This is a story about an air travel nightmare. Future flyers, take note!My daughter and I made plans to visit my mother for her 91st birthday party on Saturday, November 22nd. In order to save money flying around Thanksgiving, I booked our flights and rental car through Expedia. The downside was that we needed to take three flights to get from Madison, Wisconsin to McArthur Airport in Islip, New York. We needed the rental car to drive an additional hour to Greenport, New York.We were supposed to leave on Tuesday, November 18th. Our flight from Madison was scheduled to leave at 6:35 a.m. That meant we both had to get up by 3 a.m. to get our taxis at 4:30 a.m. (my daughter was coming from Sun Prairie and I was coming from Madison)Late Monday, November 17th, I received an email from United Airlines canceling the flight from Madison, which would affect our subsequent connections. There was no message from Expedia. I panicked. I didn’t want my daughter to get up early if there was no flight to catch.I immediately called Expedia, waited a long time to connect with an agent, who took my information, put me on hold and- hung up on me. I called them again and went through the very same process, including being disconnected.So I called United, and when I finally got through to an agent, I was told I should contact Expedia. By this time almost in tears, I told the United agent I had already done that, to no avail. It took over two hours for the United agent to finally create a new itinerary for us for Wednesday, November 19th. That wasted one day of my daughter’s vacation and decreased our visit with my mother by one day. I called and woke up my daughter to tell her she could turn off her alarm, and contacted the taxi to reschedule our pickups for the same time on Wednesday morning.On Tuesday morning, I called to delay our occupancy of a cottage we had rented for our visit. They kindly agreed not to charge us for the missing day.Later on Tuesday, I thought to look over the United confirmation for the rescheduled flights and discovered that they had us going from Madison to Chicago to Philadelphia to Islip, but returning from Philadelphia to Chicago to Madison. It took two hours more hours on the phone with a United agent to make sure we had a return flight from Islip to Philadelphia.When I printed out the boarding passes, I saw that I had one for each leg of the flight. However, my daughter did not have one from Philly to Islip.On Wednesday, November 19th, I got up at 3 a.m. and my taxi picked me up about 4:45 a.m. When we checked in at United, the agent told us that she was unable to issue my daughter’s missing boarding pass because it was for a US Airways flight. Apparently, sister airlines don’t really share information.We got to Chicago, and then got to Philly. We thought it would be a simple matter to have a US Airways agent issue the final missing boarding pass for my daughter. Unfortunately, after talking with two US Airways agents, we were informed that someone had canceled ALL of our remaining flights. Neither of us had a flight from Philly to Islip. The further bad news was that we no longer had ANY return flights anymore.By then, we had been up for 12 hours. Needless to say, we did not take this information well.Finally, the US Airways agent said that she could get us to LaGuardia, which was also about an hour from my mother’s home in Greenport. The US Airways agent told us that she would put in a request that our luggage be diverted to LaGuardia. Of course, there were no guarantees about that.I called Enterprise to make sure that we could pick up a rental car at LaGuardia airport and return it to Islip. Happily, the answer was not only “Yes,” but they also would not charge extra because our situation was due to airline difficulties.Since they lock the outside doors at 9 p.m., I called my mother’s location to have them leave the door open because we wouldn’t get there until 10 p.m. They agreed to do that.We got onto the flight to LaGuardia. When we got to LaGuardia, our luggage wasn’t there. Upon inquiry, we learned that our bags were on their way to Islip. We got the rental car, drove to Islip (where we were reunited with our luggage, thank goodness!), had dinner at 8 p.m., and arrived in Greenport at 10 p.m.Our trip back to Madison was also rocky. We drove to Islip in pouring rain to drop off our rental car with enough time to make our 2:30 p.m. flight to Philadelphia. The Enterprise agent kindly drove us to the terminal so we wouldn’t have to walk in the rain.When we checked in with US Airways at McArthur Airport, we were told that there was a “gate delay” until 5:30 p.m. In layman’s terms, that meant that NO airlines would be flying out of McArthur until 5:30 p.m. We would miss all of our connecting flights back to Madison. To make matters worse, there were no flights out of McArthur later that day that would get us home before Thanksgiving.My daughter and I were confused why rain would close an airport. The agent explained that only prop planes flew from there…Our only option was to fly out of JFK airport to Dallas (!!!!) and from Dallas to Madison. Faced with the possibility of having to have Thanksgiving in an airport terminal, we agreed to do that. We would now be flying on American Airlines. Setting this up took almost an hour. The good news was: (1) we had a way home that day and (2) we would only need to take two instead of three flights.The beginning of the bad news: We had to take a taxi, which would cost us $120, to get to JFK airport.It wasn’t until we were on the plane and the steward announced that the flight would be 4 1/2 hours that I realized how far out of the way we would be flying! It would now take us 7 hours instead of 4 hours of flight time to get home.When we landed at Gate C 32 at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the terminal blackboard told us that our Madison flight would be leaving from Gate B 12 in less than an hour. We hurried to find and get on the terminal train to get to Terminal B. We raced to Gate B 10, which said the flight was to Shreveport, not to Madison. The agent told us that our Madison flight was now leaving from Gate B 32.So we raced back to the train to get to Gate B 32. However, once there, we were told that the flight was really leaving from Gate B 11. So, we ran back through the terminal and up the escalator to take the terminal train once more. When we finally got back to Gate B 11, we were told the flight had been moved again- to Gate B 12. Whew!Although the gate said the flight was to Boston, we were assured that the flight would be to Madison. Then there was an hour delay before we boarded the plane and another half hour before we left Dallas. We got back to Madison at 11:30 p.m.Our luggage arrived with us.The moral of this tale for my future travels to visit my mother: use a travel agent to schedule all multi-leg flights and fly in or out of LaGuardia or JFK (both of which are the same distance from my mother in Greenport as McArthur is).I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. My daughter and I gave thanks that we didn’t need to have our Thanksgiving meal in some airport terminal!
Traveling in the Wake of Budget CutsTravelers will face a few changes in the way we fly in the coming months. It makes sense then to preplan how much time it will take to clear security, and allow for traffic gridlock on tarmacs and around major airports in the air. Air traffic tower closures will affect a small percentage of travelers, but put more strain on other ones. Here are a few tips I learned from recent air travel across the country:
Visit the TSA website to learn how to clear security with less fuss and waiting. For example: empty all pockets before going through the scanner. A small coin in a pocket will send you back to re-empty the pocket.
Check in online and print your boarding pass before going to the airport.
If you to catch a connecting flight, be sure the airline knows how much time you will need to make it from one gate to another or possibly to another terminal. If you do not feel comfortable with only the airline recommended 30 minutes, ask for an hour. You have to catch another plane, not them.
If friends or family are meeting you at the airport, they may want to use an adjacent cell phone parking lot rather than pay for parking.
Be sure to carry all confirmation numbers with you. This is needed by any transportation company you take to and from the airport or to a hotel. Many of them use hand-held digital tracking devices and it is quicker if they can enter the confirmation number than your name.
Air Traffic Control Towers and Staff Budget CutsThere are 250 contracted air traffic towers in the United States. They handle 28% of control traffic operations, and the budget cuts less than 6% of all air traffic. The cuts do not necessarily mean that an airport will be closed as corporate jets and other private aircraft can usually operate without them. However, if needed, the small jets can use the towers located at larger airports. And some of those larger Federal Aviation Administration operated towers will be under stress with possibly more traffic to control while managing federal employee work furloughs – another budget-related cut. There are usually six controllers in contracted towers and 16 in those operated by the FAA. If you fly in and out of a county of regional airport, check with your airline to see if it will still operate from there. Pleasure travelers should plan way in advance for any air travel and avoid using any smaller airports to circumvent future cancellations. Business travelers using corporate aircraft might be okay as long as the pilot can use an airport without air traffic control. Click here for a list of towers which could be affected. Check back on the same link March 19 for the final version.Customs and Border ControlThe federal budgets cuts will also affect the number of people working at customs in the United States at airports and at border crossings. Anyone who has traveled internationally knows the wait to get through customs can be long. Employee layoffs and forced days off will result in an even longer wait. Furloughs, or forced time off, begin in mid April. Customs wait times are expected to increase 150 to 200 percent of the normal time. To facilitate a smoother entry, complete the customs form on the flight and have your tickets, passport and declaration forms ready for agents. Be sure the passport photo looks like you, answer questions honestly and sincerely.Smart TravelingAlmost everyone traveling today has a smart phone or tablet where they can check flight status, notify hotels and others if there is a delay. Additionally, there are hundred of travel apps available for both Apple and Android devices. These have become very valuable and useful to ease the stress of travel and delays which might occur. They save time and money too. Learn to pack lightly especially for short trips and carry one bag for the overhead and one for under the seat, as this saves money on baggage fees. Bring your own headphones or ear buds, snacks and other entertainment for longer flights. Planning ahead saves time and money.