If you travel long enough it will happen to you: the travel experience from hell! On a recent trip home after two weeks in Alaska my husband, Ron, and I were chagrinned to find ourselves trapped in a circle of events beyond our control.
During our flight on Friday, Aug. 30, from Vancouver to Dallas/Fort Worth airport, Ron received the dreaded text: our flight from DFW to Colorado Springs had been canceled. Oh no! But we were offered the opportunity to make an online reservation for another flight that would carry us home. Except the new flight was two days away on Sunday. So what were we going to do for two days at the DFW airport? Nothing else was offered online, so with dread we waited for our flight to land in Dallas.
Apparently a devastating thunderstorm roared through Dallas in the early afternoon, closing the airport and canceling ALL flights for the rest of the day and night. We found the airport to be in chaos once we arrived along with thousands of fellow frustrated and angry passengers. What to do now? Well, we thought, the airline’s customer service would take care of us, giving us a hotel voucher and helping us make alternate travel arrangements. WRONG! We quickly found the Very Long Line to talk to someone who could hopefully help us (or not!). The buzz along the line was that no hotel vouchers were being offered as the problem was due to an uncontrollable weather situation, rather than mechanical problems.
We stood in this barely moving line for perhaps two to three hours, with thousands of cranky people still ahead of us. So we started to think about alternate plans. Waiting until Sunday to fly home felt impossible after already being away for two weeks. Of course, the airline was not answering their phone, and there were no airline personnel to talk to other than those at the head of the VERY long line we were in. Other travelers in line were making plans to take a train or bus, find a hotel room, or rent a car.
A lightbulb went off. We could drive home … Dallas is only 11 hours from Colorado Springs. Ron quickly got on the phone and reserved a car to drive one-way home. We left the interminable line and jumped on the rental car bus. Once we arrived we queued up in yet another line. These lines were shorter than those in the airport, and we were optimistic that we would soon be on our way home. WRONG AGAIN! Our reservation had been made on a national website and no cars were actually available for a one-way rental.
Now what? We were stuck in a vortex of the combination of uncontrollable weather conditions, thousands of fellow passengers trying to get somewhere else, and the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend. By now we were exhausted, starving, and beyond frustration. By this time it was very late — around 1 a.m. Saturday. We hurried back to the airport and were lucky to be the last ones allowed back through security. “Do you have a boarding pass?” we were asked. “Sure — for our flight that was canceled!”
We went back to the original airline customer service line which had miraculously disappeared during our sojourn to the car rental area. Finally, we were able to speak to an equally exhausted customer service agent. Yes, we could fly home on Saturday going through Denver. Now, why was this option not offered to us online? With our reservations confirmed we had eight hours to hunker down for the night and WAIT. We found one restaurant still open at 2 a.m. and chowed down on tacos and beer. With a thin blanket supplied by the airlines, we joined our fellow refugees finding a place to sleep. With armrests between all the seats, it is impossible to lie down. I ended up on the floor for a few hours wondering what was on that carpet besides me. Sleep was impossible with conversations and loud TV throughout the rest of the night.
By 5 a.m. the airport came alive with flights finally arriving and leaving. Until I was actually in the seat on our flight to Denver I was not able to relax. We were most relieved to arrive home Saturday afternoon, exhausted and in need of showers. In retrospect, what could we have done differently? I really don’t know. We just got stuck in a perfect storm along with too many other passengers, and a poor contingency plan by the airline. Guess which one it was?
Libby Kinder is a freelance writer and retired clinical mental health counselor. She and her husband have lived in southwest Colorado Springs for 14 years. Contact Libby with comments and travel ideas at email@example.com.