So last week my family and I went on a "vacation" to vist my grandparents. Unfortunetly, instead of being relaxing (as vacations usually are) it was pretty much one week of suffering.
My grandparents live in Massachusetts, while I live in Colorado, so naturally, my family decided to fly. Because they live very close to the Connecticut border, it is better to fly into Hartford, CT, rather than Boston, etc. Of course, there are no direct flights out of DIA (Denver International Airport) to Hartford, so we had to have a stopover at the Washington Dulles airport (it's in Washington, DC, in case you didn't know that). We were schedulled to have a three hour layover in DC.
Our flight from DIA to DC was supposed to leave around 2 PM on Friday, June 19. We get to DIA, through security, etc, just fine. The plane begins to board on time. Then, as the last of the 1st class passangers are getting on, an alarm goes off. Apparently, there was a security breach on the airplane, and TSA has to clear it. We figure "ok, whatever, it doesn't matter. We have a three hour layover in DC, it's ok if we're a little late" Plus, who really wants to fly on a plane that isn't secure?
Suprisingly enough, they clear the breach, everyone boards, and the flight takes off just fine, albeit an hour late. Everything seems all and good, but the security breach was nothing more than a taste of what would come.
We land in DC, and find the nearest "Departures" board to find out what gate our connecting flight to Hartford was at. But, to our dismay, it was cancelled! And apperently, it had to be cancelled twice, because the same flight was on the board twice, both of which were cancelled.
United (the airline we were flying on) had a bunch of little "information kiosks" around the airport. We use one, just to make sure that our flight really was cancelled, which, of course, it was. It had a built in phone, so we used it to call a United representative, to find out why the flight was cancelled, and what the next flight we could get on was.
The United person said that our plane was cancelled because (and I quote) "air traffic control" When we asked for clarification on what that ment, they just repeated the same thing. We're still not completely sure what that means.
Anyway, the next flight we could get with United was 9 PM the next day (Saturday) which was exactly 24 hours after our original one, but it was the best we could get. However, booking this flight and getting a hotel voucher can't be done on the phone, so we had to go to the United ticketing counter and talk to them. We get to the "additional services" counter, and there is a line of about 3 people, with 2 people working the counter. Somehow, they found a way to make that line last 1.5 hours. Apparently, the problems seen at the Addition Services counter are so unbelievably complex and confounding, it takes 3 or more people to sort things out. One of the employees would run into a problem, so he called over his coworker, who was in the middile of helping someone else, but they can wait a little longer. She can't figure it out either, so she calls their supervisor.
Eventually, we finally talk to someone. Because the flight wasn't cancelled as a result of United doing something, they are not obligated to pay for our hotel, but instead they can give us a 50% off voucher to a cheap hotel down the street, so that gets worked out. The tickets, on the other hand, are a whole different problem.
During the time we spent in line, the flight at 9 on saturday filled up. The next United flight isn't until Sunday night. However, if we switch airline to US Airways, we can get a flight at 5pm on Saturday. The only problem is that it is out of the other DC airport, Ronald Reagan. That's ok with us, though, because we can just get a taxi, and we'll get out earlier than if we stayed with United.
However, getting tickets that switch airlines is much harder than most people think, and it takes about 2 hours to finally get that sorted out. Except its not really sorted out. We have to talk to the US Air people at the other airport the next day to finish the process.
After that, we go to get our bags, since we need them for the hotel, and need to get them to the other airport. This is not as simple as one would think, either. While for a normal, uncancelled flight the bags make it to the baggage claim about half an hour after you land, when the flight is cancelled, your bags, so to speak, are in Narnia. They wander around the airport, and no one as any real idea where they are or how to get them. Another 2 hours later, we finally get our bags and go to the hotel.
The next day (Saturday) we get out of the hotel early and catch a taxi to Ronald Reagan airport. We wait in line to talk to the US air people (relatively short wait, 1/2 hour) They tell us that our tickets are "locked" by United, and we need to talk to them to unlock them. So we go over to United to talk to the additional services person. What happens next is probably my favorite part of the whole trip:
This needs a little diagram to explain things. The line for the counters was set up something like this: |_| | | with the counters being in ^ direction. On the left side was the additional services (I'm just going to abreviate this AS), on the right was international ticketing or something like that. Directily in front of the AS counter was a blocked off line, like a U. In between the two counters was one extra large gap, and in front of the intl. ticketing was another line, but not blocked off.
We go down the middle, but towards the left, so it is apparent that we are waiting for AS, be!cause the AS person was talking to someone. Then, the Intl. ticketing lady starts yelling at us "You need to get on the other side of the barrier!" We're like "what?... it's blocked, we can't get in" She, still yelling "No! You need to be on the other side of the barrier! Otherwise they won't know to call you!" My mom steps around the barrier, into the closed off line. The United lady, however, is still not satified "No! You all need to be on the other side!" So we all go over, into the BLOCKED (I can't stress this enough) line and wait.
A couple minutes later, the AS person finished with the person she was talking to. She then leans on her counter, stares at the empty space we occupied 5 minutes prior, and waits expectently for someone to come in line.
After seeing this, we talk to her, and she apparently unblocks the tickets, so we go back to the US air desks, and talk to them. It seems that the United person didn't actually unblock them, so we still don't have tickets. Eventually, there are 5 people from US Air trying to figure it out, plus their supervisor. The make matters worse, the phones at the US Air desks don't connect to the United desks, so they have to send runners back and forth. 2 hours later, things finally get sorted out.
We still have some time to kill before our flight, so we did a quick taxi tour of DC, which was very cool. We drove by pretty much everything in the capital, and stopped at a couple to look around. Unfortunetly, all too soon it was time to return to the airport and *hopefully* leave for Hartford.
But it was not to be. About an hour before our flight was supposed to take off (5pm) it gets delayed by an hour. Then another hour. Then again... and again. Apperently the plane had mechanical problems. After it had been delayed twice, we looked out the window of the terminal to see what was going on, and there was a guy on a ladder under one of the wings with a screwdriver, taking it apart. Needless to say, it wasn't very reassuring.
Finally, at 9pm, the crews' work time expired, and the flight was cancelled (if you didn't know, pilots are only allowed to work a certain number of hours per week, and aren't able to fly if they reach that limit) Possibly the best part of this was that at all the other gates around ours were planes just sitting there, that didn't have to go anywhere until the next day. In the time we spent waiting, one of those planes could have flown to Hartford and back to DC twice.
So we had to talk to the US air people about a new flight and a hotel. Yet again, the earliest we could get out was late the next day (7pm or so). In light of that, we decided we would be better off driving the final leg of our trip (on the way out, anyway) Ideally, it is about a 7 hour drive.
On the plus side, because the cancellation was their fault, they fulled paid for our hotel. And because we were in the heart of Washington DC (Reagan airport is literaly right across the Potomac from DC, we could see the Capital Building and the Washing Monument out the window) all the hotels were really nice. We got two fully paid for rooms at the Hyatt Regency, which is definetly the best hotel I have ever been in.
The next morning (Sunday) we got a rental car and began our drive to Massachusetts. Everything was going well, until we got to New York City. One minute we were looking at the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building from a distance, and the next we were in bumper to bumper traffic as far as the eye could see. It added at least 2+ hours to the drive.
Finally, we made it to my grandparents' house, and it was sooner than when we would have gotten there if we had flown (not to mention that that flight got delayed, as well)
Things didn't get much better, however. Pretty much the entire time we were there, it rained. We go to the beach on Cape Cod everytime we visit, but there isn't much to do at the beach when its raining. On the plus side, there weren't any problems getting back to Denver.
In conclusion, airlines suck. Their employees are moronically incompetent and/or collosal A--holes. They can't fix their own planes, and they refuse to use other ones. I think they should have to remburse you for life wasted standing in line.
I apologize for that being so long, but if you actually read all of that, I thank you.