Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday Havoc

For the second strait year and on the one year anniversary of the night I spent stranded in the Philadelphia Airport, I found myself unable to fly across the country without running into complications.  Last year was a snow storm that saturated all of Philly and this year was a flood warning surrounding Washington D.C.  The result is not a story, but a lesson.  That lesson is simple; don't travel the day after the day after Christmas.

Now I know what you are all thinking, two chances of misfortune tumbled on top of one another, but here me out because at very least, I avoided the frustration and inconvenience of last years mishaps.  Last year, I flew from Buffalo to Philly and was set to fly from Philly to Las Vegas.  I arrived at the airport in Buffalo over an hour early, was at the gate with 50 minutes to spare (I'm always early).  Two hours later, our plane was delayed four times and the airline representative (for which airline I will not mention) was "optimistic" that if I got on the plane and flew to  Philadelphia, I would most certainly get on my connector.  I believed her, as any normal person would trust a stranger in official airlines attire and got on-board.  I didn't really have an alternative, I drove into Buffalo and my only ride was an hour and four inches of snowfall away.

When I got to Philly, my flight was delayed only twenty minutes.  Perfect for me, because I arrived at the gate just in time to board.  Only we didn't board.  The flight was delayed again.  Then thirty minutes later, delayed again.  When I asked the employee working the desk, he first told me the plane hadn't arrived.  Then the plane arrived, but because it arrived so late, they had to wait.  Then because they had to wait, the crew, who were all on the clock while waiting, had gone over their maximum work hours for the day and some couldn't legally work anymore according to FAA regulations.  The reason I bring this up is because our flight, after two and a half hours of waiting, was cancelled and it was all because we were short one airline attendant who was there, but was over the legal hours limit.  By that time it was past midnight and a plane-full of angry, tired travelers were forced to find new ways home.

We waited in the customer service line for another hour and a half before they closed for the night and left the back-end of the line with no place to stay or no way of getting out in the morning.  Most of us were told we wouldn't be able to fly out for another three or four days since the flight schedules were all overbooked.  Luckily for me, I had worked the phone while in line and had scheduled me a flight out in the afternoon with the airline.  Later that morning, I jumped in line when the customer service opened back up (which was only closed for two hours!) and being very polite, where everyone else in line was exhausted, frustrated and bitter, was able to finagle an early morning flight out to LA and a quick connect over to Vegas.  All first class with no additional fee and I was home that afternoon.

This year, was different.  I recognized the problem, analyzed it with my android phone and keen ability to listen to other people's conversations to figure out what the real story was when my flight was delayed three time in less than an hour.  I knew when the airline representative explained that we would land and I would only have ten minutes to get a shuttle to the other end of the airport to make last call for my flight to Vegas, she didn't know what she was saying.  I had heard it before and I listened to her tell other passengers the same thing she had said to me forty minutes earlier about the plane fully boarded and pushed back from the gate, but didn't take off yet.  I knew the signs, I recognized the potential for spending the anniversary of my worst travelling experience (which trumps my regurgitating road trip from New York to Florida) the same way and made the moves I had to to get me off that flight and onto the next possible option.

I arrived in Las Vegas yesterday evening after flying for around six hours on two flights and a four hour Philly.  My morning flights, as they often do, went off perfectly and as long as I was in the air before 1 pm, I knew I would be safe.  By now, you're probably wondering what the moral of this tale is.  It's more of a venting rant than anything, but there is some valuable lessons to take away.  Most people don't have the heart or social brutality to get in airline employee's faces and ask for an honest answer to their questions(a lot do, though).  They are people too and it is not their fault planes don't arrive on time or crew members blow past their daily hour allowance, but the least they could do is be strait about it instead of blowing you off for three hours then telling you you're flight is cancelled.  That is why you have to be smart when you fly, especially during the holidays.  

Recognize when you will be stranded and find a solution.  No matter what, those same people who tell you you should be fine will also help keep you happy by finding you a new route.  If you have a family with you, the last thing you want is to have your kids sleeping with an aluminum looking space blanket on a bench at gate A23 while you burn your cellphone battery on hold, waiting for some voice on the other end to find you four tickets with two connectors four days from then to get to your destination.  I was lucky, I was one person with no checked bags or problem adapting.  I guess, this story is more of something to learn from than anything else.  I hope it helped.

Tyler Baker; One Stop Motors Writer

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