Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sleep Deprivation and Misery - It feels like a dream

I don't really know how to write about my trip home from Virginia. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, but I generally just grinned and bared it. What else was I going to do, what else was there to do? For those of you who didn't get random, slept deprived, slightly incoherent text messages from me, here's the story.

I arrived at the Williamsburg/Newport News airport an hour and a half before my flight. I waited in line to return my rental car (took 15 minutes), then waited in line to check in on at the AirTran automated computer thingy (another 15 minutes). The line to check in with an agent was super long so I was glad I wasn't checking a bag. The automated computer didn't "recognize my itinerary" so I had to wait in the line. That's when I discovered all the flights were delayed. Not a good start.

I finally get up to the gate about 20 minutes before my flight was supposed to leave (but no worries, it was delayed already) and checked in, got my tickets for both flights. I knew I was going to miss my flight from Atlanta to STL so I asked if the agent could check and book me on the later flight out. Great customer service person that he was, he told me that he couldn't help me and to check with the gate agent. I went through security (no problem there), then went to check with the gate agent. No gate agent. I went to a different gate, checked on my flight, found out I would definitely miss it (turns out it had already been cancelled), and was rebooked on a 9:58 flight (which was already delayed until 11:15). I called a hotel in Atlanta to find out if there were vacancies, but I didn't book it (a decision I would come to regret). Then I sat down and waited.

Around 5:30, we boarded our 2:30 flight to Atlanta. The flight was unremarkable. We arrived in Atlanta to chaos. Our flight sat on the runway for 45 minutes, essentially unmoving. We weren't allowed to get up and go to the bathroom. Finally, we got a gate, but when we got there, we waited another 20 minutes for a driver for the gate thing. As we deplaned, I knew I was entering a version of hell. I checked what gate the STL flight was leaving out of (now delayed till 1:10) and took the Atlanta tram to the C terminal. As I took the escalator up to the main level, I knew I had entered a version of hell.

People were everywhere and everyone looked angry. A line ran down the center of the airport, and the line spanned the entire AirTran section of the airport. All of the restaurants had lines out of the door. I wondered down to the Delta section (which was mysteriously less crowded than the AirTran section - even though they experienced the same weather in the morning - thunderstorms that were over long before I arrived in Atlanta). I ate dinner and drank a beer. Nothing to do but wait. I started chatting with another passenger. Around 11 we got kicked out of that place and headed to a second bar. Miraculously we got a table, and I decided it was a good idea to switch to diet coke. This bar was hot (I later found out the airport had shut off the air conditioning - yeah, standard protocol cause normally the airport would be empty then). At around 12:15, the random guy and I went our separate ways as his flight was supposed to leave at 12:45. At that point my flight was pushed back to 2:50 or so.

I continued waiting, and read a bad book.

As the night passed, more and more flights were cancelled. Not due to lack of pilots or planes, but due to lack of flight attendants. I watched as flights to New York, Bloomington, and Dayton got cancelled. At 2:30, they announced a gate change for my flight. When we arrived at that gate, there was a single man who announced that there were no flight attendants, but "they were working on it." I called that hotel back - no vacancies. I called many more hotels (hotels away from the city center) - no vacancies. I called car rental places (no one way cars available). I felt like crying. Finally, around 3, they announced that our flight was cancelled. People got in the long customer service line. I gave up.

I booked a flight on American ($300) for the next day, but I could tell it was overbooked and I wasn't yet ticketed. In a ridiculous move, I called my brother and sister-in-law (they have friends in Atlanta). My sister-in-law kindly didn't yell at me, but instead, listened to my story, and told me she would get their friends info to me in the morning (so I would have someplace to sleep while waiting for the American flight). A group of people booked a Limo back to STL, but I decided not to join them because I had booked the American flight (a second decision I would come to regret). At around 4, a girl came up to the group of us from the STL flight. She told us that a group from the Bloomington flight wanted to charter a bus, but the cost was too high since there weren't enough of them. Did we want to band together and charter a bus that would stop in STL then continue on to Bloomington. I decided that was worth a try - at least I could sleep on a bus. I called American, and discovered that I could cancel my booked flight since I wasn't ticketed. I cancelled and waited.

The customer service was terrible. AirTran didn't offer full hotel vouchers (even if hotels had been available), only a 50% off discount. They didn't give us food, and after midnight there was no cold/cool water in the airport until around 6:00 am. There was no coffee. The only good thing I can say about them was they never rolled their eyes at passengers. The worst thing I can say, is the story of a woman with a baby (and I mean BABY - less than 6 months old). At around 3 am she ran out of diapers. When the customer service rep was told this, her response was "well, I guess you should have planned better, shouldn't you?" Yes, I guess we all should have - and not taken AirTran.

At around 6, the two people organizing the bus riders finally started being able to get ahold of bus lines. Various cost estimates and leaving times started coming in. At around 7, we heard a bus that could pick us up in "about 35 minutes" for $150ish a person (ended up being $175). The bus arrived at the airport at about 8:00 and seeing that big purple bus was one of the greatest feelings in the world. Finally, I would be about to sleep. Because we had lost some people, the cost had gone up.

The bus ride was miserable. The bus had driven to Birmingham the night before with a group of passengers who were smart enough to get out of Atlanta to take Southwest flights home on Monday. It hadn't been serviced or cleaned before we got on. There was no toilet paper (oh and did I mention that I got my period at around 1 am the night before). At first the bus was cool, but I could feel the heater at my legs. By the time we made our first stop, I was getting warm, was thirsty, and hungry. We stopped in Northern Georgia so the bus could refuel. The bus was gone for ages. In my paranoid state, I began to worry that the driver had taken our cash and left us there. I wasn't doing well.

Once we reboarded the bus, it was astoundingly hot, and never got better. The heat poured from the heater at my legs, but the driver swore the heat wasn't on and the AC was (very little air was coming out of the vents). I slept fitfully. I attempted to read, but the lines blurred before my eyes and the motion made me nauseous. I listened to the same cd on repeat on my ipod (it helped me sleep to listen to it like that). They opened the windows at the top of the bus to help with the heat. It didn't.

Finally, at around 6 pm, we crossed the river into St. Louis. It was wonderful to see the Arch. The bus dropped us at the airport and my parents picked me up and drove me home. I ate some dinner, watched a bit of tv, and went to bed.

I learned this morning, that if I had waited for AirTran I would have been booked on a flight that departed this morning (Tuesday) at around 9:10 AM. At the time, I left on the bus, AirTran was saying the earliest flights available were at 5 pm tonight. I called today and got my whooping refund of $86 (the roundtrip flight cost me $310 - so about 1/4 of the cost of my trip). I'll take it, but that doesn't mean I like it. I know I'm not going to get very much more. It means that the bus only cost me $100 to get home.

I hate AirTran.


Anonymous said...

Oh my god! That is so horrible...I am glad you made it home safely. You seemed to have a good head on your shoulders and kept your wits about you, if it was me, I would have crawled into a ball in ATL and cried. The wedding was fun, though, and I am so happy I got to se you!


Amanda said...

Wow, Megan, what a nightmare. You won't hear me complaining about our ten-hour drive home after reading that!! I'm glad that you're home safe and sound!

Travel Girl said...

That is just plain crazy. I hear that air travel is only going to get worse. I guess I shouldn't feel so bad that I can't get enough time off this year for a decent vacation.

Sean said...

After reading your story, I feel like I had it easy on Sunday/Monday being stuck in Atlanta.