Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Travel Turmoil Times Twenty

It all started with one simple word: CANCELLED.  I was on my way to Seattle to fly back east, and my phone was beeping frequently, as if I were receiving multiple texts messages.  Given that I washed my phone in the washing machine the day before leaving for Mexico, I am thrilled that it even turned on after a month.  The fact that the screen is a blob of yellowish light is insignificant.  Except when my phone is beeping every 3 minutes to notify me I have received a text message.  Or something.  When we were 30 minutes from the airport it occurred to me that I had set up my continental account to receive flight update text messages.  So perhaps there were lots of updates?  Can’t be good.  I borrowed my friend’s iPhone to check my flight status online, and there in large Times New Roman Size 60 font was The Word.  CANCELLED.  Instantly my mind flew (no pun intended) to thoughts of being stranded in Seattle for Christmas, to the scene in Home Alone when the mom is trying to get HOME for Christmas and there are NO FLIGHTS.  And having to ride across the country with a polka band.  Then I calmed myself (a thing I would find myself doing many times in the next few days) and just decided I would not freak out.  At least for that minute. 

We got to the airport where we were greeted by hoards of people. Hoards.  Thankfully I was there 3 hours before our flight, since another girl was leaving earlier than I, so I was among the first to try to rebook.  The only problem was that with all the holiday travelers AND storms on both coasts, the options for flight availability were not so abundant.  As in, to get a flight even two days later (Monday), I had to beg and plead to get the dude to put me on a Northwest (a partner airline to Continental) flight.  Otherwise I would be flying on Christmas Eve. 
Fine, all well and good, I get to hang out with my friends in Seattle for two days.  Just dandy.  Yes it meant missing the once-a-year Lessons and Carols service at church and not seeing my friends before Christmas, but it was a great alternative.

Flash forward to Monday.  I wake up, shower, am ready to fly to the east coast.  It snowed for most of the preceding 36 hours, but it wasn’t snowing anymore, so I figured I was golden.  Ah but then I checked my flight status and it was like déjà vu.  CANCELLED.  I’m pretty sure at that moment I melted into the floor in a heap of frustration.  Seriously?  Two flights cancelled?  Seriously.  I called up Continental with an ever-increasing pit in my stomach as I simultaneously looked for flights online.  Not so much anything before Christmas.  Except one flight.  One flight with one seat on first class.  I had to have it!  Fortunately I had a wonderfully friendly and sympathetic lady on the phone who told me she would try to get that seat, she just had to clear it with her supervisor.  Twenty minutes of holding later she came back to inform me that because my flight had been changed from Continental to Northwest, she could not do anything and I would have to call Northwest.  Seriously? 

On to Northwest.  Except their phone system was so overloaded that I got a busy signal.  When calling a 1800 number.  Who ever heard of a busy signal when calling a 1800 number of a national airline?  Not me.  By this point that first class seat on Christmas Eve was gone, at least online, and on both Northwest and Continental.com I could only find flights, to any city on the east coast, on Christmas day or after.  Awesome.  So, I resigned myself to Christmas in Seattle, which wasn’t an altogether bad thing, since I could be with the wonderful Rowland family.  I made the decision that I wouldn’t fly on Christmas day, thereby not having Christmas anywhere but in the air.  Alone. 

With that I decided I needed to sleep.  Except I couldn’t deal with not having a flight.  So I decided to call Continental again in one last effort and see if I could (softly and tenderly) plead and beg for them to somehow override the system.  Which proved to be a miraculously successful venture, given that the lady not only somehow found a seat on a flight to Houston and then on to New York before Christmas but it was for that very day.  Leaving in 1 hour and 45 minutes from that moment, including the delay.  So we had to leave immediately for the airport, and hour away with the snow.  Excellent. 

We got to the airport with 45 minutes to go before my delayed flight left.  There I was met with bedlam.  Mayhem. Pandemonium.  It was a sight unlike anything I’ve seen.  Thousands of people sitting, standing, in lines, on phones, all looking none to happy about doing any of these things.  Even trying to find the end of the Check-In line for Continental was like navigating a bizarre convoluted maze.  I was trying to convince someone that I needed to skip the 200 person line to be able to check in to get to my flight that was leaving in 45 minutes.  But no one seemed to believe me that my flight was leaving in 45 minutes.  Frustrated and now somewhat freaking out as I envisioned my last opportunity to get home before Christmas slipping from my fingers, I got in the 200 person line.  At the end.  After a few minutes I asked yet another lady if there was anyone actually from Continental rather than the blue-shirted volunteers who repeatedly told me “I don’t work for an airline, but no flights are leaving.”  I was persistent enough that she directed me to a lady who happened to be collecting people in line for my flight to check in.  Score.  I jumped to the front of the line and shazam, I was checked in.  AND (my good fortune increasing by the second!) they didn’t charge me for either of my bags, saving me 40 buckaroos.  Icing on the cake, I get to skip the 200 person security line and go immediately to the front.  Double score.  I made my flight, which was incidentally delayed further, first to fill empty seats, then because we were stuck at the gate on ice.  Looked like my good fortune had run out, because doing the math it was an impossibility to get to Houston to make my connection.  And that I would be spending another night in transit.

Thankfully, from college and life in the Big Apple I have managed to collect friends from nearly every major city in the continental US of A, so I just gave my dear friend Wes a call and asked if I could have a little sleepover at his house.  Which turned out to be a sweet thing, because I’ve never visited him in Houston, nor met his parents.  It turned out to be a lovely and fun evening, and it was nice to see a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. 

This brings us to Day 4 of travel.  When I rebooked myself for the umpteenth time I was able to get a flight to PA, and not only to PA, but to Harrisburg, which is a not-so-long two hour drive from my parent’s dwelling.  Which meant that not only would I not have to take a train or a bus, but I would get picked up and driven to their house.  Excellent.  Thankfully, this day was to be the last of my travels.  While my flight to Philly was delayed, my layover in Philly was long enough that I could make my connection to Harrisburg.  My rockstar brother picked me up and we made the final leg of the journey, finishing with a home-cooked meal with my family.  Oh but did I mention that the airline lost not one, but BOTH of my suitcases?  Yea, about that.  It’s not like I have to unpack and repack to move halfway around the world in the next week.  No big deal.  Here’s hoping I get them back. 

All in all, despite the fact that it took me 4 days to get home instead of 5 hours, I got to spend time with good friends in two major cities and truly learn how to be joyful despite absolutely unbearably frustrating circumstances that were completely outside my control.  Take it in stride.  Know that I can only control the controllables, one of which is my attitude.  And I managed to confirm once again that there is never a dull moment in my life, and everything is worth a good chuckle, when all is said and done.

3 comments:

Branton said...

Hey Liz! I'm glad you made it home finally. Sorry that it took longer than anticipated. It was good to meet you. I'll be praying for your ventures in Romania. May the Lord bless you...

pferree said...

Should I feel guilty for being so thoroughly entertained by your travails? Well, thanks for sharing. :)

Liz Spangler said...

Haha no worries Paul, I too was entertained. It was just so awful that it had to be hilarious. :)

And great to meet you too, Branton. Glad you guys got home safely as ewll.