It’s an hour and a half from my parents’ house to the Memphis airport. My flight was scheduled to leave Christmas day at 3:30 p.m—flying to Dallas, then I would make a connecting flight to SFO (San Francisco International Airport). The trip to Tennessee had been crazy—the overbooking, red-eye, squished-up seating because Delta sucks and shrunk seat space on its planes—but the two days at home were wonderful. I had a great time with my family. Yes, I was disappointed not to have one more day at home, but it was probably for the best. I had to work the next day, and it was predicted to snow. At least this leg of the journey would be easy. I was flying American Airlines, and there shouldn’t be a crowd at the airport. Nobody flies on Christmas, right?
My dad and left in plenty of time for the airport. He dropped me off in front; I checked myself in and easily made it through security. I found my gate and sat down to wait. I waited, and kept waiting. We should have boarded by now. That’s when the trouble started.
A woman said to everyone within earshot, “American just called me and left a message saying that all flights out of Dallas have been cancelled.”
After that, it was a madhouse. The line at the ticket counter quickly grew to two dozen people, myself included in that number. It was snowing in Dallas, we learned. Unfortunately, our plane from Memphis to Dallas was first coming from Dallas, and it still had not taken off. The woman at the front of the line asked the counter attendant, a glassy-eyed man with a strange, swept-over haircut and droning voice, if there was any way she would still make her connecting flight.
“Uh, no,” he fumbled his answer.
“Then what do I do? Will the airline compensate me, or at least put me up in a hotel for the night.”
“Uh, yes,” the man answered. “Unless it’s due to bad weather.”
“But this is bad weather,” I joined the conversation. “So that means American won’t compensate her, right?”
“That’s right,” he said.
The woman sighed while the man checked his computer for the first available flight to Salt Lake City. It left Memphis Friday night. The woman booked the ticket and left (Enjoy your two days in Memphis. May I suggest the Peabody Hotel?). The next passengers, two women traveling together, had to reschedule their travel for the next day, making connections at four different airports before arriving in Seattle. One of the women looked at me (needing an empathetic ear, I suppose).
“There’s no way you’re going to make all four connections,” I said. “You know that, right?”
She knew it, but what choice did she really have? Finally, it was my turn. “I’m in the same situation as everyone else,” I told the man. He punched numbers into the computer, searching for Thursday trips to San Francisco.
“There’s one seat available on a red-eye flight tomorrow night,” he said.
“Fine,” I told him. “Book it.”
Unfortunately, when the man tried to reserve the seat, he wasn’t able to. “I don’t understand why it’s not letting me,” he said. The other attendant, a young woman, leaned over and looked at his monitor. “That’s because they overbooked the flight,” she said. “It’s showing the seat as available, but it’s really not.”
“So what’s my best option?” I asked.
“Rent a car,” the man said dryly—so dryly that I couldn’t tell if he was joking, serious, or just being a smartass.
I glared at him, not knowing how to respond (a fist to the face or a wicked insult about his haircut?). The other attendant must have realized the tension in the air. She quickly said, “He’s not going to drive from Dallas to San Francisco. That’s ridiculous.”
I realized the only options I had if I wanted to get to San Francisco before the weekend were a) to take the chance that the plane from Dallas would arrive in time for me to make the connecting flight; it was a long-shot—if I did make it, it would be by a matter of minutes, or b) find a seat on a different airline’s flight. I asked the man to check if one was available. He punched in more numbers. Supposedly, there was one seat left on a US Airways flight that flew to Charlotte and then San Francisco. It landed at midnight…that is, if everything went according to plan.
I called my sister for help. She got online and monitored the progress of the incoming flight from Dallas, as well as the connecting flight to S.F. I called my mother and asked her to call US Airways to see if there was a seat available on that plane. Then I realized my phone was about to die.
I corralled my coat and bag and went to search for a free outlet (amazing how there’s never one available when you need it). My mother called and said the seat on the US Airways flight was available ($450) but that I had to buy the ticket at the gate—the airline wouldn’t let me to do it over the phone. My sister texted at the same time to inform me that the plane going to Memphis had finally left Dallas. It would be there in an hour. What to do? What to do?
I’ve got my mother on one line, asking her to ask the representative at US Airways if they could guarantee the ticket (What if f I left the American terminal and found out the US Airways ticket had already sold? There would be no way to get back in time for my original flight to Dallas), and my sister, who still believes I will make my connecting flight, on the other line. Meanwhile, Facebook notifications and random emails keep popping up on my phone. What to do? What to do? Bag it all. I decided to chance it and put all my chips on the delayed flight coming in from Dallas. I told my mother to forget about the US Airways call. I thanked my sister for the help, then sat down to wait. If I had to spend two days in Dallas, well, maybe I could check out a rodeo or two.