Saturday, July 12, 2014

Plane, Trains, Buses and Fireworks II

Part 2

On my way out of Wisconsin, I joked with my colleague that I hated going through Chicago because something terrible always happens. I’ve never had an on time trip coming in or leaving Chicago. Like Ever. Pretty impressive record considering how many times I’ve flown in and out of Chicago. I’ve experienced everything from snow, broken plane toilets, broken plane, plane running into a cart, plane running out of fuel while sitting on tarmac and many other nearly impossible things that’s cause delays in my Chicago flight experience.

When I got to Chicago, I saw that there were some weather issues coming so I thought I’d be smart and change to an earlier flight to stay ahead of it. I thought I was so smart. I got the flight changed and ran to the gate just in time for them to close the door. BTW, don’t laugh at the people hauling ass through the airport. Every second counts so don’t be a dick and clear a path.

I got on the plane and the door was closed and I thought I was all good. What happened next was a fun 2 hour stay on the tarmac. I had actually fallen asleep during part of it and waking up thinking we’ve landed only to find that we haven’t moved. They had held all flights going into LaGuardia due to an impending storm. What’s funny is that the storm is in the path to NY, but both Chicago and NY were sunny and clear.

After 2 hours had passed, the pilots came over the speaker and said that they had been up since 5:30am and by law they’re not allowed to stay on the plane anymore. This was both scary (that our pilots have been up for almost 12 hours) and good because we’d get to go back to the terminal. Just to add a little bit of excitement, the pilot said that they have to leave, but we may not get to due to regulations. Luckily, this wasn’t true as I’m sure there would’ve been a riot. We were able to leave because they had cancelled our flight. The fun never seems to end.

In the announcement that the flight had been cancelled, they also gave out the number to rebook our flights. It was a mad dash for the phones as everyone was trying to get in front of the queue. My phone had died during the 2 hour wait so that was awesome. However, there was one bright spot for me. Tess and I had planned to spend the weekend in Chicago anyway and I would’ve had to fly back the next day. This would actually save me 2 flights. Score.

As I watch the passengers madly dial and put on hold, I was thinking about what some of these passengers’ stories were. Were they going to New York for work, vacation, meeting up with their long lost love or a dirty weekend with someone they’re not supposed to be with? This has always been a good way for me to past time. It’s really fascinating how many different stories there are.

I spoke with the lady sitting next to me during our wait. She was a very nice and friendly older lady from Minnesota. She was on her way to New York where her son lives. Her son was apparently very successful and has lived in several countries, most recently settling down in New York after meeting his girlfriend. The two of them were going to take a flight to London later that night for a vacation together. I was really hoping that she’d be able to make it, but after seeing how all flights were cancelled, I knew there was no way she was going to make it. Hope she was still able to have a good vacation after a delay.

I was lucky that I was on a work trip so I ended up just staying in a hotel in Chicago and it was all paid for. There are so many others not so lucky who either had to stay in crappy airport hotels or just found a corner in the airport. I went and checked with the agent that if I go ahead and cancel, I should be able to get a refund and she said yes because the flight was cancelled and they would not be able to get us out that day. After i got back and called about the refund, they said no, that's not going to happen. I was not able to get a refund because the airline said that the flight wasn’t actually cancelled cancelled. It was just delayed until the same time later so it still went (albeit 48 hours later), so no refund for me. WTF. That’s not a damn delay, that’s just the next scheduled flight, the original one did go away. I’m glad I learned this lesson on the company dollar.

As there were no flights from Chicago to New York, the same was true of flights from New York to Chicago. Tess was supposed to get on a flight the next day to come for our weekend in Chicago. As the storm didn’t move from the day before, the same situation happened with all flights being cancelled between New York and Chicago.

After finding out that she wasn’t going to be able to fly out to Chicago, she was amazingly resourceful in finding ways to get there. After exhausting several options, one finally came up. As is the case for almost anyone using this form of transportation, Greyhound buses was the last resort to get to Chicago now. A red eye bus ride that took 18 hours in cramp uncomfortable seats is more than anyone can ask. Her determination to get to Chicago to spend a weekend with me was simply an amazing feat. On the bright side, she was able to stop in cities that she would have never seen like Cleveland and Toledo. Yes, some bright side that is.

The journey seemed endless, but she finally made it to Chicago and to the hotel where we were staying. While the journey getting there was a massive struggle, we had a great time in Chicago. The weather was wonderful and we had an opportunity to do great Chicago things.

Then there’s the flight back! Just joking. The flight back was fine, just a slight delay. Way to be consistent Chicago.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Plane, Trains, Buses and Fireworks

Part 1

It’s been a few months since I’ve travelled for work. I get that like anything else, you can be rusty at doing something you haven’t done for a while. Work travel is one of those things that might seem easy, but involves a lot of things that could easily go wrong. For me this week, it all went wrong.

It all started when I got to the airport at 7am, which meant getting up around 5am. I know a lot of people wake up at 5pm on a regular basis, but I am not one of those people and I believe that’s an unholy hour that we all need to avoid. Travelling to LaGuardia airport here in New York is not the easiest thing to do at the best of times, but for whatever reason, and it had better be a good reason other than it’s Monday, there was some serious traffic on the roads. I looked later to see if the Queen or the President was in town to cause such a traffic mess, but no, just Monday getting a head start on ruining your week. Combine that with a very aggressive cab driver that’s probably been up for 36 hours and hopped up on caffeine, this did not make for a fun ride.

I finally got there and I go straight to check in machines to get my ticket. The machine kept saying that it doesn’t have a reservation for me. Stupid machine. I have my confirmation right here, why can’t it find my reservation?! I was beginning to doubt my argument that it would be better to leave it to machines to run our political life rather than to entrust humans. That’s another whole different post though.

So I head over to an actual person to see if they can figure out what the machine can’t. After looking through their system by my name, flight number, confirmation and even booking agent, the airline lady told me calmly that the booking agent has cancelled my ticket. Awesome.

I’ll spare you all the yelling that went on for the next few hours. Being that it was still 7am, no normal people were up so there was no one to call. I tried to call the travel agent’s after hour line, and I get the lady that’s probably just finishing up her night shift. I asked what happened and she said I’ll have to wait till the day team comes in. I asked what they can do for me, and she said it’s not her fault that the ticket was cancelled (I did not in any way accuse or suggested it was her fault, only that we try to find a solution).

All flights were booked and the only tickets left are $1400 (my original ticket was only $300). As much as I’d love to explain this to my boss, I don’t think that would’ve gone over well. I was trying to think of all kinds of way to get to Madison, Wisconsin. I suggested a train. That did not work out as we’re not in the 1900s anymore. I suggested a mix of flying to Chicago and renting a car to drive there. Amazingly, the cost was equal to the expensive ticket plus I’d have to drive. By now I’d be pretty happy to just jump out of the airplane or maybe get shot out of a big cannon. The lady just said, I’ll put the $1400 ticket on hold and call back after 9am and the day team will handle it. Oh, and you need to call back if you’d like to cancel it. That’s some good customer service if I've ever seen it.

Once normal work hours started, quite a few people were trying to help me from the office. It went all the way up to the head of procurement who personally called the head of the travel agency to get this sorted out. They admitted that there was a bug in their system that randomly cancelled my flight and I got on another flight later that day which they will cover the difference in cost. Before this was all sorted out, I actually went home because I didn’t think anything was going to happen in terms of me getting on a flight. Of course, as soon as I walked into my apt., it was resolved and so straight back out to the airport I go. BTW, traffic has only gotten worst since 7am so the rides back and forth were really fun for everyone. I eventually got to Madison where my colleague picked me up and it was instantly relaxing. All the open fields and much slower pace of life was such a change coming from New York. I was pretty sure the worst parts of the trip was over, boy was I wrong.

To be continued..