So, while my vacation to Dominica was absolutely wonderful (see my post about it), the flights we probably the worst plane experience besides crashing.
My schedule was as follows:
Thursday 10/10/13: Detroit > Philadelphia > San Juan > Dominica
Wednesday 10/16/13: Dominica > San Juan > Philadelphia > Detroit
Heading to Dominica
My dad dropped me off the airport 5:30AM on Thursday Oct. 10th. I made it through security quickly and arrived at my gate quickly, so had over an hour to kill. Since it was so early, I really just tried to get comfortable and stare into the distance.
The flight was scheduled on time, and everyone boarded as usual. It wasn’t until we were on the runway that we received notification of an hour delay due to the weather in Philadelphia (our destination). Unfortunately for me, my layover in Philly was only an hour long – so now I was going to miss my connection.
Now I get it, things happen and flights change. The real reason I was so pissed at this moment was that had they told us about the delay prior to boarding, I could have changed destinations altogether and still made my connections. But no, we had to be ready for takeoff before being notified.
When we finally landed in Philadelphia, there was a mad frenzy to get to the customer service desk. By the looks of it, 90% of the passengers were only flying to Philly for a connection, and we’d all missed them. The line was moving at a snail’s pace, and took about half an hour to move 10 feet. Meanwhile, I was trying desperately to call the travel agency my flights had been booked through. Turns out they don’t open their offices until 9AM, and I still had about half an hour until then. When I finally got a hold of someone, I was called to the customer service desk and spent that time talking to both the agent on the phone and the agent at the desk.
My travel agency rep found a re-routed flight path for me on a different airline, but no matter what I wasn’t getting to Dominica until tomorrow night. As in a full 24-hour day after I was supposed to. All because of an hour delay with my first flight.
New flight path: Detroit > Philadelphia > New York (stay overnight) > San Juan > Dominica
So I took a hike over to the opposite corner of the airport to speak with my new airline and get my boarding pass. Unfortunately there was an error in my change-over and, while I did have a seat, I did not have a reservation number and therefore could not be issued a ticket. Seriously?
So I walked back to the first corner of the airport to speak with my original airline again to get them to fix it. They said it was taken care of, but upon returning to the new opposite corner of the airport the lady said my reservation number did not exist. At this point I was beginning to feel blisters on the palm of my hands from that stupid plastic handle on my wheeled carry-on.
Now, if I could remember this woman’s name I would write a stellar email to corporate. She listened to my story about what I’d been doing and snapped into a we’re-going-to-make-this-happen attitude. She clicked and typed away, made a bunch of phone calls, and I got my boarding pass. Not only that, but she also got me on an earlier flight to New York.
Once I landed in New York I headed over to the customer service desk to get my other boarding pass. And this rep found me a flight to San Juan that evening so I wouldn’t be staying overnight in New York! I began to get insanely hopeful that I would be able to then fly to Dominica upon arriving in San Juan (but I didn’t).
I ended up having to stay the night in San Juan. Unfortunately for me, the reason for my original delay didn’t qualify for a comp’d room and I had to shell out $137. I almost said f*** it, I’ll sleep in the terminal. But then people started to look shady and the airport was basically empty, so I caved in. And truly it was worth it. I’d been so uncomfortable and angry all day that a bed and my own bathroom felt like heaven.
In the morning I woke up early to check if there was an earlier flight to Dominica that day. There was – but it was cancelled. So I had to stick with my 3PM flight out. Luckily check-out wasn’t until noon, so I went back to sleep as long as absolutely possible.
Now, for anyone who hasn’t flown to the small Caribbean islands before, there is a key bit of information about the flights – they make pit stops. The planes island hop as they allow some people to get off and new people to get on. So yes, my flight to Dominica was at 3PM – but I had a layover in St. Maarten first that didn’t leave until 7PM.
I finally got to see Nick’s shining face around 9PM, waiting with pizza and juice. Sweet relief.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Heading back home
After being dropped back off at the airport to head home, my flight from Dominica to San Juan went smoothly (after stopping in Antigua to drop some people off). My flight out of San Juan was scheduled to depart around 2PM.
It was around 1:30 that it was delayed. This time I didn’t panic, because I had a 3-4 hour layover in Philly so a delay wouldn’t necessarily make me miss my connection. They came on the loudspeaker every half an hour to update us with we don’t know how long it will be delayed.
When 4PM rolled around, they finally announced what I’d been dreading – the flight was cancelled. Everyone was in a mad dash to reach the customer service counter, and again the line moved at a snail’s pace. Luckily this time I already had the number for the helpline. The woman found a plane to Miami at 4:30 and got me a seat right away. I made a sprint for the new airline counter to get my boarding pass, only to hear that boarding passes were closed for that flight. It was at this point that I started publicly bawling my eyes out. This couldn’t be happening to me again.
I was able to regain my spot in the customer service line, and proceeded to call again. Unfortunately for me, San Juan departures pretty much stop around 4-5PM, so no flights were available at all to anywhere for the rest of the day. This is where I got pissed again about timing! Had the flight just been cancelled right when the delay started, everyone could have been rerouted and home that night. But no.
I had to stand in line to obtain my hotel and meal vouchers (yes, this time I qualified!). Then I had to stand in another line at the hotel, which felt just as long as the customer service line. And probably was seeing as every single person in that line was given a room. So I returned to the same hotel I’d stayed in just 6 days prior, feeling utterly defeated.
At this point I met up with the friend I’d made earlier before the flight was ever cancelled. He and I had been traveling on the same planes all day since we left Dominica. He was also a student at Ross and was heading to Chicago for a conference that weekend. At this point I asked for his full name so that both my fiancé and I could Facebook stalk him. And yes, I said that. I’m very upfront about Facebook stalking – we all should be.
We headed over to one of the restaurants in the airport to cash in our meal vouchers. We got to talking and decided that, since it was still early by our standards, we would head out to the city and find a club, bar, or casino to hang out. We got some recommendations from the servers and found a taxi. We first headed to the casino since that’s what my new friend (Patrick, by the way) wanted to do, and all I wanted to do at this point was drink. I don’t gamble, so that didn’t peak my interest. But the fact that players got free drinks (and apparently anyone with them), I stuck around by Patrick.
I then got to meet the wife of the player sitting next to him, and both she and I went to hang out for a while. She was delightful! But of course I’d gone too long without some stroke of bad luck – the bartender screwed up our tabs and I had to roam about finding her in the casino to verify switching items. We did get it taken care of though, so yay for me!
After Patrick lost all his winnings, we decided to head to a club. The taxi dropped us off, only for us to discover that this bar was closed on Wednesdays. We’d just paid $17 for a cab to take us a single mile, and he had driven away before we could get back in to head somewhere open. We asked the guys at the front door for a place that was at least decent and within walking distance and went with that.
They described it as a sports bar, and told us that no where would be busy on a Wednesday. So when we walked in and there were a whole 5 customers we weren’t surprised. But the drinks were cheap, the music was good, and the Detroit Tigers were playing! I was comfortable and relaxed finally.
After a few drinks, I asked the bartender for my tab. When she handed me the slip to sign, the credit card was not mine. When I told her this, she looked around and replied “it’s the only one here.” And that’s when her jaw dropped. She had just cashed out a person 2 minutes before me, and had switched our cards. Unfortunately for me, this guy was too drunk to realize he had the wrong card, and that his name was not actually Sarah.
So we started calling all the hotels within walking distance to ask if they had this guy staying there. And let me tell you, looking on Facebook for a Craig Zimmerman is like looking for John Smith. Completely useless. Once this had been going on for more than 10 minutes, the 5 other people in the bar started joining in. They helped us call hotels, speculate about who Craig was, and even bought us some more drinks.
By the end, we all consented to defeat and I cancelled my card. The bartender felt so awful, and I could tell. At this point I just felt like laughing about it all. And I’d proven to Patrick that I’m the worst person to travel with. The bartender offered us a ride back to the airport hotel and we accepted.
My vacation had me on a total of 10 planes.
The following day, my flights went smoothly, on time, and with no issues. I finally got home at 4PM the day after I was supposed to, and luckily I’m still at an age where not all my friends have “big kid” jobs and there’s someone available to pick me up.
At this point I want to give a huge Thank You to the things that managed to go well – the airline’s reservation phone line, the woman on the other airline with the get-shit-done attitude, and customs for not contributing to my bad luck or delays.
I did end up writing a complaint letter to the airline expressing the troubles of my journey, but was returned with $100 of my next flight with them, expiring within a year. So basically, nothing. Needless to say, I will never fly with them again, or to Dominica. I missed both a full day of vacation on the front end, and a full day of work on the back end. Even worse – I spent those days at an airport.
If you’re Craig Zimmerman who vacationed in San Juan on 10/16, hello, you have my credit card
If you’re the woman with the get-shit-done attitude, you deserve a raise and a promotion
If you’re thinking of flying to the Caribbean, long layovers are your friend
If you have had a similar story, please share