The other week we flew across the country from SFO to the western NY city that is our hometown, Rochester. There was a full schedule of events and a full house at sister-in-love’s house, so we were excited to get there.
Now, I never fly through Chicago in the winter. Or ever, if I can help it. But we used airline miles for our tickets and pickings were slim.
Less than a month before our flight, United sent an email — there had been a schedule change. Since we were in Sicily when it arrived, we weren’t as on top of it as we might have been and failed to notice that the change meant we now had a five-hour layover in Chicago, would get in at quarter to midnight –and sister-in love insisted on picking us up, despite it being a work week for her. GRRR. Turns out, United had discontinued the earlier flight and this was the last flight to Rochester out of Chicago. Last flight out. Another thing I avoid.
Landing on time in Chicago, we had time for a leisurely dinner and to sit. And sit. And sit.
Finally, it was time to board for our 8:56pm CDST departure.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your flight attendants just landed from overseas and have to make their way to this terminal. If they don’t get here in the next 10 minutes, we may be a little late taking off.” Ok, at least they were in the airport, somewhere.
Ten minutes clicked by. Fifteen. Our departure time inched up on the board in 10 minute increments. The crew finally appeared at the 30-minute mark. Still, we knew boarding was just a couple minutes away.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is a problem with the computer and maintenance is checking it out. They think it’ll be a quick fix.”
Quick and fix are not words that go together in airline lexicon. We stood. And stood. By now our departure time had pushed to 10:30 Central (11:30 in Rochester). I sidled up to the counter and asked if the flight was going to be cancelled. Their faces said yes, but they hedged.
“When’s the next flight to Rochester?”
Turns out that while we had been patiently standing there, others had been “protecting” themselves on the first flight out in the morning and it was now full. In my days of constant business travel, I would’ve been one of those people but apparently I have developed amnesia about how these things work. It never occurred to me.
The gate agents “protected” us on a flight leaving Chicago the next day at 3PM. Yes. In the afternoon. If the flight were cancelled, we’d spend the day at O’Hare. The agent told me that the customer service counter would get us a hotel voucher if the flight didn’t go.
I told M and suggested we slip down six or seven gates to the customer service counter, where we’d later get a hotel room and food vouchers. We had time to check it out. After all, an hour to go before our new scheduled take off.
He didn’t like the idea.
“I’ll wait, just in case they fix it and board earlier,” he said. He was once on a delayed flight that boarded earlier and half his colleagues missed it as they’d left the gate area.
I started down the concourse to customer service and almost instantly heard him call my name.
“We’re boarding!” Had we gone down the concourse we would’ve missed the flight.
Settled in our seats, we were ready to go.
Well, we THOUGHT we were.
“Ladies and gentlemen, maintenance noticed a dent on the back of the plane that they want to check out.”
After another 20 minute wait, the dent was deemed “not a problem” and we took off. We arrived in Rochester around 1 a.m.
So as you prepare for your own air travel this holiday season, let me share my lessons learned.
- When an airline tells you there has been a schedule change, check it immediately. If you don’t like it, call to see if it can be changed.
- Never book the last flight out of a city.
- Always “protect” yourself on the next flight out when it looks like your flight might be cancelled. Call the airline or go online immediately.
- Never leave the concourse during a flight delay as they can call for boarding at any time and you can miss your flight.
- Have a stiff drink in the airport cocktail lounge before any holiday trip.
Oh, and that flight we were protected on? Apparently we were still scheduled on it. The following day I got a text that said Your 3pm flight has been delayed and will now depart at 4pm.
The another, that said, Your 3pm flight will now depart at 5pm.
But by that time, I was happily hanging with a girlfriend in Rochester, the night before’s hassles only a distant memory.
Here’s hoping you fare better this holiday season.