Well, it's Spring Break time so it must be about time for the annual Harrover travel disaster. Actually, "annual" is a little too generous. We seem to get more than our share of challenges when we travel – like last year when the ceiling in my hotel room collapsed in New York city…or the year before when we had the passport mashup. The travel part of our trip is worth its own blog post so look for details on the Bahamas in the next post. This time of year we usually head somewhere sandy and warm. Like good travelers, we started doing our research in December and booked our trip in early January. We found a resort on Grand Bahama called the Lucayan that was well-reviewed and seemed like a good choice. So Sarah booked it and then got the flights put together. Of course, with most flights from the Northeast to the Bahamas there is a connecting flight somewhere. Ours was in Miami but we had a 75 minute layover. All settled. We could forget about it all until the week of the trip.
And that's exactly what we did.
The week of the trip came – Sarah ran out to Woodstock to get Erin, we packed our stuff and off we went to the airport. Got there in plenty of time. We have gone through the TSA precheck process so everything was pretty painless. We were flying on American airlines this time – haven't flown on American in a long, long time but I figured they were as good as anyone. So, we get to the gate with 90 minutes to spare and camp out. About an hour later, Sarah gets an alert on her American Airlines app that our flight had been delayed. We check the flight board and, sure enough, our flight had just been updated to delayed and the gate changed. We soldier off to the new gate to wait. Finally about 2 hours later, we board the plane and take off.
As we sit on the plane, we're getting nervous. Will we miss our connecting flight? What happens? We go up to the front of the plane to inquire with the Stewardess…? She looks at our paperwork and says "no way, that flight lands just a couple of minutes before we do so you'll be fine. Plus, the people in operations know that this flight is late and they will take that into account when they schedule the departure for the connecting flight.
Relief. It seems as though there is some automation in the world that actually works. We head back to our seat. Not two minutes later the Captain announces that our flight is being diverted due to weather and we will be a further 30 minutes late. That freaks me out but I'm still banking on our time gap and that American operations will take this into account.
The flight lands – the door opens – we're only a few rows back so Sarah goes right up to the front and gets off first. She heads to the gate agent who tells us our connecting flight is delayed 90 minutes. At about the same time she gets a voicemail from American that says the same thing. We have plenty of time. That's a relief but we still hustle over to the gate because – it's a Harrover vacation – so our departure gate is the absolute farthest from our current position. In Miami that means taking a combination of moving walkways and trains. We get to our new gate in about 20 minutes. Sarah heads up to the gate to check in and I check the flight status screen.
Our flight is on time…relief….wait. It's on the original schedule…and it departed minutes ago.
Sarah gets the same news from the gate agent at the same time and we turn to see each others shocked face. More people from our flight are showing up – we tell the agent, look, there are like 20 of us and the flight is still sitting they are on the tarmac. Please, just open the door! Nope. Flight is closed. You'll have to go to rebooking. People in our group are getting text messages from their friends who are on the plane indicating it is literally sitting on the tarmac outside the door "Why aren't you getting on?"
So the 23 passengers that are stranded in Miami soldier off to the American Eagle rebooking center. I'll spare you all of the drama that went down there – including a near mob scene involving the 23 stranded passengers where I was sure security was going to be called when an American Eagle employee told two different stories. Of the two, American Eagle was far and away the worst. They lied to us, had employees change name badges to mislead us and essentially said they couldn't help us. They could book us (us being all 23 stranded folks) on a flight 2 days from now to take us to our destination. TWO DAYS. While we are paying $600/night for the resort. Oh, another great thing about American Eagle – every one of the "supervisors" disappeared and left their staff to deal with us. We could see them peeking through windows in the back wall to see if we had gone away yet. The "Supervisors" sole job seemed to be to drop this mess in someone else's lap. Real class in that organization.
It was at this moment that an odd thing happened. An American Eagle employee made a crucial mistake and told the truth.
See, Sarah – who had been dutifully soldering on – finally broke and melted down. She went over to a different lane in the rebooking center and, tears streaming down her face, pleaded for help from a lady that wasn't involved in the current mess. That lady looked at everything and said that "they could certainly get us to the Bahamas the next day" by booking us on Bahamas Air out of Fort Lauderdale! Wait. What? That isn't what we are hearing from the "supervisor" (who had changed name tags with another employee and then hurried off to deal with an "operations problem") a couple of lanes over….
Sarah took the flight and the others – hearing the news – started demanding to go out of Lauderdale as well. At first the staff told them that wasn't possible but then looked over at their fellow employee who simply shrugged and smiled. Now it was feeding frenzy time. Everyone wanted on that flight….and everyone got on it. Most of the others also received compensation for a hotel room near the Miami airport. American refused our request as our delay was "not their fault" and American Eagle told us to get lost. This being spring break – and the fact that it was 10:00 at night – meant there wasn't a hotel room to be found in Miami. Sarah was still arguing with the American folk when I told her to just forget it. Yes, they have access to a block of rooms that we can't get to ourselves but they are just not going to help us. We even offered to pay for the room ourselves. We've got the tickets for our flight tomorrow, lets just get the hell out of here. Now – this not getting a hotel room thing might not have been such a bad outcome as one of the other families who did get a hotel room from American ended up walking in on two American employees having sex in the room that was booked for them! Classy. Bet the parents enjoyed explaining that to the kids.
For our part, We made a panicked call to American Express who, again, pulled our bacon out of the fire by finding us a room in Lauderdale. Right on Las Olas too! (seriously, if you travel alot and don't have an Amex card, get one). We were assured, but certainly didn't believe, that our bags would be on the morning flight to the Bahamas.
We get into our Super Shuttle to take us from Miami to Lauderdale and, well, hang on tight. I've honestly never seen a shuttle bus driven in the manner that ours was that night. If you took a new york cabbie and put him in a Miami shuttle bus with a schedule to keep you would have some idea. We were going 60 mph on surface streets in a van that had a low air pressure, low oil and check engine lights all on at once. It squeaked as though parts would start falling off at any minute. Honestly, after about 20 minutes I stopped watching. Preferring that, when the end came, it would be a surprise. However, it was not to be. We lived and made it to the hotel. As we had nothing but the clothes on our backs the staff gave us some tooth brushes and a comb. We went out and had dinner in what was essentially a club at 1am.
What a hell of a start to vacation. However, we did make the flight the next morning and it was relatively uneventful. It will come as no shock to anyone that our bags were not, as promised, at the airport. So we grabbed a "taxi" (aka minivan from 1990 with "taxi" hand painted on the side) and went to our hotel. We were able to get our room early so we avoided that particular kind of purgatory where you have to sit around for 4 hours at the beach in your travel clothes. Now, the part about not having any other clothes didn't really bother me all that much. I had a pair of shorts and we were at the beach. No big deal. The girls in my party were somewhat less sanguine about the state of affairs so we had to do a little shopping. The last of our bags showed up three days later – but only after the hotel staff badgered American Eagle to the point they gave up and sent them.
The return flight was not quite the zoo that the original flight was but we did end up running through the Charlotte airport to catch a flight with a ten minute window. Again, American "operations" seemed to have no clue what was going on. I was just grateful that we made our flight. We arrived at National and went down to the the luggage pickup….and our bags were nowhere to be found. Shocker. Sarah went and filed a lost luggage claim – same nonsense as before. The luggage "agent" scans our receipts (kept trying to keep them) and insists that our bags are in the airport. He leaves for 20 minutes and comes back and seems a little surprised that we are still there. After ten more minutes of scanning and staring at the screen he finally capitulates and fills out the necessary paperwork….on three forms with the wrong home address on two of them….for two pieces of luggage….and he's reading from Sarah's license. We ping the driver who is waiting for us and head for home, hoping that American hasn't burned down our house.
But we're not to have the last laugh. American is not done with us. Not by a mile. Sarah's phone rings at 4:45am. It wakes me up but only briefly. It rings again at 5:00am. Turns out it is the driver from American and he has a bag(!). Half asleep, we go out front and greet him. He hands us a tiny red bag. Sarah says "not a chance, this ain't our bag". The driver looks confused. "It's red, it is your bag". A million things go through my mind, most of them insults related to the notion that a bag being red singularly qualifies it as ours but Sarah saves the day and simply says "our bag weighed 47 pounds. Does that bag weigh that much"? Sheepish grin. He goes back to his van, digs around for awhile and, with great fanfare, produces a bag that has our name on it!! Hurray!
Not so fast: Sarah says "where's our other bag?" The driver looks stunned. "There's only one missing bag." "nope, there are two and the other is black." "Ma'am, I only have one. You'll have to call American."
Honestly, at this point, that's enough. Wordlessly we turn, walk back into the house and get back into bed. We're still short a bag and I'm pretty sure it will never show.
The takeaway for us in all of this are two things: 1. always carry an extra pair of underwear, your meds and a toothbrush in your carryon. 2. Don't fly American or American Eagle. If either of these two clown shows are the only airline that goes to a place, you don't need to go there. Period. They cost us over a thousand bucks in direct costs on this trip and could care less.
Next up, the Bahamas.