Friday, May 9, 2014

Set It But Don't Forget It

There's a concept I picked up from other frequent flyers called "gardening your reservations." Basically, it means that you make your travel booking way in advance, but constantly check up on it every so often to make sure things are still as they should be.

Of course, it should seem logical that once (a) you make your booking on an airline for a future departure date/time and (b) even choose your seat assignment, that (c) you should reasonably expect that it will stay the same for your actual departure. However, the reality is very much different.

With flight schedule adjustments, equipment changes and other random acts of airline nonsense, the booking you made in January for a trip in May could be at risk. This exact situation happened to us and since it involved my father, madness inevitably ensued.
  • Evening January 29 - My father books 4 tickets for a non-stop United flight from Newark to Atlanta - United 4140 departing May 9 at 9:10AM from EWR.
  • February-April - Nothing.
  • Afternoon May 8 - My family is all packed ready for our 7AM car pickup the next morning.
  • Middle of the night 2AM May 9 - My father receives a text message from United that Flight 4140 to ATL (departing in less 7 hours) was cancelled.
Fortunately, my parents were up at that late hour because they (and their friend John Mark) had just attended a $240,000 charity fundraiser that my father was coordinating. So immediately, my father jumped online to see what his options were.

So after immediately checking online at 2:30AM, he discovered that United had cancelled all Atlanta flights from Newark on Friday and auto-rebooked us for the Saturday afternoon flight (thereby wasting 67% of our Atlanta weekend trip). Refusing to accept that fate, my father called the United Premier phone line and got a hold of a live agent at 2:35AM to help us find better solutions.

My father knew Delta had its airline hub in Atlanta and figured there were multiple Delta non-stop flights from the New York area, even if United was no longer an option. My father knew that United must get us to our destination even if it meant that United had to pay for our flights on another carrier (i.e., Delta). However, in his haste (and non-soberness) he made Mistake #1.

But imagine if my parents had just gone to bed at a normal time on the night of May 8th, then they would have woken up at 6AM to find their 9AM flight was cancelled with just a few hours left to scramble for alternatives!

Mistake #1
Agent: "I see you're already rebooked on the next available flight."
Father: "That's not going to work for us, we have things on Friday that we need to be in Atlanta for. I see there is an 8:30AM Delta flight from JFK that is still available. Can you put us on that flight?"
Agent: "Let me see what I can do."
(long hold)
Agent: "OK, I was able to confirm you onto that flight, please note you must check in at Delta..."
Father: "Yup, got it. Thanks."

Mistake #2
By now, it was closer to 4AM and they had a car scheduled to pick them up at 7AM. Figuring that it should only take about 35-45 minutes to drive to JFK from our Flatiron apartment, they went to bed to get a few hours of sleep.

The Morning Of
The following morning, we all got into our car at 7AM. Unfortunately, just getting crosstown from our apartment to the Midtown Tunnel took about 30 minutes. Boarding was starting at 8:00AM, but we still had the long way from Queens all the way to JFK Airport. Unfortunately, there was actually some moderate traffic in the morning.

The car ride over, my father was on the phone with United trying to see if there were later flights he could get on, but unfortunately, by 7:45AM, everything was fully booked and there were no other flight options left that entire weekend. We got to Terminal 4 curbside at exactly 7:55AM, and my father told our friend John Mark to run ahead and hold the plane while my parents got me out of the car seat and into the stroller.

Because we had arrived late, the Delta check-in kiosks were no longer accepting passengers for the 8:30AM flight. The other option was to wait in line for a desk agent, but my father decided we should just go to the security line and try to check in on his smart phone. Unfortunately, the time for online check in had passed, but fortunately, we saw John Mark still waiting in line. He explained the situation and we were ushered up front to meet him and eventually made it to the front of the security line.

TSA Security
Of course, we were then further delayed at TSA security, because (a) something on my car seat set off the alarm and (b) my mother had packed creams (over 3oz) from the Dead Sea as gifts for John Mark's family. We sent John Mark ahead of us to try to hold the flight, while my father waited for them to re-scan the luggage. Then my mother ended up getting delayed further as she needed a "female assist" to pat her down.

Realizing that the toddler in the stroller would take longer to walk with, my father took me and went ahead to try to catch up to John Mark. Of course, to make this experience all the more interesting, our departure gate was B41, all the way at the very far end of the hallway.

So John Mark was up ahead, my father and I were running towards the hallway, and my mother was still held up at TSA security.

Sweating profusely, my father was running with one hand on his rollerbag and the other hand guiding my stroller. As it turns out, you can't really guide a $40 umbrella stroller in a straight line with just one hand, so we were swerving back and forth like drunken sailors. My father kept trying to call my mother to make sure she made it through and was running, but she wasn't picking up. Meanwhile, any attempts to call John Mark were futile because my father had his phone (which had the boarding passes on it).

We finally made it to B41 where John Mark was anxiously waiting and semi-fighting with the gate agent. The gate agent actually gave away our seats to a standby couple, so we were left with "whatever we could find." Meanwhile, my mother finally showed up as well and we all got on board.

We had to gate check our bags and stroller and then took our seats. I sat with my mother at the very back of the plane. John Mark and my father were separated a few rows up front. Fortunately, we had just made it!

Perhaps it wasn't clear, but the major mistakes my father made were as follows:

1. Delta has several flights from LGA Airport leaving every hour for Atlanta. LGA Airport is significantly closer to Manhattan than JFK. They still would have had to go through Manhattan crosstown traffic to get to the Midtown tunnel, but it would have saved them 20 minutes had my father asked for LGA-ATL instead of JFK-ATL.

2. The 7AM pickup time left NO room for error. Holiday weekends should have tipped off my father that there may be a lot of cars trying to leave Manhattan early Friday morning. Had we chosen a 630AM pick up (especially since our flight change was from 9AM to 8:30AM), we would have had more time to get to the airport.

Lessons LearnedA. Constantly "garden" your reservations and set your text/email alerts so you're updated real time.
B. Have your airlines on speed-dial or programmed into your phones.
C. Wake up earlier if it means having a stress-free ride to the airport.
D. Know your rights. United was able to put us on a Delta flight to get us to our destination. We were also able to get United mileage credit for our original route. Just call them and ask for "Original Routing Credit."

1 comment:

  1. Wow! My heart was racing as I was reading this! I don't know how we would have handled this. So you didn't have to pay for any fee for changing United to Delta flight? Thanks for sharing great tips that you learned from the mistakes.