We got up at 3:30 a.m. in order to arrive at the Huntsville airport by 5:00 a.m. Only a long-awaited holiday trip could entice me to do such a thing with a smile. This was a Bucket List item for me, to which Steve agreed unbegrudgingly. Bless him. We were going to New York City at Christmastime. We had tickets to a Broadway musical, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir was presenting their Christmas Celebration that weekend, holiday markets scattered throughout the city were on our itinerary, along with seeing the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, the store windows on 5th Avenue and the 9-11 Memorial. Favorite New York delicatessens, cafes and diners were mapped out, and I was even hoping to get a glimpse of the World’s Largest Menorah while we were in Brooklyn. I had subway and street maps marked and ready. We had reservations at a hotel in Midtown only a couple of blocks from Times Square. We both packed extra-warm gloves, socks, hoods, comfortable shoes and plenty of layers. We were ready. In earlier years, we explored NYC in late May of 2000 for my 50th birthday, and we stood on the second row among the throngs to watch Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2008, enjoyed Thanksgiving Dinner at Tavern on the Green in Central Park and shopped for the grandchildren at F.A.O. Schwartz. This time our plans were looser. We just wanted to take it all in.
The trip began to run off the rails when our Huntsville flight was canceled. I wasn’t too worried. If the agent could find us two seats, we’d drive to Birmingham or Nashville to catch another one. We got an hour toward Nashville when the 2nd flight was canceled, and we were booked on yet another one that would leave another hour later. About the time we arrived at the Nashville airport, we got a notice that the 3rd flight was delayed by about a half hour. I still wasn’t too worried. Beginning to fret a little, but not too worried. We parked, caught the shuttle from the lot to the terminal and strolled in with our bags. Then came the words, “I’m sorry, but I’ve just been notified that Flight #____ has been canceled.” Now, I was worried.
The agent tried and tried to find another way for us to get to New York City, but we could tell she was very doubtful. Do you remember hearing on the news about American Airlines mistakenly giving too many of their pilots vacation days during the busiest flying period of the year? Well, the “official” reason we received was “mechanical issues,” but I am 99.9% convinced that we were victims of the pilot shortage on that particular day. Really, what are the chances that THREE flights going to the same place would be canceled WITHOUT any kind of weather situation?
Then, you have to factor in the sense we had that God was trying to protect us from something. It just didn’t feel right to keep on and on pushing to make this trip happen when the deck appeared to be stacked against it. We left the airport, went out for a nice consolation lunch at Maggiano’s and drove back home. Steve, although he hated to see me so disappointed, was probably a little bit relieved. He wasn’t looking forward to being cold for 5 days. I, however, was lower than a snake’s belly.
“It was one of those times you feel a sense of loss, even though you didn’t have something in the first place. I guess that’s what disappointment is — a sense of loss for something you never had.” Deb Caletti in The Nature of Jade.
There were a few good things that happened and a couple of suggestions I’d like to share that might help you if a similar scenario happens for a trip you plan in the future.
- The AMERICAN AIRLINES representatives were very quick in refunding all of the money on airfare and checked bags. I’m sure Delta, Southwest and Frontier would also have reacted similarly, but, in this case, I will have to give props to American. Let me add that I just needed to be “heard” by someone about my disappointment. I wrote a polite but pointed letter to their Complaint Department and got an equally polite, non-automated, response. It helped to know they were sorry.
- The agent for EXPEDIA was a very able advocate on my behalf to get all of the hotel money refunded, as well as the trip insurance money I had paid. I fully expected to have to forfeit the first night’s hotel charge, but Expedia argued on my behalf for a full refund. Whew! 2 thumbs up, Expedia.
- I was sure I’d just have to absorb the money I’d spent on two Broadway show tickets, but I didn’t. TICKETMASTER has a link on their website where you can go and list your tickets if you find you are not going to be able to make the performance. You can set your own price for your tickets, not just the amount you paid for them. I learned that often, especially during the holidays, ticket prices will go up as showtimes grow closer. So, some ticketholders have actually gotten MORE for their tickets than they paid for them. In my mind, this was no time to be greedy. I listed ours low enough to simply recoup my money, and a couple of hours before the show, I got a notice saying my tickets had been purchased. Woohoo!!! Thank you, Ticketmaster!
In my letter to American Airlines, I mentioned several items that the trip cancellation had cost me. No, I didn’t expect a refund on any of them, I just needed to type it all out.
PARKING AT AIRPORTS — We first parked in the Huntsville Airport lot. Because a lot of rain was predicted, we opted for a covered space — $10 per day. Then, we parked in the Nashville Airport lot, where we took a shuttle to the check-in counter. That would have been $18 per day. We ended up paying $4 in Huntsville and $12 in Nashville, even though our time in both airports was short. I just mention this to be sure you factor in this expense when you’re figuring your vacation/trip budget.
SUPER-ECONOMY AIRFARES HAVE HIDDEN COSTS. Beware. There is a new category of airfares that SEEM really good until you realize that you can’t carry on more than a normal backpack size without incurring baggage fees. Steve and I like to travel with only carry-ons whenever possible. But, with these fares, we were going to have to check even our carry-ons. Bummer. When you add $50 just by stepping up to the counter, you have to question what seems like a bait-and-switch deal.
PACK SNACKS, both for the airport as well as for the actual flight. First of all, airport food is notoriously expensive. Second of all, even if you get a small cup of Coke and a pack of pretzels on your flight, you are still likely to have to wait more than an hour for it to reach you. You’ll need to buy bottled waters or liquids after you go through security, but for other snacks, just have them in your allowed space to go with you on the plane. As hunger pangs hit, you’ll thank me for this reminder.
You will NOT be reimbursed for the hours you spend researching and planning nor for the books and maps you might buy in the process. I’m a planner. I’m sure that comes as a shock to you. 🙂 Nevertheless, before I go on a trip, I enjoy learning about what I’m going to see and do, how I will reach the attractions, where to eat, how much the costs will be, which shops are going to be the most unique, etc. etc. When a trip is canceled, those hours you spend on such things will NOT be added back to your life. They’re just gone, or in the best case scenario, they are delayed for a future trip.
You are also never going to be reimbursed for clothing you buy specifically for cold temperatures in New York City that are used very little in North Alabama. But, again, if I am able to go next year, I’ll be ready. Right?
Never fear. I am undeterred in my desire to travel and explore the world. We have another flight booked in a few weeks, this time in the opposite direction. I trust that Expedia will come through for me once again, and I plan to take my own advice regarding baggage, parking and snacks. Maybe some of these tips will help in your own planning.