Tips for When You’re Stranded in an Airport…

 

blue body bags...reagan airportSee the plane reflected in the window? And the blue body bags, in a row, in front (Click on pic for closer shot)?  Those are other hapless travelers stuck in Ronald Reagan Airport on this memorable night.

Remember when flying was Great Fun?  The adventure….the glamour?  Well, that’s all gone.  In fact, younger folk don’t even realize that once, the airlines were a proud and revered industry. Not anymore.

Husband and I currently recover from the latest assault from air travel. We spent one whole night stuck in an airport terminal, in Washington, DC. Why?  We were returning home from relatives’ when our plane was grounded, due to storms. We first realized something was amiss when we circled airspace above DC, for a longer period than it took to get us there. 

Pilot kept announcing: “Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but we’ve got to fly around up here (in the dark), til it’s safe to land.” My fear?  “How many other jumbo jets were flying about in that same airspace?”

When we finally deplaned, and sought our connecting flight, we noted it wasn’t even listed on the board.

Thus began the onset of a Very Long Night, as we heard “Flight 3480 is delayed til 10:00”…then 11:00…then 11:40…Finally, the announcement came:  “Flight 3480 is ’CANCELED.’

We sat stunned. Savvy travelers manned their cell phones and grabbed Available Rooms at nearby hotels. When I called to ask about such, I was told the rate, with tax and tip, was close to $300. I declined.

After all,  it was now 1:00 AM and we weren’t even AT the hotel (we’d need to take taxi to it). We determined to stay put.

Besides, we feared missing the next flight out.

Now, we hunted for a place to sleep.  The irony? Restaurants and eateries…the places one would think would remain open, on a night air traffic ground to a standstill… had shut their doors and even pulled down gated barriers.

People lay scattered about, on 3 or 4 chairs they’d strung together.  The landscape resembled a Homeless Camp or “Occupy Somewhere.”

Airport workers went about in golf-cart-type vehicles, passing out blankets, housed in sealed plastic bags, to help stranded travelers counteract the chill of the cavernous main building of the Ronald Reagan Airport.

It promised to be a long night.

Time ticked by.  The most annoying part?  A cheery, automated voice kept announcing the time (as if any of us wanted to know it…) in half hour intervals:  ”It’s 2:00 AM…It’s 2:30….It’s 3:00 AM…(Purely sadistic to those of us who might’ve had the good fortune to actually sleep).

Getting comfortable was impossible, since each chair was flanked by unmovable metal arm rests that stuck in the middle of one’s back, if he/she attempted to stretch out.

Around 4:00 AM, we took a walk.  Funniest thing we saw was a little Chinese girl (about 4) who keeled over, mid-sleep, from her chair, onto the floor (don’t worry—she hit a stack of jackets and soft bags.) She just kept sleeping.

The child’s mother strained to get her little body back onto the seat, but she kept doubling over in laughter.   We all shared in the mirth; we were desperate for anything to break the Misery.

Some passengers (Frequent Flyers?) were prepped for this type of emergency, as they stretched out on Yoga-type mats, zzz-ing away.

At 10:00 AM the next morning, we finally got a flight out…arrived home by 11:30 AM and went out to grab lunch.  Then, we crashed…napping for the next 4 hours.

When I awoke at 6:00, I padded out to the kitchen and proceeded to put a full pot of coffee on.  Then, I ate breakfast—a bowl of cereal with fruit. 

Only problem?  It was 6:00 PM. I apparently need that damn, cheery-voiced, airport time-teller, after all.

What I don’t need anymore?  Airplane travel.  After our past few terrible occasions, we’ve decided:  We’ll be doing less air and more auto travel, in future.

On the heels of my husband’s terrible accident 3 years ago and our airline trip home, I wrote an article that ran in many of the nation’s newspapers. I include it below. It was my attempt to alert others to problems in flying, today—especially if one’s in compromised condition. In a future post, I’ll give constructive advice from a Money Expert–Clark Howard–who was similarly stuck in an airport. I did some of what he recommends…Next time (if there EVER is one), I’ll do the rest….Stay tuned.

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Colleen Kelly Mellor: Some airlines bad for your health


COLLEEN KELLY MELLOR

“The Out-of-Towners” was a 1970 cinema hit starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis as George and Gwen Kellerman, a couple from Twin Oaks, Ohio, in New York City for George’s interview for a vice- president-for-marketing position with his company.

While there, they are confounded by a series of maddening events: Their plane is detoured to another city; luggage is lost; and because of lateness, they lose their reservations at the posh hotel where they booked a room. They’re mugged, muddied (a cab splashed them), and demoralized. Feeling supremely impotent, George demands names of all who are indifferent or rude, wagging his finger and threatening: “You’re going to regret this. I’ve got your name and I’m reporting you to your boss.” Nobody cared.

Recently my husband I endured our own “Out of Towners’ ” experience, but the setting wasn’t a booming, indifferent metropolis and the offenders weren’t faceless strangers. They were the airline we booked for our flight home. We opted to fly, instead of drive the usual 14-hour road trip, because my husband had suffered a catastrophic injury and couldn’t sustain long hours sitting up.

In April, he was hit head-on by a truck on a mountain road in North Carolina. Following a stay in hospitals for two months, his doctor cleared him to travel. I booked us a Continental Airline flight with one connection, in Newark, where there would be a layover time of 90 minutes.

While we sat at the gate in Newark for Providence, I noted departure times kept changing from 3:30 to 4…then 4:30…and 5.

 Meanwhile, the airline made no announcements and people milled around. By 5:30, my husband was beginning to show serious signs of distress. At that point, I insisted on speaking with a manager.

I pointed out my husband (the one with the Aspen collar bracing his neck) and shared my concern: Our flight had been delayed many times; we’d been moved to four different gates; new flights kept arriving and leaving all around us; my husband could not sit for this long and there was nowhere for him to lie down.

The airline manager said: “There’s no plane for Providence—we’re searching for one now.” I said, “Just tell us when you think we’ll be able to get us out of here,” and he answered, “It could be 11 tonight and we could still have no plane.”

I told him that his answer was unacceptable.

I also told him we’d need to get our bag, get a room in Newark, and take a bus to Rhode Island in the morning. He advised me that the airline would not compensate us for the room and directed us to the baggage-claim area, an entire corridor length away and down a flight. He offered no other assistance.

A third of the way, when my husband floundered, I flagged a porter wheeling an empty wheelchair. He brought us to a bank of baggage clerks to retrieve our bag.

After some moments a clerk announced: “Your bag is already loaded on the plane to Providence. It’s on the tarmac now, ready to leave.” I said, “What? It can’t be…we just left there. The manager told me there might not even be a plane by 11 tonight.”

I panicked: “My husband’s medications (16 of them) are in that bag and he needs them.”

A snippy clerk commented: “Why, on earth, would you pack medication in a checked bag?” I sucked in my response and asked that they hold the plane. What happened next was a litany of horror.

The young woman who pushed the wheelchair took two steps to my five, despite my prompting to “Please hurry.” Ramps were far longer than other routes, we waited for a slow elevator to bring us up a level, and we headed back through security checkpoints. One monitor who felt we were rudely jumping the line barked at me: “If you want to make a flight, get here EARLY. You don’t even have your documents ready.” (In my panic, I forgot we had to do this again.) To punish us, she slow-scanned our documents, holding us up longer.

As we went again through the body-scanning machine, my husband was pulled aside and ordered out of the wheelchair, to be screened individually. He tried to balance himself as he removed his shoes. (There were no chairs.) When I approached him to help, they waved me away. It was brutal.

We finally made the long journey back down the corridor to discover no sign telling us where the Providence flight was. (New flights were on the boards). I called out to airline personnel: “Does anyone know where the Providence flight is?” Silence.

In desperation, we went out a door to a plane sitting on the tarmac, but we were signaled away; it was not our flight. A mechanic motioned us to the other side. We went back into the terminal and pushed through a new crowd swelling the exit.

The porter rolled my husband’s wheelchair out the opposite gate, and across the concrete expanse  to the elusive Providence plane. He stopped at the base of the stairs. As if in final assault, my husband would now have to mount that flight of stairs.

Once we were inside and seated, a man across the aisle said: ‘What happened? We thought you left.” (He was one of five of us who voiced our concerns to management, earlier). I told him we went for our bag only to learn they’d gotten a plane and our bag was loaded. We told him the uphill battle we’d endured getting back.

At that moment, a young woman across the aisle, in the seat in front of him, turned to face me full-on and screamed, “Oh, for God sakes, it was three {expletive} hours. Will you shut the {expletive}up!”

It was then I became a 21st Century George Kellerman of “The Out-of-Towners.” In no uncertain terms, I told her what I thought of her and her filthy language. She was simply the final insult in a day we’d borne far too much misery and degradation.

What did all this teach me? In the future, I’ll read customer reviews of airlines on the Internet and make airline accountability the determinant for how we choose carriers. And for those who are older or infirm, realize: The way some airline carriers treat their customers may just become more than inconvenience; it may become a matter of life or death.

 

About admin

A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog, kevinMD.com, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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