Monday, December 27, 2010

Wow, yesterday was a mess.

I took a Christmas vacation from Dec. 22 to 26 up with my family in Vermont. Maybe just one more day would have been nice, and I had some maudlin moments for reasons I'll try to talk about later, but I'd say that as vacations with my parents go, this was just right. On the 23rd I finished my shopping (I had done more shopping this year than usual, and got more of it done earlier, but still wasn't quite finished when I went north), on the 24th I wrapped my presents and otherwise did nothing at all, just sat around the house and read and picked through my things I had left in the attic and harassed my parents' pets and stuff, and on Christmas we had six or so aunts, uncles and cousins visit. We ate well, there was a little bickering but not all that much, it was nice all around.

The problem was yesterday. I had bought tickets on a flight that left Burlington at 9:46 a.m. - a bit early, especially considering that it's more than an hour's drive from my parent's house to the airport, but it would have got me home to DC by 2:15 even with a connecting flight so it seemed worth the inconvience of an early start. There was a long line at the check-in desk which I sort of cut in front of, so maybe I should regard my problems later in the day as karma. The light snowfall as I left Burlington was pretty. As my flight landed in Newark for my connecting flight, though, the snow was heavier. My Newark-DC flight was supposed to leave at 1. At 12:30 or so, we got an announcement that it was pushed back to 4. The plane meant for my flight had not yet arrived in Newark, they said; it was still in Norfolk, where the weather was even worse, but they were hoping it could leave at 2. But at 2, we were told that it had tried to take off, failed, and gave up, so they were looking for other planes. At this point there were at least 20 people in line at the Continental help desk and it had not moved in the past 20 minutes or so. Around 3 or so, there was an announcement that there was a flight about to leave for Washington-National from another terminal, which would be as good as BWI if not better for me, so I ran to the shuttle and tracked down the gate, along with five other people. Unfortunately, at the gate we were told there was only room for four. I shrugged to the two girls who were traveling together and left them behind. But on the walkway, we were told someone had miscounted, there was only room for three. They sent me back. The girls said they were going back to our original gate, but while we were going through that a plane next to the BWI flight sents its passengers back to the terminal, so I gave up on flying and decided to find a train.

Fortunately, there's a train station attached to the Newark airport. The southbound train was running a little bit late as well, but at least it was running. I got a ticket to Union Station in DC, but when I learned that the train was stopping at BWI I got off there to check on things. I learned that there had indeed been no flights from Newark that I could have used, which was nice - I had worried a bit that there would be a flight at 4:30 or something and all the trouble and expense of the train ride would have been wasted. However, it meant that my checked luggage was still in Newark. So later on today I'll have to call and see if it made it to BWI at all today (the person I talked to yesterday was uncertain) and, if so, whether I'll need to go get it or they can ship it to me or what. In the end I got home about seven and a half hours later than expected and spent about $150 to get home yesterday at all, and I don't know how to get my bag... but that still beats sleeping in a line in a Newark airport, right?

I obviously had a lot of time to think during all that. What did I learn? Well, first of all I learned not to schedule flights with connections and only one day of leeway. I'll bet there were direct flights I could have taken, but didn't just because a flight with a stopover was cheaper. A (hypothetical) direct flight that left at the same time yesterday morning would probably have made it; the weather didn't get really bad until the afternoon. If a direct flight didn't take off at all, then I'd much rather be stranded with my family until things cleared up than in some airport somewhere.

Also, I learned that there's nothing wrong with checking luggage, but I'd better be able to live out of your carryon. Despite baggage fees I usually check a bag; not having to carry around my bag while I'm in an airport is worth $25, I reason. That's even more true when carrying around includes carrying it for seven hours longer than expected and going off the beaten path, like to the train station. Unfortunately, my winter scarf and gloves were not in my carryon. And I think the ear-warmer headband I usually wear might have been too; I couldn't find it before I left for work this morning. Other than those, though, I think there was nothing in the checked luggage but dirty laundry, my toiletries bag and Christmas presents. I certainly want to get it back, of course, but it's nice to not need it.

Also, I was reminded of how much nicer trains are. No security hassle, roomier seats, you can walk around freely... too bad they're so much slower than planes.

Also, having a Droid rules. Or any other kind of smartphone would do, I guess. But I bought my train ticket online while in the skycab from the airport to the train station. While it might have been possible to do that over a normal phone, or in person at the station, the former would have been much harder without being able to look all up schedules and stuff and the latter might not have been in time; the train was full or very close to it.