Hearing about the travel blights caused by winter storm Pandora, reminded me of my own recent weather related travel woes. So for those of you stuck in the airport, here’s something to read while you’re standing in endless lines… A few weeks ago, I got to go visit my brother and his family outside of Nashville, TN and I got caught in winter ice storm, Octavia, that shut down a lot of flights. It turned into an interesting time to say the least.
I got up that fateful morning and everything was iced over, but it still looked doable. I started checking my flight status online and nothing cancelled yet. We were about halfway to the airport when Southwest cancelled ALL their flights for the day, but I was on United. Ever optimistic we plowed on, literally, because there was about 8-10” of snow and there were no plows anywhere. I got to the airport around 9 am, just as they cancelled my flight. Not that I wasn’t expecting this, but my philosophy is, I’m not going to get home by hanging out at my brother’s house. It’s time to put on a smile, deal with lines, and try my darndest to get home as soon as possible.
I got to my gate and found the shortest line to an agent and started waiting. She was flustered already so I put on my best smile, asked her how she was doing, joked some about cranky people, and did my best to be “Mr. Nice guy you want to get to his destination.” I’d already rebooked my flight for later that day, but I wanted to get my name on standby, if possible, for an earlier flight. She checked and amazingly the 8:40 am flight hadn’t left yet, and I could get standby for that flight. This was excellent, I thought! I then realized I had eaten very little prior to leaving, due to wanting to get to the airport and on standby ASAP. Silly me. I left a refrigerator full of “free” food to come to the airport for a long day. Lesson learned. So I sought out a place to get a bite and a beer. I ate and relaxed a bit before heading back to the fray to wait, wait, and wait some more… I noticed activity near our gate, and low and behold, there were planes coming to our gate, and better yet, Sunshine! A break in the weather, and a few planes were getting de-iced, and there was even one lucky plane heading out to the runway to escape! They made calls for our plane to board, and then called my name and I had a real seat! Haha!! I got on the plane at ~2pm and everyone getting on had a grin like the cat that ate the canary! We were escaping! We just needed to get de-iced and we were on our way. Woo hoo!!
40 minutes later, we were still sitting with nothing happening when the captain made an announcement, “Um folks, there’s been a problem with the thermometer on the de-icing equipment and they’re not sure how hot that fluid is coming out. Since that’s pretty critical to us staying in the air, they’re going to switch out trucks and then de-ice us. It should only take 20-30 minutes before they start de-icing us, then we’re on our way.”
40 more minutes later, we were still sitting at the de-icing spot, and they finally started de-icing our plane. It was about 30 minutes after that when we heard another announcement, “Uh, folks, this is your captain speaking. Uhhhh, as you can see they’re de-icing us, but they still have to apply the final solution and we can be on our way. Unless they take longer than another 30 minutes, then we’ll have to go back to the gate and top off our fuel so we can make it to Houston. In the meantime, our weather window has closed, so Uhhhhh…. Uhhh…. We’re waiting on word from Headquarters for a weather update and then we’ll be on our way….?” He literally finished with an uptick in his voice at the end like he was asking a question.
The de-icing finished up, and we got tugged back to the gate to top off fuel since we missed our weather window anyway. Then we hear an announcement, “Folks, this is your captain again. Ummm, we’re going to have the flight attendants bring some refreshments around since we’ve been out here a while. We just need to have this snow dissipate and we’ll be (you guessed it) on our way….” It has been ~3 hrs and then we got pushed away from the gate again and taxied out to get the final de-icing solution sprayed on. That happened, and we went and got in line out by the runway. 40 minutes later, our captain cancelled our flight officially, and we made our way close to the gate to debark onto the tarmac.
I’d gotten to reschedule my flight while all this was happening but I had no options for staying the night somewhere. I suggested the airport was doable, but Mrs. SSC found me a room for the night instead. I got off the plane, already booked for Wed. at 6 pm, so I headed to my hotel.
At check in I decided to extend it one day more since I wouldn’t fly out until Wednesday. Bad move there. I kept calling United and after a few hours, a single seat opened up for Tuesday afternoon at 3pm. I went downstairs to cancel my Tuesday night room and this is where it gets fun… I was told they could cancel but there would be a fee due to it being less than 24 hrs… Seriously?! With the ice storm and travel disruptions, they couldn’t waive the fee? It was almost as much as the room, too. The topper though, I was told to “take it up with corporate, but we can’t do anything here.” Gah!!!
I tried to stay positive and just went to bed. The next day, I tried again at the front desk, but to no avail. An even crankier lady was working and she got defensive from the get go. It actual put a smile on my face her tenacity was so impressive. Side note – I don’t think that helped my case much. Same song and dance, “Take it up with corporate.” Then I asked about checking out. In a cranky Southern voice “Well, you can check out if you want, but you’re getting charged for the room!” Mr. SSC: “Yes ma’am, we’ve established that, but can’t I get something saying I checked out or tried to check out to show corporate?” Front desk: “Well, you can, but if your other flight gets cancelled again and you come back here, you’ll have to get another room, because you let this one go because you checked out! You already paid for the room! Why would you want to check out?!” Mr. SSC: (inward monologue – “So I don’t have to deal with this for one more day?” lol) “That’s a great point. You have a nice day, stay warm!”
I got to the airport, and found the shortest line and again I got on standby – just in case. All flights were “full” until Wednesday night, but I wanted to remain optimistic, because there’s nothing else to do… After a couple of “Your flight has been delayed.” I heard “Your flight is cancelled –kidding, we’re just delaying it some more.” I literally heard a gate agent say that. She got the look of death from the passengers and her co-workers after making that joke. She must’ve been new is all I can think because you just don’t mess with people like that.
Ultimately, I was able to fly home Tue night and I got in around 9 pm. Even better, I did take it up with corporate, and I just got an email stating that they would waive my fee for the 17th, and apologies around, someone must not have gotten the notice that the cancellation fee and policy was waived during the storm. Win!
Have you ever run into some situation like that? Did you keep it together or did you lose your top? Better yet, have you run into a situation where you also “lost your money”?
Let me know, so I don’t feel like the only one that’s dealt with this sort of thing.