Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Joys of Traveling

When I graduated from college back in the day, I was so looking forward to living the glamorous lifestyle of a consultant. How cool was it going to be to jet off every week, earn a ton of frequent flier miles, have all of my meals paid for and live in nice hotels?

Let's just say that I was more than a little naïve. After sixteen weeks straight of being stuck for hours in the airport during the dead of winter (my top score on "Area 51" in the airport's video arcade lives on...), I finally learned that constantly being on the road wasn't all that I had dreamed it would be. Especially when you live in Chicago and your client is in Minneapolis -- two cities not exactly known for good weather. I might have felt differently had I landed a spot on the Hawaii-based team (as did one of my extremely lucky friends), but alas, that was not my fate.

Now that I haven't had to travel for work for quite some time, I had forgotten about all of the fun that comes with attempting to fly anywhere in the colder months. But I was smacked in the face with those memories when returning from my vacation to the Galápagos this past weekend.

Here's a summary of what happened:
1) On Saturday morning, we waited around for a few hours for our flight from the island of Baltra to Guayaquil, Ecuador. We were told that things ran on "Galápagos Time" and that no one ever really knew when our plane would arrive. But we were fresh off of a fabulous week of communing with sea lions, turtles, iguanas and a ton of other cool animals and birds, so no one was too upset by that. We eventually made it to Guayaquil and had a wonderful time exploring the city that evening, so our spirits were still high.

2) On Sunday afternoon we flew from Guayaquil to Miami. Shortly after going through the customs and immigration checkpoints, my husband continued on to Chicago, whereas I had a few more hours in the Miami airport until my flight to Detroit (had to retrieve my doggy from my parents!) departed. I found a chair in the food court near an electrical outlet, paid $7.95 for Internet access and braced myself for the influx of emails that had accumulated since November 28th.

3) The time whizzed by and I realized that I had to better get myself in the absolutely ridiculous line to go through security. I checked the Departure Board to see which gate I'd be leaving from... and saw the Dreaded Word in Red next to my flight number: "Canceled." There were no other flights to Detroit departing that night. Various obscenities flew from my mouth and even more followed when I realized that since my cell phone charger had been fried due to my misuse of the plug adapter I had purchased and used while on our ship, I was essentially without a cell phone (there was hardly any battery power left by the time I realized my crappy Nokia wasn't charging).

4) After talking to four American Airlines employees who all directed me to different lines, I finally found my way to a rebooking agent who told me that I had already been put on a flight out of Miami in the early morning... that went to DALLAS... and then got into Detroit at 7 PM. Since connections are usually the bane of my existence when traveling, I asked if there was any way that I could just go to Chicago instead. Unbelievably, the agent complied and I was put on a direct flight to Chicago, departing at 2:30 the next afternoon. I was given a voucher for the Wyndham Miami and a total of $25 in food vouchers to use between now (7:45 PM Sunday night) and then (when my flight left on Monday). Rest assured that I used them.

5) An extremely nice American Airlines employee who was working one of the check-in lines let me use his iPhone to call my parents and tell them that they would not need to pick me up from the Detroit airport at midnight that night. They decided that they would drive my dog to Chicago the next day, and hopefully we'd all arrive in the Windy City around the same time. I then spent $20 on toiletries at the airport drug store (no vouchers for that!) and waited for the shuttle bus to the Wyndham.

6) I spent the first half of Monday camped out in a restaurant in the Wyndham which had free Internet access and a gorgeous view of a sunny golf course and swaying palm trees. There are certainly worse places to be stranded than Miami! Though it was really bizarre to hear "Frosty the Snowman" and "Let it Snow" over the restaurant's sound system when looking at such a tropical scene.

7) Finally I headed to the airport, made it through security and to my gate, where I randomly saw the actor Josh Brolin. Yes, "Brand" from one of my favorite movies, The Goonies, and current winner of all sorts of awards for his performance in Milk. But I didn't say anything to him, and eventually a woman came out of the restroom and he walked off with her. I couldn't tell if it was his wife, actress Diane Lane, or not... she was wearing a big floppy straw hat that covered most of her face.

8) After the excitement of an unexpected celebrity sighting, there came more excitement -- of a very different kind. The gate agent announced that our plane was essentially "broken," and they needed to find another one for us. I'll spare you the details of the chaos that erupted once that information made the rounds in the waiting area, but needless to say, we were delayed 2.5 hours until a substitute aircraft was located and we trudged to the new gate that was a full twenty-minute walk from where we were originally supposed to board.

9) Any seasoned traveler reading this can already guess what happened next. Since our flight was so delayed, when it finally touched down in Chicago they couldn't find a place for us to disembark -- all gates were full. I felt horrible for the dozens of passengers who had literally minutes to make connections to not only U.S. cities but also international locales. We waited a full forty-five minutes for a gate assignment, and everyone missed their connections. To say that there were a lot of tears, red faces and looks of exhaustion would be an understatement. One little girl sitting behind me summed it up perfectly: "WE'VE BEEN ON THIS PLANE FOR HOURS!!!!!"

10) I finally stepped through my doorway at 9 PM Monday night and had a nice reunion with my dog, parents and husband.

The next morning, an email from American Airlines showed up in my inbox. It was from a Customer Relations representative, who informed me that they added 3,000 bonus miles to my AAdvantage account to "restore my confidence" in the airline.

What do you think? Was 3,000 miles enough?

All I know is that I'm happy I'm not flying anywhere over the Christmas holiday.

Uh oh... did I just jinx our rental car for our drive to Michigan?

- e


Anonymous said...

Welcome home! Yes, I'm always so excited about flying (traveling) until I'm in the middle of doing it. Then I'm thinking Why? It's a good thing that the destination usually makes up for it.

Anonymous said...

i am terrified of flying... something was confirmed during the first episode of lost, lol... the last time i went to hawaii (4 1/2 years ago) we got on the plane... waited for an hour ON THE PLANE WITHOUT MOVING! then the captain came on the intercom and said that there was a problem with the plane and the needed to fix something. so they let us get off the plane and said they'd call us to board again when it was good to go... so another hour passes and they let us board the plane... i was SO freaked out to get back on the same plane! so needless to say, i was the LAST person to get on the plane... and my parents literally had to drag me! i was hysterically crying... but it was kinda cool cuz they let me meet the pilot! they *NEVER* let you do that anymore after 9/11... needless to say, i don't fly much... once a year, tops! and i learned on my trip to peru... sleeping pills and a glass of wine and i'll be out the wholeeeee ride! :D

*kristYn from CALI*

Anonymous said...

p.s. glad your home safe!!! :)

*kristYn from CALI*

Anonymous said...

I am glad you are back. I miss reading your blog when you are away. It is always interesting. I enjoy your sense of humor.
Sometimes I do LOL.