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A Snow-Filled Sunday Snark

This special edition of Sunday Snark is being brought to you by the letter S.  S stands for snow, screwed and Scrooge.  (If my Nana didn’t read this site, today’s post would have been brought to you by the letter F, for the word that I have been saying all day.)  On today’s episode, we’ll learn what happens when you take thousands of holiday travelers, mix in snow and shake vigorously.

My flight home was supposed to leave on Saturday morning.  Due to a blizzard that can best be described as the angry hand of God, it was cancelled late Friday afternoon.  Expecting that many other travelers would be in the same boat, I booked a separate one-way flight that was supposed to leave Sunday morning after the storm had ended.  I thought that this flight would be my safety net ensuring that I would get home even if rebooking my fellow Saturday travelers made it difficult to get out of the land of crack pipes, philandering politicians and dreams in a timely manner.  But by Saturday afternoon, my safety net had morphed into two tickets on two different airlines for two flights that were both cancelled. 

Thus, began Belle’s death spiral into the land of airline customer service.  


The phone on the right is the United phone.  The phone on the left is the Frontier phone.  They are plugged into their chargers because at 5:30pm, after more than three hours on hold, they started making funny beeping noises.  Clearly, they too had grown tired of the United Airlines hold music.  

At 6:07pm, the Frontier phone finally produced a lovely operator named Brian.  Who, despite what I’m sure was a horrible day at work, was as polite and helpful as he could be.  It was surely not his fault that the only flight Frontier could offer me left at noon on the 27th.  

That’s right, the 27th.  Eight full days after my original flight was supposed to leave and two days after the second most important holiday on the Christian calendar–the reason for this entire flight in the first place.  A day that also happened to be just one day before my return flight giving me a grand total of 16 hours at home.

When I started crying quietly, like a small child who just learned that Santa beats the reindeer and that Rudolph is on the sauce, Brian offered his sincere condolences for my predicament.  So, I saved the screaming tirade for his supervisor (who probably gets paid more and who probably is an asshole like middle managers tend to be).  

After expressing to the supervisor in my “outside voice” that this entire situation was unacceptable verging on criminal, I was told that there was simply nothing that they could do but apologize.  

After all, it’s not their fault that even though the snow would stop falling at 11pm, they would not be able to get a plane out until noon the next day.  After all, it isn’t like they have the power to add flights to the schedule to accommodate stranded passengers or the power to find me a seat on another airline.  

Fun fact, did you know that Frontier refuses to codeshare with other airlines, even in the event of an emergency?  Awesome right?  Guess who’ll never fly Frontier again?  This girl.

After hanging up with Frontier, I still held hope for United.  But as four hours on hold turned into five, I decided to frantically searched the Internet for another ticket.  

By some miracle, United had a flight open on Tuesday.  Not ideal, but better than spending the holidays eating stale Captain Crunch from the box while watching a West Wing marathon and crying myself to sleep every night.  So I said goodbye to $306 more hard earned dollars and said a very loud prayer that the two-stop itinerary with layovers in both Chicago and Denver would not be hampered by anymore “weather related disruptions.”

Barely twenty seconds after I confirmed my purchase, a signal went out to United’s customer service center that now, having stolen more of my money, it was time to pick up the phone.  

As “Paul” expressed his deepest regrets for the six hours spent on hold, his thick Punjabi accent and the sound of his furious typing seemed to calm me slightly.  But my calm was not to last.  

There were no flights on Sunday.  Nor Monday.  Nor Tuesday.  Nor Wednesday.  Not on any airline.  Not to any of the cities within a day’s drive to my home.  I started to weep again.

What about a flight from another Washington airport? After some more furious typing, “Paul” offered me a flight leaving at 5:40AM on Monday, and my heart grew three sizes.  “From which airport?” I yelled with delight.  “From Seattle,” he responded.  

Following a lengthy American geography lesson, Paul tried again.  Miraculously, a flight from BWI, leaving at 4:00pm Sunday appeared.  United was happy to waive my change fee of $150, but I would have to pay the difference in price.  What was the difference in price you ask?  $1,242.  

“Rupees?” I asked.  “American dollars,” he replied.  

If the Frontier supervisor got a tongue lashing, then the United supervisor (an American) had a close encounter with a pre-menstrual Banshee.  I said things to that man that would have made a Hell’s Angel blush.  It was at this point that he offered to waive the change fee due to unforeseeable circumstances, but sadly, the flight was now sold out.  

Next available seat?  The 27th.  And thus, began the second wave of Hurricane Belle and a conversation that ended with the phrase, “Could you spell your full name please? My lawyer will need it for the letter.”  Yes, it was a great day.  No, I won’t be flying United ever again.  I’m all Delta now, baby!

At the end of Snowmageddon 2009, I am $2,000 poorer.  I have lost four days of my vacation with my family.  I have used two boxes of Kleenex.  And I have shattered one television remote that collided with a wall while traveling at a high rate of speed.  

Make that $2,210 poorer; $30 for a new remote, $180 to repair the hole in the dry wall.  

Whatever glimmer of Christmas spirit I possessed this morning has been violently ripped from me by the airline industry.  It seems insane that they don’t have some sort of contingency plan for this sort of thing that includes scheduling more flights and code sharing between all airlines.  After all, this seems to happen to one city or another every holiday season.  

It also seems insane that they can keep a person on hold for six-hours until a man in Mumbai becomes available.  Perhaps, I should spend my newly free Monday crafting legislation setting new regulations for the airline industry?  Or maybe it would be easier to pen a bill moving Christmas to the month of June?  

I can’t imagine that Jesus has a PAC more powerful than the people who lobby for the airline industry.  Then again, I imagine Saint Peter would notate that kind of thing and file it away blocking my entry to the pearly gates, so maybe not.  

Hopefully, I make it home on Tuesday and ended up celebrating the birth of my Savior with my family as it should be.  But I can guarantee you that if I don’t, the crazy lady being arrested for tagging the United ticket counter with vulgar graffiti will be me.  Saint Peter would probably forgive me for that infraction.


    leave a comment

  1. Danielle says:

    omg Belle, that is AWFUL. I’ll cross my fingers that you get on a plane on Tuesday.

    December 20, 2009/Reply
  2. Magnifique says:

    Ohhh, I feel your pain. Last Christmas, I was supposed to fly to Cairo for a Christmas vacation with my parents. When I arrived at National, the agents informed me that my flight to JFK had been cancelled due to heavy snow. It wasn’t snowing in DC, but they acted like I should have known and just stayed home. Four re-booked tickets later, I landed in LaGuardia twenty minutes prior to the departure time of my Cairo bound flight from JFK. What’s worse is that my parents were already sitting on the Cairo flight, having arrived the day before from Florida. Although the fully booked flight to Cairo was only a third full, the pilot pulled back from the gate and sat on the runway for THREE HOURS! Meanwhile, having been told by the Delta agent at LaGuardia that the Cairo plane would not return to the gate, I spent five hours on my feet, having had nothing to eat or drink since I left my apartment that morning, trying to rebook my flight. They would only rebook me that weekend if I paid $5K to fly business class; otherwise, there were no flights for at least six days. Since the trip was only going to be a week, I declined. I have never cried in public so much in my entire life.

    December 20, 2009/Reply
  3. Melissa says:

    I’m sorry to hear that happened to you, I can sympathize, as I experienced something not quite as bad, but still upsetting. I was also suppose to leave Saturday– I had to call into Delta 5 times, and had been put on 5 different flights, each one eventually being canceled as time went on. The worse was the 4 hours I spent on hold Saturday morning only to have the travel agent put me onto a flight that had already been canceled. I think i spent about 8+hrs over the last day on hold. I am now leaving on Wednesday.

    December 20, 2009/Reply
  4. Belle says:

    Melissa- I’m sorry. It’s crazy, and while I can’t blame the airlines for the snow, it’s crazy that their contingency plan is just to rebook when there are only a handful of empty seats due to the holidays.

    December 20, 2009/Reply
  5. Erica says:

    Definitely don’t do Frontier…my parents got caught in Hurricane Wilma in Cancun a few years back (the other cat 5 storm of the Katrina season), and they were on Frontier. Frontier wouldn’t codeshare with any other airline flying out of Cancun even though there were THOUSANDS of stranded tourists who had missed their original flights because it was a 5 day storm…

    December 20, 2009/Reply
  6. Sarah says:

    I understand!! I got stuck in small-town Colorado for three days while Denver and DIA were under a thick blanket of ice and snow. 2006 turned into a memorable Christmas…."A Christmas Story" 24 hour marathon, a growler of a local micro-brew, Taco Bell, and falling in and out of sleep with my cat on my lap. I was scheduled to fly out on December 20, 2006 but didn’t make it home (Portland, Oregon) until 11:56 PM on December 25, 2006. I got 4 (glorious) minutes of Christmas in Oregon and my family started a new tradition….celebrate Boxing Day!
    I cried my eyes out while I was on the phone with Frontier when I realized that I would be missing time with my family. 2006 was one of the crappiest years of my life and all i needed was some time with my family, a PB&J Sandwich made by my mom, and video games with my sisters….Luckily, I still got all of that; just on a very altered (and squished) time line.
    Good luck getting home…..I know that when you get there it will be savored.

    December 21, 2009/Reply
  7. Michele says:

    Thank you for sharing because I have the same horror story and I thought it was just me! My Sunday Delta flight was cancelled, leaving DCA. After being on hold with Delta for over seven hours on Saturday and Sunday, a friend in California called the same exact telephone number. She got through in five minutes. Like you, "the best" they could do was late Wednesday night, and that included flying through Atlanta on the way to Minneapolis! Eventually, I just went to the airport to try to fly stand-by (even though everyone tells you to call yoiur airline before going to airport… yeah right!). I didn’t get through on stand-by, but at least an agent at the airport was able to get me a ticket for early Wednesday evening. You are absolutely correct. The airlines’ behavior is bordering on criminal. They take your money, but have no interest in giving you the flights you paid over $500 for back in October! I also cried my eyes out!

    December 30, 2009/Reply