Dealing With The Dreaded “Airline Call”

Yesterday, as a meeting in Washington, D.C. was winding down, the sinister travel dominoes started falling.  First, lawyers from New York City got the message that their impending flight was canceled, and they had to start scrambling to make alternative arrangements. The first flicker of doubt about my flight zigzagged through my mind, but I quickly suppressed it and rationalized that it was because of bad weather in the NYC area.

IMG_1132Then, a few minutes later, those of us from Columbus got the dreaded “airline call.”  The dismal robotic recorded voice advised that our flight back also had been canceled outright — no initial delay, and therefore no ray of hope that the flight might actually leave at some point.

The message gave some gibberish explanation about “air traffic congestion” in the system, which undoubtedly is a daily condition in the busy air traffic corridor above the east coast of the United States — and said we would be rebooked.  Then another member of our party got the message that the rebooking was for a flight this morning, which meant that we faced the unhappy choice between an unplanned, no-clean-clothes overnight in D.C. — assuming you could even find a decent hotel room at the last minute in a city that seemed packed with visitors — or renting a car and driving home.

This really wasn’t much of a choice.  We quickly selected the latter option — when you’re expecting to get home, you really want to get home, no matter how difficult the journey might be, and some of us also had can’t-miss appointments early today — and then we faced another decision:  should we try to rent a car at the airport, or from one of the tiny downtown rental car outlets?  We chose the latter option, reasoning that if our flight was cancelled due to “congestion” the airport car rental counters probably were scenes of chaos.  The risk of the hotel rental outlets, of course, is that they don’t actually have a car available, no matter what the on-line website is telling you.

It was a close call, but cars somehow were found, and we headed out, conveniently leaving in the heart of the D.C. rush hour traffic/I-495/I-270 commuter snarl.  Hours later, as the clock ticked down to the midnight hour, we rolled into Columbus — about four hours after our designated plane flight arrival time.

We made it, and we gratefully acknowledge the utility of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System.

The Dreaded 3:30 Call

It was about 3:30 a.m. when the first phone call came.  It jarred us awake from a deep sleep.  As usual when you get a call in the middle of the night, you immediately think it’s some kind of family emergency.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

No, it was a robotic voice giving us the happy news that our flight plans had to be changed.  Half-asleep, my first reaction was:  Whuh?  The robot warmly advised that United had changed our booking so that we would fly to Columbus through Houston, and get in tomorrow morning.  Tomorrow morning?

By now fully awake, I thought:  Gee, thanks, United!  So I went to the website and confirmed that, sure enough, the first leg of our trip back was cancelled.  Cancelled.  Such grim finality in that word.  Not like “Delayed,” where you retain a shred of hope that you might still be able to get through, somehow.  No, “Cancelled” is like the clanging shut of the cell door on your first night at Shawshank Prison.

Fortunately, we booked through American Express Travel, so I had a helpful live human being to call.  He looked at the situation, realized that there were non-United flights available, and came up with an alternative plan that is supposed to get us back tonight, although much later than originally planned.

So we went back to bed, slept fitfully, and now we’re off to the airport, hoping that further travel catastrophe doesn’t strike.  A day of potential travel hell awaits.