I am one of the lucky ones. I am in a very clean room in the the Four Points hotel in Charlotte, NC. My destination was Philadelphia.
Last Wednesday, I embarked upon what I thought would be a short trip to and from Vegas for a conference. That was the plan.
I will chat about the conference in another post.
I arrived to the Vegas airport Friday afternoon at high noon, the recommended two hours before my flight. I sailed through the self-service kiosk and security without a hitch. I was on my way home, or so I thought.
When I arrived at the gate, I noticed the area was packed. The 11:30 am flight to Philly was delayed and all of the NJ and Newark flights were cancelled. It was not lost on me that the 4:15pm flight to Philly was cancelled. Not a good sign.
A short time after I setlled into my seat, a spirited man plopped next to me. He gave me a cheery hello. He was a handsome blonde with funky glasses to match his hair and attire. From his accent, I knew that he was from Canada.
Within a matter of minutes, he volunteered that he JUST had to get to Philadelphia. He works for a university in Calgary. University business brought him to Vegas. The love of a woman was taking him to Philadelphia. The love of his life, lives in Geneva. Her work as a pharmacutical sales rep took her to NY.
Their original plan was to meet in NY. Due to the weather, he instructed his 'baby" to hop on Amtrak and meet him in Philly.
Worse case scenario, she is to proceed to Richmond and he would meet her there. " I just have to see her", he explained softly. " Clearly," I responded. He went on to tell me, " You just don't understand. We have this small window of opportunity to see each other. If we don't see each other this weekend, we will not see each other for another three months." Oh, was the only thing I managed to mutter. He continued with his story. " We have had this long distant crazy relationship for seven years. There are exes and children involved. These carefully planned weekends are the only human time they have together."
"HMMM, I sure hope that you are worth it," I teased him, trying to add some levity to the situation. Judging from the slowness in his response, this thought never crossed his mind. He smiled and said, " Of course I am."
As they announced, the delay in our departure, my Canadian friend, paced and checked in periodically with his "baby."
I was not as optimistic as my new friend. I chatted with my best friend, who was working on my plan B. She was firm, "Philadelphia is a mess, there is no way you are coming here." She was checking out hotels and alternative flights out of Vegas. If they cancelled the flight, I knew that I had a place to sleep. It did not appear that I would get out of Vegas until Monday. So not good. I remained cautiously optimistic. My Canadian friend, said "we will get out of here and I will see my baby."
I was more concerned about flying into a snowstorm, though my heartached for my new friend. In the background, they announced that we were about to board. An hour late, but we were headed to Philly. My friend called his baby and informed her he was on his way. Little did we both know, our trip would be rerouted.
At 11:00pm the pilot announced that we were headed to Charlotte, NC. The news gets better. All of the hotels were booked, there were no cars to rent but the RED CROSS arrived on the scene to provide cots. They promised an airline representative would provide flight information.
This was not the first time an airline has lied to me. Nor would it be the last lie provided by US Air.
After we were dumped in terminal C, we were greeted by a rep. He informed us that we were to go to terminal D, immediately because Homeland security performs their security sweep between 2-5am. Violators woud be arrested. He informed us where to go for the cots. But he assured us, two additional planes would be added to the schedule on Saturday. Further, the special services desk would open at 5 am. We should be on our way to our final destination by Saturday afternoon. He did not specify what Saturday.
I followed mindlessly behind my fellow dumpees to terminal D. The Red Cross was there. I retrieved my cot. No pillows, no blankets just a cot. I then searched for a quiet place among 700 of my closest friends. Once I found my spot, I was tired, cold and a little hungry. I found myself buying a few available things for fear of their unavailability. The guy behind me in line expressed my thoughts. " I'm not hungry now, but I might be later."
The Starbucks and Burger King remained open all night. I purchased my first of three vanilla lattes at 12;30 am. Young Chang was pleasant on each of my visits. The hot coffee seemed to provide the warmth that lacking in the cold airport.
On my way back to my cot, I passed my Canadian friend, who was in a complete meltdown. He was demanding his luggage from the TSA agent. Unless, she was flying to meet him, their rendevouz was not going to happen. That was the last I time I saw him.
Most of the folks in this make shift cot city were respectful. The conversations, faded about 2 am. Then the asshole found the microphone. He felt compelled to snore into this intrusive toy, shattering the constant squeeking of the cots and the soft footsteps of those who could not sleep. I am sure next week, I will find the humor in it.
Ironically, the asshole, is a friend of my best friend.
After a fitful night, I needed to rise to warm my now chilled achy body. I will just assume, the heat was on a timer. After retrieving another vanilla latte, I joined my dumpee friends in line at the Special Services counter at 5 am.
A US Air rep did not surface until 6:30am. He did not receive help until one hour later. My daugher, best friend and new sweetie, checked on my status throughout the morning.
When one of the US Air reps took a break at 11 am there was a mixed reaction. Some realized he had been working without a break for hours, others did not care.
It is amazing how quickly a sense of community forms. When a dumpee needed to sit, go to the bathroom or grab a coffee, his or her space in line was held. Wishes of good luck or sympathy were expressed once the weary traveller's fate was determined.
Once I finally made it to the counter, the earliest the agent could get he home, was Monday night at 7pm. The other option was to hang out in the airport and try to flee as a standby passenger. He cautioned that the standby lists are very long.
By this point, I was sleep deprived and knew that I had the financial luxury of trying to find a hotel room. I needed a bath and sleep. I took the ticket.
Earlier in the day my best friend had looked for a hotel room for me in Charlotte. She let me know about a hotel hotline near the tourist counter. Armed with this information, I found a room for a sane rate at the Four Points Hotel.
It was a ten minute cab ride from the airport. When I left the airport, the cold air stunned me. But the fresh air was a welcome relief from the stale recirculated air in the airport.
When I arrived, the clerk, promised a room but not until 3 because they were at 100% capacity the night before. As luck would have it, one of my fellow dumpees was returning the key to his room. He had a family of four and she gave him a room with a king size bed.
I told her I would take room. The clerk was concerned that a maid had not checked out the room. The gentlemen assured me the room was clean. I really didn't care.
The room was in fact clean. I contacted my friends and family who cared. Took a long bath and fell sound to sleep. I slept for five uninterupted hours.
I am very lucky. I had options. How many of my fellow travellers did not have the physical or financial means to make alternatives arrangments? Mentally and physically I was worn out. I can see why older people do not want to be bothered with flying. One passengeer was in a panic because TSA took her baby's formula. "How was she going to feed her child?"
One senior refused to lay on the cot for fear, of his inability to get up. What about those who simply did not have the financial option of rearranging their lives to adapt to changes brought on by nature coupled with USAir's mismanagement of the situation.
I am convinced that USAir, simply wanted to get the plane and the crew to it's hub in Charlote, when we left Vegas. To hell with their customers.
I am sure I will get to Philly which will conclude this chapter in my odessy. I do wonder how things turned out for my new Canadian friend and his baby.