The Answer My Friend, Is Blowing in the Wind

Bob and I travel a fair amount, and while we’ve endured many delayed flights over the years, we’ve never missed a connection. Until this Spring that is, when our flight out of Las Vegas into San Francisco was 55 minutes late. You’d think that wouldn’t be that long to mess everything up, but alas, it was. We had a 50 minute connection in San Francisco from our original flight arrival time until our flight to Medford was scheduled to depart. And, you guessed it, the Medford flight was right on time, and we missed our connection by about 10 minutes.enhance (1)

We were those people that ran over to our gate in the hopes we could still make it, only to find the ramp doors had been locked, and the plane had just pulled out of the gate. This was the last Medford flight for the evening, and, to compound things even further, the reason given for our delayed flight out of Las Vegas was weather. It wasn’t raining, it wasn’t snowing, and it didn’t even seem windy. But our flight was delayed because of weather. This meant we had to stay the night in San Francisco, and United would not compensate us because it was “out of their control.” They rebooked us for the 8am departure the next morning, and washed their hands of us, metaphorically speaking.

I tried to get some help at the customer service desk. Our plane had actually landed at SFO in time but then sat just off the gate in San Francisco for 10 or 15 minutes, waiting for another plane to head out. If we had been able to slide immediately in to our gate, we certainly would have made our connection. This too, according to United, was weather related. Planes leaving SF were backed up. Every plane except the one that was headed to Medford of course.

Bob in the meantime was logging in to www.hotels.com and www.hotwire.com, trying to find a nearby hotel at a reasonable price for a few hours so we could get some sleep. For future reference, when it’s 11pm and you need a hotel by the airport that evening, trust me when I say there are not many deals to be had. I think the hotels know they’ve got a hot buyer, and they’re apparently not going to offer any “we’ve got 50 rooms available and we’ll sell them at any cost” deals.

Our nearby room cost about $180 on hotwire, for five hours of sleep. This was a bargain based on the two hotels I called directly, who wanted to charge us $220. We considered “sleeping” in the airport, but we’ve done that before, and frankly, I’m getting a little too old for that nonsense. Sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up and pay the last minute hotel fee. We’ll never know what the “weather” was that delayed our flight, but it was totally out of our control. Apparently, it was totally out of United’s control too.

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The People on the Bus Go Up and Down

by Nancy Bestor

img_4491When traveling overseas last month, Bob and I flew on Alaska Airlines out of Medford, Oregon, to San Francisco—via Portland, Oregon—to catch our Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. San Francisco was apparently having some significant weather delays, so our flight out of Portland was delayed, and delayed, and then delayed again. Finally, we were told that our plane would take off shortly, but not to SFO as ticketed. Instead we would fly to San Jose, and then be bused about 45 minutes to SFO. We originally had a six hour layover in San Francisco, and thank goodness we booked it that way, as we ended up getting to San Francisco with just enough time to grab a quick snack and board our Turkish Airlines flight.

The flight to San Jose went just as planned, but the busing, well, let’s just say that left something to be desired. The Alaska gate agents had an extremely difficult time communicating with the bus company in charge of picking up the Alaska passengers and getting them to SFO. We were told the buses would leave San Jose within 20 minutes of our deplaning, but it took the two buses over an hour to get to our waiting point. We could, however, see the buses from where we were waiting, but they (for some strange reason) could not get to us. They kept driving around and around on the wrong access way. Needless to say, many passengers got a little angry. Anyone who had a tight connection in San Francisco was out of luck. For that matter, even those with a generous connection time (2-3 hours) were out of luck. Passengers unfortunately started taking their anger out on the Alaska gate agents, who were trying as best as they could to get the buses to come to the right spot. But the buses continued to drive by us, just slightly, and ridiculously, out of reach.

Finally the buses arrived and we made our way to SFO. Bob and I were fortunate enough to be sitting in front of a three year old girl who sang “The Wheels On the Bus” almost the entire time. Frankly, it was refreshing to hear this little girl happily singing after watching too many adults throw temper tantrums. Because apparently, it’s not just babies on the bus who go “whaa, whaa, whaa.”

Delays happen. We don’t have to be happy about it, but we also don’t need to take out our wrath on other humans. We’re all just doing the best we can.

Well Dark Clouds Are Rollin’ In

by Nancy Bestor

Last month, when returning from a week long vacation in the Caribbean, my family’s final flight home from San Francisco to Medford, Oregon was canceled. This was after we had already been traveling for nearly 24 hours. The weather in San Francisco was rainy, and there was a light fog outside of the airport, but I’ve seen much worse weather, so it came as quite a surprise to me when United first delayed and then canceled our 10am flight.
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Once we realized what had happened, Bob and I quickly went to the United customer service counter to see what could be done for us. The United agent informed us that due to the weather, our plane (one of the small jet-propelled types that flies in and out of Medford) could not land in San Francisco, which was the reason our flight was cancelled. There were two more flights for Medford scheduled that day, so she put us on the stand-by list. We were numbers 4-7 on the list however, and knowing that the small planes only seat 25ish, we figured our chances of getting on the flight were slim. The agent said those flights also had a high likelihood of being canceled, and she could not confirm seats out for us to Medford until Monday, two days later, on another airline. Finally, she told us since the delay was weather related, United would not offer us any hotel or meal compensation.

We really needed to get home on Saturday, as our oldest daughter had a ride scheduled from Medford back to college in Corvallis (go Beavers!) on Sunday morning. We could take a chance on getting four stand-by seats later in the day, on a plane that may or may not have been able to arrive in San Francisco, or we could cut our losses and rent a one-way car. We cut our losses.
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We booked the car from our iPad while we were walking to the car rental agency in the airport. I had learned this lesson after friends of ours were stuck in a similar situation in Seattle, and the people in line in front of them booked the last one-way rental car available at the airport. Ours wasn’t cheap. The one-way rental cost $225. And we had to drive five plus hours, AND return the rental car to the airport. But our options were pretty limited at that point. By the time we drove our rental car out of the airport parking lot, several other United passengers who had been milling about our gate were in line to pick up cars too.

I can’t fault United Airlines in this situation (I know, shocking, right?). United really was doing all it could to get us home, there just weren’t any planes to do it. I can’t even fault them for not offering us hotel or meal compensation. San Francisco is an iffy city for weather. If they offered compensation every time a plane was delayed or canceled due to weather, they would likely not be in business.

The bottom line is this was an unfortunate situation that was out of every human’s control. We spent an additional $225 on our trip, and five hours in the car, but we made it home on Saturday, only several hours later than we would have made it home had our 10:00 am flight left on time. Travel doesn’t always work out the way you plan it. But then again, neither does life.