A week’s break from work after a year and a half, a wonderful vacation in New Jersey/New York, a relaxed, refreshed mind – what else could I have hoped for? Except the return fligh from NY La Guardia airport back to Dayton, OH on a Sunday afternoon. With my wife and two kids, aged three years and six months, it all seemed so much fun.
We reached the airport well ahead of time and the flight was scheduled to take off on time. So far, so good. There was only a minor glitch – the flight was delayed by about an hour. Not a problem, I thought. Taking off an hour late is not an issue, considering the flight would take only two hours to reach Dayton, and then it’s less than an hour’s drive home. We’d still be home by 10 pm, get some sleep, and off to office on Monday morning.
Every time I went to check the schedule on the display screen, I found the flight to be delayed by 30 – 60 minutes. The kids were getting restless, and my wife and I were getting tired and a little frustrated. As it turned out, it was just the beginning of a night-long ordeal. Finally, I learned to my dismay, the flight was canceled. And it happened because of some air traffic control issue, which I didn’t try to find out nor was I interested, the airlines was not liable to put us in a hotel or reimburse us for anything.
I started running from one counter to another, trying to find seats on any other flight to Dayton that day, exploring all options, getting confused, and calling up my brother-in-law for advice. There was a flight to Cincinnati, they said, that leaves from JFK, which was about 30 minutes drive from La Guardia. The flight was leaving in less that two hours, so I figured it was no point running to collect my checked-in luggage, catching a cab, and reaching JFK only to find out the flight was gone (or canceled).
I was standing in line behind about 10 people, when my kids finally gave us the ultimatum and started crying – or rather screaming – at the same time. Unable to leave my place in line, I watched my hapless wife, from a distance, trying to handle both kids, which is usually an impossible task even at home. Amidst hundreds of onlookers, two ladies, out of concern or pity or both, came to the rescue and handled the kids.
The unprofessional behavior of the airlines staff was on full display. The counter I was initially on was closing, so they sent me to another counter. People on that counter bluntly told me they don’t issue tickets for another airline, which the lady on the first counter did, issued tickets for another airline to a person. Baffled and frustrated, I went to a third counter. Finally, after more than 45 minutes in line, I got tickets on a flight to another city, Columbus.
After waiting for 8.5 hours on the airport terminal, our flight took off and we reached Columbus at 12:30 at night. I immediately went to the car rental’s office, got the papers, and returned to get the family and luggage. Columbus is 90 miles from Cincinnati, but I had to go to Dayton airport, 85 miles from Columbus, where my car was parked, and then to Cincinnati, 60 miles from Dayton. It was only only a matter of driving, I thought, at least we were not at the mercy of the airlines. But that was not the end of it.
As we were leaving the Columbus airport, the gatekeeper asked me who was xyz. I said I don’t know, how was I supposed to know who xyz was. Well, he said, the car’s agreement papers were on that person’s name. The car rental employee had given me the wrong papers but charged my credit card. The gatekeeper called up the employee. Fortunately, she had closed the office and had started the car, ready to go home. She didn’t know how to cancel the agreement and create a new one. She asked her colleague, who had to ask another person, an employee of a rival rental company. After about 10 minutes, I got the correct papers and left Columbus.
Five miles and the inevitable happened. I took the wrong turn and entered the city. Fortunately, I kept driving and saw the sign boards for the highway. 1.5 hours later, we reached Dayton airport. I had to park the car in the parking space, walk back to the terminal, drop the keys in the dropbox (yes, the dropbox was not located at the same place), take a shuttle to go to the long-term parking, drive my car back to the terminal, get everyone, and drive off to Cincinnati.
Finally, we reached home at 5:30 am. And yes, the crying/screaming sessions of my kids kept recurring every few hours the whole evening and night. The first thing I did after reaching home was switch on my computer and send a message to my manager that there was no way I was going to reach office before noon.
Then I slept.