Traveling through hell is hell
This past month, my wife and I took a trip to celebrate my 75th birthday (Aug. 10). We went to New Orleans for a week and then went up the Mississippi River on the steamboat American Queen for a week, and disembarked in Memphis. This should have been the best trip ever, but getting there and getting home was hell.
We planned ahead, paid for airline tickets, paid for the boat trip and tours, paid for the car rental and paid dearly for the right to be abused by our travel providers. I won’t name names to protect the guilty and avoid any lawsuits, but the blame is squarely on specific airlines (some that have been bankrupt or headed in that direction).
We booked a nonstop flight to New Orleans from LAX at a reasonable time of departure, 2:45 p.m. The only other available nonstop flight was at 7:35 a.m., not good timing for senior citizens. Three weeks before departure we were notified that the 2:45 p.m. flight was cancelled and we were placed on the 7:35 a.m. flight. Thanks a lot! That means getting up at 4 a.m. a very bad idea for the start of a vacation.
But we went along and arrived at the airport on schedule. Then found out that baggage is now a four-letter word that you can’t say on TV. One of our bags was 16 pounds overweight and we were charged $80 for the privilege of being abused by airline employees. We paid even though I cannot see any additional cost for a 16-pound excess in weight. After spending an hour standing in lines, getting baggage (the four-letter word) inspected, personally searched and shoes inspected, we got to our gate and waited another hour. The flight left only 20 minutes late and we arrived in New Orleans safely and dead tired.
We booked a return flight on another carrier from Memphis to Denver (change planes) to LAX. A week later, we were told the airline was in bankruptcy, but would continue flying. A week after that, we were told our flight was cancelled. After much negotiation, they got us on another carrier from Memphis to Chicago (change planes) to LAX.
The return trip from Memphis to LAX started out fine, although they wanted an extra $100 for a bag that was only five pounds overweight. We repacked the suitcases to avoid this ridiculous charge, but did have to pay $25 for an extra checked bag. We were onboard and sitting on the runway ready for takeoff when the captain informed us that a “minor maintenance problem” would delay us a few minutes or so. Watch out for “or so.” The “minor maintenance problem” was a defective engine part and the flight was cancelled. Only one airline representative was available to change flight schedules for 65 passengers-a three-hour wait. We were rerouted (their term for screwed-over) from Memphis to Dallas (change planes) to LAX. An alternative was Memphis to Atlanta (change planes) to LAX. Not wanting to tour the U.S., we chose Dallas. We asked if our checked bags would go with us. They answered that the bags would be sent to LAX to-day “or so.” Oh, no!
Dallas is a very large airport, so big they have a train to take you from concourse to concourse. We had only 45 minutes to make our connection. Our flight was 15 minutes late and we had to go from Concourse A to Concourse D. We made the connecting flight with about two minutes to spare. The flight was late. We bought two $7 mini-sandwiches, watched a movie with no offer of headphones (we saw the silent version of “The Bucket List”), and the flight was full with one out-of-order rest room. Our bags appeared at LAX an hour after we did. I don’t know how they did it, and I don’t particularly care.
Finally, our reservation for a rental car in Memphis was supposed to be on Avis, but somehow got changed to Budget. The advertised price of $13 per day for two days ballooned to a total of $61 after taxes, fees, surcharges, additional time (two hours at $6 each), a customer FAC (probably a Fairly Asinine Charge) at $12 and other unexplained emoluments. So much for truth in advertising.
Our next trip is to Seattle and Spokane in August and we are considering driving. The major question is, “Is the time saved worth traveling through hell to get there”?
Pete Lippman is a longtime Malibu resident and former employee with the school district, the city and The Malibu Times. Last year he and his wife, Libby, had a terrible experience with an airline that held them “prisoner” on the plane for five hours with interesting consequences. Despite the troubles, the Lippmans continue to be enthusiastic world travelers.