Sunday, February 27, 2005

Mi Viaje a España, Capítulo Uno: Pasó Mucho Tiempo en el Aeropuerto de Filadélfia

It is an unfortunate fact of life that, sometimes, negative experiences can overshadow more positive ones. I, however, refuse to let that happen for this trip. Nonetheless, purely because it constitutes an amusing set of stories upon which I am sure I will later reflect and laugh, my first blog entry about my trip to Spain is entitled, “I Spent a Lot of Time in the Philadelphia Airport.”

Philadelphia is a U.S. Airways hub. Which is convenient, I suppose, because it’s an international airport. My flight arrangements took me from D.C. to Philadelphia, to connect to a flight which went directly from Philadelphia to Madrid. At least that was the plan.

Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.

The Problem. I started getting nervous early in the trip, seeing as we were still boarding the D.C.-to-Philadelphia flight at the scheduled departure time. But seeing as the flight literally takes less than 40 minutes, I told myself that worrying was senseless. It’s one of the shortest jaunts ever. In fact, it’s so short, it’s really quite retarded that it runs at all.

I had just finished my handing the remains of my complimentary drink to the flight attendant when the pilot announced that we had entered Philadelphia airspace and would be landing soon. I sat back and began, once again, to plot my agenda for the few precious days that would be spending in Europe...

... and some forty minutes later, we still had not landed.

We were literally circling Philadelphia airspace. No one is quite sure why, because the pilot never did come back to tell us why, so long after having informed us that our touchdown was imminent, we still had not begun a descent. We later came to find out that Philadelphia had experienced a “weather situation,” meaning there was some precipitation (snow) which caused a substantial backup in airplanes trying to taxi toward a gate. Even after hitting ground, we were spending way too much time sitting on the tarmac.

Silver Lining 1. The flight was disproportionately populated with people connecting to international flights. There was, in fact, a group of Parisian high school kids on our flight looking to return to Paris. The American couple sitting in front of me was trying to make its way to Munich; so was the cute little older German couple behind me. The two American women across the aisle from me were heading to the Netherlands and to London; in front of them were two young ladies also seeking to make it Madrid. None of us were comfortable with our rapidly diminishing – and in some cases completely lost – buffer time between our flights. But the Americans were cool people, so we were chatting, sharing our misery, bonding over our unfortunate circumstances... while waiting for the opportunity to bolt to our connecting flights.

Frantic Calls. The second the pilot permitted us to use our cell phones – before we completed the taxi to a gate, because we as yet hadn’t been assigned one – a bunch of us promptly telephoned any 800 number for U.S. Airways we could find to tell them that we were this close to our connecting flights, and to please hold them for us because clearly there would be a bunch of us who were unable to make the connection due to these weather problems. We were met with chilly receptions at best; they couldn’t guarantee holding the flight for us. (None of us were really sure why.)

I don't know about anyone else, but neither I nor the other two passengers heading toward Madrid made it to our connecting flight that day.

We went back to the ticketing agent, and I got myself a standby seat on the same flight departing the next day. Which sucked, since my friend Elizabeth and I had taken separate flights for the purpose of meeting up there. Losing a day meant that much less time for us to see the city together.

Silver Lining 2. U.S. Airways gave us vouchers for “distressed passenger” rates at local hotels. I ended up at a Quality Inn in Lester, Pennsylvania (because it was the only place that had a shuttle so we didn’t have to shell out for transportation to the lodging place). (The “reduced” rate was $70 per night. I don’t know about you, but a double room at a Quality Inn in Lester, Pennsylvania really doesn’t seem to be worth seventy freakin’ bucks.)

Lester, Pennsylvania is what no one would call a traveller's paradise. In fact, it's fucking boring as all get out. It's not even near Philadelphia, such that if I wanted to spend some time in a real city it would cost me some $40 in cab fare to get into the city.

Figuring I had nothing better to do, I took a random chance and turned to another "distressed passenger" beside me, innocent as you please, and asked, “Dude, you wanna just split a room?” Drew is a cute college kid, literally 19 years old. (I didn't know this at the time, I swear.) We spent the night chatting a bit, had some food at a divey bar behind the hotel, then made our way back to the airport the following morning. Okay, yeah, I only really asked him to share the room because he’s cute (and to save at least some dinero). We spent the entire next day after checkout at the airport together because, well, again, we had nothing better to do and it could have cost way too much to make our way into the city to do anything fun. But he was a nice guy and I told him to keep in touch.


The return trip wasn’t much better. After leaving Madrid on time, I returned to find (eventually) that my connecting flight from Philadelphia to D.C. had been delayed a few hours, then eventually cancelled completely. By this point there were no decent hotels left in the area that had any reasonable rates, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to pay $150 for a room to tide me over for the return flight the next morning. It was, frankly, cheaper to catch a regional rail from the airport into Center City, then take an Amtrak ($48) back to the city myself. Basically I completely blew off my return flight in favor of trucking it myself.

Silver Lining 3. Being fucked over by the airline has a way of creating bonding experiences between random passengers. (Well, I guess at least among those who don't lose their head and explode at everyone.) During this second Philadelphia travail, I met a very nice young woman whom I found out lives literally a block from me. Together we found our way from the airport to the train station on the cheap, got our train tickets, and even had "dinner" at the bar in 30th Street Station while waiting for our train to depart. (Aside: The bartender was pretty cute as well.) On the track waiting for the train to pull up, we met another would-be airline passenger who lives part-time in D.C. and part-time St. Croix. The three of us chatted briefly and I invited myself to visit him for a free place to crash. We exchanged cards for that purpose. I hope he realizes that I was not kidding at all about crashing his place in the Virgin Islands.

The flying was the worst part. The visit itself was much better, and will be the subject of my next installment.


p.p. said...

Sorry to hear about the crappy airport connections. But like all things in life, especially flying, you have to take it as an adventure. There is no point in freaking out. Looking foward to the Spain installment...

Matthew said...

"Figuring I had nothing better to do, I took a random chance and turned to another "distressed passenger" beside me, innocent as you please, and asked, "Dude, you wanna just split a room?"Ha! That is classic!

I'll have to remember such a line the next time I'm stranded somewhere with a cute guy in the vicinity.

Oh, and when I'm alone. ;-)

Good post, Dennis!

Jon said...

What I don't get is why your plane to Madrid took off when there was a 'weather situation'. Wouldn't it have been delayed, just as your flight to Philadelphia was? I guess you can't expect much from an airline that is about to go under....

Sorry about your experience- sounds totally awful. Look forward to the next installment :)