I was asked to take a quick trip to Raleigh NC for a three hour presentation to a prospective customer. I would be one of five from our company making the sales call. We were all starting from different home locations, mine being Austin, TX. There was a major snowstorm predicted for Wednesday night and Thursday, but we were all planning to arrive Tuesday evening and be gone by early afternoon on Wednesday. No problem – or so I thought.
Tuesday 8:45 AM – Leave my house for the drive to airport
10:00 – Board plane for first leg – Austin to Atlanta. While on the plane waiting to push back I get a text from Delta that my connecting flight has been cancelled. Not to worry. There’s 5 other flights Atlanta to Raleigh that day.
2:00 – Arrive Atlanta. Upon taking my phone out of airplane mode, I get a text that I have been re-booked on the 10:30 PM flight. Just 8:30 hours away. Not to worry, I’ll stand by for one of the other flights – or better yet I’ll get a reservation on one of them. Being a seasoned business traveler, I call Delta customer support while, at the same time, getting in line at the customer service desk.
2:45 – Finally reach the front of the line. It takes a long time because the high status Delta flyers get served first and they arrive a rate that the line for regular folk doesn’t move. The 10:30 flight is my only option, even checking all other airlines. I walk away frustrated and disconnect from the phone queue. During the 45 minutes I was in line to speak to the agent, I remained waiting on the phone while they were helping other customers. What to do?
- I could wait the 8 1/2 hours hoping that the last flight of the day wouldn’t be cancelled.
- Blow this off and get a flight back to Austin. (Turns out this wasn’t a possibility either)
- Rent a car and drive. It’s 368 miles to Raleigh.
3:00 – I chose to drive. I’m not willing to gamble on waiting 8 1/2 hours, now only 7 1/2 – but still, on a flight that may or may not happen. Also, there was no weather expected to hit until Wed afternoon in the latest forecast. I powered up my laptop and hot spot and tried to reserve a one way car Atlanta to Raleigh. No cars available from National, but I scored with Avis.
3:15 – Took shuttle bus to the rental center, picked up a Ford Taurus and I was gone. Painless. My cell phone was dying but the car had Bluetooth and a USB so with phone charging and tunes playing, I hit the road.
Wednesday 12:15 AM. Arrive at hotel. Stopped for dinner along the way. It might have been pretty driving through Greenville and Charlotte, but it was dark. I encountered no weather and didn’t even see any snow on the ground until I got to the outskirts of Raleigh. I arrived with the fuel level warning light on, but was sure I had enough to get to the customer site later in the morning and then fill up before I returned the car.
7:30 AM – Meet the team from my company for breakfast. Every else’s flight was fine. One person went Kansas City – Atlanta – Raleigh and took the 10:30 flight I had bailed on. Oh well.
9:00 – noon – Meet with prospect. We do our thing. All is well. My teammates head to lunch as they have evening flights. I pass because I have a 2:30 flight back to Atlanta. I gas up the rental car and head for the airport. My flight is on time – no problems.
1:00 – Car returned. Through security. Plane is waiting at the gate. All is good. Time for lunch.
1:45 – Gate agent announces we’ll begin boarding in a minute after they clear a small maintenance issue.
2:30 – Flight now scheduled for 3:00, then 3:30, then 4:30. I find out from agent there is a problem with APU and they have to fly a part in. Not good news. This flight isn’t going anywhere for many hours, if at all.
3:30 – Even though flight isn’t officially cancelled, they start moving folks to other flights – but not for later today – for Thursday evening – over 24 hours away!
4:00 – I reach front of the line. There are two agents. One helping me and one helping a Japanese man. I consider driving back again. But I’m not keen to do this and I’ll be heading into the storm. Since this is a mechanical issue, they are required to provide a hotel. The two agents work through their list of hotels and find 2 rooms in all of Raleigh. She looks at me and the Japanese man and says “You guys want these? If you do, say yes right now.” Yes and ah ah yes. Hesitation by Japanese guy only.
4:30 – I avoid checking bags when I can for just this reason and I head straight to the ground transportation area. The Japanese guy has to wait for them to retrieve his checked bag. I call the hotel and they say they’re real close and will pick me up in three minutes.
5:00 – I call them again reminding them that is now been thirty minutes. They say 5 more minutes. 15 minutes later the van rolls up.
5:15 – Take shuttle to hotel. Check in. It’s a mini-suite with view of a forest. Cambria Suites. Nice place.
6:30 – After letting Mary Lou know I’m safely tucked in for the night (I had been text’ing her the play by play – a shorter version of the above), I head down to the restaurant in the hotel. Now, it’s really not a restaurant as we understand the term to mean. It is a little 8 seat bar with 2 little bar tables. I take a seat at the bar, get a glass of wine and order a flat iron steak. I have three $7 meal vouchers from Delta. The steak was surprisingly good and wine not bad – good enough to have a second – and a third.
8:30 – Still at the bar chatting with fellow travelers in the same boat. Saw the Japanese guy walk by. Having a pleasant enough time, considering. I look out toward the main entrance and see it’s snowing. In a few minutes it picks up and I walked out under the covered entry and took this video.
Coming down pretty good. 9″-12″ predicted. I get a text message from Delta that I’ve been re-booked on a 8:15 AM flight in the morning that’s now has a planned departure of 9:15. Okay. I’m hoping the storm is over by then and that the inbound flight for this flight makes it in. But I’ll worry about that in morning. Time for bed.
Thursday 3:30 AM – There’s noise outside my room that wakes me up. I notice that the slice of light that made it into my room from the hallway under the door is out. I open the door a crack and it’s black in the hallway. I try the bathroom light. Nothing. I unplug all my electronic devices that had been charging and go back to bed. I always use my cell phone alarm to wake me so power’s not an issue.
6:30 – I get up and try the lights. Nada. Hotel phone is dead, too. I keep a small flashlight in my backpack for power failures. I’ve had it there for years. I finally get to use it. Sure, I could have used my cell light, but thought preserving power on it was a good idea. There’s no knowing how many calls I’ll need to make to get out of here. At some point there is filtered daylight coming through the window. I take the top photo of the forest, now with fresh snow on the trees. Bathroom is dark, except for the flashlight.
7:00 – I head down the stairs with my luggage and backpack with the little flashlight in my mouth. I’m on the third floor. When I exit the stairway I pop out into the lobby. There’s a handful of people standing around in the light from the entry door waiting for the shuttle driver, who shows up in a few minutes looking like he just rolled out of bed. We all make our way to van. As he’s loading the luggage in the back I say, just to be making conversation, “looks like we got about 5” “. He replies “I wouldn’t know about that, sir.” I resisted the urge to say, well, you could just look around.
8:15 – I get to my gate and, sure enough, there’s a plane there – covered in snow and ice. Plenty of time for a bite. I head down to Starbucks and get a latte and a muffin and return.
8:30 – The pilots show up. They want to go into the plane, but there’s no gate agent to open the door. After about 15 minutes they get tired of waiting and announce to those of us hanging around that they’re going for coffee and will be back in a while.
9:00 – Gate agent shows up. Lets the pilots into the jetway. Haven’t seen a cabin crew yet. Some time passes and nothing happens. Passengers with connecting flights are getting jittery and they line up to talk to the gate agent. I’m still working on my latte.
9:45 – A woman leaves after talking to the agent and brings the news back to others in line. I’m close enough that I can hear. The upshot is they don’t know when this flight will actually leave, but the 10:30 to Atlanta two gates down is about to start boarding and, if you haven’t checked a bag on this flight, as she had, there are seats avail…. I don’t wait to hear the rest. I’m up and gone.
10:00 – I get on the standby list. I’m number 5 in the queue. There are 10 unclaimed seats. You might think that I’m in, but at Delta, and I imagine all the others, their platinum and gold customers go to the top of the list whenever they arrive. I have to hope that no more than 5 of them show up.
10:30 – I get a seat – center of course. I put my roller bag in the overhead bin but decide to keep my backpack with me under the seat – just in case. I have another customer call scheduled for right now. Remember, I should have been home last night. The pilot comes on and says we’re number two to be de-iced and we won’t be leaving for an hour – maybe two. Given this, I ask if it’s okay to use my phone and laptop and am given the green light by the flight attendant. I power up my hot spot, get on the webex and use my phone to join the audio. I find some of my co-workers from the Raleigh meetings are actually there (Kansas City) and the others are on the phone. They all got out on their originally booked flights. Hmmm.
11:30 – De-icing trucks shows up. They had to re-fill then heat their tanks, we’re told. I’m still in the meeting. De-icing begins.
Noon – De-icing is complete and we push back. The meeting ends on time at noon and I shut down my electronic gadgets and put them away. We start the engines, taxi out and we’re off. Thing get better now.
2:00 – Arrive in Atlanta. They’ve booked me on a 3:30 flight.
3:30 – This flight leaves more or less on time.
4:45 – Arrive Austin.
6:30 – Arrive home in time for dinner.
Total time for a 3 hour meeting: 58 hours
PS: I had a trip planned for this Tuesday to Portland 7:00 PM outbound from Austin. On the way to the airport from work I received a text that the flight was delayed until 8:30. Before I got there I received another text. Now 9:30. I would miss my connection in Phoenix. At the airport I found out that there was no flight on any airline that would get me to Portland that night. Since the meeting was at 8:30 the following morning, I decided not to go at all. I couldn’t go through this again and neither could you. American refunded my non-refundable ticket and I went home.
That’s all for now. Wish me luck in my future travels.