Saturday, July 4, 2009

Never again will I travel on a major US Holiday

This was typed up while sitting in a coach seat. The formatting is a little funny as the cut and paste from Microsoft Word to my blogging software didn't go very well.

Never again will I travel on a major US holiday. Never.
A month or so ago my wife asked if I had July 3rd and 4th off. Lucky for her the line I was awarded gave me those two days off. With that said she planned a trip for us to attend a San Francisco Giants game with her sister.
We kept an eye on the flight loads for the night of the 2nd and the morning of the 3rd. With all of the fare sales recently all the flights were really full with just 5 to 10 seats open per flight. In addition to all the paying passengers, there were a lot of non-revenue passengers looking for a way out as well.
The day of the 2nd I was assigned to be available from 10AM till Midnight for a reserve assignment. I knew I would likely not get called.  My wife took the day off and spent the day watching flights. At one point she was monitoring 5 different destinations and all preceding flight loads!
I spent the morning building a computer for my dad. By 3PM I was done. I shipped it off via FEDEX. FEDEX  gives an awesome discount to my airline (likely all airline employees). After my travel benefits, the FEDEX discount is the next best perk!

Once I was back home my wife picked out the best option. A flight close to my sister in law. A direct flight to my sister in laws house was the next best option. The flights were full…but were our best options.
The first flight was to leave at 7:05PM. We arrived at the gate. We were very far down on the list. It left full. The direct flight was supposed to leave at 8:05PM. I made a quick dash to a ticket counter and bought a ZED fare for my wife. This was to be used as part of a backup plan.
We made our way to the 8:05PM gate. Once we sat down they changed the gate to a gate near the 7:05PM flight. Hmmm this  would end up helping us. Whenever an airline changes gates people don’t listen. They make several announcements over and over again and people will still miss the flight. I have watched people sit 10 feet from the counter and still miss the announcement and then the flight. Amazing.
After arriving back at the gate we started checking loads again. Things were looking okay. Boarding started.  Halfway through our names were called along with all of the standbys. Nine passengers didn’t show up.  We got the last two seats in First Class! We quickly made our way to our seats. Then I got a bad feeling.
The cabin was very warm. Only external air connected. Normally at my airline we fire up the APU a few minutes prior to departure or if the external air can’t do the job. We were AT departure time.  The jet bridge pulled back and the cabin door was closed. I still didn’t have a good feeling. Then it happened. The power went out. Most passengers didn’t notice, as it was still daylight outside. I noticed the emergency lighting system had activated. After about 3 minutes the cockpit door opened and the jet bridge reattached. I heard the Captain tell the flight attendant to de-board. Not good.
Since we were seated in First we were one of the first passengers off. I saw several passengers at the gate talking to a gate agent. The passengers were happy. Why? Because now they would make the flight!
The gate agent advised all standbys that our seats would be pulled and we might not get them back. Over the next 2 hours we waited for the plane to be fixed. We missed a flight we had lined up as a backup because we thought we would make this one. If we didn’t make the flight we would be going back home. While waiting I used Facebook to get load information for another airline that would end up being our new backup plan. Thanks to my connections from ATP, I have friends at regional’s serving all major airlines. He let me know that we had a good chance of getting on a flight the next day if we could make it to their hub.
As boarding finished there were 3 passengers who were still missing. My wife and I were #2 and #3 to get seats. Right at the last minute three twenty something’s came running from a bar and onto the plane. Doh!
We had the gate move our reservation to another flight leaving the next morning. By doing this we would be near the top of the list.
We went back home. This was our first time to not make a flight out. We have had to wait for 2 or 4 flights before getting a seat, but we always got a seat.  After getting back home we worked out the details for our backup plan.  We went to bed tired.
The next day we woke up early and headed to the airport. We normally plan or arrival so we clear security right at boarding time. We didn’t anticipate the super long lines due to the holiday weekend. We made it through 1/3 the way through boarding. We had seats…. along with 52 other non-rev passengers! This flight was one of the very few “open” flights. We weren’t the only ones to figure this out.
After getting to the next hub we had to head over to the next gate. These security lines were long. I was still in uniform so I zipped through the employee line, “Membership has its benefits”. My wife had to go check in at the ticket counter since she was using a ZED pass.
She had to wait in the security line for about 45 minutes. Next time I will escort her through the employee line.
Our planned flight left in an hour. We waited by the gate. I used and the airline site to check the status and flight times. I noticed the airline site was showing a 2-hour delay. Hmmm not good. I then found another flight leaving soon to a city not too far away.
We headed over to that gate. I have never jump seated on this airline and wasn’t quite sure how the process worked.  Thankfully it was pretty straightforward. The gate agent also moved my wife over to this flight as well. Nice.
Twenty minutes prior to boarding we were given seats. Nice. I boarded with the preboarding section and went up to the cockpit to ask permission to jump seat from the Captain. Even though I already had a real seat, it’s still required/polite to ask for a seat.
The Captain was very nice and welcomed me aboard. I went back to stow my suite case and relax. A few minutes later my wife took a seat right in front of me. Nice.
Once we arrived I did my “superman” routine and changed out of my uniform and into normal clothes.
My sister in law had a friend who my wife knew well who was in the city we landed in that was going to drive up and see my sister in law that day! We really lucked out as she picked us up and drove us 140 miles away!
This has been a very interesting experience. We will never travel on a major US holiday weekend again. Ugh.

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