“There’s no place like home,” said Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz. She clicks the heels of her ruby slippers to return to Kansas.
It’s so true. No matter how much we think we want to get away, coming home is sometimes the best part of a trip.
Why, you ask? Let me explain.
It’s 3:00 a.m. Thursday morning. I’m in a hotel room near the Austin, Texas airport. Despite Ambien, I’m wide awake after five hours of sleep. An Ativan or Valium would be helpful right now. Yesterday was a long day, a traveler’s nightmare. It probably could have been worse—it can always be worse.
The journey begins
The travel day began okay. My afternoon flight from Austin to Baltimore was delayed about 20 minutes. That’s reasonable. Our scheduled arrival at BWI Marshall Airport was approximately 8:20 p.m.
Nossi, my son, drove me to the airport, and we made record time. Traffic in Austin can be brutal. He even walked me into the terminal and helped me check my bag. We said our goodbyes, hugged and off I went to the TSA security line.
Luckily, the line moved quickly. I found my gate. The plane was now scheduled to leave on time! The one hour, 45 minute wait time went quickly. Soon, we were boarding. I got my window seat, wiped down the tray and seat with a Lysol wipe and settled in. Fingers crossed, the middle seat was open. This flight was going better than expected.
The flight attendants began the boarding procedures, closing the overhead bins. Then, I overheard two flight attendants talking. “I guess we’ll find out soon what’s going on,” said one.
That didn’t sound good. Within five minutes, an announcement was made. Due to weather delays in Baltimore, we were told to take our belongings and deplane. We’d be leaving at 6:30 p.m., not 4:00 p.m.
Everyone groaned but deplane we did. I settled in an empty seat near our gate, waiting for more instructions. After 30 minutes, we got good news and bad news. Yes, our new plane was in the air! However, departure was moved to 7:00 p.m. So be it. Just get me home!
Another 20 minutes passed and then another announcement. The flight was canceled altogether with no explanation. Passengers had the option to rebook with a gate agent or on the phone.
I hurried to the gate agent line, dismayed to see at least 20-25 people ahead of me. The line was moving slower than molasses on a winter’s day. I stood there, hardly moving, for at least an hour.
During that time I called my husband and Nossi to update them. Nossi offered to pick me up and take me back to his house. I declined, wanting to book a new ticket before making any decisions.
While waiting in line I called the airline on my cell. I was on hold for at least 20 minutes. An agent finally picked up the call but said she couldn’t rebook me because my luggage was checked. I had to rebook with the gate agent. Huh?? No wonder everyone schleps luggage on planes.
Finally, finally, it was my turn. The next day’s 5:50 a.m. direct flight was booked, though there was an option to fly standby. No thank you. The next option was the 6:40 a.m. flight to Atlanta, plane change of 40 minutes, and then Baltimore.
Finding a hotel room
At that point I decided to book a room at an airport hotel. It didn’t make sense for Nossi to pick me up and then drive me back to the airport at 4:00 a.m.
First, I had to find my luggage. The gate agent said bags would be on carousel 4 in Baggage Claim. With my new boarding passes tucked away (and with a lousy boarding number—Southwest…open seating!), I went searching for my suitcase. Four or five bags remained on carousel 4, and of course, mine wasn’t among them. Fortunately, an airline employee standing nearby directed me to carousel 5. Whew, my bag was there.
I found a quiet spot, sat down and googled Austin airport hotels. The closest one, the Hilton, at $189/night was a bit pricey. A Hampton Inn, less than two miles away from the airport, was cheaper. I called the hotel.
The gentleman at the reservation desk booked my room and assured me that (1) the free airport shuttle was on its way now to pick me up, and (2) would be running at 5:00 a.m. to get me to the airport. So far, so good. (By then it was after 6:00 p.m. I’d been at the airport since 1:30 p.m.).
Missing the shuttle would have been a catastrophe so I skipped a restroom stop. After all, once on the bus, I’d be in my room in 10-15 minutes. However, finding the shuttle pick-up area wasn’t so easy. I’m not shy about asking for directions, and a kind gentleman directed me to an outside waiting area. It was very hot and humid. I was schvitzing something awful.
Getting to the hotel
At least 20 minutes passed and no hotel shuttle. Time to call the front desk and ask, “Nu?” Three phone attempts later, I got the front desk only to be told that the shuttle was NOT running because of two nearby traffic accidents. Traffic going to the airport was backed up for miles. He advised taking a taxi.
Great. But where were the taxis? Again, schlepping my bags, I went searching for someone to ask. Another kind airport employee directed me to the taxi pick-up, which was in the parking garage. He even offered to walk me over there. But at this point I decided to first go back into the terminal to use the bathroom. You never know, right ladies?
Bathroom stop completed, I schlepped outside again, to the parking garage, to the elevators, down one flight to taxi pick-up. At least it was well marked and underground—much cooler than outside. Due to the traffic accidents, the taxis were behind schedule. The wait time was about 20 minutes, and an airline employee was there to help.
The five-minute drive to the hotel cost $15 plus tip. Thank goodness for credit cards. It was now 7:00 p.m. At check-in I asked if my room rate could be adjusted to a senior rate. “Nope,” was the reply. “You should have asked for that rate when you made your reservation.”
“OK,” thinking I’ll fight that battle later. “I need the airport shuttle at 5:00 a.m. I was told when I made my reservation it would be running.”
“Nope. We’re short staffed.”
“Then how am I going to get to the airport!!??”
“I can request a taxi for the morning. What time?”
It’s now 4:05 a.m. and my taxi is supposed to be here at 4:45 a.m. What if it doesn’t come? Does Uber run this early? My stomach is churning thinking about this mess.
I’m hungry, tired and frustrated. Will 40 minutes be enough time to make the connecting flight in Atlanta to Baltimore? Will my luggage transfer in time? Will I even get to the Austin airport in time to make the 6:40 a.m. flight??
The taxi that was supposed to pick me up at 4:45 a.m. never came. Reservation desk lady called the taxi service for me. No one answered. Uber came in three minutes, thank goodness.
Hallelujah! The Austin flight left on time, leaving 40 whole minutes to catch the connection in Atlanta to BWI. Deplaning at Atlanta, I even managed a bathroom stop before the line got too long.
I hurried to gate C14 for the Baltimore flight. Surprise! Instead of 10:40 a.m., the sign said we were leaving at 11:10 a.m. That was unlikely. First, our plane wasn’t at the gate. It takes at least 20 minutes to get everyone off. Second, the plane has to be cleaned, jet fuel added, baggage loaded, etc.
Sigh. The weather is iffy. Baltimore is so far away.
We leave Atlanta, a completely full flight, at 11:30 a.m. There is no way the plane was cleaned before we boarded. It landed, disembarked its passengers and we were almost immediately boarded. So much for CDC protocols.
But, we were in the air! Arrival at BWI was approximately 1:20 p.m. As the plane touched down on the runway, my seatmates and I could see big, black thunderheads, with bolts of lightening streaking the sky. Whew! We landed just in time.
Not so fast! I made my way to baggage claim (and found my husband!). As we were standing at carousel #5 waiting for the luggage, an announcement was made over the intercom.
“Ladies and gentleman—please be advised that because of lightening within three miles of the airport, we are shut down. That includes inbound and outbound flights. Luggage will not be taken off planes until the storms pass.”
In summary, we waited about 90 minutes for the luggage. And of course, just as we got off at I-695 at the Park Heights/Stevenson exit, the sky opened up.
I’m done with traveling for awhile, dear readers. Maybe using Dorothy’s ruby slippers would have been faster than the airlines.
PS #1 & #2
#1 Thankfully I had the foresight to bring lots of kosher snacks with me. Kind bars, cereal, tuna, dark chocolate, cashews and hard candies gave me energy to get through this mess.
#2 I complained to Southwest and received a $150 travel voucher for another flight! The hotel has reimbursed me for the taxi and Uber.
Read more by Eileen Creeger.