When Weather Delays Force a Change of Mind and a Change of Plans

Late last year, United Airlines offered a deal where you could book a winter trip to Europe for greatly discounted miles. As we didn’t have a trip organized yet, Bob and I jumped at the chance to fly round trip to Paris for 46,000 miles each (instead of the usual 80,000) last month. We figured we’d spend just under two weeks abroad, dividing our time between Paris and London. We bought round trip EuroStar “Chunnel” tickets to get us back and forth between the two cities. We also booked, and paid for, our lodging: a hotel in Paris and an Airbnb in London. And we were ready to go.

Unfortunately, however, weather conditions here on the West Coast threw a small wrench into our plans. Our departure coincided with the beginning of Snowpocalypse 2019, where much of the West received very wintery weather, including snow in Seattle and Los Angeles, and rain, wind and flooding in San Francisco, where we were connecting from Medford to Paris. We woke up on the day of our departure to a text from United informing us that our Medford/San Francisco flight had been cancelled, due to weather in SF. When I tried to rebook online, the United site said “we can’t find any flights to Paris for you, please call the United Help Desk.”  Uh-oh.

We called United, and they rebooked us on a flight out of Medford later that day, still through San Francisco. This meant we would miss the connection to our Paris flight, but we’d get onto another flight late in the evening, and arrive in Paris at 5pm the next day, instead of 10am. Not too bad, we thought. We’d still make our 8pm dinner reservations in Paris.

Well when we got to the Medford airport, about 50 minutes before our flight, we were informed, via text once again, that our second flight had been cancelled as well. We went for help to the United desk, and learned that the San Francisco airport had cancelled more than 100 flights that day, most of them the small planes from little airports like Medford. According to the agent, who was actually a really nice guy, only international flights were getting in and out. The cancellations were all “due to weather,” although the United agent told us that one runway was closed at SFO, which had nothing to do with the weather.

So what were our options? Ideally, we didn’t want to book another flight through San Francisco later that day, figuring it would likely be cancelled. United wasn’t willing to book us on another airline, as our tickets were “economy frequent flier.” Bob confirmed that if we had purchased tickets with cold hard cash, United would have been more willing to help us, even though, as he kindly pointed out to the agent, if we had enough United miles to book tickets to Europe, arguably, we are good United customers, and United should want to take care of their good customers. Unsurprisingly, Bob got nowhere with that observation.

Long story long, we were re-booked through Denver, for a flight five long hours later, where we had to spend the night (on our dime of course, as our cancellations were due to “weather”). We then flew out the next day to Paris, arriving 24 hours later, and losing one night of our pre-booked and pre-paid hotel.

It was disappointing to lose a day of our 12-day trip, and of course, it cost us money. But the truth is, there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. We couldn’t get out of Medford any sooner than we did. We weren’t going to cancel our trip, and lose out on all the money we had paid for lodging in Paris and London, as opposed to just the one night. So we mentally recalibrated and decided that “it is what it is”. We stayed a night in Denver, and walked to a nearby bar & restaurant for a beer and nachos (not perhaps the French food we were expecting to eat), and were treated to a so-horribly-bad-it-was-good karaoke performance of “The Sound of Silence.” Oh, the irony. We wouldn’t have gotten that in a fancy Paris restaurant, that is for damn sure.

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5 thoughts on “When Weather Delays Force a Change of Mind and a Change of Plans

  1. Molly Divine says:

    the joys of travel. i try to prepare for the worst, stay flexible and rejoice at rare blessedly uneventful travel. interestingly, the “worst” trips are the ones I remember the most and usually make for a good story.

  2. Beth Geismar says:

    Avoid SFO in all seasons (United also, once you use up those miles…) And consider cheap ($30/person at your age) travel insurance that will cover unexpected hotel/lost baggage costs as well as medevac. Very helpful when you fly out of the small airports we do!

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