Sunday, January 2, 2011

How NOT To Travel Over The Holidays

We are home and safe, and in the end, we eventually had fun. That's what I need to focus on. But I'm not quite there yet. Plus, I wouldn't want anyone else to have the joy I experienced; I'd rather people learn from my (husband's) mistakes and avoid some of our disaster.

Top Things I Learned Over Break:

1) Do not let your husband make the travel arrangements. Or at least not my husband. While I have been known to be ummm frugal, there are limits to it. And why did we do this? It wouldn't have anything to do with my husband forgetting to make flight reservations, nope not that! We ended up flying out of Milwaukee instead of Chicago because it was cheaper. While Milwaukee isn't that much more of a drive, it leads to the next point.

2) Do not travel on connecting flights. The more connecting flights you have, the more potential for problems, especially in winter. And over the holidays. Ditto ten times over for connections where the second airline isn't the same as the first - which ours wasn't... to start.

3) Do not take the last flight of the evening. Aside from the obvious issues of tired and cranky children (and possibly parents), if there are any issues with your flight - like ohhhh say United being unable to find a gate for a flight for almost 50 minutes - and your connection takes off while you are still waiting for a gate, there are no options to get to your destination that day.

4) When rebooking your flight with the customer service agents, check the weather for destinations you weren't originally intending to go but are now being told you will go. Our direct flight from Chicago to Orlando turned into a connection in DC and a switch over from United to Delta. Had I not been so exhausted, I would have checked the weather in DC and discovered that Delta had already canceled all their flights for the current day because of weather that was supposed to get worse the day we were flying and refused to go there.

5) Don't simply show up at the airport the next day to see if there are any standby flights available, call the airline to check that night once you get to your airline paid for hotel room. We showed up at 5:15am for our 7:05 flight to DC. We went through security and asked Customer Service to check flights for us again. It turns out that there was a United Flight at 6am to Cleveland (where there was NOT weather) that would have gotten us to Orlando by 11:30am that had plenty of open seats. The customer service agent the night before had somehow overlooked that flight. Except it was now 5:45 and the doors were closing. There was no physical way for us to get to the gate in time to make the flight. To say I was unhappy was putting it mildly.

6) If upon arriving at your temporary destination, your new carrier has canceled all flights, don't wait in the super long line there. Instead, go talk to the folks at your original carrier. Delta's flight to Orlando was canceled by the time we arrived in DC. And that wasn't their only canceled flight. The line was hours long. I scooted over to United where there were two people ahead of me and had a nice chat with the agent there. The bad news? Although it was Sunday at 10am, there was no flight available on any carrier to get us to Orlando until Tuesday. Tuesday. It didn't matter if we were willing to go to San Francisco to fly to Orlando, there was nothing available. Zip. The galling part? Although we had asked for a direct flight (as we'd originally had) from Chicago to Orlando when being rebooked initially and United had sent us to DC instead - where flights had already been canceled and there was more weather scheduled - because this was now a weather related delay, we were on our own for finding and paying for a hotel for the next two nights. Ahhhh, no. That's not ok.

7) If your flight is being rebooked due to a missed connections, do your best to get your checked luggage back. We had our carry on luggage only, as our checked baggage was sent from Chicago to Orlando on the direct flight at 6:48 Sunday morning - a flight where there was room for our bags but sadly not us. And in DC, there was no hope to get our bags back. Although we'd be stuck in DC for an additional two days, United could not - or rather would not - get our bags to DC so that we could have a change of clothes or any of our belongings. And again... since it's a weather related delay now, there was no compensation for lost bags, meals, hotel, or anything. This was a big problem because of the next issue.

8) Make sure you always pack what you need in your carry on. I've followed this rule for years. I always have a change of clothes and other necessities in my carry on. Increasing restrictions over the years have made this more of a challenge, but I always focus on it. My husband learned this lesson the hard way. He didn't have necessities packed. And for some unknown reason, he took Little Miss's pull ups out of her carry on and put them into checked bags. Three days with no pull ups for her. Night one she somehow managed to stay dry. Night two, not so much. And United simply told us to head to the nearest store. In a strange city. Where we had no car. On our way to a hotel we were paying for on our own. Or not.

9) When desperate enough, rent a car to drive where you're going - but call to make a reservation first. I'd done that before when working in consulting in Detroit. Detroit more than once canceled the flights back to Chicago that we were on. Rather than be stuck in Detroit for another night, twice I rented a car and drove back to Chicago - once running into some co-workers in the rental car office who were trying to do the same thing only to discover that there were no cars available. I had called the rental car office as soon as I realized the situation and - as it turns out - had gotten the very last car once. I called again this time and was initially told all cars were gone before they finally found one for me. While it's more expensive to rent in one location and return in another, it isn't always - and this was one of those situations where it was worth it. We'll ignore the very nearly wiping out the car on a patch of ice in North Carolina while trying to slow down for a wreck ahead (thank you years of driving in Minnesota!) and the sixteen hours it took us to drive in favor of arriving in Orlando almost a full day before United was going to be able to get us there.

10) If you change your itinerary due to unforeseen circumstances, make sure you inform the airline. This is where being a consultant came in handy again. Because we chose not to fly the last leg of our flight down, I contacted United to let them know that we were not canceling the remainder of our itinerary and absolutely were planning to still fly home on Saturday. Had I not done so before the scheduled flight on Tuesday morning, our entire reservation would have been canceled, and we would have had to buy last minute tickets to fly home - not how I would want to end my vacation. Fortunately, this was not an issue.

And lastly...

11) Keep everyone informed of your status. We had a car rental reservation in Orlando that expected us to show up Saturday evening. Ditto with a hotel reservation. As I learned that we'd be delayed, I called both the car company and hotel to let them know that we were still planning to use the reservation but had been unavoidably delayed and to not release our reservation. While the rental car wouldn't be so big a deal - finding a car wouldn't be the biggest deal, although I'd lose out on the coupons I'd found and used - arriving at our hotel only to find that there was no room at the inn for us would have been the disaster that put me over the edge.

As I was, I felt rather like we were in National Lampoon's Vacation - less the grandmother tied to the roof or, thankfully, Wally World being closed once we arrived, but this is not a trip I'd wish on anyone. We lost days off our not quite seven day vacation and added some significant and unexpected expenses to it, not to mention we were all absolutely exhausted after multiple nights of very little sleep. All because United couldn't clear a gate at O'Hare for us and then did a poor job rebooking us; yeah, they'll be hearing from me.

On the plus side, we had a blast while we were there, albeit a much shorter blast with fewer days at Disney because we needed to rest. We didn't let our "adventure" getting to our vacation ruin it for us - although poor Mister Man (that whole Asperger's thing rearing its ugly head) very nearly did. I'll share my creative and surprisingly effective solution to that in another post.

But this? This was the last time we're traveling over the holidays. And here's hoping you can use some of what I learned to prevent misery when you travel.


Pat January 2, 2011 at 9:49 PM  

*Gasp!* What a hellish nightmare for you!! I can't even imagine having to go through such torture.

I'm glad you did get to have fun at Disney World. I heard that it's been cold in Florida--did you have to deal with that, too? Of course cold in Florida is generally not like cold in Chicago.

Mary~Momathon January 3, 2011 at 2:29 AM  

You need a vacation from your vacation!

Susie January 3, 2011 at 6:39 AM  

You were in Milwaukee? Dude...we could have totally partied:-) Hee, hee, hee.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog January 3, 2011 at 8:13 AM  

How strange! My sister drove up to Milwaukee on Saturday night with her family to catch a flight to Orlando, too. But they made it down! I wonder if they had a much earlier flight???

I'm sorry about the troubles. I totally understand the high maintenance and rigid child not making things easy to travel with. TOTALLY. Glad you still had some fun!

Tara R. January 3, 2011 at 6:46 PM  

After all that, I don't think I'll complain about driving instead of flying to visit the grandparents, ever again.

I'm glad you all had a good time once you got to Orlando.

septembermom January 4, 2011 at 11:56 AM  

First of all, very cute picture.

What a travel nightmare for all of you!! How frustrating and exhausting. You're making me think twice about traveling during the holidays. I hate plane travel in general. Lots of good advice here Michelle. I'll keep this post in mind when and if we travel again.

Jenn M January 4, 2011 at 12:06 PM  

Yikes! That's all I have to say.

Michelle January 4, 2011 at 10:53 PM  

Pat - It was not fun. And Mister Man did not like the change in plans. At all. Weather in FL wasn't too bad. Mid 50s by the time we got there and up to high 70s by Friday when we left.

Mary - I do. I really do. Wanna book me one? :)

Susie - I was, but only for a short time. I should have stopped by for cupcakes!

Tracey - Shhhhhhhhh I don't want to hear it. Lalalalalalalal I can't hear you.

Tara - Mmmmm depends on the length of the drive. I'm not getting in a car for more than an hour anytime soon!

Kelly - Thanks! And I do hope the advice helps you and/or someone. Gah!

Jenn - And that really about sums it up, doesn't it?

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