On Cancelled Flights: A Cautionary Tale

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So I’ve just returned from a quick trip to East Coast for a week on Royal Caribbean’s new ship “Quantum of the Seas.”  While the cruise itself was fun, it very nearly didn’t happen at all, because of a freak (I guess?  I’m from Los Angeles, so basically any snow seems freakish to me) snow storm in New York.  Apparently, the snow caused New York to issue a flight delay, and of the three Virgin America flights going from LAX to Newark that day, only one was cancelled…Mine.

What seemed initially like a mild inconvenience (it was still early in the day, and the cruise didn’t leave until the next day,) quickly became a nightmare as Virgin America said all their other flights were full, and they could maybe get me out there next week.  They suggested they could just refund my money and I could shop around for another flight, but all the other flights on other airlines were either full or averaging around $3,000 for two people.  Ugh.

Finally, after a great deal of badgering, Virgin America (who had initially told me they had no agreements with any other airlines to move people to different flights,) admitted that they could book me on a JetBlue flight that day to JFK, but they were all full.  After I checked online and found some available flights, it took another couple calls to finally get the flight booked.  Subsequently, the confirmation number they gave me didn’t work on the website, and calling, JetBlue was able to switch me to an earlier flight that left from an airport even closer.  Yay!

…Or sort of.  After racing to the airport and making it in time, we were told that the flight was delayed some 2.5 hours from the weather, but that we couldn’t leave the gate area, because if the delay was lifted, they would take off with or without you.

After around two hours, and a gate change to the other end of the terminal later, we had some entertainment as a woman tried to make her flight at a nearby gate.  While the plane was still there, and the stairs were still in position, the gate guy’s radio apparently didn’t work, so he couldn’t call the guy outside to come open the door and get the woman.  While the woman frantically suggested he go out there (he wouldn’t) or that she could go out there (she couldn’t,) there ended up being little she could do besides hammer on the glass screaming to try to get his attention (she was quickly suppressed by the gate people) as he pulled the stairs away and the plane taxied off into the sunset.  Later, she walked back the length of the terminal, screaming unflattering epithets at the gate people, while fellow travelers applauded.

Shortly after, they made another announcement that, what with all the free time, the maintenance guys had examined our plane so hard that it…broke?  And now we needed another plane.  So, another hour delay.  We weren’t sure what was a more encouraging thought:  That the mechanics looked at the plane so hard they actually broke it, or that if we hadn’t had the delay, we would have merrily gone off in a broken plane.

One more gate change back to the initial end of the terminal, and we eventually made it on, getting to the East Coast some six hours later and a state away from our initial plan.

Take Home Lessons:

  • Keep calling.  It’s distressing to think that the squeaky wheel premise is still true, but it took about six calls before anyone at Virgin America offered to do anything for me.  Their first attempt at a solution will be to give you your money back and then wash their hands of the whole thing, but this, at least for me, would have been the worst possible alternative.
  • Try to acquire status on any airline you fly.  I have gold status this year on Virgin America, which gave me a separate number to call and likely gave them more motivation to help me out.  If I hadn’t had any status, I probably would still be waiting on hold to talk to someone today.
  • If you can get booked on another airline, take anything and then go talk to the other airline.  The first airline won’t book you on any flights that have all the cheap seats sold out, but the actual airline may be able to shuffle people around and put you on a better flight regardless.
  • While wacking out and causing a ruckus may make you feel better, it’s probably not going to be more effective than nonviolent resistance.  Your best bet is to try to make allies of anyone you speak with, so that they have some reason to try to help you.
  • Maybe don’t try out new methods of transport in urgent situations.  I figured I would try Uber to get from JFK to our hotel in Newark, but, at three in the morning, with a ton of luggage, I discovered that Uber had suspended my account for having an expired credit card.  Unfortunately, you can’t necessarily figure this out in advance, because everything looks fine until you actually call for the car, which you wouldn’t do until you were on the point of needing the ride.  No points to Uber.
  • Wear socks.  While it was 95 the week I left LA, the plane touched down to considerably different temperatures in New York, and it turns out snow is not that much fun in sandals.IMG_8872
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