Class trip to Cleveland was a zoo Chaos with a happy ending

February 03, 1994|By Patrick A. McGuire | Patrick A. McGuire,Sun Staff Writer

Picture this: You've planned since October to take your fifth-grade class on one of those one-day, cheapo flights to Cleveland for a fun field trip, something just a little out of the ordinary.

You arrange for most of the 93 kids and parent chaperones to sleep overnight in your school -- the city's Madison Square Elementary.

You roust their sleepy heads out of National Guard-supplied cots at 4 a.m., having warned them for months the chartered buses will arrive to take them to the airport at 5 a.m. sharp for their 6:10 a.m. flight. No stragglers!

And now, picture this: It's yesterday morning, the kids are up early, dressed, still rubbing their eyes, talking nervously and excitedly -- and the buses never show up.

"It was my worst nightmare," says Doretha Galloway, Madison Square's adventurous principal who saw this trip as a golden educational opportunity for the students -- most of whom had never been out of Baltimore, let alone on an airplane.

Well, it turned out to be educational all right. The missing buses were just the beginning of a very long day of trials for this plucky group -- a day that featured lost kids, a hospital emergency, one missed plane, several passenger bumpings, a convoy of taxis and mini-vans, a really nice pair of anteaters and a group of grumpy business travelers charmed out of their socks by the kids from Baltimore.

Cutting to the chase, it all ended surprisingly happily, although the long-planned trip seemed all but doomed before it began yesterday morning. "We got up at 4 o'clock just for nothing," moaned Steven Beasley in the darkened Madison Square lobby as Ms. Galloway announced that for some reason the two buses she had been told were chartered by the school transportation department from Woodlawn Motor Coach Inc. never showed up.

Later in the day Woodlawn and the transportation department would point fingers at each other, but with only 20 minutes to make their plane, none of that mattered at the moment.

"I won't disappoint these children," said Ms. Galloway, whose team of teachers and parents had held bake sales and student drives to raise money for students who couldn't afford the $51 that covered the airfare and a visit to the Cleveland Zoo.

She quickly organized parents, neighbors and volunteer chaperones into a convoy. Linda Kelly, whose son Christopher was scheduled to go on the trip, ran home and got her mini-van. Others grabbed their cars, packed in the kids and off rushed the caravan, arriving at BWI just in time to miss their Southwest flight to Cleveland.

Momentarily stunned, Ms. Galloway and crew brightened when Southwest offered to put some of them on the 8:25 to Cleveland. It meant a two-and-a-half-hour wait -- not easy for 56 rambunctious fifth-graders.

But it wasn't just the kids who crowded the terminal windows watching planes take off and land. "Very few of these children have ever flown, and they're terrified," said Donna Money, one of three Madison Square fifth-grade teachers. "But a lot of their parents have never flown either."

Crowded up against the window the conversation was filled with 10-year-old anxiety. "You ever see that movie 'Alive?' asked Evan Turner, referring to the recent film about a rugby team whose plane crashes in the Andes. "It sure don't make you want to get on a plane."

Overhearing this, with some discomfort, was Lissa Riley, who was putting up a brave front so that her daughter, who had never flown, would not be afraid. "I'm trying to be cool for her." she said. "But I'm scared."

A few feet away Shannae Logan admitted that she hadn't slept well in the school the night before because of nightmares. "I had the butterflies," she said. "I prayed we wouldn't crash."

But moments later, with most of them packed aboard a Southwest 737, they had the chance to test their true mettle. So did a group of about 60 business travelers, unaware until that moment that so many youngsters would be joining them for their morning hop to Cleveland.

The dismay was all over their grim faces as the kids poured down the aisles. Then came one of those rare moments. Imagine almost an entire planeload of people who have never seen the airline attendant give the seat-belt demonstration or never heard those strangely disconcerting words, "In the unlikely event of a water landing, you can use your seat cushions as flotation devices." That this did not seem to offer the solace intended was evident in the ever widening sets of eyes up and down the aisles.

And then a truly magic moment. As the plane roared down the runway and lifted off, the children let loose with giggles, sudden cheering, wild laughter and applause. It was a moment of high incongruity among so many jaded veterans of flight, and for one brief moment every person aboard the plane was doubled over with the kind of laughter only wonder can inspire.

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