Flying Lessons – A Frustrating Travel ExperienceSeptember 8, 2011 No Comments
Our family recently completed a seventeen day trip from the Los Angeles area to the east coast. The purpose: a hybrid between supporting and facilitating my daughter’s burgeoning music career (you can find some of her tunes at www.nicolelexidavis.com) and a family vacation highlighting historic stops, urban delights, and finishing up at the beach, allowing fun for all ages. We designed the tour and trip to move from Boston, Massachusetts in the northeast to the gulf coast of Florida in the south. But first, we had to fly across the country.
That should be pretty simple, right? Just get on a plane! We’re inveterate flyers and used to the inconveniences of modern travel, from TSA procedures to early baggage check in requirements. Most of my airline selections in recent times have been based on the dictates of our current economy rather than our favorite airlines. In other words: cheap flights with a stop en route win over direct flights on a more luxurious airline. The inconvenience is outweighed by the savings. I thought I had this whole routine down – even bringing along food for the entire family picked up en route at the Veggie Grille, whose tasty, vegan fare is easily portable. But this time, we had a flying lesson handed to us.
Arriving at LAX with just shy of two hours before our flight, two carry on bags, my daughter’s guitar, and one pre-paid checked bag, we were immediately not too thrilled to find that Air Tran had no sky cap service. Okay, I’ll adapt. I’ll wait in the seemingly interminable line for counter check in. Well, first I’ll inquire as to whether there is a shorter line for pre-paid baggage. Yes, there was. Satisfied, I moved us all out of the long coach check in, and into a significantly smaller line for web-checked and business class that also – did not move. Nope. Not for forty minutes. Back into the first line (which was moving, albeit slowly) I went. Apparently there were computer issues, and that was the hold up, but why the shorter, pre-checked line wasn’t moving at all, no one could tell me.
Now time was getting a little bit tight for passing through TSA’s scrutiny. I approached the counter, letting my kids hold my place in line. How about taking customers with a soon to depart flight? Oh no, not yet, said the pleasantly oblivious woman checking people and baggage in. “I’ll take you with plenty of time though, we know the cut off, don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”
Well, evidently she didn’t. She gave us just under a half hour to make our way through TSA’s lines – and that didn’t cut it on a busy Friday. As we escaped the rigors of the screening process and put our shoes back on, I knew no matter how much I rushed the kids, and how much they complained about me rushing them, we weren’t going to make our plane. Still, we high tailed it to the gate, to be told that the “doors have just closed.”
Knowing there were hold ups at check in, the gate staff assured us we’d get on the “next flight,” which like our original flight, had a stop. While my bag was winging its way toward Milwaukee, we were going to pass through Atlanta and on to Boston. Okay, fine. Well fine until they let us know that we weren’t going to be ticketed. We were flying standby. On both legs of the trip. Meaning if the Atlanta-Boston flight was full, we’d be stuck in Coca Cola’s home turf over night. This made me kind of edgy, but I was assured there’d be “no problem.” Hmm. I’d just recently heard that one before.
But there was no point in worrying about that Boston connection as it turned out. We didn’t get on the Atlanta bound flight. And the next flight up would make us miss our connection altogether. We approached the other carriers in the Air Tran terminal – Virgin and Jet Blue – both had available, ticketed seats. Would Air Tran please put us on one? No, we had to wait for that late afternoon flight, the one that would make us miss our connection. No amount of pleading, explaining, or ranting would move them. If we didn’t get on the next flight, then – a shrug of the shoulders.
So instead I paid, and I paid dearly for purchasing at-the-terminal tickets on Jet Blue. We boarded with minutes to spare, and my vow that Air Tran – whose employee miscalculations caused the missed flight in the first place – would refund our money. Not that the refund will exactly cover the cost of an in-terminal purchase – but it will help considerably. And I’ve since learned that the airline may in fact – we’re still negotiating – be liable for more than the face value of the ticket, as we missed our flight due to the airline’s errors, not our own. That would take care of it, and leave us only with this story to tell. And it’s a cautionary one.
Flying lesson: beware the bargain and those bargains with stops. Or at least leave plenty of leeway for taking a later flight. People get bounced from over booked flights, and caught in the snarls of TSA all the time. And they also encounter less than polished performances from discount carriers. If you have a tight schedule, as we did, paying more to begin with may help you avoid being penny-wise and pound foolish. And speaking of pounds: you may save money choosing an airline that allows you to check a bag for free. I paid to send my bag to Milwaukee. It had no comment when we picked it up, unsupervised, in Boston.