Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Holiday Travel and Weather Delays

By Maggie Sefton

ATTENTION: Please read the post directly below this post, because I've picked a Gift Card Winner for December for the Cozy Chicks Blog commenters! Now, for my post---

When you travel as much as I do, it's not unusual to experience some delays, especially with airline travel. Airlines have cut back their flights and are packing each plane. And there are still lines of people waiting at the edges hoping to fly "stand-by." But I've been pretty lucky most of the time. I've only been stranded at an airport twice while attempting to return to Denver's International Airport. Once, was in the summer of June 2006 when I returned from a marvelous refill-the-well 2-week trip to Ireland and the second time was this past weekend when I was returning from a wonderful Christmas holiday trip back to the Washington, DC/Northern Virginia area.

My flight was due to depart Washington, DC's National airport last Thursday at 5:00pm. After a connection in Atlanta, I was due to arrive in Denver about 9:15pm and had scheduled an airport shuttle for return to my home in Fort Collins, an hour north of Denver. Unfortunately, the nasty & violent snowstorm that had drowned California the day before was dropping tons of snow across the Rocky Mountains throughout the West. Our mountains are used to having feet and yards of snowfall, but those of us who live along the Front Range (of the Rocky mountains) had been spared any real snowstorms since last winter. The Front Range runs from the Wyoming state line down toward the New Mexico border. So, Fort Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs, and on down have gotten scant snowfall. Well, we were due, and that nasty storm decided to deliver. Not much, really. Only about six inches or so, but the below zero temps and gusty winds played havoc with airline schedules across the country. Planes couldn't get where they were supposed to be, including Washington National where the sun was shining and temps were in the 40s.

When I arrived at the airport and dropped off my luggage at the bag drop, the Delta rep informed me of the first delay. I knew immediately that would cause a problem, because I only had 45 minutes to deplane in Atlanta & get to my second flight. Atlanta is a big airport with several concourses. The kind Delta lady tried to see if I could get on another flight to Denver, but they were all booked. And, after watching two more delays go by, I figured I would be spending the night in Atlanta. Sigh. . .thanks to constant airport announcements, I envisioned a night spent trying to snooze in between recorded voices blaring. Not fun. I also knew that weather delays meant that no airline would reimburse you for a motel. I figured I'd spring for a motel myself, if I could find one. Flights were being cancelled and delayed all over the country, which meant a busy airport like Atlanta would have no lack of stranded passengers.

So---imagine my surprise when I finally deplaned in Atlanta and paused at the Delta Customer Service kiosks where they scan your boarding pass and print out your new flight paperwork. Not only did that little scanner machine spit out my new boarding pass for a Friday morning flight, but it also spit out two meal vouchers (dinner & breakfast) plus a voucher for an airport motel. On each of the vouchers was printed Delta's explanation that the vouchers were given because of the airline's "equipment failure." Failure to get the necessary planes to Washington National on time for me to make my connection.

Boy---was I surprised. . .and delighted. I headed straight for an airport cafe, ordered a nice glass of wine to go with my meal & called the motel to find out where to pick up the shuttle. Then, I headed straight for the shuttle and a 6-minute ride with fellow lucky Delta passengers to the motel and some sleep which I really needed. After breakfast the next morning, I boarded my new non-stop flight to Denver & discovered another "gift" from Delta: they seated me in First Class. Now, that was a treat. Thanks to my Scottish heritage mixed in with the English & Irish, I never choose to spring for First Class. :) Actually, it could be due to the accountant in me. Whatever-----I really enjoyed that treat.

So---considering Kate's awful treatment at the hands of one airline and all the other travel nightmares out there, I thought I'd share a story that turned out really well. Do you have any travel stories to share? Nightmares or good ones?


Dru said...

I'm glad your recent travel experience was positive.

Debra said...

Well many years ago, hubby and I did a tour in Russia(that tells you how long ago it was). We flew Aeroflot to Tblisi in Georgia. The plane did not have seat belts, there was a hole in the wing and folks on board passed fried chicken around by tossing it to each other.
It was so bad,it was even funny while it was happening.

Maggie Sefton said...

Thanks, Dru. :)

LOL, Debra, at the "flying fried chicken." Heck. . I love fried chicken (fattening though it is). I would have grabbed a wing or something as it sailed my way. Of course, the Russian recipient might be a bit peeved.

Maggie Sefton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
signlady217 said...

"Flying Fried Chicken", haha! I bet the Colonel is jealous!

We've not had any real airline nightmares, thank goodness, just a few delays over the years.

Aurian said...

I have only flown once (and back of course) and that went without surprises. But I am glad you enjoyed your gifts, and got home safe after all.

Maggie Sefton said...

signlady---That's usually my experience. I think we've both been lucky.

Maggie Sefton said...

Thanks, Aurian---I had a great time. But now holidays are over, and we all have to get back to work. :)

Rita B said...

We don't travel much by Air. But have heard all the horror stories from friends. Nice to hear the good stories too. The few times we have flown have been pretty good except for one time only. So I guess we've been pretty lucky. Glad your home safe and sound

Min said...

A few years ago, I was flying from Philly (notorious for leaving planes sitting on the tarmac after pushing back, which puts the planes at "leaving on time" for FAA purposes) to visit my family in Kansas City, MO, after transfers in Pittsburgh and Chicago (thank you, Southwest Airlines, and your wacky flight paths!).

We sat on the tarmac for about an hour and a half. To make a VERY long story short, the most upsetting part was that the pilot would come over the PA system and tell us we would be leaving soon, then would basically say "Oops - just kidding!" Lather, rinse, repeat. At one point, we even redirected to another runaway at the other end of the airport, lost our place in line at the first runway, then had to go BACK to the first runway! (And, really, this IS the short version of this part of the story!)

I got to Pittsburgh in time to make my transfer, but as my flight left Pittsburgh, my flight out of Chicago basically left at the same time. And it was the last flight from Chicago to MCI.

Because SO many people were stranded at Chicago-Midway (the Midwest had many weather delays), they had set up cots in the food court, but I decided that would be an area ripe for someone to pick through carry-ons as people were sleeping, so I decided to camp out at my gate (I had a seat on the first flight out the next morning). At that time, I didn't have a mobile phone that had alarm clock capabilities, so I wanted to be close to where the action would be when I needed to get on my plane, just in the event that I did actually fall asleep.

No chance of that, though, since my gate was by a moving walkway. So between the announcements warning me not to accept packages from persons unknown to me, that any abandoned bags would be confiscated and "warning, you are now approaching the end of the moving walking. Please watch your step," you can probably guess how much sleep I got.

But guess what - I still got a $75 voucher from SWA good for future travel for my inconvenience, which I thought was very commendable considering that all the delays were due to weather.