Dear Nutshell reader, thank you for opening this link. It’s been a long time since I checked in here, I know. But so often it is life’s difficulties which serve to inspire writers and artists, and I’ve recently been so inspired.
With this in mind, dear reader, I invite you to sit right back and hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip… A trip that began with high expectations one Saturday morning well before sunrise, and ultimately ended 36 hours, 5 airplanes, 3 airlines, and 1 open box of condoms later–with virtually no pleasure involved whatsoever.
Now that I have your attention, let me preface this by saying that I totally get that the situation I am about to relay to you represents a first world problem. And I get that I have some nerve for getting upset over issues arising during travel to a second warm-weather getaway in three weeks’ time. I get that this is not a “real” problem. It’s not life or death — although at one point it did seem it might be, as our plane appeared to be plummeting to a crash landing a la the recent nosediving Boeing 737s that have been in the news recently. (Spoiler alert: we did not crash.) But if you are familiar with my blog, first world problems are kind of my jam. I even put a disclaimer to that effect in the official bio. So if you’re going to be annoyed or lecture me about people who have experienced REAL problems, please, stop reading now. But if you want to be mildly entertained by what our travel agent called the worst travel experience she has ever heard–and she surely has heard a lot of them–read on.
Our story begins as my husband and I make our way to our local airport at the inhumane hour of 4 am for a 6 am flight. We are heading to southern Florida for one week. In some ways this is sort of trial run to test the waters of a possible future as “snowbirds” escaping the cold Pennsylvania winters. Our Snowbird status is a loooong way in the future, mind you, but it’s one of two things that I consider to be things to look forward to about getting old–the other being grandkids (which I hope are a long way off, too, kiddos.)
Anyway… you know how it goes when you’ve set your alarm to go off approximately 4 hours earlier than you usually wake up, right? You don’t sleep. At all. Because you’re anticipating that alarm; you’re worried about oversleeping; you’re stressed out because you know that each moment you cannot sleep is even more sleep you’re missing; or all of the above. This night was no exception. So, we make our way to the airport on basically 45 minutes of sleep between the two of us, but nonetheless, we are in good spirits. Because sunshine and the Gulf of Mexico are calling us, and we figure we can eventually catch up on some zzz’s on the flight from Philadelphia to Fort Myers.
We board our first plane and all is well. I have my my aisle seat, which is crucial because I am claustrophobic and prone to panic attacks any time I feel trapped, such as when I’m stuck in a window seat on a plane and the two people beside me lock me in with their tray tables and their adult-size legs.
So I’m relaxing with my neck pillow on the aisle, and it appears we are ready for take off. The plane is full, the engine is running, the tray tables are up, and we are just waiting to start rolling down the runway… But we don’t. Our takeoff time comes and goes and still we sit. At last, the pilot comes on the speakers to announce that they are experiencing a “minor” electrical issue, so they’re just going to power down all the electricity and fire it up again to make sure all is okay–an idea that does not exactly inspire confidence. As far as I’m concerned, the only “minor” electrical issue that means a plane is safe to fly is a lightbulb that needs to be replaced. Clearly, this was a more serious issue than that, because after exactly one hour of sitting, we are told to deplane while they wait for maintenance workers to arrive from an airport 2 hours away to change the light bulb. We are also told that the gate agents will call us up to the desk one at a time by name to help us rebook connections, etc.
What ensues back in the terminal can only be described as — pardon my French, but it’s the most accurate way to describe it– a sh*tshow. There are only 2 gate agents working, and they begin the process of inviting customers forward to change flight plans. One group of 4 people is trying to get to Puerto Rico in time to catch a cruise, which apparently is a virtual impossibility, because they literally spend TWO HOURS with the gate agent–leaving one agent to take care of all of the rest of the passengers. Did I mention this was a full flight?? Passengers are getting restless. Some are on the phone with American Airlines, voices are raised, and at least one guy is cussing out an agent on the phone.
Eventually the gate agent calls our names, and we spend a good 30 minutes with her trying to rearrange our flight. She is very pleasant and helpful, but there is only so much she can do. We consider hopping in our car and driving to the Harrisburg airport about 2 hours away, but we run out of time to even make that flight. Eventually we come up with a convoluted flight plan that involves two different airlines than the one we are already on, leaving in 4 hours and flying through Dulles and Atlanta before finally landing at our destination to Fort Myers.
We leave the airport in fairly good spirits. After all, we don’t have a cruise to catch, and now we have time to go out for a nice breakfast before our next first flight.
The second first flight takes off without a hitch and we get to Dulles with plenty of time to spare. I successfully switch the seat on my next flight to an aisle. All is well with the world.
Flight number two takes off. We are in the air for about 5 minutes when it starts to get bumpy. Like, really bumpy. The wing is dipping, and it soon becomes clear that we are descending. My husband looks at me and says, “I don’t like this.” I agree and we squeeze each other’s hand. The plane gets lower and lower, jerks up, down, left, and right, the landing gear comes back down and it looks like we are going to land in the middle of a neighborhood or a clump of trees. But no one tells us anything. The flight attendant sits facing us with a half smile plastered on her face. The pilot does not say a word. And suddenly, with a jolt, we are back on a runway, with fire trucks surrounding us.
The pilot finally announces that we had to turn around due to some kind of hydraulic malfunction. Not to worry, though, he says. A maintenance crew is coming to look at it, so just sit tight.
I don’t know much about airplanes, but I do know that a malfunctioning hydraulic system doesn’t sound like something that is going to be fixed any time soon. So as soon as the flight attendant offers to let us get off the plane for 5 minutes, we are up and running for the exit.
Once off the plane, a sweet United customer service rep sees us looking concerned and bewildered, and she takes us under her wing. She seriously turns out to be the BEST. (Shout out to Susann T!) Realizing that our flight is not going to take off any time soon, she helps us rebook our connecting flight in Atlanta. She’s so awesome she actually books us on TWO connecting flights–one is late that night, and, in case we miss that flight, another is set to leave first thing the next morning. She explains that if that should happen, United will put us up in a hotel in Atlanta. She also explains that those connecting flights are on yet another airline–Delta–and Delta will need us to confirm these tickets through a United agent in Atlanta. Confusing, I know. But okay.
With that settled, we trot over to “&Pizza” to use our $10 meal voucher United provided us with. Because by this point, we are STARVING–and my nerves are starving for a glass of wine. We were supposed to be in sunny Florida at least 3 hours ago, and now here we are, only 1/3 of the way there… so I place my order for my gluten-free pizza, and as the worker is feeding it through the pizza oven, there appears to be a problem. Because, of course there does. Two workers crawl onto the floor and start hand cranking something under the pizza oven, and fortunately whatever they are doing works, because, let me just tell you, if after the day I have had I also am deprived of this pizza that I suddenly so desperately want, someone is going to die. Probably my husband, who is at this point taking the full brunt of my hangry frustration.
So United brings us a new plane and eventually we take off for Atlanta. We arrive at 10:45 pm. Our connecting flight takes off at 10:59 pm. I don’t know why, but for some reason we seem to think there’s a chance we can get on that flight, so we start to run for the Delta gates, a la OJ Simpson before he became a bad guy in a Bronco and was known mainly for running through airports in Hertz commercials… The plane is still sitting there, but the gate is closed, and there are no Delta employees to be found. That whole wing of the Atlanta airport is like a ghost town. And we still need to confirm with SOMEONE that we have tickets for the morning flight, as Susann T. told us to do. And we need to SLEEP.
Long story short (I guess it’s too late for that, huh?), the Atlanta United employees were nowhere near as nice as Susann T. In fact, they all seemed downright pissed off at the idea of having to help us do anything. One blatantly lied to us that our morning flight was confirmed with Delta (spoiler alert: it was not.). Another one told me that she was working later than she was supposed to, her coworker didn’t show up for work, she was about to go ballistic on the next customer that was rude to her, and, oh yeah, there’s no authorization in our reservation for us to have our hotel paid for; and furthermore, it’s spring break, she says, so none of their participating hotels have any vacancies…
While I am having this frustrating conversation with the unhelpful United employee, my husband is on the phone with an equally unhelpful Alamo representative who tells him that due to our series of unfortunate events that are entirely NOT OUR FAULT, we are going to be penalized by having to pay over $100 more to rent our car for the week, even though we will have the car for one less day.
So its midnight, I’m working on 45 minutes of sleep, and I am trying so hard not to cry in front of unhelpful United employee. I don’t care if United is paying for the room at this point–I just want to shower and to sleep for a couple hours.
Amazingly, it’s a JetBlue employee who semi comes to the rescue. Although JetBlue is one of the few airlines that we are NOT dealing with during this journey from Hell, this kindhearted JetBlue employee is listening to our conversation and she pulls up a list of hotels on Booking.com and tells me which ones appear to have vacancies. So we start calling.
Eventually we find one with a vacancy–La Quinta. (Note that I am not shying away from sharing the names of any of the companies involved; if they want to sue me for telling the truth to all 68 of my blog followers, they can have at it…) We lug our bags out to the very confusing shuttle area and eventually figure out where the La Quinta shuttle is meeting us. At this point it is 12:23 am and, naturally, we have missed the 12:15 shuttle, meaning we have to wait in the cold until the next shuttle arrives at 12:45.
As we are walking into the hotel lobby at 1 am–just 5 hours before we need to be back at the airport–I tell my husband that I do not care if the hotel room is crawling with snakes and bed bugs, I am going to sleep with no complaints.
Apparently, the universe takes this as a dare. We get our room, which is a huge handicapped room, and the bed looks clean, so I am happy. But the air conditioner is cranked so that it is about 45 degrees inside. I’m about to plop into the bed and my husband notices a partially consumed bottle of water on the counter… then we notice another one. Then I find a bag of shoes at the foot of the bed. And the icing on the cake–an open box of condoms on the bed stand. Please, travel gods!! Why are you doing this to me???
After we present the evidence to the front desk, they give us another room and don’t charge us for the night. So here is perhaps where our luck starts to turn. United is off the hook for our hotel expenses. We sleep for about 3 hours, get a shower, and head back to the airport.
Delta has no record of our reservation, because, of course they don’t. But a nice lady gets us seats–on the aisle–and the rest of our trip is smooth sailing. We land on time approximately 36 hours after our journey began. As the plane pulls up to the gate, we are standing in the aisle with carry on in hand, when the pilot announces: “Ladies and gentlemen, there appears to be some kind of problem with the jetway….” and my husband and I just look at each other and laugh and laugh. Because, of course there is.
In the end it was all worth it. Alamo gave us our car for the original price. The sun was shining and it was a good 50 degrees warmer than the weather at home. And this was my view as I started writing this:
We had a great week. But decided we are definitely not anywhere close to being ready to becoming Snowbirds. I saw way too many Snowbirds walking around with walkers and oxygen tanks, and I am not ready to succumb to that phase of life. So for now we will hold onto our youth and our cold winters, with the exception of a week here and there.
And meanwhile, we are currently in the airport about to fly back to the cold. Please, for everyone’s sake, including yours, dear reader, pray that there is no Part 2 to our travel nightmare adventures!