Travel challenges – lessons learned.

I have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles by air in the past 15 years. I have had the odd delay or misdirected luggage but no significant challenges … until now.

I thought I was being smart, booking my flights several months in advance for my annual holiday in Sarasota of the Christmas break. I booked flights from Kingston, thinking it would be more convenient.

First of all the friends that were to join me during my first week cancelled two days before departure. Threatening weather for driving had them spooked. An omen. I thought I was fine although the forecast was for inclement weather on my departure date. In anticipation of that, my morning flight from Kingston to Toronto was cancelled. It had already been booked earlier than originally scheduled and luckily I checked the time a day before to find it had been cancelled. No one had told me this; I would have learned it when I showed up the next morning to find me rebooked a day later. I tried to rebook online and by phone but the could not get through to an agent. I went out to the airport, had them confirm that my Toronto flight would be ok for the next day and determined to take the train into the Toronto airport. ( the Union-Pearson express train, by the way is great).
I had to stand in line for two hours to get my boarding pass. As I showed my passport, the agent said I should renew it when I got home as it had just shy of six months on it. I said I would renew it when I got back from Africa in early February. This led to the revelation that I would need six months on my passport to get a visa in Kenya and Air Canada would not let me fly to Africa without that expiry date. Whoops. I planned to be in Florida until I January 7 and leave for Kenya January 10.
Freezing rain in Toronto required de-icing of the plane which delayed our already late departure by an hour more. Oh yes, and while I sorted out my boarding pass and learned of my passport problem, I had put my carry on bag on the scale. Turns out it was 2 pounds over the allotted weight ( I have never had to weigh my carry on before) so I had to pay $25. Eventually I arrived a bit late but in one piece and on the scheduled date.
Three weeks in Longboat Key. Sunshine, salt water, sand, snacks, Netflix, gin, a week with three grandkids, NHL game in Tampa, Disney. All in all a great three weeks to recharge.
But then time to come home. I worried a bit about getting to the airport early in the am and whether weather in Toronto would delay my return – I had that passport problem to sort out and only 48 hours do do it.
The day before my return I checked the Delta site to see about my flight time. The 7 am flight out of Sarasota cancelled. God knows why. No notice. So I called and after half an hour got a 5:55 am flight that met my other connections back to Canada. I planned an Uber ride to the airport at 4:15 am. I woke up about 3 and for some reason checked Delta again. The 5:55 am flight had been cancelled as well. No notice to me. Another hour on the phone with a pleasant man who said he was in Jamaica. He seemed not to know the East Coast geography very well. He asked why I would go all the way to Toronto to get to Kingston. He though it was Kingston Jamaica. Then he suggested that I rent a car and drive to Atlanta to pick up my flight to Toronto. I told him that was an 8 hour drive and where was I to rent a car at 3 am. I started suggesting alternatives to him. Fly out of Tampa? Fly through JFK? I was getting frustrated. At one point he paused and asked me “Are you crying, sir?”I was not. But it sounded like an option. And he won my heart by asking.
A few minutes into the call another problem arose. I had set my alarm on my iPad to wake me up for the intended time and half way through the call it started. My wake up music happened to be Hasa diga eebowai from Book of Mormon. Anyone who knows that song knows I would want to turn it off but I was on Skype on the iPad and was afraid to lose the call while this nice young man was trying to help me out. So I was afraid to close my Skype window and the rude lyrics of the song were playing while this guy was assisting me. In some ways it was appropriate as it was how I was feeling but I wondered if he thought I was trying to send a message.
“What about Fort Myers?” I asked in desperation. There was one seat left – first class – on the 8:15 Fort Myers to Atlanta flight that would be able to connect with my flight back to Toronto. I would take it. He had to check with his supervisor. Did so and then came back to say, “Good news, I have you confirmed on the 6:45 flight out of Fort Myers.” I reminded him that it was 2 hours away, now 4 am and I had to figure out how to get there. I could likely make it by 8:15 as he had originally suggested. He kept saying “Don’t worry, I am being calm” as if to convince himself and me. I reassured him often that I was not crying…yet. Another 10 minutes on hold. Confirmed. Quick good bye and call to Uber for a 2 hour ride to the airport ($106 – but worth it). Torrential rain, lightening and high winds by the gulf. A couple of cars had slid (or been blown) off the road. Sometimes the rain was so hard we had to pull over. Me and the driver both following path on our phone Apps. He had never driven to that airport.
Got there. Thanks. Uber works well! Flight delayed. Apparently the whole Eastern seaboard was disrupted by high winds and rain. And snow and freezing rain in Atlanta put the whole airport, one of the busiest in the world, on hold for a couple of hours causing a huge backlog. We waited an hour in the plane. Eventually we taxied out and took off. The flight was smooth but the decent into windy Atlanta was a bit like riding Space Mountain.
Next we spent an hour on the ground sitting and taxiing around past planes being de-iced, looking for an empty gate. There was a bit of snow at the edge of the runways and the grass was still glistening with ice. After an hour we got to the gate but the jetway was frozen and would not come up to the plane. More delay. Time had already run out for several passengers making connections and, although I had initially thought I would have lots of time, it was growing shorter.
Change of terminals. To the gate. Boarded early and ready to go. The passengers looked and acted like Canadians. You can just tell. My seat was near the back beside the engines. This is Delta’s punishment for booking with Travelocity – Not much of a view and noisy as all get out, last to get the drinks and last one off the plane, but no one in front of me, behind me, or beside me. I didn’t mind; it gave me a chance to spread out. Can you spread out on a plane?
But wait. The flight attendant says there will be a short delay. We are all boarded and buckled in but we have no pilots. The weather problems and reroutings had necessitated lots of flight crew changes and our originally scheduled crew was stuck somewhere. Two officers eventually arrive, one at a time from different incoming flights. One is named Captain Kirk. They check everything out, do the paperwork. Finally we departed but it was an hour late. When we arrive in Toronto the plane is directed to “not the usual gate” and there is no ground staff to meet us. Another 30 minutes before they open the door. But I am back on Canada. Sigh.

When anticipating a delay in my travel home I had worried about weather disrupting the small plane from Toronto to Kingston but it turns out that was the flight with the least problems (although we did have to wait 25 minutes with the propellers going because another plane was stalled behind ours and we couldn’t get out of the gate.

So I am home after a challenging bit of travel this trip.  Wish me luck in getting my passport renewed before Tuesday when I am scheduled to set off for Africa!
What did I learn from this?

Check your flight departure times a few hours prior to the flight. The airline or the booking agent may not warn you of a change and the later you leave if, the more difficult it is to come up with an alternative flight. When we were delayed in Fort Myers, some folks thought they might leave the plane and rebook the next day. The flight crew advised strongly against that as they said that due to the season, the cancellations and the disruption caused by the mass shootings at Fort Lauderdale the day before, there were no seats left out of Fort Myers with Delta for three days.

Keep six months on your passport. I thought I had lots of time to renew with four months remaining on mine after my scheduled return from Uganda but the airline will not let you fly if they think you may not get a visa and be deported as they are heavily fined.

If you don’t want a seat near the engines at the back of the plane, book with the airline rather than Travelocity.

Uber got me there. I had never used it before and it worked well for me. Based on that one experience, I recommend trying it. Much cheaper than a taxi would have been and how would I find one on LBK in the middle of the night anyway? The guy drove me 100 miles to the airport at 4:30 am in a torrential rainstorm. Without that option I would have been totally stuck. Thank you Ahmed!

Have faith. Always think of a plan B. I had to come up with lots of alternatives on these two itineraries. Patience and persistence paid off. I am good with persistence but patience is not my strength. Don’t give up. Leonard Cohen says “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Despite the frustrations and inconveniences, I had a great holiday and it was well worth it. I have to keep that in mind as I travel. There is a price to pay for the reward.

4 thoughts on “Travel challenges – lessons learned.

  1. Glad you are safe. Delta is such an awful airline! Good luck with the passport etc and thanks for the reminder – I plan to renew mine before Iceland (just in case I decide to stay there)…

  2. What a ordeal John, you were so stoic. I am sorry but I couldn’t stop laughing when I came to the part that one of your pilots was named ‘Captain Kirk’. I started to imagine the Leslie Neilsen movie ‘Airplane’.
    Thank God that everything came together in the end, but not without a great deal of planning on your part.

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