A wise man once said, “traveling is not trivial.” Actually, it was my dad during his Father of the Bride speech at my sister’s wedding. He graciously said “thanks” to the more than 50% of guests who had traveled to San Diego from Michigan – well over half way across the US – to watch one of the biggest days of his daughter’s life. In any case, my dad’s quote has stuck with me, especially since moving from San Diego, CA to Portland, ME. I know – I couldn’t possibly have chosen a destination further away from home, and it’s especially evident during times like these, when traveling for the holidays (a minor annoyance for most) becomes a potentially epic disaster. If you weren’t at my sister’s wedding to hear my dad say it, then listen up folks, because I’m going to say it again: Traveling is not trivial, especially during the holidays.
Wednesday morning, December 19, was just like any other morning for me: I woke up at 6am, drove to the gym and had a nice workout, came home, showered and got ready for work. Come 8:15, I was out the door and starting my nice stroll in the port to work. But there was something different about this particular Wednesday: I would be traveling back to San Diego for the holidays, leaving work at 4pm to head to the Portland Jetport for a 6pm departure, arriving in San Diego, CA at 11:47pm.
Mistake #1: Thinking that traveling on a Wednesday night would be any better than a Friday night.
Masking my excitement and utter giddiness to get back home to start a 10-day holiday vacation in my hometown with all of my closest friends and family was a tinge of stress. I hadn’t finished my holidays hopping yet; I’d had a pretty busy day at work; I wasn’t confident about my pack job; and I had a sinking feeling that either weather, or the worst airline in existence (that’s US Airways for those of you who don’t know), would mess up my master plan to be sound asleep in San Diego shortly after midnight. I wish I could tell you that I was wrong.
Thus begins my holiday travel nightmare, which I’ll recount by way of a list: Five ways that traveling during the holidays can spell disaster, and how you too can come out of it on the other end with all of your holiday cheer still intact.
Step 1: Check-in malfunction:
It happens to the best of us. Your suitcase is too heavy. How dare you try and be a pro-active Christmas present-buyer and pack your gifts in your check-in. My tip to avoid such a malfunction: You don’t have to have a fancy luggage gadget to tell you how much your suitcase weighs. Jump on your scale at home to figure out your own weight, and then step on again – this time with your suitcase. Subtract and voilà! Note that anything over 50 lbs is considered “too heavy” for checked baggage, and you will be charged an extra baggage fee or have to do some re-arranging and stuff your carry-on with your heavier cargo.
Step 2: Multiple delays:
They’re inevitable when you add millions of travelers, unpredictable weather, and thousands of flight patterns. Learning how to find something positive in a delay is your key to boarding that plane with a smile – even if it is an hour, or three, late. For example, my delay in Chicago, IL allowed me time to hit the restroom AND grab a bite to-go, and my four delays in Philly allowed me to create a video Christmas gift for my sister! Think of the extra time as a gift – if you can find a way to use it, you’ll be happy instead of stressed.
Step 3: Unnecessary stopovers:
I’m sorry, did you just say I’m flying from Portland, ME to Philadelphia, PA, only to connect to a flight that then goes to Chicago, IL? True story, folks. Your best bet is to at least try to find an aircraft that doesn’t require a gate/plane change. If you can stay on the plane in Philly, your chances of getting to Chicago are a little bit higher.
Step 4: Cancelled Flight Mid-Travel:
Whether it’s due to severe weather or a maintenance problem makes a huge difference, especially if it’s 10:30pm. Airlines will not provide you with a hotel voucher if your flight is cancelled for any reason they deem “not within their control” (i.e. a snow storm). Hint, hint east coasters: chances of snow around the holidays is very likely.
Step 5: Cancelled flight mid-travel continued:
I know – but it deserves two spots on this list in my opinion. My additional words of advice (and just so you know, I do speak from personal experience): DO NOT listen to the flight personnel at your gate. After your flight is delayed anywhere from three to five times, they’ll tell you – along with 250+ other people – to proceed to the nearest customer service counter. I literally almost got trampled in Philly on Wednesday night when this very same announcement was made. First and foremost, if you follow these instructions, you will be waiting in line for HOURS to speak with a representative that probably does not care (and can do nothing about) the fact that your flight was just cancelled. Not 20 minutes in line, I said hours.
So do what we’re all best at: take your phone out of your pocket, and call the airline. They can re-book you on the next flight out over the phone – you don’t even have to leave your seat. But what about my hotel voucher, Kate? They can’t give me one of those over the phone, can they? Great point. If you’re in a situation where a hotel voucher is an option, and if you’re lucky enough that the airline is offering you one, then find someone in the airport who works for that airline (or go to the nearest airport information desk) and ask where the airline has other customer service desks.
Scenario: On Wednesday evening, after four delays, my flight was cancelled. It was 10:30 PM, and the next flight out wasn’t until 8 AM. I was standing in terminal B. Instead of waiting with 250+ other people from my flight to talk to a customer service representation in terminal B, I called the airline and got re-booked on the next flight out while I was walking to terminal C where the other customer service desk was (I found this out at the airport information kiosk. I was the only person in line, and I can assure you I was in a hotel shuttle before at least 50% of those other travelers had ever even spoken with an airline rep.
Whew! I thought I was tired during my holiday travel disaster – recounting it was almost as exhausting. The bottom line is that traveling during the holidays is not trivial – so don’t expect it to be. If your flight is delayed, go grab a beer, a glass of wine, a vodka soda, a shot of tequila – any of these will do; if your flight is cancelled, call an old friend who you haven’t talked to in a long time and have a chat that, for once, doesn’t have a time limit (but first, follow the recommendations given in 4. and 5. above.) Because even it takes you two days and five airports to make it home – like it did me – once you’re there, you’ll be in your hometown, with your closest friends and family. That is, after all, what the holidays are really about.