Anatomy of a Travel Clusterf--well, you know

Am I just a masochist in terms of reading about other people's travel misfortunes? And I assume other people want to read about them too? Though, I have to say, had I not read all the travel horror stories over the years, I don't think I would have been prepared for this (warning, it's long. I give you permission to skim. This was rather cathartic for me to write.)

My parents and I were jazzed to get on our non-stop flight to Paris from Washington Dulles. Set to board at 4:15. Woohoo! I get to the gate at 2:15ish.

Our flight is delayed. No big deal, what's 30 minutes if you have an 8 hour flight?

Oh wait, our flight needs maintenance once it lands. Ok.

We boarded, yay! A cranky lady yelled at us because we didn't realize there was a line. My parents told me they hoped she was my seattmate. Haha.

It's now 6 p.m. and pouring down rain. So we wait. I watch the movie Nebraska. Yes, the WHOLE movie. It's stopped raining somewhat. Planes are taking off. We should be on our way!

Except we haven't been given the go-ahead to pull back from the gate. Apparently air traffic control has misplaced our flight plan. How does this even happen? Did someone save over it in Word?

It's now 9 p.m. They offer to let some of us off the plane to get food. I am sensing bad news a-coming. Having worked with clients in the travel industry, as well as reading all those travel horror stories, I tell my parents that I hope the crew doesn't time-out (meaning they will be on the clock for too many hours by the time we land), meaning our flight will be cancelled.

I watch two episodes of Inside the Actor's Studio and fret in my seat. Then comes the announcement. Leave the plane. As we deplane, a woman casually says "Your flight's been cancelled, go to <insert gate number> to rebook."

At this point, it's barely sunk in. My parents stop in the gate area for something, and I know the race is ON. There were 250 people on our flight, all who are now in line to rebook. So I look at them and yell "GO!" and break into a run down to the service desk.

There are easily 150 people ahead of us in line. I pull out my phone and call United while in line, tell my dad to call our travel insurance (good idea getting that, Dad!) to see what happens. United says they're happy to book us on a flight three days later. Oh sure. Let's just miss ALL our time in Paris. They say there's nothing else they can do.

Trip insurance offers to rebook us on Icelandair (which would have been way cool to fly) and help cover the cost, and we would only lose one day of our trip. We put those tickets on hold, and we split up amongst the different customer service outlets. I begin to eavesdrop on fellow customers' conversations with customer service.

That's how we ended up with a flight from JFK in New York to Frankfurt, with a connecting flight to Paris. The only problem is, we're in DC. So United books us a Delta flight from Reagan to LaGuardia.

It's now 2 a.m. We have to get our luggage from baggage claim. This means they have to look through ALL the bags from our flight to find our three. It's now 3 a.m. My parents and I take a cab from Dulles to Reagan (about 40 mins), I have to ask the cab driver to slow down (he was going 80 on a wet and curvy road and weaving in and out of lanes--I was not dying in a cab on the Dulles Toll Road).

We get to Reagan at 4 a.m. and the ticket counter isn't open. We are perhaps fifth in line to check our bags, and go down to security. Which isn't open yet. In the meantime. I get a phone call from United that, in rebooking us on another airline, they may have accidentally cancelled our return reservation from Europe. Sorry bout it! (No, really, that's what was said).

However, that's ten days from now, so I'm not going to deal with it. After shoveling a sausage McMuffin into my mouth (my first food since chips and queso 13 hours earlier), I pass out on the 45 minute flight to New York (which took off in driving rain, tip of the hat to Delta for not letting a little precipitation slow things down). We get to LaGuardia, take a shuttle to JFK, where we sit. For eight. Hours. Four of those hours are pre-security, because Lufthansa doesn't allow luggage to be checked more than four hours in advance.

Needless to say, I became really familiar with the food court at the JFK terminal, learned how to sleep with my head on my suitcase, and walked laps around the terminal lobby.

Eight short hours later, I was ensconced on what would be my favorite flight to date (after probably close to sixty flights in my life). 30 hours, six airports, one experience I never want to re-live.

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