Friday, January 25, 2008

Travel Hell

In honor of the TraHell contest, I bring you my most frustrating travel experience. Go check out the contest and submit your own story.

I’ve had many frustrations in my travels, and one other was pretty bad, but I was young and naïve then, so it doesn’t stick in my mind as much as this one...

A few years ago I was flying home to California from St. Louis. I’d been in an extremely boring week long training session that started on Sunday afternoon and ended on Friday afternoon. We were in classes and lectures for almost 12 hours each day and then expected to go to dinner with the class. EVERYTHING took place in the hotel. I didn’t have a rental car, and I only left the hotel 2 times the entire week. Needless to say, by Friday afternoon I was ready to GET HOME.

I flew America’s Worst and had a layover in Phoenix, one of the worst places to fly through with this airline. There were 3 other people on my flight who I knew from home (that’s Bako for you), so we chatted as we waited in the gate area in PHX to board the plane. We boarded the plane and took off for our 1 hour flight that would end my week of training hell. When we were about 25 minutes into the flight, almost halfway there, we smelled a little smoke. The flight attendant came on the speaker and said there was a problem with some wiring in the bathroom, and we had to turn around and go back to Phoenix. What? We were almost there, why couldn’t we just go on??

Now, this had been a late flight already, probably 9pm or so, (I've blocked a lot of the exact details from my memory) and when we got back to PHX, they kept us in our seats at the gate while they tried to fix the problem. After about 40 minutes of NOT fixing the problem, they told us to get off the plane and wait in the gate area. It was close to 11pm by now. Of course they didn’t keep us posted about what was going on, so we kept going up to ask. We were REPEATEDLY told that they would NOT cancel our flight because there were no available rental cars or hotel rooms in Phoenix due to multiple events going on – MBA spring training, LPGA tournament, and some NASCAR or other racing event.

About midnight, we saw our pilot and co-pilot leave the gate area with their luggage. What?!? We asked again what was going on and were told that our flight was still planning on leaving that night. With no pilot??

FINALLY, at 1am, they told us that we would NOT be leaving that night and that there were NO vouchers available for hotel rooms, since no rooms were available. They told us that the next flight we could get on was 11am the next morning. We were given food vouchers, but there were no food vendors open anymore. We had no luggage, no pillows, no blankets, no food, and it looked like we were spending the night in the terminal. We finally convinced the gate agent to get us some blankets and pillows from the plane.

A few of us called hotels on our own only to be told that there were indeed no rooms. We also tried to find a rental car because we were only an 8 hour drive from home. No dice.

Finally, we decided to try to get comfortable on the plastic chairs in the sub-zero degree terminal. Luckily, I had my glasses and some saline so I could at least take my contacts out. Then we attempted to sleep. Right about the time I dozed off, the cleaning crew came through with their super-sonic vacuum cleaners and they vacuumed RIGHT UNDER the chair I was attempting to sleep on.

It was a big like the Langoliers (have you seen that movie??) wandering around the airport that night.

I don’t think we dozed for more than 2 hours when everyone decided they couldn’t take it anymore. We headed out in search of food about 5am. Nothing was open on our side of security, so we thought we’d venture further. The idiot TSA guy we ran into said that we couldn’t get back through security to the gate until 6am, or something ridiculous. Our gate agent said it would be no problem for us to get back in. While we stood there arguing with him, he looked down and told one of the girls with me that her toe had crossed the line into the un-secure area, and she’d have to wait to come back in til later. What?? That pissed us off even more. Somehow we FINALLY convinced him to let stay on our side. Note: My Dad worked for the FAA for years, and when I told him this story, he said the guy was totally out of line, and Dad called and filed a complaint for us.

Anyway, at some point we got out to the main terminal, got some food, walked around, and then we headed back to the gate. There was a guy on our flight who was returning home after spending a year in Iraq. He was in his mid 20’s, wearing fatigues, and just a nice guy. He had been in Baghdad when Saddam was captured. His group (I don’t know the right term) had just been getting ready to hand out matchbooks that had a picture of Saddam on it, offering a reward for his capture. They never handed out the matchbooks because Saddam was captured first, so the troops got to each keep a box of them. This guy was carrying those matchbooks with him. He’d been through security at who knows how many airports already, and in Phoenix they decided to tell him that he couldn’t have move than 2 matchbooks for security purposes. We were pissed! After all of us came to his defense and argued for a bit, with no success, we backed away from the checkpoint and divvied up the matchbooks. We all took 2. Then after we got through security, we gave them all back to him. Ha! He let me keep one to give to The Colonel. It was so cool!

We spent the rest of our time waiting for our flight chatting with the soldier and asking him about his experiences. He was on an earlier flight than us going to a city about 2 hours from our hometown. His parents were driving up there to meet him. They were pretty anxious to see him!

We said goodbye to our soldier, and continued to wait for our 11am flight. About 45 minutes comes our soldier again! He got on the plane, took off, and then THEY CAME BACK due to mechanical problems! They rebooked him on our flight, he called his parents and told them to drive BACK to Bako, and we finally all boarded our flight.

And then we sat...and then we taxied, and then we sat...and we FINALLY took off, all of us holding our breaths. Exhausted, dirty, stinky and frustrated, we finally landed in good ol Bako mid-day Saturday. The only saving grace was that the news was there to welcome home our soldier, as well as his family and friends.

This trip would have been 1000 times worse if we hadn't been able to visit with our soldier, hear his stories and take our minds off of how miserable we were. The girl who was with me when her toe crossed the line was on her way to Bako to visit her husband for the weekend. She was living in OH, while he was in CA for a few months. Due to our troubles, she had to get right back on a plane 14 hours later to get back home in time for work on Monday.

And what did America’s Worst give us all??? NOTHING! But, I called and complained and asked for supervisor after supervisor, and I finally got a $250 voucher. Thank you very much!

Wow, I’m exhausted just thinking about it all over again.


Vanessa said...

Maybe its the heat in AZ that makes everyone so crabby? Talk about a bunch of miserable people working at the airport. Glad you at least got the voucher out of it.

Veronica said...

Wow, just wow. It makes me want to swear off travel forever!