As the busiest travel day of the year approaches, I'm bracing for the worst. Why? Because my trip to Joshua Tree (while incredibly beautiful and fun) was possibly the worst travel experience I've had in a long long time. That includes the time when my Amtrak train was canceled, and I was forced to wait days to rebook a $200 ticket, only to stand in the hallway for the whole trip.
Let's start from the beginning. There are two types of people: those who get to the airport ridiculously early and those who get there as the gates are closing. I'm a proud member of the former group. Mike, however, is not. Usually this isn't a problem for us, but when it comes to early morning flights, Mike likes to live on the edge. By that I mean that by the time I showered, went through my checklist and had a coat on, not only was Mike not fully packed, he was in an immobile Ambien for Elephants haze. Cue the panic. After throwing everything in the vicinity of his backpack inside the bag, I gave up on him remaining conscious and let him sleep while leaning against a wall til the Uber came. During this time, I rechecked the flight schedule just to make sure we were still on time. I was expecting to see "Flight Departs: 10 a.m." Instead, my screen read: "Flight on time: 8 a.m." Since this was all happening in my apartment at 7 a.m., I started having a full-blown panic attack. Over in the Ambien corner, Mike assured me evvverrrything was gonna be allriiight. Great.
We loaded into the Uber, only to realize that Mike didn't have his wallet. Of course he didn't. One more panic attack later, and we were back in the Uber, wallet in hand. At this point, I doublechecked the flight status. How could I have gotten the timing so wrong? Turns out, I typed in the wrong destination for the flight when I checked. I forgot that we didn't have a direct flight, so instead of EWR-LAX I should have typed EWR-ORD. One crisis down.
Once in the airport, things only got slightly better. The security line was predictably a mess since we were traveling the day after the horrible attacks on Paris. Since we were still OK on time, I wasn't too worried. When I started to worry was when I was at the point in the line where I took off my shoes and didn't see Mike (still in a complete haze) behind me. Instead, he'd been held up at the security ID checkpoint for reasons I couldn't determine because I was too far away. I had to weave backward through the security line, much to the dismay of the guards, and figure out WTF was wrong. He couldn't find his ID. His ID that I had literally just seen him drop then pick up from the floor five minutes prior, so I knew he had it. Getting increasingly more frustrated, I ripped his wallet from his hand and found the damn license. The security guard was actually pretty decent about the whole thing, probably because I was already causing a scene. (Don't take Ambien, kids.)
Finally, we were able to board the plane, but of course the pilot announces that we're going to be delayed. Remember that layover in Chicago?
SOMEHOW, we managed to race to the gate before they closed and caught our connecting flight to LAX. The rental car bit was a little confusing (thanks to a severe lack of signage at the airport), but nothing we couldn't handle by that point.
As I said, the actual vacation itself was amazing, and I'll definitely be doing a post on it soon, but this post is all about the traveling portion, so let the nightmares continue!
In order to not have a repeat of the Ambien Packing Disaster of 2015, Mike packed up the night before, and we both got a good night's rest. We decided to give ourselves a little padding on time since L.A. traffic can be so unpredictable. This meant waking up at 5 a.m. and leaving at 6. Not a huge deal since we were still on East Coast time, but not exactly a relaxing start. Anyway, the first hour was fantastic. The GPS had us arriving at the rental car drop-off an hour ahead of schedule, so we'd actually have time to relax and grab some breakfast. Silly me. That's Travel Nightmares 101: Never Get Too Comfortable. By Hour 2 on our drive, I started to notice the arrival time creeping up. This started a hilarious (though not at the time) series of traffic diversions around possibly every Los Angeles freeway. Every time we got rerouted, a new accident would pop up and our arrival time would get later and later. At this point in the drive I was too tired to care and pretty much resigned myself to the idea of trying to book another flight (the irony of this was not lost on me later... you'll understand why).
By the time we finally got to the rental car drop-off (an hour and a half late and one "can't-find-a-gas-station" panic attack later) we were both just relieved to be out of the car and on our way. This time, security was a breeze, and we arrived at the gate just in time to board. Even though our four-hour flight to Chicago (layover again) had no food and no entertainment, I was happy to be on board. As we sat there on the plane, I noticed our departure time come and go. Cue the pilot: "There are significant delays in and out of Chicago, so we're being held for around 30 minutes." No problem. We'd still catch our connection and be home on time. Thirty minutes later, another announcement. I was expecting a cabin check and an all clear for takeoff, but no. This is Travel Nightmares, remember? He informed our plane that all flights in and out of Chicago (and Denver for that matter if anyone wanted to change flights) were grounded for the foreseeable future, and we had to get off the plane.
As I stood in the customer service line with the entire plane (and probably five other grounded flights), I texted with my mom about the best course of action. She smartly suggested that while waiting, I should look up what flights American Airlines had going since I had miles with them. I was all ready to book a new (direct!) flight, when we finally reached the counter. No wonder it took so long -- TWO PEOPLE WERE WORKING. Come on, United! You can do better that that (or can you?). At least I can say that those two people were working their asses off to rebook planes full of angry customers literally yelling in their faces, and they didn't even blink an eye.
Things finally started to turn around for us when we were booked on a direct flight. It even had in-flight entertainment (but no food... I'll take what I can get)! We waited a few hours in the airport, grabbed our first (actually only) meal of the day and hoped for the best. I even got to sketch a few fellow exasperated passengers.
Once we landed, I swear I almost cried (hey, we'd been awake for almost 24 hours and had eaten one meal). The Travel Nightmare had finally come to an end. Or had it? Because guess how much it is to take a taxi from EWR to our apt? $100. Yup. One-hundred fucking dollars. At that point, I was done traveling and wasn't going to take the air train back to the subway at 1:30 a.m. No thanks. See ya later $100!
At least my Amtrak ride home for Thanksgiving shouldn't as bad, right? Well guess who's the idiot who booked a train from nearby Herald Square that leaves DURING THE MACY'S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE? Pray for me.