Tuesday, November 14, 2006

An end to the trip that wouldn’t end (?!)

That title may seem impossible, but so should my story, so I'll let it pass...

When we last saw our tired traveler (i.e.- me), it was 11:30pm and he was stuck in San Antonio for the night with no help from the airline except a toll-free number to call. Since security wanted us out of the gate area, I went to a pay phone by the ticket counters and called said toll-free number to ask how I was going to get to Point B from what would by now be about point D.

After a few minutes of typing and searching, the agent on the phone told me that my flight was scheduled to continue from San Antonio at 6:10am and arrive in Dallas at 7:00. While this seemed perfectly logical, it was also the kind of information that would have been nice for them to share with us before we got off the plane since it basically meant we didn't have time to find a hotel and get any meaningful rest before heading back to the airport in time to wait in what would surely be a monstrous line at the ticket counter and the security checkpoint.

By the time I claimed my bag (actually a small backpack with a few cosmetic items they don't allow on aircraft anymore and the previously mentioned church clothes) and found a seat by the American Airlines ticket counter, it was pushing midnight. Getting a rental car seemed impractical given how tired I was. I didn't think I'd survive the drive. I heard a great many people on the phone looking for hotel rooms and apparently having success. I decided against this, though, for the timing considerations mentioned above.

After settling in to a chair and attempting to get comfortable, I saw a ticket agent arrive at the American desk and start helping people figure out connections, etc. Some number of people later, someone walked by and told those of us seated nearby that they were providing hotel rooms after all. By that time it was past 12:30, and I still decided to stay put.

Another handful of people later, someone mentioned that our flight was no longer at 6:10, but at 9:20! I tried unsuccessfully to get on an earlier flight which by that point was booked solid, but the three hour delay changed the whole sleeping-in-a-chair picture by enough to make me want a bed to sleep in, so I got in line and got a voucher that said it was good for one hotel room for one night plus taxes. After waiting for a shuttle, getting to the hotel, and waiting in line at the reception desk, it was just passing 2:00 in the morning. Then the manager on duty at the hotel informed those of us waiting for a room that there had been some miscommunication with American Airlines. When the airline called for rooms, they were apparently told by the hotel that there would be a $47 charge for each room, and American Airlines told them that the passengers would be paying that charge. So, what exactly is the purpose of this printed voucher for a hotel room?

I decided to go ahead and plunk down the money for a room rather than try to get back to the airport or sleep in the hotel lobby, which I'm sure they would not have appreciated. By the time I got an email off to my co-workers telling them I would be very, very late the next day, I climbed into bed at 2:30. Four hours later, I rolled out of bed feeling like the object of a cruel joke and headed back to the airport.

Sure enough, the lines were long and people were short-tempered, but I made it to the gate in time to wait for my flight. We ended up taking off not at 9:20, but at something approaching 10:20, and finally touched down in Dallas near 11am. My in-laws had, by that point, made three well-intentioned but fruitless trips to the airport due to the total inability of American Airlines' information systems to deal with such a messed up flight in a timely fashion as well as my inability to call from the plane. They generously made one more trip for me and deposited me, tired and grumpy, at home.

Fortunately, my return flight to Nashville the following Friday was perfectly uneventful and on time. Otherwise I might be in a padded room by now. I'm certain that is not the worst travel story ever, but it is the worst mess I've ever been part of, especially given that in theory it was a non-stop, 2 hour flight...

Feel free to share your travel nightmares in the comments!