After finally getting off the plane and making our way to the baggage claim (checked bags and car seats are just a fact of life with children), I left my wife in order to get the car and bring it around to short-term parking on the east side while she collected the bags. I didn't know about the lightning rule with luggage at this point -- so after getting pelted with marble-sized drops of rain and watching a most-epic lightning storm unfold on the horizon to the west and east of me, I paid the usually obscene parking bill and made my way back around to the terminal to park.

But short-term parking was closed -- and not because it was full. No, it was closed because a power surge had knocked the ticket-dispensing arm out of order. The guy standing there blocking traffic told me he couldn't let me in because there was no way I could get a ticket. When I suggested he be a nice guy and manually open the gates to allow for people to make their way inside to wait on the delayed flights and baggage, he looked at me like I had two heads, then told me to go to the west side.

Over there, an even more surly guard was standing duty at the gate not letting anyone in because the lot was apparently full. It wasn't: There were at least three spots I could see. But when I pointed it out to the guy, the jackass wouldn't hear it, waving my middle finger and me along.

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I ended up flipping back through a third time and parking in the garage, where I learned yet another helpful DIA tip: Short-term parking isn't the only place that charges you by the hour. You can park anywhere in the garages and pay the $3-per-hour rate if you need to run in and pick people up.

Which for us meant a $6 parking charge, as it took at least an hour for the bags to make it off the plane. But even then, the fuckups weren't over. Despite being told by multiple people (and video screens) that pick-up was at carousel 5, an entire planeload of people stood around like assholes while their bags circled carousel 7 for at least ten minutes.

In total, I wasted a little over two hours of my life that I'll never get back before making it home and putting a still-crying child to bed. But at least I learned something.

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