At least we have a story (Thanks Southwest)

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From the So This Happened Files

Of course we have lots of stories. And our honeymoon was full of wonderful moments until the end. Everyone has survived some sort of travel nightmare. This is ours; it’s based on a true story. And maybe in a few years we can look back and laugh. Who knew it would take over 24 hours to get home from Jamaica. And no boats were involved.

We chose to fly Southwest. I’ve been a raving fan of theirs for many years. I studied them in business school as a company built on values and taking care of employees and customers. I really thought they were different. I didn’t really start flying Southwest until a few years ago when they finally arrived at the Charlotte airport after their acquisition of AirTran. I liked what I believed them to be as a company. And their flight attendants always seemed to be genuine and happy, unlike other airlines, where I thought the people might jump off the plane at any moment.

I understand that flights get canceled. I was a constant traveler for five and a half years. I get it. I know weather can’t be controlled. But this experience was the absolute worst I’ve ever been involved regarding a canceled flight. We arrived from Jamaica to Baltimore. Our flight to Charlotte was scheduled for 8:40 p.m. We get through customs, and the flight is on time. Then it was delayed two hours. Okay, we can deal with that. Lots of delays and canceled flights light up the screen. Then we are delayed another hour – waiting for the aircraft. Our plan arrives, and we are advised that after the passengers deplane, we will be on our way.

But we aren’t. The new message is that we need a first officer. Again, I understand that pilots can only fly a certain number of hours and that all commercial flights require two pilots. But they board us anyway. We’re on the plane. It’s now midnight. The first officer has landed in the B gates, and he’s on his way to our gate in A. Passengers are getting restless and start saying that we’re not going anywhere; that this is all a lie. And they are right. The next announcement is that there is no first officer; the flight has been canceled. I can only assume that the first officer fell into a black hole on his way to the gate. Someone should really report him missing.

After the cancellation, we are given no further instruction on how to get our bags or what to do. There’s one service desk and 100 plus angry and tired people. All the flights for Sunday are booked. Justin suggests we can just live in the airport like Tom Hanks did (and I’m not laughing). But we’ve got to get home. The dogs need to be picked up in the morning. We are six and a half hours from home. We can drive. The car rental is 24 hours at BWI. But we need our luggage. We ask how to find our checked baggage. “Just go to baggage claim,” we are instructed. Baggage claim is a nightmare. Our bags are nowhere to be found. Then we are advised that our baggage is in a “secure area.” We have to get in another line. While in said line, Justin keeps looking around. The luggage is found. It’s about 1:30 a.m. at this point.

We go to pick up the rental car, but I don’t have my driver’s license. I only have my Passport. I try to keep what I have to take with me minimal when traveling, but note to self – take your damn license! Justin has his license but no credit card. I have credit cards. Hertz says no – driver and credit card have to be the same. Not sure why – and we are married. Avis accepts his license and my credit card. We get on the road. It’s 2:30 a.m.

We make our way through D.C. in the middle of the night. There’s still a surprising amount of traffic. However, I’ve come to believe that D.C. has traffic no matter what time of day. We’ve now been up for 20 plus hours.

So we stop at rest stops all down 95, and run around the car to stay awake. He gets coffee; I have soda. He won’t let me drive because he’s a good husband (and is also aware that I’m not the best driver under ideal circumstances). But I have to stay up. So I plug in my iPod and start singing loud. We stay awake. I may have been holding my eyelids open. I think I was a bit delirious at this point as well. It’s kind of a blur.

Around 10:00 a.m., we roll into Charlotte. We’ve been up for close to 30 hours. It has taken us 24 hours to get from the resort to home (and again, we didn’t take a raft from Jamaica). We pick up the pups, who are very glad to see us and smell so nice from their go-home baths. Finally, at around noon, we collapse into bed.

But we survived; our first test of the marriage. And as for Southwest, I feel very different about them now than I did before. They are going to issue us a partial refund for the canceled flight. But now I just think they are like all the rest. There is no differentiation between them and the others. I’m not sure when I’ll fly them again. Our trips for 2017 will be mostly through American, as they own about 90% of our airport and I’m a card member. Listen, I have no love for American. But now I think Southwest is on the same level. They’ve lost my trust. I’m no longer a raving fan. It wasn’t the cancelation; it was the lying. I’ve never been able to take lying. Passengers don’t want smoke blown up our asses; we want the truth so we can make more informed decisions.

But as Justin said, we have a story. Yes, we do. Thanks, Southwest, I needed more material.

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What I Learned from 5 Years of Business Travel

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I haven’t been to the airport in months. This wouldn’t seem like such a strange thing except for the last five years, I was a very frequent traveler. And 90% of it was for work. Many of my colleagues and friends would make comments like, “That’s so cool you get to travel,” or “Must be nice to get out of the office.”

But the reality is that it was not glamorous at all and rarely fun. I was able to go to some great places and sometimes extend my trip. I often traveled with some lovely ladies, and we always seemed to find great food and shopping. However, much of the time, I traveled alone, worked 12 hour days and ate a lot of room service.

In these five years of traveling, I worked for two different companies. The travel was different for each. For one company, the travel was directly related to site visits, client meetings or prospect pitches. The second company, the travel was directly related to trade shows.

I can say I’ve been to a lot of cities across the country, but often I saw very little except for boardrooms, convention centers, hotels and airports. This is what I learned from five years of constant travel:

It’s really hard on you physically. I’m no spring chicken anymore. And constantly dragging around heavy equipment and doing physical labor like setting up booths just adds to the toil that flying puts on your body. After over 20 weeks on the road last year, I was physically and emotionally drained. I didn’t have a great support system at my company that understood all the things I was doing so if my flight got in at midnight, I still had to be at the office at 8AM the next day.

The days are so long. Whether it’s the time spent at the airport, which often had me arriving before 5AM or the long hours on the trade show floor, the days are unbelievably long. And of course when I finished my time on the floor or meetings with clients, it was back to the hotel to work several hours catching up on all the other stuff I needed to do.

I should have explored more. Maybe, I shouldn’t have spent all that time working in the hotel. It certainly didn’t get me anywhere. I did certainly do more exploring in cities that I was interested in doing so. I had great fun in Austin, Denver, San Antonio, Dallas, Boston, DC, Portland and Chicago. I went to places that I would have never gone otherwise like Des Moines, Lexington, KY, Indianapolis, Lincoln, NE, Sioux Falls, SD and many other less touristy spots. I do really love to travel and explore what makes a city unique. But it’s often too hard to get motivated to see the city when you’ve been on your feet for 10 hours.

Air rage is a real thing. I don’t really have fits of road rage. I’m a pretty patient driver. I’m a less patient passenger. I would often say, “How did this people make it out of their house?” when looking at the other passengers around me who seemed to still be surprised that you can’t have liquids and need an ID. Not only was I surrounded by incompetence, I was often in the midst of simply bad behavior. Do people need to be reminded that they’re in public while at the airport? Apparently so. The things I have seen in airports and on airplanes is astounding: shoes off, clothes half on, people half in your seat, people falling asleep on strangers, children kicking chairs and throwing things, water pouring down on my head from the A/C unit…my list could go on and on. Most of the time I kept it under control, but occasionally, I could no longer bite my lip. One time, I was on a flight coming home from I don’t know where. I was toward the back of the plane, but I always waited my turn to disembark. That’s how it works. We file out in order. But so many times, people would rush up from the back and push people out of the way. So on this day, a young lady was trying the same thing. There were some elderly people on the other side of my aisle. I got up pushed my arm back so that the lady couldn’t pass us, and let the other people out. I simply said to her, “Let’s learn some manners today.” Honestly, that’s what being a good passenger is about – being polite and cognizant of other’s personal space. I’m still shocked by some of the behavior I witnessed, but I have no doubt those people act like that everywhere, not just the airport. I just don’t believe the world revolves around me. Being at the airport will convince you that many don’t share that sentiment.

Spending too much time on the road made me depressed. I’m someone that has been dealing with depression since my early teens. It is a disease I deal with on a daily basis; some days are better than others. But being on the road and away from the man and pups I love really got me blue last year. There were multiple times when I broke down in tears in the airport or on the airplane. I am not a public crier. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with crying; I’d just rather do it privately. Whether it was how tired I was or how much I just wanted to be home, spending that much of my time away made things feel unstable. And when I feel like my life is unstable, the depression gets worse. It’s very isolating to be a traveler, especially when you are on your own, as I was much of the time. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m an introvert so I’m not going to make friends with the person sitting beside me (or on me) on the plane. I’m just not someone who strikes up conversations with strangers. I always had my nose in a book and that was a great escape. However, at the end of the day, it can be very lonely.

These are just a few things I learned. Hope you weren’t expecting travel tips; although I have plenty of those. I’ve been to at least half of the airports in the U.S. I know who flies where and how tricks to get cheap tickets. I just wanted to share the reality of constant travel and how it impacted me and my life.

For the immediate future, the only travel I see for me in 2016 is purely for pleasure, including another trip to Jamaica in December!

And just to give you some perspective, here’s a list of all the places I visited in the last five years for work; many of them more than once:

  • Austin, TX
  • San Diego, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Portland, OR
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Denver, CO
  • Breckenridge, CO
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Lexington, KY
  • Louisville, KY
  • Chicago, IL
  • Sioux Falls, SD
  • Orlando, FL
  • Dallas, TX
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Houston, TX
  • Des Moines, IA
  • Fort Dodge, IA
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Lincoln, NE
  • Nashville, TN
  • Virginia Beach, VA
  • Norfolk, VA
  • D.C.
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Columbus, OH
  • Long Island, NY
  • Boston, MA
  • Myrtle Beach, SC
  • Savannah, GA
  • Atlanta, GA
  • St. Simons Island, GA
  • Montgomery, AL
  • Birmingham, AL
  • Wichita, KS
  • Connecticut and New Hampshire (can’t remember exactly where)
  • McAllen, TX
  • Atlantic City, NJ
  • Memphis, TN

That’s all I can remember off the top of my head! To all those still traveling regularly, be safe and stay kind.