Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fun with Family overshadows Travel Troubles

Last week we flew to Gresham, Oregon so we could visit family members and attend the high school graduation ceremonies of one of our granddaughters, Raichael Newman. 
Our hosts were gracious, giving, and very loving. We enjoyed shopping, sharing a BBQ dinner with many family members, eating at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Portland, viewing home movies on DVD from the early 1900s, and visiting and hugging grandchildren. My step-daughter took special time to interview her dad and I so our life stories are preserved for our descendants. 

We had a wonderful vacation with the Newman, Brady, and Jamison families.

We did NOT have a good experience, however, of flying on United Airlines. 
Larry and I drove at 8:00 am from Canon City to Colorado Springs last Thursday, June 11, arriving at the Colorado Springs airport with sufficient time to board our flight to Denver. When we boarded the small aircraft, however, we were notified that some pumps had gone out in the rear of the plane and the air conditioning was not working. We sat in the plane for an extra 45 minutes while that problem was tended to (but not fixed). The flight attendant asked us to lower the window shades to help eliminate some heat from coming in through the windows. Everyone on the plane was perspiring by the time we took off for Denver. The flight on to Portland was uneventful, and we arrived on time to our awaiting family. 

Our scheduled return was a different story. We packed and were ready to load our carry-on luggage on Monday, June 15, expecting to take off from Portland to Denver at 1:28 pm. Before we left the house for the airport we received 3 texts, notifying us of schedule changes, first from 1:28 to 2:00, then to 4:00, then to 6:00 pm. Finally at 1:00 pm we got a text saying the flight was cancelled due to "operations". What does that mean? For us it just meant we weren't flying home on Monday. We were told to re-book our flight online. 

We had one choice for a return trip on Tuesday, June 16, leaving Portland at 11:24 am. So Tuesday morning we packed up again, rode to the airport, said our goodbyes, got through security, and found our way to the gate. As soon as we were seated, we got a text at 1:04 pm saying the flight was delayed until 3:00 pm. By the way, instead of flying Portland to Denver as we originally had booked, we now had to fly Portland to San Francisco, to Denver, and to Colorado Springs. We got our second text of the day saying the flight would depart at 1:50 pm. The third text came shortly after that, telling us we'd depart at 6:30 pm. In reality, another change in the schedule (via text) got us on the plane at 1:30 pm, with take off at 2:00 pm. The flight was "overbooked" and we were encouraged to check our carry-on bags at the gate. We didn't expect to need anything in our luggage before we arrived in Colorado Springs, so I checked our bags. On our last trip the airlines broke the handle on my bag so it was sometimes almost impossible (really hard!) to lower the handle and I was left with carrying the "stuffed" bag. I was happy to check it and look forward to replacing that piece of luggage before we travel again. 

Larry and I were seated together on the flight from Portland to San Francisco. The pre-flight announcements from the flight attendant told us that the restrooms in the rear of the plane were "inoperable" !!!! and we'd be able to only use the restroom at the front of the plane. 

Although I was not seated by the window, I was able to view some of the scenery, especially spectacular as we approached the runway in San Francisco with the Pacific Ocean on either side of our plane. We got off the plane just in time to turn around and board again for the flight to Denver. Literally! We boarded the same plane, but were not seated together. I was in the middle of a row and Larry was in the middle seat of a row across the aisle. The ladies beside me were not talking and I wasn't about to order a beverage, with one restroom available for 240 passengers! I had a book to read and had my ipad loaded with books, so I read for awhile and then just sat, scrunched, tired and hungry (no lunch of course as we kept getting changes for the departure time in the Portland airport). I got Larry's attention across the aisle long enough for him to announce to me "I lost my (new) iphone!" He was sitting in the row in front of the seat from the flight from Portland to SF and the kids behind him heard what he told me and let him know his phone was on the floor in their row! So he recovered his phone and I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. Blessings among tribulation!

When we boarded the plane in SF, the pilot assured us that we were ahead of schedule by 20 minutes and he'd have us on the ground in Denver in time to make connecting flights. Sure! I looked at my watch as the tires hit the runway at 8:15 pm. Boarding for the flight to Colorado Springs ended at 8:15 pm. As we got into the Denver airport, we looked out the window and saw the jetway being disengaged from the plane we were supposed to be seated in.

We weren't alone! Other couples joined us as we dragged our tired bodies and frustrated minds onto a cart and rode to the United Airlines Customer Service desk. We were in line behind at least 100 people. At this point let me add some personal facts. My husband is recovering from major back surgery and is in constant (heavy-duty) pain. He's afflicted now with peripheral neuropathy as well. He missed his medication time while flying into Denver, we had not eaten since we had a bowl of cereal in Gresham, OR at 7:00 am, and our suitcases were on that plane to Colorado Springs! 

At 10:30 pm I finally got out of line, helped Larry into a wheelchair and we took a place near the head of the line, which still held at least 100 passengers who were also stranded at DIA. The first announcement we heard from Customer Service was that no hotels were available for us in Denver. Can you imagine? But by the time we were invited to approach the desk at 11:00 pm, rooms had opened up at the Ramada Central in downtown Denver. We were issued vouchers for a taxi to the hotel, a room at the hotel and meals. We were offered seats on a flight WEDNESDAY at 8:30 pm and eagerly grabbed them, getting checked-in with boarding passes issued. So at 11:45 pm on Tuesday, June 16, I arranged for a wheelchair attendant to meet us and called for the taxi to pick us up at DIA. We arrived at the Ramada at 12:30 am Wed, June 17! We found a line of nearly 40 people checking in, with 2 attendants at the desk. By this time my husband was very unstable and I was close to fainting from lack of food and drink, from walking a "thousand" airport miles and from STRESS! 

Since we'd gotten to bed so late, we decided to forego the complimentary breakfast that was served until 10 am, sleep late, eat lunch at the hotel and ride the return taxi to DIA at 1:30 pm. As we checked out at noon Wed. (required check out time) we learned the restaurant was closed until 5 pm for the dinner hour. Do you think we were surprised?

Larry is a sociable person and had spent considerable time Wednesday morning visiting with people in the lobby of the Ramada, as well as many of the taxi drivers. He "snagged" a ride for us back to DIA at 12:00 pm and I made calls to cancel the previously arranged ride. We made friends with our driver George, a native of Ethiopia. And we felt relieved that we hadn't received any texts of cancellation yet. 

The first thing we did after we arrived at DIA was to order a wheelchair attendant, go through Security, and find some lunch! It had been a long time since we had our cereal Tuesday at 7:00 am! With our meal vouchers we ate at Taco Bell because the line was the shortest. We had credit left on the voucher so we passed that on to the couple in line behind us. As they thanked us, we invited them to join us for lunch, as open tables were scarce. We had a delightful visit with Joe and Darla from Chicago. We learned, after we detailed our flight troubles, that Joe was retired as a Captain with Jordanian Airlines and had piloted international planes for 35 years! Meeting Joe and Darla was another blessing amidst our travel tribulations!   

With our wheelchair attendant, we viewed the Departure board at DIA and noticed our 8:30 pm flight was not listed. Again we visited the Customer Service desk and learned that an earlier 5:30 pm flight was available for us. We booked it with relief and proceeded to our gate via the mobile carts. 

It was now 2 pm and our phones and tablets were dead. I had a charging device in my purse, but the connecting cord was in my bag in the Colo Spgs airport. I never dreamed that I need to charge my phone on a simple trip from Portland to Denver. Well, we live and learn.

We arrived in Colorado Springs at 6:30 pm Wed, recovered our stored luggage, and drove out of the airport at 7:00 pm, tired, but relieved, and happy to see the freshly soaked countryside as we drove home.

We'll fly again to visit our family in Oregon, but we won't be flying on United Airlines!


Damaris Fish said...

Awwww. I just drove from Central Point (by Medford) to Mt. Vernon (by Seattle) and back last weekend. After your story, I feel better. Sorry

Lisa Marker said...

If by any chance you are able to fly Alaska out of the NW to your destination - I have personally never had any trouble with them. I'll keep this in mind about United, though. :-)

Sara Morgan said...

What a would have been a terrible experience for a healthy person, but dealing with Larry's problems PLUS the airline's incompetence....they should have issued you a refund. You sure don't want a free ticket to fly with them again. I have heard that United isn't too great from other people, we almost always fly Delta because we get FF miles, but have only had one bad experience which left us sitting in Memphis most of a day....but I got to peruse the Elvis store, so not a complete waste of time, ha ha.