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Oh, wow! You fly for free??!!

11 Sep

Usually I cringe at the thought of connecting through the Chicago O’Hare Airport and last weekend was no different….

After trying to fly standby from Denver to Grand Cayman to no avail I had to make a plan B, and fast.  Some of you know that I fly standby, which is great and amazing and fantastic when it works and the pits when it doesn’t!

Here’s the deal:  Omg, you can really fly where ever you want for close to nothing, if not actually nothing?!

The short answer is YES, and then it’s followed by a very big BUT!

ONLY IF: there are available seats, and no other flight delays where they re-route paying customers onto your flight that just 5 minutes ago was indicating there were 50 available seats, and if the weather cooperates and doesn’t throw a category 5 10502464_10152605617973987_1404902129_nlightening storm at you, and if you don’t get trumped by “revenue standby” people who just wanna get home sooner – I get it, but still!  And sometimes when they’ve put everyone on the plane and they have been calling the Smith Family of 4 on the PA for the last 10 minutes you get your hopes up, slightly… and then a little more with each airport page that goes out.  And with the modern TV screens at the gates you know that you are number 2 on the standby list and with simple math if Smith doesn’t show up you are ON!!  You kinda hold your breath a little….

This family looks way too happy and doesn't have enough bags, but you get the point!

This family looks way too happy and doesn’t have enough bags, but you get the point!

But… wait…. What’s that?  In the distance, down the terminal some commotion catches your eye.  No!  Please no!  It’s all 4 of the Smiths running toward you in a tornado of clapping shoes and bouncing bags and they are yelling “wait, we are here!”

Crap.

And what’s still worse than that is when your name gets called, and you get your seat assignment, and you get onboard, and you put away your bags, and you sit down, and you put on your seatbelt, and you breathe…. but only a little because the aircraft door is still open.  And then this happens…

13-things-flight-attendant-01-overhead-bin-luggage-slThe gate agent comes on the PA in the plane and calls your name to collect your bags and please come to the front.  The guy they were calling 45 times in the airport who never showed up…showed up.  And you’re back in the gate area.

This is when the Plan B’s come out and your critical thinking skills need to be on point!

For the record, this is not me… I would never wear something like this to the airport!

Step 1. Don’t take it personally.  After 26 years of flying standby, sometimes I still do.  I am grown; and I admit I have sought out the corner of a gate area behind the podium to, quietly, and usually with sunglasses on, drop my head let out a few tears of frustration before collecting myself for the dreaded stage 2 of pass travel.

Step 2.  Brain must think of all other possible options to get you to your destination.  This consists 485355453_17b348244aof your knowledge of basic geography, your computer skills, and your time management.  Without these you’re screwed.  You need to look at the departure monitors first to see if there are other flights.  If there are no direct ones, you’ve got to think about what location will get you closest and then find out if there is a connecting flight.  Once you have a chosen route you need to log into the employee website to get an idea of the loads to see if you even have a chance in hell to make it happen.  If all options fail, move to step 3… and hopefully avoid step 4.

Step 3.  Buy a ticket on another airline.  Yep, then I’m right back there with everyone else in the world who has to pay for airline tickets.  But with a lot more stress involved.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice luxury to know that I have a seat on a flight and no one can kick me out of it.  It’s just the time, effort, and anxiety that precedes the actual purchase of said flight that gets me.

Bundle up, find the darkest corner you can, and make the best of it.  It's gonna suck.

Bundle up, find the darkest corner you can, and make the best of it. It’s gonna suck.

Step 4.  Sleep in the airport.  This is a LAST resort!  This happens when the day got away from you, you stood by for all flights you could, and now there are no more flights leaving because it got too late, an there’s weather so all hotel rooms are booked up too.  *Travel Tip* always travel with something you can use as a blanket!!  Airports are really cold at night with no people in them!

So I skipped step 4 and found myself in Chicago last weekend.

To be continued…

Em

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Guat do you mean I don’t have a ticket? Stuck in Guatemala City (Part 2)

4 Oct

Sorry to leave you hanging so long in Guatemala City!

Where were we? Oh ya, explosions in the street had stopped and I was able to get some sleep! Whew!

After a nice hot shower early in the morning before check out my first challenge of the day was the checkout! The night desk person who had agreed to allow me to put the cab fare on the room the night before and allowed me to pay with only a credit card number and not the actual card itself was unfortunately not the same person in the morning and didn’t leave a memo either. The disgruntled morning guy had his panties all in a bunch because he didn’t know what was going on and he definitely did not like the cc# only idea.

I wasn’t too worried about this part because I knew they would get paid. Duh. And besides…what was he going to do? I already spent the night and ate the food.

After some more complaining he finally called the shuttle around to deliver me back to the airport. Why we didn’t just use the shuttle to bring me to the hotel in the first place? – No clue.

Ok, first challenge mastered.

Next challenge: Get my Mexicana airline ticket that my mom purchased – confirmed seat – the night before. Naturally I would pick up my airline ticket at the airport ticket counter, right? Wrong. I went right to the ticket counter, gave her my confirmation number and do you remember the scene in the movie where the agent is typing for-ever seemingly searching for the info?? Ya, that was my agent and when she finally came up for air she said, “No, ju nee to go to city office”.

That’s when the waterworks started for me. I had made it about 18 hours dealing with problem after problem and I finally have a seat on a plane home and she is telling me that I can’t get it at the airport, I have to go back into the city to the office there to get my stupid ticket!!!!??? This is ridiculous!!!

I went over to the United Airlines counter and between sobs managed to get out what my situation was. There were two younger gentlemen working at the counter who were very nice. The first one I met was taller. He was trying to calm me down and asked me if I knew the city well and said that I could take his car to the Mexicana office. What a great gesture, but I didn’t know the city well enough. He looked down and typed what seemed like a few words on his keyboard and then I heard his printer start printing! He handed my Mexicana ticket! Thank God.

I remember sitting in their back office for a little while. By then they knew my whole story of getting stuck, traveling on employee passes, my wallet getting stolen, and Western Union being out of service. At this point too, I was rationing a small package of coconut cookies I had from Costa Rica. The second agent, the shorter one, noticed that I wasn’t eating anything and he walked me down to the sandwich kiosk and told me to order anything I wanted, then told the worker to put it on his tab. This was amazing!! I was so hungry. I got an avocado and cheese panini and I can still remember every detail about it to this day. I was sitting with my backpack near my feet, reading and I had only eaten half of the sandwich. I carefully wrapped the other half in a napkin and set it on top of my pack. I wasn’t sure when I was going to eat again so I wanted to save it. The United agent noticed what I was doing and firmly said, “No, you eat that one and order another one!!”. I wasn’t going to argue with that so I graciously ordered another.

The terminal I knew too well after 24 hours...

5pm finally came around and it was time to board my flight to Los Angeles. I headed toward the gates and then ran into a mini situation: airport tax. Mostly all foreign airports make you pay an exit tariff, however with my current, money-less situation this was a problem. Yes, I played the “dumb girl” card – I had to. Playing a little dumb paid off, the tariff taker guy assumed that I had arrived so late last night that it was actually the same day and I told him I was in transit. It worked!

I was finally off to L.A.

The journey wasn’t quite over though. My flight got into L.A. too late to make a connection so we had to do another hotel near the airport and then I was heading to Denver the next morning. This went swimmingly well. One little thing was that there was an amazing looking basket of fruit and snacks sitting on the table in the room and I wanted so badly to eat it, but I knew how much money my mom had spent on tickets, hotels and collect phone calls that I didn’t want to add any more costs to the bill.

I found out after not touching the basket and getting home that it was actually paid for and I was supposed to eat it. Bummer.

Home at last.

Guat the hell is that?? Stuck in Guatemala City (Part 1)

24 Aug

Guatemala City, aerial view, night, 2009

Guatemala City

After finishing one of the most amazing backpacking trips to Costa Rica with my friend, Dawn, we were finally headed home.

Or so I thought…

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I travel on stand-by passes. As glamorous as it sounds to travel relatively inexpensively, pass travel is both a blessing and sometimes a curse.

Dawn and I headed to the airport, sunburned and bags a little heavier from souvenirs. I was flying United Airlines on passes and she was flying Continental with a confirmed seat. Everything was routine; get up, pack the last few things, taxi to the airport… you know the rest.

I bid Dawn adieu as she boarded her flight, I then headed to my own. I had one stop to make in Guatemala City before my flight continued on to Los Angeles where I would connect to Denver.

This seemingly flawless travel plan was anything but.

The thing about pass travel is that I only travel if there is a seat available. Now the glitch I encountered during the stop in GUA was that more passengers got on the plane than got off. This was a huge problem for me for the following reasons:

1. I did not obviously plan on getting off the plane.

2. There were no seats available on any other flight heading to anywhere in the US the rest of the day

And the KICKER…

3. My wallet had gotten stolen in Costa Rica the day before we left so I was without money or credit cards!

AND…

4. Western Union was broken down and unable to transfer money.

 

This presented the biggest problem because I was basically a sitting duck at that point. What to do?

Note: I’m 19 years old in this story.

Ok, so back to the Guatemala City airport, which offers a fantastic combination of people in old school indigenous clothing with those in new school business attire. It was very interesting.

I was faced with the task of surviving a night in Guatemala City and making it on board a flight the next day.  A bit daunting, butI started to chip away at my options.

Now, this wasn’t the first time that I was stuck alone in a city without a plan.  My first experience was when I was 16 years old and stuck in Madrid alone in a similar situation.  That’s a story for another day.

Guatemala was not familiar to me and the airport was extremely small, which made it nice considering all the walking back and forth I was doing.  I quickly made friends with the Information Lady.  After all I was using her phone for the Millions of dollars of collect calls home I was making.

After a few hours of marking things off my “options” list I finally needed to make my way into the city, where I was staying for the night.

My mom was able to book a hotel room at the Best Western in the city.  This was tricky because they were very hesitant to take her credit card over the phone.  Not only that, but she also requested that they put the cab fare from the airport on the room tab.  This really put them out.

In other cities, especially in Latin America I have noticed, cab drivers don’t necessarily need to be working for a legitimate company to be able to accept money in exchange for a ride.  The Information Lady, who was a friend at this point, advised me not to take a cab from the guys outside the front door.  Instead, she took me down the stairs and out a back exit of the airport – yes, it was a little weird, but I trusted her.  She had called a friend of hers to take me to the hotel.

Once I arrived and argued with the desk clerk to pay the cab driver, I finally got to my safe little room.  And I mean little.  Since I had been rationing a small package of cookies all the hours I spent in the airport – no money- I was starving!!  I ordered dinner on the room tab and brought it back to the room to eat.  In Madrid I ate in the restaurant of the hotel without worry, but this city was different.  I watched some TV and just as I was starting to relax it started…

Explosions…  in the street…  in front of the hotel!

Oh God, what now??

My room faced the opposite side of the hotel so I couldn’t see where the explosions were coming from.  After the first few, I was a bit concerned.  After the next 40 I was panicked!

I finally called down to the front desk and in Spanish asked, “Por favor, que son los explosiones en la calle?”

In Spanish she responded, “Oh, it’s just fireworks for the church festival”

Really??  

Ya, apparently there are no laws about setting off 500 gram repeaters in the streets of Guatemala City!  Good Lord!

The explosions eventually subsided and I was able to get some much needed sleep.

To be continued….