Did you miss me? I’ve been in Texas for a week, spending Christmas with the family. The plan was to travel one day, visit five days, and fly home on day seven. That was the plan. The reality worked out a bit differently.
I left home last Monday, climbing over banks of concrete-like snow and black ice in 14 degree temps. Trust me, roller suitcases aren’t their best under these conditions. I swapped out my snow boots for clogs and stashed the boots in the car, knowing I wouldn’t need them in Houston. Roads were clear and the sun was shining, but on the way to the airport, I spotted about 4 vehicles off the road stuck in piles of snow.
My on-time 1:30 flight started getting delayed and delayed until they quietly started transferring us to another flight at 3:30 – which was only big enough because they swapped out equipment and sent a jet instead of one of those little mosquito-sized planes. We boarded but then sat on the runway for an hour before departing for Newark. Which meant that everyone on board was stewing over possible/probably/definitely missed connections.
I missed mine and ran like crazy to the next one, only to find there were 40 people waiting for standby, some of whom had been there since Friday when the first wave of snow/ice came through our region (the second storm was two days later on Sunday). The reality is that whenever airlines cancel flights due to weather conditions, there simply is no way for passengers to rebook on other flights because there are fewer planes and the ones that fly hold fewer passengers because they’re smaller. Add in holiday crowds and you have a lot of unhappy travelers in crowded airports.
My friend Jen wrote some time back about her experience buying an airline club pass while traveling. I remembered her experience and decided to do the same. That $45 for a day made a huge difference in my sanity. I got someone to help me look at flight options immediately and not after a 3-hour wait in line with surly agents and unhappy travelers. There was free wine and snacks, comfy chairs, free wifi, lots of power outlets, privacy, a sense of humanity. I would do it again in a heart beat.
First real option was to be high on the standby list for the 5:30am flight the next morning, after spending the night in the airport (area hotels were booked already with other stranded travelers). The club wasn’t open all night so I hung out by the gate with other poor standby hopefuls. Unfortunately, there were 45 of us and only a few options so I went back to the club – where they took pity on me, thanks to a note written on my receipt by an agent the night before.
The problem was that all flights to Houston for three days were booked solid. There were some options in First Class, and that was how I was flying, since it’s more comfortable – and because I figured someone would take better care of me if anything happened to my flights. Good Idea, Grasshopper. I ended up booking a confirmed seat on Christmas Eve afternoon, found a room in a local hotel (people having left for the airport freeing up room), and crashed early. Got clean, good sleep, real food (heavy on the protein), and watched TV.
My final outbound travel day was crowded and there were lots of standby passengers still, but I had a real ticket in my hot little hand and was happy to finally be on my way. My bag was already there (I guess there is no standby status for suitcases) and my nephew met me – tho I needed help climbing up into his truck. We short non-athletic types with bad knees usually stick with shorter vehicles.
It’s funny but I knew that something was going to be wrong with flights, just not which direction. I packed stuff in the carry-on bag that I’ve never really taken on board before, including power cords for everything, extra underwear in a baggie, and meds for 3 days. Not to mention my new iTouch which proved to be a godsend with its built in wifi access to the web for browsing, email, and Twitter. Since I didn’t travel with a computer for a change, having this little pocket device kept me sane.
Now I’m home and have a million things to catch up on, but mostly have a cat attached to me with velcro. I think she missed me – and I know I missed her.