Monday, August 14, 2017
At 5:30 AM, I woke up ready and rarin’ to fly into Meridian, MS. I was scheduled to present a time management workshop on Tuesday morning at the University of West Alabama. I needed to be there by 7:45 AM to set up, start at 8:30, and leave by 2:00 PM in order to catch the last flight out of Meridian at 3:40 PM.
The plan was to get to the airport by 7:45 AM in order to check in two boxes of my books (a last minute request, otherwise they would’ve been shipped), allowing for extra time in case there were issues with using sealed boxes instead of suitcases. I’d fly out of San Antonio at 9:30 AM, arrive in Dallas and deplane by 10:45 AM, then catch my 12:30 flight to Meridian via Laurel, landing at 3:08 PM. I had a reservation for a car rental and planned to do a dry run to the university if there was time. If not, I’d just go straight to my hotel in Meridian and finish prepping and rehearsing. But as we all know, sometimes the best plans go plllbbbbt.
Dallas was experiencing storms, and apparently our incoming flight couldn’t leave DFW because it didn’t have a crew, which delayed our flight out of San Antonio. The American Airlines agents did a fantastic job of prioritizing who they’d help with flight changes, and they announced those instructions clearly, yet pleasantly. They started with all of those with connecting flights before 11:30 AM. Then they extended to 12:00 PM. Then they extended to those with flights through 12:30 PM. That meant me.
When I was called up by one of the three gate agents, I explained to her how I needed to be in Meridian by that evening. She started calling up possible flights on her computer while I googled optional airports. Together, we came up with my plan A, plan B, and plan C. Plan A was to make the original flight. I’d have 20 minutes to high tail it to a different terminal. She moved my seat as close to the front as possible so that I could run. (This is why I travel in tennis shoes!). Plan B was to catch one of two flights to Jackson, MS, and rent a car to drive 95 miles to Meridian. Plan C was to catch a flight to Chicago, then land in Meridian late that evening. If I got stuck in Chicago, it would be too far to drive, so that’s why it became Plan C. The gate agent and I wrote down all the times, airport codes and flight numbers so that I’d have all of the information at my fingertips. Team work!
We landed in Dallas with 30 minutes for me to run, so I actually had time to grab a salad from a kiosk and use the restroom before arriving at my gate. Sweet! The flight to Laurel then Meridian was delayed 7 minutes. No problem. Seven minutes ain’t nothin’. We valet checked our rollerboards since it was a “puddle jumper” plane and then settled in. We’d been waiting in the takeoff line on the tarmac for a good 10 minutes when the captain announced that a light had illuminated on the instrument panel, so it needed to get checked out. We were on the plane for about another 10 minutes as we taxied back to the gate and waited for maintenance. Then we were told to deplane with our personal items, but the valet-checked carry-on bags and regular checked luggage would stay on the plane while maintenance figured out what was wrong.
I made my way to the best seat in the terminal where I could see my gate and also enjoy a refreshment. That’s right, I plopped down at a bar. This is where I met a gentleman from my flight who’d been scheduled for the exact same flight yesterday, but American Airlines delayed and delayed until they finally cancelled the flight, forcing him to spend the night at an airport hotel. This did not bode well.
I’d just missed one of my Plan B options of flying to Jackson. Now I was down to only one Jackson flight at 4:30 and that Chicago flight that I was trying to avoid. While my flight buddy saved my seat at the bar, I walked to our gate every 30 minutes to check on the status. I got nothing but, “I don’t know.”
Just before 4:00, I decided this was it. Technically, American wasn’t supposed to change my flight unless the flight was cancelled, but since they weren’t giving any status updates, and the same flight got cancelled the day before, I decided that I was going to have to sweet talk someone into changing my flight. As I approached the counter, I saw another gentleman from my flight say something secretive to the gate agent, and she began typing away at her computer. If she was going to change the flight for him, she’d have to do for me, too, so I stood right next to him. The gate agent was clear with me that I had a choice to make – leave on the other flight without out my checked boxes or valet-checked rollerboard or wait on this flight. I opted to arrive for sure in Meridian without any supplies and change of clothes rather than be a no-show for the workshop. The gate agent said that my belongings would be flown to Meridian.
As the whispering man and I hoofed it over to the Jackson flight – now leaving in 20 minutes, but thankfully only 10 gates away – he told me that his “informant” let him know that mechanics hadn’t even looked at our plane yet, so that flight was not going to leave any time soon. That flight would likely get cancelled. I’m so glad that I listened to my gut instinct and made the change. When I checked later that evening, I saw that the flight never left. I don’t understand why American would string people along like that.
When I arrived in Jackson, I asked the woman at the AA ticket counter about my bags, and she also said that if they’re tagged to Meridian, then that’s where they’d be taken. Her system showed that they were still on the plane in Dallas.
Next, I headed to the Budget rental car counter. I explained to the young lady that my $55 reservation was for a car in Meridian, but I couldn’t get a flight there, so here I am in Jackson needing a car. She said that she did have a compact that I could take. The fee would be $229. GOUGE! Yet another gentleman from my delayed Dallas flight walked up to the Avis counter around this time and was quoted $299 for a car to Meridian. He nearly had a heart attack. I am Miss Safety, but the anger over both of us getting gouged encroached on the safety part of my brain. I did control it enough to analyze the situation. He was on the Dallas flight, which meant he cleared security at DFW. He was not too large, so I was pretty sure I could take him, or at least slow him down by stabbing him with a pen if he tried anything. I offered to drive so that I’d be in control of where we went, and if he pulled a somehow-hidden weapon on me, I’d just crash the car. So, I shared a car with a total stranger.
Turns out he was born and raised in Meridian, so he gave me directions for where to get a suit, how to get to UWA, where to get breakfast, how to get to the Meridian airport…everything I needed to know. I still kept on my guard and watched him out of the corner of my eye, but I was very appreciative of all this information. I dropped him in front of his house and headed to the only mall in town before it closed.
I told the lady in the women’s clothing department that I needed a suit, blouse, undergarments and nightshirt because all of my stuff was back in Dallas. Everything else that I truly needed was in my shoulder bag that I’d kept with me – laptop, purse, liquids, and presentation notes. She took me under her wing, and I was good to go before long.
When I arrived at the hotel, it was dark. I didn’t see that my black laptop in my black shoulder bag that was stashed in the black unlit trunk of the rental car and slipped out a bit. So, to add insult to injury, my laptop fell out of the bag and hit the asphalt, damaging the hinge and ruining the camera. GAW!
Once I checked into my hotel, I tried to check-in online for my return American Airlines flight on Tuesday, only to discover that some genius had removed it from my reservation. Great. I called American’s reservation line, and the agent added me back to the system. She then transferred me to the baggage department. I was told by that agent that I should’ve filed a delayed baggage report at the airport. I did my best not to be snippy, so I replied that maybe one of the two American Airlines employees who told me that my belongings would ship to Meridian should have told me that. It took about 30 minutes for the agent to get these reports filled out. When she told me that my stuff might not arrive in Meridian until Wednesday, I told her that the boxes needed to get delivered to UWA, and the rollerboard needed to go back to San Antonio.
The confirmation email for the report did not clearly state the delivery instructions, so I called the baggage department to speak with someone else. That agent read all of the correct information from his screen and explained that the automated emails don’t share everything in the report. That would’ve been good to know in order to prevent this latest round of frustrations.
Next, I attempted to check in online again since my flight had been added back, only to find out that my originally requested seats were no longer assigned and that the only seats left were premium seats which required additional payment. You’ve got to be frickin’ kidding me! Then an error message popped up that stated that I could only check in at the airport.
I called American Airlines AGAIN and asked for help with checking in. The agent called her supervisor because she couldn’t override the system. According to both of them, the local airport now had “control” so I needed to check-in in person. Oy vey.
At 6:30 in the morning, I checked my luggage status. The boxes showed that they were still at DFW. The valet checked item didn’t exist in the system. Oh well. Nothing I could do at that point. I needed to get centered for my workshop and hit the road.
During lunch, I did a quick check of my American Airlines app, and it showed that no flights existed for me. Seriously? I called the reservations line and the robo-man who answered said that my flight for the afternoon out of Meridian was still on time, so at least I got confirmation that I was in the system.
When I arrived at Meridian airport one hour before my flight to drop off the rental car and check in for my flight (there’s only one gate at this airport), the American Airlines ticket counter agent perked up when she read my ID and said, “You have bags.”
By this time, even though I was totally glowing from all of the wonderful feedback I’d received during and after my workshop, I was ready to collapse from all the riggamaroo that I’d experienced in the last 24 hours. So, biting my tongue, in the nicest tone I could manage, I replied, “If your colleagues at DFW actually delivered my stuff here, then yes, I’ll have bags.”
She said, “Yes! That’s what I mean. You have two boxes and a rollerboard waiting for you.” I literally jumped up and down and did a little happy dance while she started laughing at me. I asked if the boxes could stay there for pick up, and she said no problem. I took the roller board. Woo hoo! I had possession once again of my favorite suit and pair of heels!
Since it was such a small airport (I was standing at the only ticket counter), I took a chance and asked if it was possible for me to take a few items out of my rollerboard to leave for the UWA pickup since I was supposed to have given the items to them today. She said it was not a problem. Yay!
It is amazing how one piece of good news can totally change your day. While I’m still very upset with American Airlines with how they handled many aspects of the day, it felt good to release that anger and frustration and be done with the situation.
As I cleared security, I was greeted by the gate agent who checked my boarding pass. He immediately said, “We have your stuff, m’am! Are we supposed to ship your suitcase to San Antonio?” I filled him in on my rollerboard reunion and the planned UWA pick up. He smiled and said he was glad that it all worked out.
I don’t know if this ending would’ve been as happy if I’d been flying out of a large airport. It’s unlikely that a person working the ticket counter at Chicago O’Hare would know that my belongings had arrived in the baggage department. And we know that the gate agents at DFW aren’t great with updates. So I’m grateful that if this was going to happen, it did so in a small town.