Tip #547: What I Did On My Thanksgiving Vacation

“Travelers, like poets, are mostly an angry race.” Richard Francis Burton

This is a story about an air travel nightmare. Future flyers, take note!

My daughter and I made plans to visit my mother for her 91st birthday party on Saturday, November 22nd. In order to save money flying around Thanksgiving, I booked our flights and rental car through Expedia. The downside was that we needed to take three flights to get from Madison, Wisconsin to McArthur Airport in Islip, New York. We needed the rental car to drive an additional hour to Greenport, New York.

We were supposed to leave on Tuesday, November 18th. Our flight from Madison was scheduled to leave at 6:35 a.m. That meant we both had to get up by 3 a.m. to get our taxis at 4:30 a.m. (my daughter was coming from Sun Prairie and I was coming from Madison)

Late Monday, November 17th, I received an email from United Airlines canceling the flight from Madison, which would affect our subsequent connections. There was no message from Expedia. I panicked. I didn’t want my daughter to get up early if there was no flight to catch.

I immediately called Expedia, waited a long time to connect with an agent, who took my information, put me on hold and- hung up on me. I called them again and went through the very same process, including being disconnected.

So I called United, and when I finally got through to an agent, I was told I should contact Expedia. By this time almost in tears, I told the United agent I had already done that, to no avail. It took over two hours for the United agent to finally create a new itinerary for us for Wednesday, November 19th. That wasted one day of my daughter’s vacation and decreased our visit with my mother by one day. I called and woke up my daughter to tell her she could turn off her alarm, and contacted the taxi to reschedule our pickups for the same time on Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday morning, I called to delay our occupancy of a cottage we had rented for our visit. They kindly agreed not to charge us for the missing day.

Later on Tuesday, I thought to look over the United confirmation for the rescheduled flights and discovered that they had us going from Madison to Chicago to Philadelphia to Islip, but returning from Philadelphia to Chicago to Madison. It took two hours more hours on the phone with a United agent to make sure we had a return flight from Islip to Philadelphia.

When I printed out the boarding passes, I saw that I had one for each leg of the flight. However, my daughter did not have one from Philly to Islip.

On Wednesday, November 19th, I got up at 3 a.m. and my taxi picked me up about 4:45 a.m. When we checked in at United, the agent told us that she was unable to issue my daughter’s missing boarding pass because it was for a US Airways flight. Apparently, sister airlines don’t really share information.

We got to Chicago, and then got to Philly. We thought it would be a simple matter to have a US Airways agent issue the final missing boarding pass for my daughter. Unfortunately, after talking with two US Airways agents, we were informed that someone had canceled ALL of our remaining flights. Neither of us had a flight from Philly to Islip. The further bad news was that we no longer had ANY return flights anymore.

By then, we had been up for 12 hours. Needless to say, we did not take this information well.

Finally, the US Airways agent said that she could get us to LaGuardia, which was also about an hour from my mother’s home in Greenport. The US Airways agent told us that she would put in a request that our luggage be diverted to LaGuardia. Of course, there were no guarantees about that.

I called Enterprise to make sure that we could pick up a rental car at LaGuardia airport and return it to Islip. Happily, the answer was not only “Yes,” but they also would not charge extra because our situation was due to airline difficulties.

Since they lock the outside doors at 9 p.m., I called my mother’s location to have them leave the door open because we wouldn’t get there until 10 p.m. They agreed to do that.

We got onto the flight to LaGuardia. When we got to LaGuardia, our luggage wasn’t there. Upon inquiry, we learned that our bags were on their way to Islip. We got the rental car, drove to Islip (where we were reunited with our luggage, thank goodness!), had dinner at 8 p.m., and arrived in Greenport at 10 p.m.

Our trip back to Madison was also rocky. We drove to Islip in pouring rain to drop off our rental car with enough time to make our 2:30 p.m. flight to Philadelphia. The Enterprise agent kindly drove us to the terminal so we wouldn’t have to walk in the rain.

When we checked in with US Airways at McArthur Airport, we were told that there was a “gate delay” until 5:30 p.m. In layman’s terms, that meant that NO airlines would be flying out of McArthur until 5:30 p.m. We would miss all of our connecting flights back to Madison. To make matters worse, there were no flights out of McArthur later that day that would get us home before Thanksgiving.

My daughter and I were confused why rain would close an airport. The agent explained that only prop planes flew from there…

Our only option was to fly out of JFK airport to Dallas (!!!!) and from Dallas to Madison. Faced with the possibility of having to have Thanksgiving in an airport terminal, we agreed to do that. We would now be flying on American Airlines. Setting this up took almost an hour.The good news was: (1) we had a way home that day and (2) we would only need to take two instead of three flights.

The beginning of the bad news: We had to take a taxi, which would cost us $120, to get to JFK airport.

It wasn’t until we were on the plane and the steward announced that the flight would be 4 1/2 hours that I realized how far out of the way we would be flying! It would now take us 7 hours instead of 4 hours of flight time to get home.

When we landed at Gate C 32 at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the terminal blackboard told us that our Madison flight would be leaving from Gate B 12 in less than an hour. We hurried to find and get on the terminal train to get to Terminal B. We raced to Gate B 10, which said the flight was to Shreveport, not to Madison. The agent told us that our Madison flight was now leaving from Gate B 32.

So we raced back to the train to get to Gate B 32. However, once there, we were told that the flight was really leaving from Gate B 11. So, we ran back through the terminal and up the escalator to take the terminal train once more. When we finally got back to Gate B 11, we were told the flight had been moved again- to Gate B 12. Whew!

Although the gate said the flight was to Boston, we were assured that the flight would be to Madison. Then there was an hour delay before we boarded the plane and another half hour before we left Dallas. We got back to Madison at 11:30 p.m.

Our luggage arrived with us.

The moral of this tale for my future travels: NEVER schedule a multi-leg flight through Expedia, and NEVER fly in or out of McArthur in Islip. In the future, all of my flights will be either to LaGuardia or JFK (both of which are the same distance from my mother in Greenport as McArthur is).

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. My daughter and I gave thanks that we didn’t need to have our Thanksgiving meal in some airport terminal!

May your learning be sweet.


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