Orlando February 2015

So, I just have to put this out there as a string of semi-related events that add up to “FUBAR.”

Starting with Will breaking his leg at RPI, so he can’t drive the Mustang (it’s a manual), so I drove the Avalon up for him and took the Mustang myself. The important point in this part of the story is not that I look like an old guy having a mid life crisis, it's that the Mustang is absolutely terrible in the snow… remember that, it will come in later. In the meantime, snow was already coming over the gunwales in Boston.

So I’m flying down to Orlando to spend a day and half with Alison on the weekend, and for various reasons, she couldn’t get there until Sunday, so I book Sunday to Tuesday. Most important is that she’s arriving around 3, so I’m looking to get there at roughly the same time. Remember that, it will come in later.

Of course, as the date approaches, the blizzard of the century is declared for Sunday, but it turns out (little did I know) that if the airlines declare a travel advisory, you can change your tickets for free to any seat on an alternate day. Which turns out not to be true… it’s any seat in the same class (remember that, it will come in later). But still, I can shift to Saturday before the storm. Hooray!

So I wait and Thursday American declares a travel advisory and I call and spend 45 minutes on the Platinum line with someone telling me they can’t find any flights to transfer my tickets too, even though I’m on the American web site and can SEE flights I can book. But they are filling up fast, until I do the query again and there’s only one flight left, a US Airways first class to Washington, from there to Miami, and from Miami to Orlando, getting in at 1 in the morning, and I go, screw it, and just book it, even though the one way flight is half again as expensive as the round trip tickets I already have but can’t rebook.

Now I have to find a hotel room in Orlando near the airport since I’m going to get in a 1 am and then meet Alison at the airport on Sunday. And … it’s valentines day and president’s day weekend and I look at 16 different hotels and the only one that has a room is the airport Hyatt, and it’s the last room, so I take it, even though it’s way nicer than what I wanted for a few hours sleep.

So I call back a bit later to see if another person can be more helpful, and he is, sort of. Remember I was trying to match Alison’s arrival time? I’d forgotten that there were no American flights that landed at the same time, so I had to book Delta going out and American coming back. So it turns out that only Delta can change my ticket. So I call Delta… and there are nothing but first class tickets available and that’s when I find out you can’t change to a different class of service.

But no big deal, I have my (expensive) first class ticket, just have to suck up the cost.

So I decide I’m going to get to the airport super early to avoid the snow, and I get in about 2, and I go for economy parking, and there’s someone at the entrance… that says “OPEN” but is blocked with cones… and she says “turn around and follow the green arrows to overflow parking.” Good thing I have lots of time. So I follow the green arrows all over hell and back and it dumps me on a freeway heading to points north. Wth?

So I find a place to turn around, go back, re-enter the airport, and a little smarter now, just go to central parking, who cares if it’s twice as expensive. The only floor available is the one on the roof, great, I’m going to come back to a car buried in two feet of snow, but WHAT FREAKING EVER. But the up ramp past floor 2 is BLOCKED by someone who’s not moving for some unknown reason, and I wait for a few minutes, and then figure I might as well check out the level, and low and behold someone comes along and drives off and I get a parking spot. THE LIGHT IS SHINING ON ME.

I follow the convoluted habitrail skywalks to US Airways, look at the board, and there’s my flight… and as I’m looking it starts flashing “cancelled” and my phone rings. I pick it up… and it’s a announcement from US Airways that the flight is cancelled because the plane has mechanical difficulties. BEFORE THE FREAKING STORM. WTH?

So I go to the counter, and this time, armed with the fact that I’m first class and I can get a first class ticket I ask and they say “there’s NOTHING available until tomorrow.” And I say, “Tomorrow is going to be a WHITE OUT BLIZZARD. The entire reason I’m here is because my flight is not going to MAKE IT OUT TOMORROW.” And she says there’s not a single seat on any aircraft available and I am just SOL. Which I kind of believe, because she’s been sending away families with WEEPING CHILDREN. So I cancel the ticket. But… on the off chance… I call the Platinum desk and lo and behold there is a FIRST CLASS TICKET on a flight to Miami at 7:10 which JUST BARELY BEATS the height of the storm. I AM SAVED. It’s twice as expensive and the ticket that’s half again as expensive as the original ticket I bought, but I DON’T CARE.

So I take the ticket, and I head for the American terminal, and my phone rings. And, I am like, if they JUST CANCELLED THAT FLIGHT I MIGHT HAVE TO VOMIT ON THE RESERVATION DESK. But, no it wasn’t American. It was the Hyatt calling to tell me that they made a mistake when they gave me the room and they are, in fact, FULLY BOOKED but there might be a CANCELLATION.

Whatever. It’s warm in Orlando, worst case I can sleep under a bush or something. I get to the American desk, get my ticket, and on the status board… FLIGHT DELAYED. And the snow has started falling.

Crap crap crap. But it’s not cancelled, so I head on in. That's when I find out that there's an EARLIER flight to Miami that is supposed to leave at 5:00 and I talk to the woman at the Admiral's club counter and she says "It's booked, but you're platinum, I will put you on the ABSOLUTE TOP of the standby list, and if there's a SINGLE PERSON that doesn't check in, you're on it!" "SWEET" says I, sotto voice. It's an hour delayed already and leaving at 6 pm, but the weather is really starting to suck, so I'm thinking it is time to get out as fast as possible. If anything gets out.

So I sit in the Admiral’s club, waiting to see if my flights are cancelled, in which case I get to drive home through the blizzard in a car designed to handle snow as poorly as humanly possible (told you that would come into play later).

So around boarding time I head to the gate and I ask the agent there, "are there any people that haven't checked in?" And he looks at the window, which by now has wind whipped snow coming down like the wrath of god, and says, "lots." And I go, "so, first in line in standby means I'm in like the proverbial Flynn?" And he looks surprised and says, "well, the flight's overbooked, so after anyone that has a paid ticket, sure."

Hmmmmm. "So, how overbooked is it?"

"We're offering $500 to anyone that will give up a ticket. No takers"

"Crap crap crap" says I. Needless to say, I did not get on that flight, and the 7:10 was delayed until 8:30, which put me in Miami about 3 minutes after my connecting flight to Orlando left. The person who was handling the entire flight's worth of passengers, since pretty much everyone missed their connecting flights, tells me that she's booked me, first class, on the first flight to Orlando the next morning. "Do you comp a hotel?" I ask. No, not for weather related conditions. "Is the Admiral's club open?" No, they close after the last flight leaves... which happened to be my flight to Orlando. "So... what am I supposed to do this evening?" Turns out it was to spend the night in "the auditorium." So I get directions and find myself in a refugee camp.

Now, that photo is one room. A small room. It's not even the auditorium, it's an annex to the auditorium. Because, just like my flight to Orlando is the last fight out, turns out the Boston flight was the last one in, and... guess what... lots and lots of other flights had passengers that missed connections. Hundreds. Thousands, maybe. But, ok, it's cheap at least.

So I find one of the people that are doing crowd control and I ask where I can get a cot and she says "a cot? We ran out of those a long time ago. But I can give you a blanket and a pillow." So she gets them and hands them to me, and I look and it's something the size of a napkin and brillo pad, respectively, and I just look at her, and she shrugs. "What we hand out on the aircraft."

I find a slot between two cots and try to settle in on the (thin) carpet. The cot on my right has a Rastafarian who seems to be having a delusional breakdown from drugs and keeps sitting up and shrieking. The cot on the left has someone dying of tuberculosis who keeps leaning over to cough on me. I move to a different spot. This spot has a guy who's about three sheets to the wind and insists on asking me how long I think it will take him to get to San Paublo, or San Palo, or some place that I don't even know what continent it's on. I find a different spot deeper in the murk towards the back of the Auditorium.

But it turns out "auditorium" is an airline word for "meat locker" because the AC is on so high it can't be more than 50 degrees in the room. I give up using my napkin as a mattress and try to us it, and my winter jacket, and the clothes I've packed, to prevent hypothermia. Eventually, I drift off, wake up after a few minutes, drift off, wake up after a few minutes, and realize I am going to die from exposure soon. So I go back out to the main area, under the glaring fluorescent lighting that I though had been outlawed by the Geneva convention, find a chair near the chunk-chunk-chunk-CLANK of the escalator, and try to relax in the warm air blowing up from the stairwell. Another half hour of sleep, perhaps, and it's four thirty in the morning, which makes me happy even though I can't move my head because of the kink in my neck from sleeping in a chair. But four thirty is when the ADMIRAL'S CLUB OPENS AND THEY HAVE HOT SHOWERS. So I trudge my way through the (empty) security line, stagger down the deserted hallways, find the escalator, and finally push into the Admiral's club where all the chairs have been pushed together to make comfy beds for people. I ask the woman at the desk, and sure enough, they've been open all night.


TThe real question there is why did I assume the woman who was directing refugees... I mean passengers... had any clue what was actually going on and wasn't, like every other person I'd talked to in this train wreck of a travel day, making things up?

But, c'est la vie, which is French for "I've been screwed but there's nothing I can do about it." I take my shower, drink six cups of coffee, hit my head against a wall a few times and I am ready to face the day. Take the 6:50 to Orlando... it's an hour from Miami, so I'm going to be hanging out in the Admiral's club there for a while, since Alison doesn't arrive until 3... but no big deal. Except there is no Admiral's club at Orlando, or any other airline club. Go figure. So I wander, and sit, and wander, and sit, and wander.

And then Alison shows up ... and everything is ok.

We stayed at the Grand Bohemian, which is associated with Marriott somehow, but certainly is unlike any Marriott I've been in, featuring artwork in a variety of forms throughout the hotel. If we had time, it would have been fun to wander on each floor. Just our floor had dozens of paintings, sculptures, and furniture (and this furniture was artwork). It was the kind of place where you could tell it wasn't "buy a dozen generic sea scape paintings and stick them here and there." Every room, every hallway was meticulously assembled for maximum effect. We ate in the Boehme, the hotel restaurant, which was good but not quite five star.

The next day, we went to Universal Studios where the big attraction was Diagon Alley, the new Harry Potter themed area. We had tickets that let you jump to the front of the line except, of course, for the Harry Potter rides. But we arrived a half hour before the park officially opened (the rides, at least), which was good because on President's day weekend, where you would expect hordes of people, they were doing construction on the entranceway to the park and had two out of three lanes shut down. We squeaked through just as the traffic jam was starting to avalanche, used valet parking, and made a bee line for Diagon Alley. The lines were short as a result, and we did pretty much every major ride in the park.

This was pretty much a one day, two night jaunt, and in the morning we have breakfast in the room on our floor set aside for that, and there's a computer with a printer there, so I log in to print out boarding passes, and that's when I find out that the entire eastern seaboard south of Boston is getting pummeled. Including Philly, which I am flying through to get home. My flight is delayed by three hours, which puts it an hour and half after the connecting flight leaves for Boston. If anything gets out.

So I head to the airport, talk to someone from US Airways who says "well, I can't help you, even though there's a terminal right in front of me, and I'm old enough that back in the day I had to manage these things with telegraphs and Morse code. But there might be germs on the keyboard or something, so I don't think I'll try to rebook you. You have to go stand in that line of several hundred people to find out that you are going to be sleeping on the floor with no cot, no napkin sized blanket, and no brillo pad sized pillow."

Having learned from my mistake, I called the Platinum line, who rerouted me through Miami, flying over the snowy, icy morass that the East Coast had become.

So I finally made it home, about seven hours later than planned.

But you know... it was all still worth it.