Posted by: Heather A. | March 22, 2010

The Glamorous Life of Travel

There are two reactions I typically get when people find out that I travel for my job: “Poor thing!” or “Wow, that must be very cool.”  As extremes often go, neither is quite right.  For the most part I enjoy traveling, or at least I don’t mind it so much.  I can honestly say I like my job, I’m grateful to work for a great company, and I enjoy using up the frequent flier miles and hotel points to take my family on vacations like our upcoming one to Disney World (4 plane tickets all bought with miles!).

Glamorous, however, it is NOT, and no day was less glamorous than Wednesday, February 24, 2010, as I attempted to make my way home from Manchester, NH.  If you follow me on Twitter, you might remember that day, as I tweeted up a storm, trying to keep my friends and family up to date on the latest insane travel developments.  Never have I been more grateful for technology than I was on that day — it saved me a ton of phone calls because everyone could either check Twitter or Facebook.

That day was so crazy, that I decided it desperately deserved its own blog post, so here goes (be warned: this is a long one!).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Manchester, NH

4:00am – Alarm goes off.  I once again curse late afternoon meetings that make it impossible for me to fly home that night.  Glad I decided to forgo my usual 6am flight home through Charlotte in favor of sleeping an extra 30 minutes and going through LaGuardia instead.  Ha ha ha.

5:00am – Check out of hotel and get into a cab whose driver appears no older than 15.  I take a leap of faith and do not ask to see his license.  It’s just too darn early to care.  Oh, and it’s SNOWING.  Supposed to be a decent sized storm.  Famous last words: “I’m glad I’m getting out of here early!”

5:30am – Arrive at airport.

5:35am – Go to the Casual Traveler lane because the Expert Lane is filled with…CASUAL TRAVELERS.  TSA, why do you have separate lanes if you don’t intend to enforce your own rules???

5:39am – I find out I’ve won the TSA lottery…I get to be patted down.  Oh joy.  Yes, because in my jeans and backpack, I’m clearly such a terrorist.  Oh wait, the 5th grade girl who also got searched and had her bookback dumped out because all the text books were too dense to be scanned en masse?  Right, even more of a terrorist than me.  Great job, guys.

5:45am – Blessed Starbucks.

6:40am – We load the plane a few minutes late, nothing big, but then we sit on the runway for about 30 minutes.  I’m scheduled for a 2 hour layover at LGA, so I don’t worry about it.  Plus, if I do miss my connection, it’s early enough in the day, and I have status, so I’ll hop on the next flight.  The plane takes off around 7:15am.  Oh, did I mention this is a prop plane?  Yeah.

8:30am – The flight should only take about an hour, and we’ve definitely been in the air longer than that.  The weather is bad and getting worse.  Can’t see anything but clouds outside the window.

8:35am – The pilot comes over the speaker to say that we, along with a number of other planes, have been circling over LGA for some time, as they are in a partial ground stop due to weather.  He hopes we’ll be landing soon.

8:45am – The pilot now announces that not only are all of us still circling the airport, but all the planes have lost the communication link to the ground.  AND…We’re out of fuel.  We’re going to Plan B.  (I’m not kidding, those were his exact words.  He actually said “out of fuel” and “Plan B”).

9:00am – Plan B turns out to be landing at a tiny tiny regional airport about 60 miles from NYC – Newburgh, NY.  The pilot assures us that communications have been reestablished, and that once we refuel, we’ll make the short 10 minute hop to LGA.  Some of the other passengers grumble about getting out there and finding another flight, but I know all too well that our chances of getting a flight out of a small airport are vastly smaller than going back to LGA.  We may miss our original connections, but there will be another flight.  We sit tight…and sit…and sit.  Soon, my seat neighbor jokes that we must have had to call in the only refueling truck in the city.  How true that will turn out to be later.

Newburgh, NY
9:30am – We taxi out, but the pilot says we’re now being told not to take off.  LGA is back in a partial ground stop due to weather and has given us a “wheels up time” of 10:00.  My connection home?  Due to leave at 10:00am.  Oh well.

***Side note: This does not make me nearly as upset as you’d think.  I’d actually rather have it happen like this, where I know there’s no hope of making the connection, than have to do the 2-mile dash through the airport carrying bags in a futile attempt to catch a flight that leaves 2 minutes before I arrive, leaving me gasping like an asthmatic fish out of water.  Fun times.  So, really, I’m fine with it.***

9:53am – We taxi out again and are preparing to taking off, when the pilot speaks once again.  This time, his news is even better: LGA is now in a FULL inbound ground stop, and we will be returning to the terminal.  We are told to deplane, and that ALL our bags (checked and gate checked) will be unloaded and delivered to baggage claim.  “Go to Baggage Claim B and wait,” we are told.

9:59am – My first look at the, yes, TINY airport of Newburgh, NY.  The woman helping us is clearly overwhelmed and bewildered.  Ours is the first of at least 3 planes that morning that were redirected to Newburgh, and I overhear her tell another passenger that US Air only has 3, THREE, employees here.  They run about 3 flights a day, and aren’t quite sure what to do about all these stranded passengers.  I start emailing and calling my co-workers, letting them know I will not be on my afternoon calls.

I now take this opportunity to grab a snack.  I’m definitely not ready for lunch, not really having had breakfast, so I buy an oh-so-nutritious snack of Animal Crackers and Coke.  Glamorous, right? 🙂

10:30am – The poor US Air employee tells us that the plan is to provide ground transportation to LGA.  As the first flight in, mine will be the first BUS out.  Bus?  Hmmm…A few passengers whose final stop was NYC, decide to share a charter van and head out.  The rest of us wait.  I immediately call the US Air Gold Reservation line and get rebooked onto a later flight.  Again, I’m grateful for having status.  The mom and daughter who were traveling south for a college tour are in a much worse position than me.

10:50am – My flight is called to go outside and board the bus.  So we do…and what pulls up?  A big yellow school bus.  The choice is to laugh, or cry.  I’m glad to report that much laughter is heard.

The Magical School Bus!!!

LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
12:30pm
– We were told that the trip to LGA would normally take 60-90 minutes, but might take up to 3 hours depending on traffic and the state of the roads (it’s icy and snowing a bit).  Happily, it took right at 90 minutes, during which I got to catch up with my friend Kirsten.  My battery is starting to drain, though, so I decide to only text and tweet for the rest of the day.  We arrive at the airport, and most of the bus heads over to the ticketing counter where they wait in line, hoping to get rebooked. Already rebooked, I retrieve my new boarding pass and head back through security…

12:35pm – Where I’m searched for the SECOND time today.  Remember, I won the TSA lottery.  Yay, me.

LGA is predictably chaotic.  Flights are so far behind, you can’t tell what’s delayed (or rather, what isn’t).  My new flight isn’t scheduled to leave until 3:30, so I find the first flight listed on the board to Greensboro and head to that gate.  A disinterested employee takes my boarding pass, prints out another, and just like that I’m on an “earlier” flight.  Woohoo!  The board says it’s to leave at 1:15, but I ask to be sure.  She says it’s delayed until “at least 2:30.”  Great, time enough to grab some lunch, my first meal of the day.  By this point the fact that it’s pizza does not deter me at all.

1:10pm – I decide to browse some shops, but a little voice suggests heading back to the gate, “just to be sure.”  Oh Travel Fairy, thank you so much, because when I get there, they are in the latter stages of boarding.  WHAT happened to 2:30?  No matter, I make it on the flight.

From there, I’m happy to report that the trip became fairly routine.  At 4:15pm, I tweeted one word to end my insane journey: “HOME”.  Only 4 hours late, which I counted a minor miracle.

Thus ends what was probably my craziest travel day so far in more than 5 years of travel, and I want you to know I’ve been VERY VERY lucky in that time!  There are plenty of true HORROR stories out there…this was just a Comedy of Errors.  I’m happy to say that everyone, passengers and airline personnel alike, stayed calm and in relatively good spirits, and I hope my fellow passengers got where they needed to go that day.

My mom once told me how she worried about me getting stranded somewhere like you see on the news, but I told her, I’m not the one who gets stranded.  I have frequent flier status on US Air, and platinum status at Marriott, so if I find myself (as I have several times) in the position of having to stay an extra night, I’m in a hotel, not the airport terminal.  No, it’s the casual travelers, the ones on vacation, the ones who only travel once or twice a year, who are at the mercy of an increasingly unsympathetic travel industry, and who find themselves celebrating birthdays and Christmas in a strange hotel room (or if they’re very unlucky) in the airport terminal itself.  SO, in honor of my Mom, my next post will be a set of travel tips for the casual traveler.  Until then, travel safely.

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Responses

  1. Heather,
    Your descriptions of the joys and GLAMOUR of travel are SO SPOT ON! AND, you definitely have a gift for telling!

    Oh, and I did the race for the plane a week or so ago in Phoenix only to see my plane’s doors closed 7 minutes early. There I am coughing and wheezing AND I DON’T HAVE ASTHMA! That lasted for at least 3 hours as I trecked over to the Marriott for a comfortable room for the night…

  2. I love this!!! Can’t wait to see your next post so I can’t print it out!

  3. Oh my…I’ve had my share of travel doozies, but to have all of those things happen on one trip….someone owes you a luck charm!

  4. […] to Travel Like a Pro A couple of days ago, I published my Comedy of Errors travel story, and in it I promised a list of tips that the casual traveler might not consider.  This is by no […]


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