Thursday, June 28, 2012

Getting to Europe 2011

So, today is the day that I finally got around to starting this blog.  I am a fairly busy guy, and despite people always telling me I need to start writing this stuff down, I never had the time.  Today, however, I have the time.  I am currently using the wi-fi at LaGuardia airport in NYC to write this post.

I have been on a plane many times in my life for work, vacation, you name it.  As we all know air travel is all kinds of reliable... (it's now that I should probably point out that pretty much everything I say is dripping with sarcasm).  Well, in my lifetime I haven't had it that bad in terms of air travel given my reasonable volume.  That is to say, it hadn't been that bad up until about a year ago.

This story starts last June, when my girlfriend and I decided to go on a 3 week tour of Europe.  Neither of us having done anything like this before, we were naturally pretty stoked.  Our plan was to bounce around via a rail pass, and we didn't have a fixed itinerary at all.  The only fact that we knew was that we would be leaving on a certain day, and would be flying to Paris.

One of my girlfriend's parents works for a major US Airline, and as such has certain privileges for friends/family.  The hitch in this "privilege" is that you have to fly standby, and you still have to pay for it.  Mind you, it is significantly reduced, but you pay for it nonetheless.  My girlfriend has been travelling this way her entire life, and she assured me that it was, "no big deal".

I trusted her, so I said sure, let's fly into Paris through JFK (because all flights on the US airline need to connect in a US city before they head out for the destination).  So, we leave Toronto at the crack of dawn, for our 4 pm connection to Paris in NYC.  This gave us a long layover, so we were able to meet a friend of hers in for the day and hit up a few spots in the city while we waited.

We return from tourist-ing it up and are awaiting our flight.  The standby moment of truth comes at the gate, and neither of us were able to get a seat because the flight was full.  "No problem!" the gate agent says, as they roll us over to the standby list for the 9 pm flight later that night.  While we are waiting for the next flight we are talking with the gate agents (who are brutal at JFK for this particular airline btw) and it is becoming very clear that we will not be able to get on this flight either.  As it is the last flight of the day, we start discussing our options.  Given that we have a rail pass, she says, "let's just get to Europe and figure it out".  Well, remember how we didn't have an itinerary and only knew that we were going to Paris first?  Yeah.. well this guy decided to book a non-refundable hotel online for our expected stay in Paris...  So, we have money sunk in Paris and need to get there.  We figure: we get to Europe, jump on a train to Paris and the adventure can continue.  No harm done.

We asked the agent which flights were leaving for Europe, the rest of the day.  Our best option was to get on a flight to London that was leaving soon.  So we run over to the gate, and when we get there they tell us that they have seats for us.  Perfect!  Not even close.  They had seats, but they wouldn't be able to get our bags on the plane in time as they were supposed to be going to Paris.  So, gate agent, you expect us to go backpacking across Europe sans backpacks?  Apparently you came to work sans common sense today...

We inevitably decide that we can't go anywhere without our bags.  So we ask the agent what the next step was.  They told us they would roll us over to the next London flight later that night, but we would need to go pickup our bags at baggage claim and re-check in (as it would be like missing the second Paris flight we were originally supposed to be on).  So fine, down to the claim area.  After 30 minutes of waiting for our bags to show on the carousel, we realized that we hadn't checked in yet (and you need to check in for a flight 1 hour before by rule) and it was a little over an hour from takeoff.  Security wasn't an issue as it was night time at this point, so we just needed our bags!

Time to deal with the baggage rep now.  They basically tell us that they can't find our bags right now, but they guarantee that they will get on the plane and we should just check in.  Alright, off to check-in.  We get to check-in and now a very memorable woman who was more interested in flipping her magazine than helping us says, "there is no way you are going to get on this London flight, or the Paris flight."  (Are you seeing the trend here??)

This, I am pretty sure, is were my girlfriend decided to sprinkle in a little nervous breakdown.  But hey, "No Big Deal!" right?  Let me tell you, seeing somebody heaped on the JFK floor in the fetal position was exactly how I envisioned my trip to Paris...

So, what are our options now?  We check out our rail maps, and figure out our options.  We decide that since the flights to Paris the next day look full, we are going to punt Paris and fly to Rome.  No France on this trip.  C'est la vie... Tabernac.  So the magazine flipper tells us to head down and claim our bags, and come check in for the Rome flight in the morning.

Off to baggage claim.  The geniuses down there still can't find our bags.  So they wouldn't have been on the London flight even if we got on.  We say, "screw the bags".  We headed off to a flea bag airport hotel while they searched overnight for our bags.

The hotel was an experience unto itself, but I'll spare you that speed bump on this road..

Back to JFK in the morning, in the same clothes that we were wearing all day the day before, because our bags are who knows where...

En route to JFK, we get a call from my girlfriend's parent who works for the airline.  She says, "You're not going to believe this.  Your bags are in Paris.  They couldn't get them off of the first flight you were supposed to get on" the words of Seth Meyers a la Weekend Update:  Really, Airline Reps?  In the 6 hours we were rotting in JFK yesterday, you couldn't have figured out that our bags weren't in the country?  Really?  You had us run around, and wait for our bags on 2 separate occasions?  Really?  Really?!?!

Now what the hell are we supposed to do?  We rearranged our whole trip plan based on the fact that we couldn't get to Paris.  While I was off cursing all that is the state of New York, my girlfriend figured out that there was a 6 pm flight to Paris out of Boston, that we should be able to get on.  Alright, options time.  Rental car?  This was going to be over $350 to drop a rental off at Logan from JFK.  Steep.  And, we barely had enough time to drive there and make the flight.  So it would have to go perfectly.  Not perfect but can be done.  Before I booked the car, I found out that my girlfriend was able to dig up that there were 3 flights out of LaGuardia to Boston which would get us there on time for this Paris flight.  No brainer.  Since we didn't have bags, flagged down a cab and off to LGA we went.

Long LGA to Boston story short:

Flight #1:
Only one seat open.  I told her to go, and I would get the next one.  She said there was no way she was splitting up... Okay...  This sounds like a terrible idea.

Flight #2:
Zero seats for either of us...

Flight #3:
This one will just get us there in time for the Paris flight, but not by much... By this time, we had made good friends with the LGA staff, who were incredible.  I couldn't believe they were from the same company as the god awful people at JFK.  Flight #3 isn't looking good.  A few pilots showed up close to boarding and bumped us down the priority list...  The staff knew how desperate we were at this point and forced the pilots to sit in jump seats (basically seats that fold off the wall) and get the weight restriction lifted from the plane all in the name of helping us out.  But, we got seats.. and business class no less.  For fuck sakes, thank God!
Mind you, at this point I looked like I might have a nervous breakdown and get deported home if things didn't go well, so they may have just wanted to get rid of the threat I was becoming.  Thank you LGA staff from an airline that will remain nameless, your efforts will not be forgotten.  The clerk from the gate even came to see us on the plane and wish us luck the rest of the way.

Land in Boston, and we are slightly delayed.  Delay = gate changed to the opposite end of the airport.  Seriously?  What next?

So I sprint to the gate, while my girlfriend lags behind (much like Jerry and Elaine with her little steps in that classic Seinfeld bit).  Too funny, but laughing time is over (Rainier Wolfcastle anyone?).  I get to the gate to see that we had been cleared to board the plane, and all was well in the world.

We arrive in Paris to find our bags, seemingly at the end of a beam of light from the heavens.  Cue the angel sound-byte.

So all in all, we lost a day in Paris and a night at a non-refundable hotel, and were only one nervous breakdown worse for wear.

I said never again to standby.  (I actually caved and did it one more time.  Any guesses how that went...?) 

The fact that I refuse to fly standby anymore leads me to why I am currently sitting at LaGuardia.  My girlfriend and I are travelling to Naples for a wedding.  She flew standby on a different airline.  My confirmed connecting flight on Delta out of NYC was cancelled due to mechanical reasons...  I get to enjoy 420 New York Minutes waiting for the next flight while she is yucking it up in Florida.

Racking up frequent flyer miles,

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