Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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It Was a Dark and Stormy Trip
March 5, 2015 -- What can you say about a winter that has brought 100 inches of snow to Boston, record cold to Chicago, icy chaos to Dallas and a blanket of hail to Southern California beaches?

Mostly that it's been a miserable winter to travel on business. The data service MasFlight.com says 63,000 flights have been cancelled and 4.5 million passengers affected through the end of February. But those numbers were promptly eclipsed by another 4,500 cancellations during the first 60 hours of March.

The traveling tales of woe have been epic. A planeload of fliers headed to Paris ended up stranded in Manchester, England. Another group spent nine hours stuck on a plane hoping for a one-hour flight.

And then there are these four winter-weather adventures, sent to me in this week by business travelers who have a sense of humor, a keen eye for detail and the Zen-like calm that comes with far too many cups of cold coffee, stinky rental cars and another night waiting out another storm in another airport hotel.

Hotel-hopping across the country...

A Bethesda, Maryland lawyer's relatively simple 7-hour return journey from Palm Springs, California last Saturday was scrambled by cancellations. Getting home became a two-night odyssey.

"I spent four and a half hours on the phone with American Airlines and then they disconnected me," she explained. When she finally reconnected, the best American offered was a US Airways flight on Sunday from Los Angeles to Columbus, Ohio, with a connection to Washington's Reagan National Airport.

"They sent me by van to Los Angeles from Palm Springs, but I had to pay for my own hotel room at the Marriott at LAX," she explained. "I had to be at the airport at 7 a.m. We flew off at 9:40 a.m. on the US Airways flight to Columbus.

"When we landed in Columbus around 5 p.m., there was an email from US Airways telling me that it had cancelled my onward flight to Washington. The best they were offering was a flight 24 hours later."

Unwilling to delay another full day, she worked with a US Airways agent at Columbus airport to arrange a 5:29 a.m. departure on Monday. "I told him I would not pay for another night in a hotel, so they put me up in a Courtyard by Marriott and gave me a coupon for breakfast."

But since she was instructed to be at the airport at 4 a.m. for the flight, "there was no breakfast because the hotel didn't start serving until 5 a.m. I am racking up the Marriott points, though."

Houston, we have a problem...

A business traveler spent 22 hours getting home to New Jersey from Honduras, more than double the usual time for an itinerary that only requires a quick plane change at Houston's Intercontinental airport. He couldn't help but turn the trip into a guessing game.

"Guess which airline made this announcement at the Houston airport?" he asked. "'Folks, we will be leaving at 7:45 p.m. Or maybe 8. Or maybe 9:30. Or, actually, there is a good chance that the flight may be canceled. So you might want to book another flight tomorrow and get a hotel room. But we do hope to leave tonight, though it doesn't look good.'

"Guess which airline then closed down one of its two customer service centers, requiring [passengers] to dash [across the airport] to look for alternative flights? And then guess which airline's rep told me she was rebooking us on a flight to Newark, but it was actually LaGuardia?

"On the other hand, my original [7 p.m. departure] did leave four hours late, which all in all was a good thing. But then it took 45 minutes at 3 a.m. in Newark for checked bags to get to the carousel."

By the way, in case you are a bad guesser, the carrier was United Airlines (NYSE: UAL), which, this business traveler says, delayed the Honduras departure from San Pedro Sula for an hour because the ground crew loaded the cargo in the wrong hold.

You call this elite service? ...

I was out of pocket last Saturday evening when a business traveler, who holds Delta SkyMiles elite status, emailed with a personal crisis: His wife was stuck in Minneapolis on family business and would not be able to make her Sunday evening flight. He was frantically trying to alert Delta that his wife would not fill her seat.

"I was on the elite line waiting to talk to Delta for 63 minutes," he explained. "I hung up and tried again. Same result."

By the time I was able to reach him on Sunday, he'd already abandoned the ticketed flight because Delta never answered its elite line.

"I was never was able to reach Delta," he explained. "I tried four times for an hour each on Saturday and twice on Sunday for an hour each. I tried to be a responsible traveler, but Delta discourages that."

Cancelled into chaos...

A traveler headed from Albuquerque to Chicago's O'Hare Airport last week had her nonstop flight cancelled. She was rebooked the next day on a connecting itinerary via Dallas/Fort Worth, the American Airlines (Nasdaq: AAL) hub which has had more weather-related delays in the last five year than any other airport in the nation. That's when the "fun" began.

"After a late departure from Albuquerque due to deicing, we boarded in Dallas about 1:40 p.m. on a flight that was already supposed to have departed," she explained. She didn't arrive at O'Hare until six hours later, more than twice the scheduled flight time. What happened?

"We're out on the tarmac, been here forever now," she wrote me in an email sent from the aircraft. "From what I can tell, takeoffs and landings are not impeded. It's all about the deicing. We just got deiced. It's now 4:30 p.m. I realize winter happens and I guess I should be happy that I'm not in the flight crew. They say it's their fourth flight of the day and they've been flying since 5 a.m."

Bottom line? "I'll never again allow booking via DFW in winter," she said.


This column is Copyright 2015 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.