"We’re going to do another one of these in Boston."

Date February 7, 2008

This is my “Trip from Hell” tale. It’s my own fault. To a point. (And it’s not over yet.)

On fairly short notice a couple of weeks ago, I decided to make a one-night trip to San Francisco this week to attend a user group/product feedback meeting with one of my company’s key technology partners. Yes, I realized that San Francisco was on the west coast. And, yes, I realized that I’d moved east from Austin late last summer. But, it was a meeting I really wanted to attend, and, after doing some poking around, I decided that, while the travel would be a little crazy, I could pull it off for a good price and make it a one-nighter.

Things started out great. I managed to time the flight out so that I could still attend a committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon at the United Way of Central Ohio (which was a great meeting — it actually spawned some thoughts I recorded on my other blog during the trip). I left from that meeting and headed straight to the airport, flying out of Columbus on time at 5:00 PM (EST) and connecting through Houston to San Francisco, arriving 45 minutes later than scheduled at 12:15 AM (PST). By the time I got to the hotel and got settled in, it was a bit bast 2:00 AM (PST) — that’s after 5:00 AM EST…but largely what I had expected! I got a few hours sleep, got up, got ready, and walked over to the 9:00 AM meeting. I was a bit tired, but, so far, so good.

The title of this post comes from a comment made during the meeting. One of the people running things noted that this was the first of a couple of these sessions they were going to conduct — that they were going to “do another one of these in Boston.” Um. Yeah. Boston is much more accessible than San Francisco from Columbus. Oh, well.

The meeting wrapped up around 12:30, which gave me plenty of time to grab a cab to the airport and actually sit down for lunch! Little did I know that, aside from a mini-bag of mini-pretzels, this would be the last food I would see until the next day. I even had time to grab some chocolates for the kids and Julie.

The scheduled 2:25 PM flight was pretty much on time, or so I thought. I wasn’t conscious of boarding particularly late, sitting at the gate for a particularly long time, or waiting on the tarmac to take off for very long. But, as we descended into Denver, the flight attendant announced that we would be arriving at 6:15 PM (now MST). That was a little troubling, as my connecting flight was at 6:35. I got off the plane as quickly as I could at gate B25 and ran-walked all the way to gate B52. The door was closed. There wasn’t a gate agent in sight. A fellow sitting by the door waiting for another flight said they had just closed the door. There was my flight to Columbus just outside the window. Still with the jetway attached. I grabbed the nearest gate agent — a couple of gates over — and she very sympathetically informed me that she couldn’t help, as that flight was a United affiliate flight. But, she told me that the customer service desk was just passed gate B56. Stay with me: That’s B25 to B52 to B56. Customer Service checked with the plane, but it was too late to reopen the doors.

So, my next option was to fly out of Denver on Thursday morning, arriving in Columbus at 2:45 PM. I’ve learned a thing or two from Julie over the years, so I pressed a bit — check other airlines, get me closer, etc. Nothing on other airlines, but she said that I might be able to make it to Chicago. That was on a 4:54 PM flight that had been delayed. And was boarding right then. At (wait for it) gate B27! I ran-walked all the way back to where I’d started (B25 –> B52 –> B56 –> B27, if you’re following along at home) and managed to board just before they closed the door.

So, that left me getting at least halfway from Denver to Columbus, and with a reserved seat on a flight leaving Chicago at 7:50 AM on Thursday morning. But, I crossed my fingers and hoped that a Columbus flight might have been delayed leaving Chicago that I could still make. As we were on our final descent into Chicago, the pilot suddenly sped up and pulled up. Hmmm. Nothing super-dramatic…but not generally a good sign. Shortly thereafter, the pilot came on the intercom and announced (I’m not making this up), “Well, folks, just as we were on our final descent, a Turkish pilot pulled onto our runway, so we had to pull up and circle around to land on a different runway.” By my estimate, that cost us at least 10-15 minutes. Damn those Turks! (Why on earth we needed the nationality…and how our pilot even got the nationality…is a mystery.)

When we landed, I had a voicemail from Julie that the last flight out of Chicago to Columbus was at 9:15 (CST now). We’d just landed, and it was 10:30, so I figured I had an outside shot at that flight having been delayed enough for me to make it. We taxied. And taxied. And taxied. I finally got off the plane in terminal C at 10:50 PM and checked the monitor. The Columbus flight was listed with a 10:56 PM departure…from terminal B. I was off to the races again. And, again, I arrived at a gate with a closed door. But the gate agent was still there, and she acted promptly, grabbing the phone to see if they could re-open the door. Alas! The pilot had already removed the brake from the plane, and it was undergoing de-icing. Again?!!! To the gate agent’s credit, she showed genuine empathy, which I appreciated.

I then got to stand in the customer service line for an hour to get a discount coupon (not a voucher, mind you) for a local hotel. I called the number on the coupon and was given three options — all “within 10 minutes of the airport.” They ranged in price from $30 to $69. I’m a cheap bastard by nature. And I wasn’t going to be there long. $30 it was.

I then had a 10-minute walk to the shuttle pick-up point, and a 45-minute wait for the “shuttle that comes every half hour.” And then had a 15-minute ride to the hotel (that was supposedly 10 minutes away).

I rolled into the hotel well after 1:00 AM. I was still sufficiently alert to note the big sign that said, “Schedule your shuttle at check-in time.” The shuttles ran every hour on the hour. I had a 7:50 AM flight and already had my boarding pass. The 6:00 shuttle seemed like the way to go. “I’m sorry sir, that shuttle is already full. Would you like the 5:00 AM or the 7:00 AM?” 7:00 just seemed too risky, so 5:00 AM it was. I logged a couple of hours of sleep, and am now sitting at my gate in O’Hare a full hour before boarding even begins.

Julie’s Mom is coming into town today, which is going to allow Julie and me a getaway this weekend to a destination as yet unknown. Even if we found a great airfare, I don’t know that I’d be up for flying!

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