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Next time, we go by Conestoga wagon

We set out from Miami early on Feb. 5, two adults and a two-year-old, bound for Salt Lake City. In a sense, we were following the Mormon pioneers, who trekked to Utah on foot, trudging 1,300 brutal miles mile over harsh terrain. They had it easy. We had to take a connecting flight through Dallas.

Even on a good day, the Dallas-Fort Worth airport is not traveler-friendly. It was apparently built on top of a warp in the space-time continuum, so no matter what gate you arrive at, you're at least six miles from your departure flight. There is a tram system, but veteran travelers don't use it because it moves at the speed of a water buffalo passing through the digestive system of a python. Amelia Earhart is on there somewhere.

So as I say, this airport is not convenient on a good day. But we did not arrive on a good day. We arrived when something incredible was happening, something so astounding, so extraordinary, so totally unpredictable that nobody _ certainly nobody operating an airport _ could possibly have anticipated it: Snow. In February! What are the odds? Fortunately, the airport had a Snow Emergency Plan. Unfortunately, the plan apparently involved turning all ground operations over to Lucy and Ethel.

So when we landed, our pilot informed us that we'd be delayed getting to our gate. A half hour later, he informed us, in case we were wondering, that we were still delayed. One hour after that, he informed us that he was now talking to _ this is a real quote _ "somebody who seems to have slightly more of a clue than the person we've been talking to for the last hour and a half." After that, it took us only one more hour to get to our gate.

At that point, we'd been on the plane five hours: Two and a half getting from Miami to Dallas, and another two and a half getting the last 300 yards. During this time, we were each given one (one) tiny packet of a gritty substance that was called a "breakfast snack," because you cannot come right out and inform passengers that they are being fed gerbil treats. (For security reasons, airlines no longer serve actual meals, which could be used as nourishment by terrorists.)

Anyway, we finally got into the terminal and, as we hustled the six miles to our departure gate, we were heartened by the fact that the monitors said our outbound flight was now scheduled to leave at 1:41 p.m. "Wow!" we thought, with hunger-weakened brains. "One-forty-ONE! They have this thing figured down to the MINUTE!"

And guess what? Our plane was at the gate, and we boarded, and they closed the doors almost exactly at 1:41! And then . . .

. . . and then we sat at the gate for FOUR HOURS. If there is any activity more fun than sitting in a non-moving, meal-free plane for four hours with a two-year-old, it would have to involve cattle prods.

But finally _ Yay! _ our pilot started the engines, and we taxied for about a mile, at which point the pilot stopped the plane and informed us that we would be waiting there for AT LEAST TWO MORE HOURS, because there were 40 planes ahead of us for the de-icing procedure, which was apparently being performed by a lone worker with a windshield scraper.

The pilot also said we could use our cell phones. I considered calling the Cyanide Capsule Delivery Service, but my wife, who is more of an idealist, called the airport offices to complain. She finally reached somebody who said, basically, that airport management had nothing to do with managing the airport, and that our beef was with the airline, which I will call "Nacirema Airlines."

So my wife called Nacirema and was eventually dumped on Consumer Affairs. A person there said this was not Nacirema's fault, because it was a weather problem. My wife said she understood about the weather, but wished to complain about the fact that we'd all been loaded onto a plane without being informed that the plane would not take off for at least SIX HOURS, which Nacirema surely knew. The Consumer Affairs person responded that _ get ready _ she would not even record this complaint, because in her view it was a weather problem.

Hey, Consumer Affairs person: Record THIS.

Finally, a little over six hours after we boarded, the flight took off, and two hours later we were in Salt Lake City. So our trip took 13 hours, of which we spent eight and a half sitting on the ground.

My point is this: If we catch Osama bin Laden, which I hope we do, I don't know what would be the best way to try him, or where the trial should be held.

But I DEFINITELY know how we should get him there.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Write to him c/o the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132.

2002, Miami Herald