Planes, trains, and automobiles, redux

It took about 24 hours to get us back to Oregon from Boston, something that seems almost unfathomable in today’s world. At some point we began to joke about living out the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” but after awhile it wasn’t very funny. Here’s the story.

The hospital asked Tom to stay over an extra day for treatment preparation and planning. That treatment is now perhaps off the table for the moment, but of course we didn’t know that at the time.

I called United AL to try to change our tickets (heavily discounted fare). They wanted a modest $1,500 to rebook the two of us one day later. This was about three times the total original fare, and I’m afraid I went ballistic. The poor customer service rep, who I know was doing his best and only following his scripted policy, closed the call with “We certainly hope you’ll consider United for your future travel arrangements.” I’m afraid I just started laughing, but all I could respond was “I’ll bet you do.”

Let me just say that I have a new code for future travel–ABU: “anything but United.”

But then the adventure began in earnest.

A relative had offered us guest passes on Alaska, my favorite airline. The two tickets cost about $50 each. As of Tuesday there were ten seats available on the Thursday flight we wanted, so we took them. What we didn’t know was that on Wednesday weather had created havoc at O’Hare, and between Tuesday and Thursday United and American had snapped up all available seats out of Boston that didn’t go through Chicago, trying to get their affected passengers out. Had we taken the United change, we would have been out $1500 and been part of the affected group with no recourse.

That morning we took a cab out to Logan Airport. When we arrived Thursday morning at Logan to check in for our standby tickets, the passenger service rep for Alaska just looked at us in horror. She told us the first available seats were currently for the following Wednesday. We bought the tickets anyway and went to the gate.

The same agent came down to check in passengers, saw us waiting there, and started burning up her terminal. She said she really thought there was zero probability at that point of getting us out before the following Tuesday. We were both out of our prescription medications, having brought enough for two extra days only.

But then she offered a suggestion. There was a flight with lots of available seats leaving the Newark airport that evening. Then she gave us a whole transportation plan, complete with departure times and estimated fares on all of the elements required. Here’s what we did.

We left the terminal and boarded the T’s (Boston central transit authority) Silver Line ($2 each). It took us directly to South Station. We walked several hundred yards and bought tickets (total cost $188) on Amtrak to the Newark airport. At the airport stop, we took a monorail into the terminal and checked in as standby. Then we waited.

The flight was delayed from 6:10 to 8:30 p.m. Congestion at the Newark airport had caused air traffic control to hold our plane in Seattle for 2.5 hours. The gate agent advised us that we would be arriving in Seattle about two hours after the last flight to Portland that night. We went anyway, just wanting to be back on the left coast.

I briefly flirted with the idea of renting a car in Seattle to drive to Portland, but figured (rightfully) that after being up for 24 hours I probably would not be in condition for three hours of freeway-speed driving at night. Besides, John Candy set fire to his rented car. . .

So we waited from about midnight to 5 a.m., got on standby on the 6 a.m. shuttle, and just squeaked on, making it to Portland about 7 a.m. Tom’s wonderful wife came and picked us up at the airport. We drove an hour to their home, I got in my car, and made it back home (including stopping for groceries) at around noon. Then I collapsed like I had been pole-axed.

We both got home for less than $300 total. It required a cab, a bus, a train, a monorail, a lot of walking (although we never resorted to hitchhiking), and a private car pickup. But we made it.

After a good night’s sleep, I’m feeling almost recovered. One more night should do it. The trip was very hard on Tom, and he caught a cold or something that’s got him a little laid up today. This is the first air trip I can remember that I didn’t get a sinus infection, so adrenalin and exhaustion must be good immune boosters.

I am so glad to be home.

One thing I forgot to mention. Because we were flying one-way, and standby, we got selected for super security screening each time we went through a gate, a fact that just added to the idiocy of the whole experience. It seems to me that people flying on airline employee guest passes would logically be the least suspicious, but what do I know?

Just one thing–I am so glad to be home. Our security system here, a lock on the gate, is just right.


9 Responses to “Planes, trains, and automobiles, redux”

  1. whitishrabbit Says:

    Glad you’re home safely. What a hellacious week you’ve had. Douglas Adams has this to say about airports in the opening chapter of ‘The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul’

    “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression “As pretty as an airport.”

    Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort. This ugliness arises because airports are full of people who are tired, cross and have just discovered that their luggage has landed in Murmansk. (Murmansk airport is the only known exception to this otherwise infallible rule) and architects have, on the whole tried to reflect this in their design.

    They have sought to highlight the tiredness and crossness motif with brutal shapes and nerve-jangling colors, to make effortless the business of separating the traveler forever from his or her luggage or loved ones, to confuse the traveler with arrows that appear to point at the windows, distant tie racks, or the current position of Ursa Minor in the night sky, and wherever possible to expose the plumbing on the grounds that it is functional, and conceal the location of the departure gates, presumably on the grounds that they are not.”

  2. whig Says:

    There should be medical need fares that don’t rip you off. Glad you made it home ok.

  3. mklekacz Says:

    Thanks, guys. It feels so good to be home. The flowers are blooming, and April showers are keeping it cool and warm.

    Whig, I tried the “medical necessity” bit, and the customer service rep told me I could pay the $1500 or try for a different day, when fares were even higher. After all, the planes were 80% full, so they weren’t discounting anything.

    Rabbit, two things stand out: The noise level is atrocious (I’ll be hearing those recordings in my sleep for weeks), and the amount of just plain litter and filth on the east coast is truly disheartening. It made me really appreciate where I live.

  4. whig Says:

    Never be afraid to talk to a travel agent, they can sometimes work deals you wouldn’t know about, and they get commission from the airline not you so it doesn’t cost you a penny to try.

  5. Philip Ferris Says:

    Douglas Adams, I love his work, I love this site – it brings up some of my all time favourite authors and also gives me new ones to consider.

    Marianne, I can empathise completely over your travel issues, i have hassles with delays and redirections nearly every time I travel, but not to the extent you folks did. Glad that you are home safe.

    The locked gate concept is one I can relate to as it is similar to when I have been to London for meetings etc and then head home.

  6. mklekacz Says:

    Whig, my sister owns a travel agency, so I started there before calling UAL directly to plead my case. She had no better luck than I did, and in fact said that airlines were often harder on travel agents than the general population. But thanks for the suggestion.

    Phil, locked gates are a very effective security system. If you haven’t read Brautigan, give him a try. Adams is “Hitchhiker’s Guide. . .,” yes?

  7. Phil Ferris Says:

    Yep, Douglas was the HitchHiker’s Guide… bloke.

  8. OmbudsBen Says:

    My wife and I just bowed out of a family reunion to be held in western Michigan, where my aunt and uncle live, right after the 4th of July.

    We checked into it. It would involve driving 20-25 miles out to a kennel that will take and exercise our dogs for 3-4 days, BARTing to SFO, flying to Milwaukee, ferrying across lake Michigan, seeing my family and having dinner with them one night, and then doing it all again in reverse.

    Several days and cloes to $2 thousand. It’s convenient for thier families to do this right after the 4th. And now I read your post, and much as I feel a little bad for missing it, knowing, just knowing the likelihood of sitting in Milwaukee’s airport negotiating about canceled or overbooked flights makes me grateful.

    In my limited experience, the odds are better for stress than for everything going without a hitch. And I’m not even inculding the two canceled flights in Dallas that once landed us at Minneapolis/St. Paul half an hour after the rental car counter closed, so we sat out at the airport at 11:30 at night, miles and miles from our motel.

  9. mklekacz Says:

    Ben, if you’re only going for one evening, it seems like the odds of actually making the dinner are not very good. . .I know what you mean by feeling bad, but I think you made the right decision. ;^}

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