20 December 2008

hahaha, did i say hiatus?

...because the Fates had other plans for us. Or maybe I should say Northwest Airlines had other plans. Alternate post title: air travel sucks, especially when there's no travel involved.

Today finds me at home with two wide-open days to fill, so I thought I'd use my new-found wealth of free time to blog about how I got all this extra time. Any of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook may have read my disgruntled updates yesterday, so now you can get the full story. I'll try to keep it brief, but no promises, because I might get ranty. Read the whole saga below the fold:

Friday, Dec. 19

3:30am: Alarm clock jolts us out of sleep

3:55am: Taxi arrives to take us to the airport

4:05am: Standing in line at Northwest check-in counter

4:20am: NW employees begin to arrive

4:30am: Check-in counter opens and we proceed to check in and check 3 large suitcases

5:00am: Checked in and through security, waiting at the gate

5:30am: Boarding begins for 6am flight to Detroit

6:00am: Airplane backs out of the gate to prepare for flight

Around this time, our pilot makes an announcement: the weather in Detroit isn't looking so good, and we may have to reroute to either Pittsburgh or Minneapolis. We cross our fingers for Minneapolis, since that's our layover between Detroit and Seattle. They are adding extra fuel to the plane in case we are rerouted.

5-10 minutes later, our pilot makes another announcement: the extra fuel has pushed our airplane over the weight limit and they are looking for nine volunteers to get off the plane. No one moves. Plane returns to the gate.

5 or so minutes later, flight crew makes an announcement: NW has another plane headed directly to Minneapolis, and anyone who gets off our plane can be rebooked on the Minneapolis flight. Greg goes to the front of the plane to speak to the NW representative.

Greg returns to me and the kids and says we can get off and go straight to Minneapolis on another flight instead of going through Detroit. We exit the plane with 5 other passengers who have the same plan.

7:00am: We are told at the ticket counter that the NW flight to Minneapolis that was used to lure us off the plane has no extra seats. We are issued travel vouchers and meal vouchers and rebooked on a 12:15pm flight to Detroit.

7:30am: Muffins, bagels and coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, courtesy of NW meal vouchers.

8:30am - 11am: We set up camp next to the children's play area. Kids run and jump and play while Greg and I amuse ourselves with the laptop and the Nintendo DS.

11am-ish: Head back to gate to check status of our new flight. Flight is delayed. Snow has started falling in earnest.

12pm-ish: Find a quiet, unoccupied gate to settle in and wait for flight status updates.

1pm-ish: Lunch at Subway courtesy of NW meal vouchers.

2pm - 5pm: Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Repeated flight delays. We are told that a flight headed to Rochester was rerouted to Syracuse, and our flight is dependent on that plane getting to Rochester from Syracuse. We also learn during this time period that our luggage has arrived in Seattle. Thankfully our toothbrushes are in our carry-on bags.

5:00pm: Another Detroit flight begins boarding. There are extra seats on this flight but the line of standby passengers is too long for us to get on board. At this point our 12:15pm flight is expected to leave at 7pm.

5:30pm: Detroit flight that has just boarded is now deboarding. I mention this because for the second time in one day, a NW flight is over the weight limit and passengers are asked to leave. This time, however, all passengers must exit the plane because one of the random passengers who was asked to get off refused and argued, and caused this flight to miss its window of opportunity to take off.

6:00pm: The same flight to Detroit begins reboarding.

6:30pm: The flight to Detroit is boarded, but by this time, so many passengers have missed their connecting flights and rebooked new flights for other days that there are 8 available seats.

Around this time, the flight crew is trying to determine how many more people they can take while staying within the weight limits. A pilot approaches us and asks if we are headed to Detroit; when we say yes he tells us he'd like to get us on the plane because our children would help keep the plane under the weight limit.

Then this pilot disappears and is never seen again.

The NW agent at the check-in counter begins letting standby passengers onto the flight. Greg inquires at the counter and we are told we can't get on this flight. The woman tells us that there is some feature of their computer system that won't allow her to change us to this flight, despite the fact that it's going to our destination and there are seats available, because we are still booked on the 12:15pm flight.

7:00pm: Flight to Detroit that we were not allowed to change to takes off. We are told that the plane we are waiting for from Syracuse is on its way and is expected to arrive at 7:30pm. We buy snacks to wait, still using vouchers. At least they were generous about that.

7:30pm: NW agent tells us that the plane from Syracuse is no longer listed as in the air, and our flight time has been moved back to 8:30pm. The kids are starting to get stir-crazy and continually ask when we're getting on the plane to go see Grandma and Papa.

8:00pm: At this point there are eight people left waiting: the four of us, a college student, and a couple with a 17-month old baby. We are all trying to get to Detroit to transfer on to other locations. I send NW a complaint through their website, detailing our saga.

8:30pm: We are informed that the plane we've been waiting for for over 8 hours has had a mechanical issue and our flight is canceled. We are all in tears of exhaustion, frustration and disappointment by this point.

9:00pm: We are rebooked for a Monday morning flight, 6am. We are told that there are no flights available on Saturday, and there is only one flight on Sunday, but it is already overbooked by 15 people, and there is another winter storm due on Sunday anyway. We are given additional travel vouchers. Evan asks if we're getting on the airplane now and I laugh and cry at the same time.

9:30pm: A friend picks us up at the airport to take us home.

10:00pm: We watch A Muppet Family Christmas while I make pasta for my starving children, who are too tired to eat more than a few bites despite how hungry they have been for the last couple of hours.

10:45pm: My children fall asleep, one on the couch and the other on the floor, and I carry them to bed.

11:00pm: Greg phones NW's Baggage Services to find out what is going to happen to our luggage. The employee he speaks with at first argues that our luggage can't be in Seattle, because it should have been taken off the flight when we got off the plane, despite the fact that more than one NW agent told us over the course of the day that our luggage was in Seattle. Then the customer service rep tells Greg that he will have to return to our airport to file a claim with the NW baggage office there. Greg, bless his little heart, argues with the woman for 5 minutes before she relents and checks the damn computer to find that yes, our bags are in Seattle and we can pick them up when we arrive there. Which will hopefully be on Monday.

Today we woke up late to a beautiful day, sunny, with fluffy white snow everywhere. We were dismayed to remember that our kids' boots and snow clothes are in our luggage, but luckily I found some slightly outgrown and some slightly too big items in the basement that will suffice for going sledding today. We have enough canned and frozen food to save us from having to go grocery shopping. We are planning to enjoy our extra two days of vacation even if we're not where we wish we were. We're just hoping that the snow that's expected on Sunday both here and in Seattle will be over by Monday morning so we can just get to our family for Christmas, damn it.

If you've made it to the end of this, thanks for indulging my self-pitying rant. I would advise you to steer clear of Northwest Airlines, but honestly, I don't trust that the others are that much better. The quality of our experiences with air travel has been steadily worsening over the last few years, regardless of which airline we're on. And they don't have to care, because we don't really have any choice.

Sigh. Hope everyone out there is having a better time than we are. And hopefully I won't have anything to blog about any time soon.


John S said...

Oh Heidi, I'm so sorry to hear that. I wondered what was happening... Greg never did keep me updated. Well I'm glad you guys are safely home at least. And I CANNOT WAIT to see all of you on Tuesday night.

Jessica said...

Oh. My. Goodness. I saw the twitter updates on your blog and FB and wondered what was going on. That is SO SO wrong, especially given that they lied to you about the flight to Minneapolis. You should absolutely be compensated for every penny you paid for these flights, but of course you won't. It's SO wrong.

Jessica said...

Anyone who *voluntarily* gives up their seats and goes through THIS due entirely to airline incompetence should totally be given the royal treatment by the airline. You should get free tickets to Italy.

Anonymous said...

oh my gosh, this is crazy!!! wtf?! i can't believe you had to go through this. i hope you enjoy the weekend anyway and fly safely on monday.
much love,

andreajacy said...

I had a similar experience with American Airlines this year and, against my better judgement, have used travel vouchers to fly with them early next year.

Someone I know was booking a Southwest flight for the first time and asked me if they were any good. Although I don't want to jinx myself because I fly them tomorrow, somehow they are able fly to many of the same places as the other airlines, but they do it cheaper, more efficiently, and with a much better attitude. This is why I refuse to live in a non-SW city.