42 Hours from Ithaca to West Palm Beach
I didn’t make any of this up. No one can make this stuff up.
Last week my husband picked up our daughter from college and together they drove to Watkins Glen, New York where she started an internship at Farm Sanctuary – a rescue, rehabilitation, and shelter for farm animals that also serves as an advocate for animal rights. On Sunday morning, my husband was scheduled to depart Ithaca Thompkins Regional Airport on a 10:20 am United Airlines flight to Newark connecting to West Palm Beach. Sounds easy? Turns out it was the trip from hell thanks to United and Delta.
Three major airlines fly out of Ithaca: United, Delta, and US Airways. Collectively, these carriers provide seven flights to Newark, Detroit, and Philadelphia this time of year. This is important to know.
My husband arrived at the Ithaca airport on Sunday morning at 8:00 am but the United flight was cancelled due to weather (fog) before 9:00 am. Not delayed, cancelled (I can only guess they assumed the fog was going to last all day). People lined up to re-book their tickets with one United ticket agent responsible for this task. Another agent walked the line handing people a piece of paper with an 800 number to call and re-book their flights. 20th in line, my husband called United and was re-booked on the 6:36 pm flight to Newark where he would catch a later connection to West Palm Beach.
The afternoon dragged by slowly while the airport resumed landings and departures (miraculously, the fog cleared). At about 5:00 pm, United cancelled the 6:36 pm flight and told my husband he was on his own and that he could be re-booked on a United flight the following day (Monday) at 6:36 pm. Unsatisfied, he called United Airlines and asked to be placed on an earlier flight at either 6:00 am or 10:20 am. The answer: no. Those flights were full. He asked to be booked on another airline to which they offered a Delta flight leaving the next morning at 6:20 am to Detroit where he could connect to a flight to Atlanta and then to West Palm Beach. Despite the two connections, he was getting desperate to get out of Ithaca so he took the offer and asked for a hotel accommodation since his 6:36 pm flight to Newark was cancelled although the airport was now open for departures and landings. The answer: an adamant no. So, he called me and I booked him a $178 room at the Marriott Courtyard a few miles away and asked the hotel to send the courtesy van to pick him up, which they did.
Monday morning started at 4:30 am and a taxi ride (the courtesy van doesn’t provide service to the airport before 6:00 am) back to Ithaca’s Airport. He arrived to find the flight was delayed but scheduled to leave about 8:00 am. With no food available, he returned to the Marriott Courtyard and had breakfast before taking the courtesy van back to the airport. Delta reported more delays and couldn’t say when the flight would depart so my husband joined a group of passengers who decided to share a taxi to Syracuse Airport, which is about an hour away. Apparently flights were departing and arriving from this airport. A good sign. So, off they went.
While in the cab, my husband called Delta and re-booked his flight (from Ithaca to Detroit to Atlanta to West Palm Beach) to depart from Syracuse to LaGuardia (the airport that Joe Biden famously said: “If I took you and blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you’d think, ‘I must be in some third-world country,“) to West Palm Beach. He arrived in Syracuse to find his flight to LaGuardia was delayed for several hours so he called me to complain (I would have done the same thing or worse). My husband finally boarded the plane just before noon but then the plane sat on the runway for an hour before take off. He was so happy to be on a plane that was actually departing, he didn’t care. He text me a picture of him on the plane with the caption “Is this what the inside of a plane looks like?”
The plane finally took off from Syracuse and landed at LaGuardia but the passengers could not get off the plane because the baggage handlers were unable to unlock the storage doors to get the luggage. After calling for backup mechanical help, a large group of men boarded the plane and decided to go through an opening in the back of the plane. Meanwhile, the flight crew allowed a male passenger dressed in a suit to take his rather large dog down the steps of the plane to relieve himself on the tarmac. Excited to be outside, the dog jumped all over the man with his muddy paws staining the man’s suit pants (the passengers watching were actually laughing about this because the man acted like a jerk on the flight while the dog was a dream). The gate crew finally got the baggage doors open and passengers were allowed to get off the plane and claim their carry ons (it was a small plane so even small suitcases had to be checked at the gate). One leg down, one to go. 29 hours and counting…..
LaGuardia Airport was hoppin’ busy on Monday and with some time to waste, my husband enjoyed a meal, got some work done, watched lots of couples bicker (he text me that after watching couples in action as they travel, he has come to the conclusion that he has a great wife), and tired kids crying. His flight was scheduled to leave at about 3:00 pm but was delayed until 9:10 pm despite no weather issues at LaGuardia. At 10:07 pm more than 7 hours after it was scheduled to leave) the flight pulled back from the gate and by 10:30 pm, they were in the air. He was fucking ecstatic (not his words but I’m sure he was really happy). Three hours later, the plane pulled into the gate at Palm Beach International Airport and to his surprise, the gate area was filled with passengers waiting to board the plane back to LaGuardia. He briefly thought about asking if they knew something that Joe Biden didn’t but was too tired so he moved on.
At 2:00 am on Tuesday, my husband arrived home – 42 hours after he walked into Ithaca Airport Sunday morning.
Flight delays due to weather are to be expected but when flights are cancelled or delayed for other reasons, the airlines should be held accountable. If passengers cancel or change a flight on United or Delta, they would be charged $75-$150 but if United or Delta cancels or changes a flight for a non-weather related reason, they have no obligation towards the passengers they inconvenience. No hotel, no food voucher, nothing. It’s a total one way street and just plain wrong. So, I filed a complaint with the TSA which was promptly answered with an e-mail that confirms the limited obligation an airline has to customers when they cancel or change flights. With a record number of people projected to fly this summer on planes projected to be 90% full, it’s going to be one, long, frustrating summer for a lot of travelers.