Opinion: Air travel can be a nightmare. Here is my story
by Peter Weinberger | [email protected]
I’ve spent a lot of time on airplanes over the years, but hadn’t flown since before the pandemic. Two weeks ago, I was heading across the country to Stone Harbor, New Jersey, for a family reunion, and read about the tough issues travelers face in airports and in the air. Nothing, however, prepared me for what I encountered on my return trip to Claremont.
Driving to Philadelphia airport was a breeze. I arrived early for my flight. Everything seemed perfect as I boarded the plane for Charlotte, North Carolina, where I would connect to Ontario. As we drove towards the track, I was startled by what I would later call “the voice of fate”. It was an American Airlines pilot and captain saying that we were delayed 30 minutes because of the weather in Charlotte.
Alright, I thought it could be a lot worse. I still had three hours between flights. After 30 minutes the captain was on the loudspeaker again to say we were another hour late. I had already spent more than 90 minutes on the plane, what is another hour?
Just in time, the voice of fate rang over the speaker again, indicating that we were heading back to the door. The pilot said the good news was that our flight hadn’t been canceled, we just didn’t know when we would be leaving. When we got to the gate, about 25-30 people wanted to fend for themselves. I decided to stay because there were no other options.
By then we had been on the plane for over three hours and the kids behind me were melting. As two younger brothers tried to calm their screaming two-year-old sister, the back of my seat was continuously pounded as they kicked and played with her. These efforts didn’t help, so I got up from my seat and went to a vacancy left by a departing passenger. It didn’t take long for a stressed flight attendant to tell me I couldn’t do this. “Where is your seat, sir?” I pointed to my seat in front of two children now standing in their seats. She rolled her eyes and walked away.
We were still on the plane after almost four hours when the pilot finally announced it was time to leave for Charlotte.
not so fast
The flight to Charlotte only lasted about 90 minutes and we had a great time getting to the terminal. In fact, we literally landed just as my connection was about to take off. Since so many flights have been cancelled, is it possible for me to fly to Ontario? The American would surely expect people with close connections.
The Charlotte airport was seriously packed with people, some waiting in huge queues for reservations, others sleeping on the floor or in chairs, standing (yes standing) having dinner or rushing to catch a flight. Hundreds of flights had been canceled due to thunderstorms and I was right in the middle of it all.
I rushed to my connecting flight and watched the plane roll out of the gate. I needed to find another flight home in the middle of the Armageddon trip.
It was 10 p.m. and all the agents were overwhelmed. Then I received an email through the American Airlines app asking, “Need to reschedule your flight?” Before I knew it, I was going through flight options to get home, all scheduled for the next day. I quickly booked my return and everything was ready. Except, where was I going to sleep?
Due to the crowds, it was impossible to sleep at the airport, so I called 21 nearby hotels which were all booked. While I was calling, the little toiletry bag I left on my suitcase was stolen right behind my back! There was nothing but medicine, but at 65, that’s a big deal. I decided to eat something, only finding a cinnamon roll for dinner.
The airport lacked food.
Since I lived in Charlotte for 14 years, I broadened my hotel search and was able to find an inexpensive hotel run by Wyndham towards downtown. At least I’ll get some sleep.
Or maybe not. Upon entering the hotel, I noticed three male/female couples standing in the lobby. Everyone was very friendly! But the member of the service staff didn’t look very happy: apparently the women were sex workers. Needless to say, when it was my turn, everyone heard me say that I was exhausted and needed to sleep. Luckily the room was clean, although the furniture had seen better days.
Thinking the worst was behind me, I played it safe and showed up over two hours early for my flight. I immediately had deja vu upon entering the Charlotte terminal, as last night’s crush of people was now waiting in various queues to board outgoing planes. Luckily for me, I could go to a kiosk for my boarding passes. Except the red text kept appearing on the screen saying “see agent”.
I found an agent and she started tinkering but couldn’t print anything. My connecting flight didn’t even show up! Extreme anxiety started as I wondered if I even had a ticket. Still focused on customer service, the agent told me to wait for another agent in the massive queue. Nearly 90 minutes later, I was finally in front of someone who could help me. I was hoping.
The next agent could easily see my frustration and was kind enough to explain that I was on a newly scheduled flight due to bad weather last night. But I finally got boarding passes! After waiting in a jammed TSA line, I sprinted out the door, literally arriving when my number was called. Out of breath and dripping with sweat, I flew home.
Grateful to land in Ontario, it was time to grab my checked bag and make a quick exit. I had spent 31 hours traveling from Philadelphia to Ontario, a trip I will never forget. Should I be surprised if my bags never made it to baggage claim?
I was not surprised. It was still in Charlotte.