Aren’t the Airlines Wonderful: Steve’s Westminster Travel Ordeal


Before the Group Competition began day two at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, I called American Airlines. I knew the weather in Chicago had been bad the day before, and at best the flights would likely delayed on Wednesday (Valentine’s Day).

I phoned American Airlines twice Tuesday night, and on both calls, the agent told me “don’t worry,” and instructed me to phone again Wednesday morning before my 7:45 flight. That’s what I did, getting up around 4 a.m. to call.

I called. And I held on, and on and on. I heard a voice telling me the wait might be 15 minutes to speak to a live person. After hearing an hour’s worth of lovely music, I hung up. I had no choice but to wait for my airport ride, which I did – but once again on hold with American Airlines. On this call, I was also on hold for around an hour as well. I hang up, called again, and pushed numbers for my flight info. I now learn – as we’re arriving at the airport – my flight has been cancelled.

What I haven’t yet said is that after 4 a.m., I also checked the website. I later learned that the website was not being updated. Other travelers, and at least one American agent confirmed that I wasn’t the only person with these issues.

By now, the freezing rain and snow had been falling for maybe a half an hour. In line for over an hour, I’m re-ticketed to a 6:45 p.m. flight. But the weather worsened.

Within a few hours, American Airlines (and other carriers) began a wholesale cancellation of flights. I understand how bad weather forces these cancellations, and I’d certainly prefer to be cancelled than to travel unsafely. However, there’s no excuse for not providing enough personnel to answer phones (they had to know this would be a busy morning), and not updating the website. Why bother having a website (and encouraging people to use it). Similarly, a phone number is a waste if it will offer no information whatsoever.

Around 10 a.m. or so, my friend (and feline behavior consultant, hockey fan Beth Adelman) offered this refugee a port in the storm. I took one look at the line to re-ticket, and while I also cued up, I phoned Robin (my wife). I asked her to give the airline phone system another shot. I did the same. She got through and made a Thursday evening reservation in twenty minutes. I had gotten about three inches in line in that twenty minutes. I have no doubt that if she didn’t manage to get through, I never would have made it back (unless I took a train, but those were booked too) until Saturday, Sunday or later.

I took a taxi to Beth’s house. One my way to the taxi line, I realized just how many dogs were at LaGuardia (from Westminster), and no doubt the same was true at Kennedy and Newark. I wondered if those poor folks had nowhere to go what an ordeal it must have been for them. Nearby hotels were filling up. Even worse, the people stranded on runways for hours at a time (and it wasn’t only JetBlue) with dogs in the cargo hold. I wonder how many horror stories there must be. By comparison – mine wasn’t so bad.

I noticed a crowd of perhaps a dozen people crowded in a circle and many bending down. Was this a sick child? Or maybe a very short ticket agent with good news? Turns out people were waiting to pet a Pomeranian. The pup apparently made people feel better.

Beth and Craig were incredibly accommodating. I sipped on tea, met with one of her three cats (the other two had previous commitments and only briefly said ‘hello’), and enjoyed a wonderful dinner.

Back at LaGuardia the next day, my flight was delayed just over two hours. Sadly, these days, that’s the norm. I was assured – the flights were only backed up…and would ultimately leave. While this proved correct, one person at the airline told me this back up was due to the snow in Chicago. Well, there it was not snowing in Chicago. I do mind that flights are inexplicably late so often – but making matters far worse is when personnel make stuff up. This is absolutely far from the first time I’ve experienced ‘creative’ responses.

There are only six kiosks for American Airlines at LaGuardia (not counting kiosks those who have no luggage can use). I can’t imagine how six kiosks can handle crowds in New York City on a good day. I waited in the kiosk line may 20 minutes. But was refused, and told by the kiosk that I do not have a reservation, even though I had a confirmation number. The only person I could find to help was no help whatsoever, pointing to another line that I must wait in. That was the general line for ticket agents, and it was even longer than the previous day. I knew the wait would be several hours, at least. So, again to the phone I go, I call and get through. It took this actually informative and nice agent twenty minutes, but she re-ticketed me. I don’t quite understand what happened, but I apparently was improperly moved to the new flight, though I was reserved all along and had a seat. Anyhow, in that 20 minutes I moved nowhere in the line. The ticket agent on the phone said to get back into the kiosk line for the Boarding Pass, but that line was now far longer. Two of the kiosk machines had broken down. I went outside and was checked in by the sky cap.

Incredibly, the security line was actually manageable. Even with me doing all this maneuvering, I was at the airport over two hours. Luckily, I still had lots of time because my flight was delayed, and I arrived at the airport with so much time to spare.

However, everyone wasn’t as lucky. I met a woman flying to Peru. Not Peru, Illinois – but Peru in South America. Her flight was not delayed and unaffected by the domestic flight mess. Unfortunately, the line which she was told she must wait in exceeded three hours. She missed her flight. Even worse, she believed her luggage did make the flight.

Finally, my luck changed…Out of the corner of my eye, near my gate, I caught a glimpse of airport gold. A power strip. It belonged to the airport; it was stuck behind some video games. There were three games and two outlets. So, the airport plugged the power strip in. There were four available plugs in the power strip. I plugged in my phone and my computer. Within seconds, the vultures began to circle as I pulled out my gold brick from behind the video machines. A lady plugged her Apple in. And some guy plugged his phone in, and proceeded to call his girlfriend, a musician.

Once on the plane – we waited over a half an hour to depart because of an equipment problem. What’s new? These days, that’s also par for the course.

In fact, I’m writing post on a flight to the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas. We departed 35 minutes late, and waited in line behind other planes another 20 minutes before taking off.  In fact, because of slow public transportation (I waited 20 minutes for a Blue Line Chicago commuter train which is supposed to come every five to ten minutes, and the train ride was 30 minutes, about twice as long as it should be). I arrived at the airport far later than I wanted to., I know I left too late for the airport, and the Airlines aren’t responsible for public transit. But when I checked in, my watch and agent’s both agreed it was within ten minutes of their cut off time. Still, his United Airlines computer would not allow a check in. The United ticket guy could not explain…He conceded I should be able to check in. But he told me there was nothing I could do. Period. End of story. Likely, he admitted the flight may have been overbooked. He would not re-ticket me for the next flight, and told I could only go stand-by. I walked up to another agent and miraculously, in five minutes, there were available seats. Clearly, the first guy didn’t care. So, I’m on a later flight, which – as noted – itself is late. That’s how it is now.  I’ve met many nice people who work for the airlines who do their best, but I’d argue many really don’t care anymore because they are themselves treated so poorly.

JetBlues promises in the media may be a start, but I doubt it. I’m posting this in hopes that if enough people say something, and in loud enough voice, perhaps, just maybe traveling might be made fun again. Or at the very least tolerable.  Unfortunately, that’s likely too much to wish for.

The worst part: I missed spending Valentine’s Day with my wife.