Sunday, July 24, 2016

Vacation Dismay -- How I Missed The Family Reunion

What a learning experience this week was!  While still at work on Wednesday, I had heard that Southwest Airlines had had problems with their computer system and it had been down overnight on Tuesday and they were dealing with the backlog all that day.  I assumed (wrongly) that that was then and this was now.  I was sure it would be history by the next day.  When I arrived at Sea-Tac Thursday morning, I discovered that my flight to St Louis was going to be an hour delayed.  That meant that I would miss my connecting flight to Minneapolis, but there was a later flight that I would be moved to and all would end well. OK, I thought, I could deal with a later flight even though it meant I wouldn't be at the reunion when it started.  Little did I know. . .
Our flight finally left Seattle around 11:00am (change from 9:00am).  We arrived in St Louis after 4:00 local time.  I had about four hours till my next flight, so I spent some time walking around the airport, checking out dinner options and spending some time window shopping.  Somewhere along the way the flight status went from an 8:30pm departure to a 10:00pm departure.  I had a good dinner at Chili's. No rush here! After dinner I called the hotel in Minneapolis and told them that I would need to arrange a late shuttle pickup when my plane arrived after midnight, but that I wanted them to continue to hold the room.  Then the departure time went to 12:30am. And later to 1:30am.   And then back to 10:30pm.   Then a few golden seconds when it said "On Time" -- but that was an error message if ever there was one!.  Discovered in all of my myriad conversations with customer service that we were waiting on flight 3021 that had NOT left Washington DC because our flight to Minneapolis was the continuation of that flight.  So the rest of the dragging hours were spent getting constantly changing departure to MN messages and arrival board from Washington DC. 
I stopped in again for customer services.  The carrot dangling in front of our eyes was the ever changing expected departure of this one flight.  There was no other hope.  They now could not book me for another flight to Minneapolis until Saturday night (this was Thursday).  Well, the family reunion would be over with breakfast Sunday morning, so if this flight didn't go I wasn't going to get there until the goodbye  hugs were underway. 
I talked to many other individuals and families who were also off to various family reunions all over the country.  No flights available to Cleveland; no flights to Chicago; no flights to anywhere everyone wanted to go.  And there were many of us waiting on that one ambiguous flight to Minneapolis that continued to hang on hour after hour. 

Once I realized that there was no hope of getting to the reunion, I wanted to know about getting home.  I could have bought a ticket to Minneapolis on another carrier, but then I would have had to also buy a ticket to fly back to Seattle, or I could try to use my Southwest return flights, but what if they were still dealing with this backlog on Monday? I was very concerned about getting back home because not only did I have to go to work, but the days I had already taken I were not paid vacation, so adding to my lack of work days and income was not a positive thought. I asked about flights back to Seattle -- nothing for  days.  Not through Orange County, Sacramento or San Francisco.  Not through Portland, Spokane, or even Boise.

I decided around 11 PM that I needed a Plan B.  I was already very tired, having milled around the airport for hours.  I checked out Travelocity (several flights available but not changeable) and decided to look at Alaska Airlines directly.  I found and booked the earliest NON STOP flight home to Seattle that I could get and paid  extra for a refundable ticket because IF I could get to Minneapolis to the reunion on my original ticket, I still wanted to go there.  Our reunion happens every three years and I will statistically likely not see some of the older cousins by the time the next comes around in 2019. I already feel cheated for not getting a chance to see them again and hope that their strong Norwegian constitutions will get them safely to the next reunion.

There were a few bright spots along the way.  I talked to a variety of people of all ages, ethnicities and interests.  There was definitely a sense of community between fellow travelers. I noticed fairly quickly that I was seeing many of the same people over and over again!  When the flight to Minneapolis was finally cancelled around midnight, I ended up in line near another woman traveling alone (she was meeting a relative in Minneapolis to drive together to a family reunion camping trip further east!). Her first name was the same as my middle name and my first name and her middle names were variations on a theme, so that seemed fortuitous! We hung out together for the next several hours.  We met a great employee of Southwest, Ivy, who rescued us from the long lines of people waiting to be processed now that our flight was cancelled and she issued us each our $200 travel vouchers.  She was the brightest spot in this ordeal.
We had to find my new acquaintance's luggage which had been unloaded since there was no flight to Minneapolis.  She had their camping gear with her!
She (and many other people) attempted to arrange rental cars, but couldn't get one because she wanted a one-way rental  rather than returning the car to St. Louis airport.  No one knew that till they got to the rental car office so we had a round trip ride!
We talked about sharing a hotel room for the night but by the time Southwest  cancelled our tickets all the local hotels were already booked.  Around 3:00 AM we said goodbye as she returned to the Southwest terminal and I had the rental shuttle drop me off at Alaska.  I was now looking at only another four hour wait for the beautiful Alaska flight to take me away from this chaos!  I seriously could not see myself continuing to camp in the airport for another couple of days while Southwest worked all the bugs out of their system!  I settled in to a moderately comfortable airport chair, used my suitcase as a ottoman and my bag (which had a pillow in it) as a pillow!    
When morning arrived I was delighted to board Alaska flight 711 and head for home, even if I was out another $600.  I was still sad I was missing the reunion.   It was the shortest four hour flight I have ever taken since because of exhaustion, I slept soundly from after takeoff until about 40 minutes before touch down.  Was I happy to see home sweet home!
So, what did I learn?  I learned that as soon as I was told there was a delay I should have checked to see how widespread delays were.  I should have cancelled that flight (planning to use it later) right away and booked another carrier if I could get a reasonable flight and headed for the reunion another way.  Worst case I should have just gone home and given up on the reunion immediately and avoided spending an entire day getting nowhere.  I did receive a $200 voucher for a future flight. I also got an email from Southwest today giving me a code for 50% off another flight.  But we still need to have another conversation about getting this entire flight back to use because I NEVER wanted to end up in St. Louis.  I wanted to end up in Minneapolis!  I don't think going to St. Louis counts as using my outbound ticket.  Time will tell!
Alas, I still did not get to see my very extended family -- which was the whole point of attending the reunion.  Hope I get to see you all again in 2019!  Stay well and prosper!