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notes for christmas travels

December 21st, 2005 by isaac · 4 Comments

Lesson #1: If you connect in Newark, take a sleeping bag. When I found out my flight from Raleigh/Durham would be delayed an hour, I asked the nice woman at the Continental counter what I should do about my connection in Newark that evening. She said, There’s still a good chance that you might make your connection to Tucson. I said, Well, I really don’t want to spend the night in the Newark airport tonight… so if there is a chance that I will miss my connection, then I would rather catch a flight tomorrow and sleep in my bed tonight. She said, Well, sir, I am quite sure you will make your connection… But even if you don’t, there’s another flight to Tucson we can put you on that leaves Newark 45 minutes later. Then she gave me an assuring smile and said, Don’t worry, we’ll get you to Tucson tonight. My heart warmed—I thought to myself, What great people at Continental Airlines… They really care about me and getting me safe and sound to my parents house for Christmas.

So, my flight left the Raleigh/Durham airport over an hour late. By the time I deplaned at Newark NJ, it was 15 minutes after the scheduled take-off time for my Tucson flight. But I thought to myself, That Continental woman in Raleigh/Durham was so nice and she seemed like she really cared about my travels…maybe they held the flight for me? Wishful thinking. I asked the man at the gate about the Tucson flight and he said it left 10 minutes ago. Then I said, Well, the nice Continental woman said that ya’ll (everyone likes the homey Southern accent) would make sure I made it to Tucson tonight so I can see my parents and my aging grandparents—they are really old and who knows if they will make it another night (I tend to slightly exaggerate my memories). He looked at me with a cold stare and said, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. And I said, I understand, sir, but the nice Continental woman said that if I missed this connection ya’ll could get me on the American West flight to Tucson. Unphased, he looked at me and repeated himself, I’m sorry sir, I’m afraid I can’t help you. Then I put a puzzled look on my face and said, Oh, I’m sorry to bother you sir, it’s just that the nice Continental woman in Raleigh said that if I missed my flight to Tucson where my parents and aging grandparents—who are probably aging exponentially by now—are waiting for me, then there would be a nice Continental man in Newark who could get me on the America West flight to Tucson that leaves in the next 20 minutes…and I thought maybe you could help me. The not-so-nice Continental man replied, I’m sorry sir, I can’t help you… but you go right over there to the Continental service center and wait in that really long line for the next available agent to help you get to Tucson. At this point I realized that this man must not have been the nice Continental man that the nice Continental woman in Raleigh/Durham told me about.

So I walked over to the snail-paced line where I waited for about half an hour while the two-person all-star team of Continental agents took care of all the needs of the 15 holiday travelers who also missed connections. When my time finally came, I could tell the Continental agent was at the point of exhaustion—too many unhappy travelers yelling about how the least Continental could do was to put them up in a hotel. So, I approached the woman, silently passed her the boarding pass for my Tucson flight, and waited a few minutes while she punched in numbers on her computer. By this time my promised flight to Tucson via America West was long gone. She finally broke the silence: You can either take a flight to Houston tonight and then catch another flight at 9am to Tucson in the morning, or you can take the 5:45am flight from Newark to Houston then from Houston on to Tucson tomorrow morning. I thought for a few seconds then chose option number 2. She looked back down at her computer, punched some keys, picked up the phone, put down the phone, then said to me while still looking at her computer: The Houston flight just left…What would you like to do? Uhhh, I said. It looks like I don’t have a choice. Then she finally looked up at me: I will put you on the 5:45am flight to Houston, then on to Tucson. After a few minutes of her doing computer stuff, I said, What should I do about tonight? That’s completely up to you, she replied. Is there any chance the good people of Continental Airlines might put me in a hotel for the night? No, she said. We are not responsible when flights are delayed due to weather conditions. So, what you are saying is that you want me to sleep in the airport tonight? No, she said. All I’m saying is that Continental Airlines is not responsible for the delayed flight, and so you are on your own. In that case, I said, can you recommend a place for me to sleep in this terminal? I mean, do you know if any particular patch of carpet is cleaner than another? Any place is as good as the other, she said. You are free to sleep anywhere you want. I nodded, whispered a thank you, and started wandering around the airport looking for a florescent corner to call home for the night.

After wandering around a few terminals looking for chairs without arms, I had to settle in one of those chairs with those arms that frustrate all attempts to get comfortable. So I had to sit in the chair, drag another row of chairs for my feet, and carry a hard wooden chair from the food court area for my middle section. Later in my fitfull night I asked a janitor who was vacuuming around my haphazard bed if he knew of any chairs in the airport without arms so I could sleep more easily. He told me that last year they replaced those armless chairs with these. Why would they do such a thing? Why not leave some, at least a few, of the armless rows of chairs for folks like me who get stranded overnight in the airport because Continental Airlines isn’t responsible for weather delays? Is there some nefarious plot afoot to stick it to the unfortunate travelers who happen to find themselves in the airport overnight because Continental Airlines isn’t responsible for those who miss connections due to weather delays? I readjusted myself and wished I had a screw driver so I could dismantle those speakers that played the same warning every 15 minutes (yes, I timed it) about watching one’s bags. In my exhausted delirium a passage from the Gospel of Luke: Foxes have holes and birds have nests…but Continental travelers who get stuck in the Newark airport have no place to lay their head.

Tags: life

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jason // Dec 26, 2005 at 6:23 pm

    Whew, not a bad way for me to end my long day of travelling then reading about how much worse yours were! I remember when we came upon that “it’s not our fault if chaotic weather patterns leave you stranded for the night” line 2 years ago on the way home from Ohio. The policy made me so irritated that I hardly got any sleep in our overpriced, dumpy, hotel that we stayed in for out 5 hour layover.

    Lesson #2 for travelling: don’t leave your car at a parking garage that has decided to go entrepeneurial and combine their business with a cheap car rental agency. We spent a good 45 minutes waiting for them just to find our car in their lot which was more chaotic and crowded than the NY zoo on the 4th of July. However, I consoled myself with the thought that we weren’t as bad off as the poor chaps who were told is was over an hour wait to get their rental car from ACE-super-speedy rental agency.

  • 2 Eric Lee // Dec 27, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    We drove a total of 1,150 miles. That is all 😛

  • 3 Gabriel // Dec 28, 2005 at 12:31 pm

    Never get in those customer service lines nor trust “nice” ladies in non-hub airports. If you were going to be late, the “nice” lady should have rebooked you herself. The fact that she didn’t probably meant that she didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, but she got your problem out of her face.

    You should have called Continental airlines before you left NC to have your options confirmed. Because you stood in that line, you missed your other flight options. Always have your airline’s reservation phone number with you. If needed, call from those in-flight phones while still on the plane. A few extra $ could have gotten you to Tucson that night.

  • 4 fightin' mad mary // Dec 28, 2005 at 4:34 pm

    While you were waiting in line – you should have been on your cell phone trying to make arrangements with Continental. I’ve always had more luck on the phone, and then you can go right to an eticket booth and print your boarding pass.

    I’ve been flying to and from Newark for years – so long in fact that I can remember the homeless living in the terminals during the winter months. Then they installed the world’s most uncomfortable seats to discourage them from lying down and settling in. Now that security is tighter, they should install benches that you can lay out on if needed, or have a room of cots that you can rent – something!! They can’t change the weather so at least plan for these moments a little better.