Planes, Trains and my favorite – Automobiles

There are a lot of ways to get to where we want to go for our travel needs. Planes allow us to get there quickly. Trains give us the opportunity to get there fairly quickly while taking in some pretty amazing scenery. But for me there is nothing like driving to a chosen destination. Automobiles can provide speed. And the viewing opportunities are endless because you are not tied to a specific track; and your schedule is your own.

PLANES: to cover the most miles in the shortest amount of time there is nothing to compete with flying. Even with delays that seem to happen with far too much regularity, if you have a time crunch, there is no match to covering 500 miles in an hour. Our airline choices have become greatly reduced in recent years with airlines swallowing each other up left and right, leaving less and less competition to keep airline prices in acceptable ranges. The seat areas get smaller, while the prices get bigger.

Taking off in ominous skies in Phoenix enroute to Kansas City on US Airways

After a long delay finally taking off in ominous skies in Phoenix enroute to Kansas City on US Airways

The three main airlines I fly on are: Delta, US Airways, and Southwest. I wish I could say one outweighs the others when it comes to customer service. But it seems to be a real crapshoot as whether you get a good crew or not. Some make you feel like you are bothering them and they are there to basically get a paycheck. Others make you feel like you are the only passenger on board. Some crack jokes and keep everybody’s spirits in a light and lively mood; some try to crack jokes and fail miserably and should just stick with serving; and others are simply good at making your flight pleasant and comfortable.

Pros and Cons of each airline – including perks of flying status on some airlines

Delta: allows purchase and cancellation of one-way flights; $200 change fee; great Delta Sky Club (SkyTeam) – can enter with Platinum AMEX, First Class ticket, or Gold Medallion or higher; three free checked bag; possible but not often free upgrade; boarded by zones; minimum five miles earned for each dollar paid.

Delta Airplane

US Airways: allows purchase of one-way flights – but if you book a round-trip ticket and cancel one leg, they cancel the whole flight > charge a $200 change fee and difference in airfare to rebook leg they canceled; only Emerald or Sapphire or International first class has access to OneWorld Clubs (or you can pay $50 for a one day pass) – a Platinum AMEX, First Class domestic ticket or Silver Preferred won’t get you in; Silver Preferred allows you one free checked bag and free upgrade for you and a companion if available; boarded by zones; earn 100% or 150% of miles flown depending on status.

US Airways airplane

Southwest: allows purchase and cancellation of one-way flights; two free checked bags, but they do charge an early bird fee if you want a chance to get checked in early so you don’t have to end up in a middle row seat; no cancellation fee – they bank your credit for use on a future flight; no first class or sky miles clubs; business status is achievable for better seating options; board by lining up on either side of a line up of numbered posts – A,B or C and 1-60; minimum 6 points (miles) earned for each dollar spent.

Southwest Airlines airplane

TRAINS: now we need more of these in the US. It is one thing I love about being in Europe. You don’t need to or really want to drive long distances there. There are trains traveling at all times of the day and night to pretty much any destination you can think of in Europe. If you’re in a hurry, take one of the many speed trains. If you aren’t, take one of the more leisurely paced trains and take in the diversified landscapes that dot the European continent. And if you are in one of the major cities, there is no better way to get around then by subway or light/metro rail. Quick on and quick off.

Sipping on a cold one in the subway in Prague - those Czechs like their beer anywhere and everywhere

Sipping on a cold one in the subway in Prague – those Czechs like their beer anywhere and everywhere

One of many historical train stations dotting the European countryside - usually with a church in the background

One of many historical train stations dotting the European countryside – usually with a church in the background

On the train, taking in scenery and an opportunity for some reading enroute from Vienna to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

On the train, taking in scenery and an opportunity for some reading enroute from Vienna to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

There are regions in the US that have taken this form of transportation to heart: NYC, Boston, Washington DC, and many points in between; Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Miami. Amtrak has been around for decades and it would be great to see the kind of train access between states like there is between countries in Europe. Obviously from a cost perspective in this day and age this is very prohibitive. The size of each country is roughly the same when compared in square miles, but we have only about 40% of the population that Europe does, so that leaves a lot of vast unpopulated miles to cover that building and maintaining rail systems in these areas would be very expensive.

Amtrak train

Respite from the rains above in a subway below New York Cities busy streets

Respite from the rains above in a subway below New York Cities busy streets

When I am in the US and am not in a hurry to get to my destination there is no better way to travel than by automobile. I don’t really have any addictions, but I do have several passions: traveling, eating, writing, reading, golfing, walking and CARS!! I have a need for speed!! The kind with four wheels. Our family has a diverse collection cars to take us to our chosen destinations: SUV’s to take us through snowy mountain passages and rough terrain; sports cars to hug those curvy roads; sedans to float along the open highway; UTV to go off-roading into the desert.

Ready for a road trip through the curvy mountain roads in northern Arizona

Ready for a road trip through the curvy mountain roads in northern Arizona

Plenty of room in the SUV for dogs and luggage

Plenty of room in the SUV for dogs and luggage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now when my family travels to a destination where we need to rent a car, we splurge on a fun ride as much as on our accommodations. Nothing like winding your way through the Vermont countryside in a road hugging Camaro or cruising along on the Pacific Coast highway in a Porsche Panamera.

Girls road trip to Yosemite from San Francisco in a snappy Mustang convertible

Girls road trip to Yosemite from San Francisco in a snappy Mustang convertible

Cruising through the curves on the 17-mile drive on the Monterey Peninsula in a Porsche Panamera

Cruising through the curves on 17-mile drive on the Monterey Peninsula in a Porsche Panamera

The view through the front window of a 2012 jet black Camaro as my daughter and I wind our way through the Vermont Countryside

The view through the front window of a 2012 jet black Camaro as my daughter and I wind our way through the Vermont countryside

 

Eli helping Dad navigate the roadways from Phoenix to Kansas City

Eli helping Dad navigate the roadways from Phoenix to Kansas City

Trials and Tribulations of Travel

The one constant I hear from every traveler – whether a seasoned traveler or that “I’ve been saving up for this one trip” traveler – is they love to travel to see new sights or revisit favorite destinations, but wish they didn’t have to ‘travel’ to get there. My generation wishes for Samantha’s nose twinkle from Bewitched; my kids generation wishes for Harry Potter’s floo powder – so we can effortlessly transport ourselves without dealing with airlines and security and long lines and long flights and delays, delays, delays………..

Delay deluge: This past 4th of July weekend my daughter found herself with an opportunity to come home to Arizona, from NYC, ( 5-hour flight) for the long weekend. I initially booked her a late evening jetBlue flight on Thursday, with the 3-hour time zone change that would have put her in at a respectable 10:30 pm – very doable. Affording her two full days at home and then return Sunday mid-afternoon for the long day of travel back to NYC.

In the middle of the night, Wednesday night, I was awoken out of a deep sleep by the phone ringing – when you get a call in the middle of the night, it is never good. I answered the phone to an automated message from jetBlue to tell me they had canceled my daughter’s Thursday 8 pm non-stop flight and rebooked her on Friday, through Boston, to arrive in Phoenix at 9:30 pm Friday evening. No reason given for the cancellation OR to check with us that their new itinerary that they picked out was acceptable for my daughter. Well it wasn’t acceptable. So….

I quickly checked online for other Thursday evening non-stop options and found a 7 pm Delta flight, putting her in at 9:30 pm – even better than her original flight!! So I thought. Upon arriving at the airport, my daughter was quickly told the flight had been delayed until 9:19 pm (how can they be that precise in their timing when they can’t even get the plane off the ground). Okay – so that still puts her in Thursday night. She can sleep in and still have an almost full day at home on Friday. But then the delays kept coming, ……………. apparently the inbound plane coming from Atlanta was being held back because of the weather “in the area” from Hurricane Arthur. Atlanta itself was clear, as was NYC, but their intended flight path took them through the hurricane.

So my daughter and the rest of the 200+ passengers on Delta flight 2405, sat and waited and waited and waited. Until finally they were alerted the inbound plane from Atlanta had finally left. The waiting passengers were told the flight would arrive at 12:01 am and they would now depart for Phoenix at 12:40 am. But…at 11:30 pm (after 6 hours of waiting) they were informed that the crew scheduled to fly their flight to Phoenix will have timed out by that new departure time. All the passengers were offered to be put up in a nearby hotel or given a taxi voucher.

Okay – you do the math, 200+ very tired and frustrated passengers waiting in line after a long ordeal already, to be dealt with by 2 Delta personnel to get them a hotel room or taxi voucher. After waiting in a non-moving line for 15 minutes my daughter went to the regular taxi queue and paid for her own taxi. Once in the taxi, the driver learned there was an accident on the major expressway closing all lanes, so he diverted their route to go from JFK to Brooklyn – via Manhattan. For those of you who don’t know the area – it would be a mini version of going from the south of London, to the central part of London – via Paris. To add proverbial salt to the proverbial wound the taxi driver charged my daughter $90 vs the normal rate of around $45. And no sense trying to converse with a driver who speaks little more than 3 words of English, at 1 am, when you are already in a very frustrated mood and beyond tired.

After about 6 hours of sleep, my daughter was up at 7:30 am to get to the airport well ahead of their new appointed departure time of 11 am – same flight, same plane, same crew, same set of worn out grumpy passengers (albeit a few less, as some must have decided to scrap the flight all together.) Back for her third attempt to get to Arizona. Quickly the flight was delayed to 11:20, but then stayed at that time until they boarded. Then mini-delays began – 11:30, 11:40, 12:00 pm. Even though most of Friday would now be lost, she still wanted to come home. Their plane taxied out to the runway, only to have a ‘light issue’ – that was all the passengers were told. A maintenance crew tried to fix it out on the tarmac, but an hour later the passengers were told the plane would have to go back to the gate to be fixed there. Of course they didn’t have the part – and of course there were no other planes available to take this already major league stressed and tired out group of passengers to Phoenix.

After waiting on the plane, at the gate, for another hour, they were told they might as well get off the plane as it could be awhile. So they deplaned and waited in the gate area for another line-up of never-ending delays. Finally around 4 pm they reboarded, for the third attempt (for this flight) to get to Phoenix, although now the flight had been given a new flight number because it had timed out of the original flight number which was now needed for Friday’s non-stop flight to AZ that would get there almost before Thursday’s flight. Once boarded, I continued to watch the flight status online to see when they took off, as of course all cell phones had to be in airplane mode at this point. For another hour the plane showed a status of ‘awaiting take-off’ – it is not out of the norm to sit on the tarmac at JFK for upwards of an hour during normal times. I sent my daughter a text asking if they were still on the ground. After almost an hour of no reply I figured Delta just wasn’t updating their site properly. Then came a dreaded ding from an incoming text: they were still on the ground and told they were now 20th in line to depart – at least another 30-45 minutes of sitting on the tarmac.

Now our concern became that the crew was once again going to time out seeing this 5-hour flight was originally supposed to take off at 11 am, and it was closing in on 6 pm. But no more texts came in, and finally the status showed they were ‘in flight’! A loud cheer went up from my family. My daughter arrived finally at 7:30 pm Friday night, 22 hours after her scheduled arrival time of 9:30 pm on Thursday night.

The saddest part about this whole story is how poorly Delta handled this whole situation – a major airline who has been in this business this for decades. Delta took full responsibility for the vast majority of the delays – with an oops, sorry we messed up, but what can you do reply, via an email message to my daughter. Weather certainly played a part – Hurricane Arthur was in North Carolina when the flight was originally slated to depart, but had made it past NYC into the Boston area by the time flight 2405/9858 finally took off. But since the flight was heading west, there was no threat from the Hurricane in delaying their finally departed flight.

After the first issue of not having a crew ready to fly the plane once it arrived from Atlanta, the passengers were issued the following email from Delta:

“While the weather and air traffic issues are things we can’t control, the service we provided on Flight 2405 on July 3 is disappointing with the overnight stay in New York for crew reasons. I know how valuable your time is and I’m really sorry for the lengthy delay and that we couldn’t get you to Phoenix as planned.

You’re important to us, and as a goodwill gesture I’m sending a $75 Delta Choice gift. The Delta Choice gift code will arrive in a separate email within 24 hours. This will include a customer ID and instructions on how to redeem the gift. Please check your spam folder if you don’t see the email in your inbox.

Thank you for continuing to choose Delta. We look forward to seeing you on another Delta flight.

Regards,

Jason Hausner
Director, Customer Care
Delta Air Lines”

Upon arriving Friday morning for their new departure time, the passengers of Flight 2405 had been greeted with bagels and coffee. As the day wore on, they were told they would be served free alcoholic beverages (plural) during the flight – they got one – and not much consolation to those who don’t drink or aren’t of age.

Upon arriving in Phoenix a Delta agent handed each passenger a letter, in essence saying, we know we messed up yet again, and we are in the process of figuring out what to do to make it up to each passenger. Unfortunately NOTHING they can do will make up for lost time and lost plans for those 200+ passengers. And my guess is it will be some kind of voucher for future travel with an airline that most people will rue ever wanting to use again. How about reimbursing the cost of their original flight PLUS a voucher for future travel!

But sadly we are saddled with fewer and fewer options with who to fly with as the airline industry continues to swallow each other up. We are at their mercy, and they know it. If we want to travel and see amazing destinations, spend time with family and friends, we will suck it up, take the voucher and try our chances – yet again – hoping beyond all hope that we could never be unlucky enough to go through something like this again!

We had a wonderful 41 hours with our daughter before she had head back to NYC! But she will certainly hesitate to take her chances of coming home for a long weekend after the debacle of flight 2405/9858. Her return flight, on US Airways, was delay-free.

P.S. As of the writing of this blog post (July 11th) no reply from Delta has been received as to what they are intending to do to make up for their poor customer service.

P.S.S. I contacted jefBlue as well to be reimbursed for the flight “they” canceled, and after 90 minutes on the phone, most of that on hold, and after dealing with 4 different agents – all of who were very congenial – a manager finally gave the okay to have the flight reimbursed with no hesitation and that credit showed on my credit card within a few business days.