Sunday, January 2, 2011

Best Laid Plans

As Robert Burns said years ago: "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, gang aft agley."

I'm not totally clear what "agley" is or how "aft" they may "gang", but I've always translated this roughly to: "Even if you have a martini pitcher and glasses chilling in the freezer, don't forget where the you put the flashlights and bandaids."

Karen and I spent the time in November and December, after sending off the last Zip-Loc bag of turkey with the kids and before ripping open presents, counting down the days to when we were boarding the plane, first class tickets, on a nonstop flight to New York, followed by a flight to Bermuda. Essentially a repeat, for our fifth anniversary, of our wedding trip. Each day was "___-days until we are sitting on the plane, vodka tonics in hand". We were excited, hopeful, a bit thirsty and woefully naive.

We kept our eye on the weather, both West and East coast. We were mindful of our trip to Europe a couple of years ago when Portland got hit head-on with a massive snow and ice storm (some say, well me, "of Biblical proportions") that caused us to go to Trafalgar Square in London by way of Ghirardelli's in San Francisco, the subject of an earlier post. This time, we were comfortable that we could adjust our travel plans and leave early if the weather started to get bad. The problem was, the weather didn't "start" to get bad, it just "got bad". Once again, as in 2008, airports were closing on our planned travel route and then started closing on all alternate travel routes. I can understand New York and Boston airports closing because of snow, but Atlanta? This starts to feel like the work of a much higher and somewhat mischievous power.

On the day of our planned departure ("Only 12 hours until we are sitting on the plane, vodka tonics in hand."), I received an email from Continental Airlines informing us that "Your flight has been canceled." Not delayed, rebooked, changed, or slowed down, but canceled. The email included a contact web site and a phone number for us to arrange for alternate plans. I didn't realize at the time that they were just joking.

I started on their web page, which ran me through an infinite series of various steps, all incredibly slow to download, followed by a massive entry of information which, by the time they start asking for personal information ("what is your preferred sexual position?"), you just put in an answer and hit "Return". Finally, I got to the "coup de grâce" of the search with a final hit to "Return", at which point the web site started thinking away with the screen filled with the Continental Airline insignia and whirling planes. After an incredible amount of time (I thought days, Karen told me it was just a huge number of minutes), Continental Airline's solution to our travel problem appeared on the screen: "We are unable to process your request, please call us at * * * *."

So, after a few choice words, I hit the phone and called the number. The phone was answered by a recording which said, "Due to the high volume of calls, we are unable to answer the phone right now. Do you know you can make and change reservations on our web site? Just contact us at * * * *." I could be wrong, but it felt like they were telling me, "Fuck you, and the plane you rode in on." Actually, it would have been nice if they would have given me the opportunity to leave a message on voice mail (they didn't, it just hung up), I had a few thoughts.

I tried both the website and the phone number (together with a few additional phone numbers on their website) - all with the same result. I even tried United Airlines, as Continental has merged with United and they have assured us that they will be "one big happy airline" - just not quite yet. The United personnel indicated that they could not handle rebooking a Continental reservation, but they could provide us with both a website and a phone contact which we could use to do that with Continental.

In the end, in this world of instant world-wide communication and all electronic reservations, we were forced (once again, as in 2008) to fire up the family auto and head to the airport. The nice thing this time was, although the East Coast was buried in snow, it was just wet, cold and miserable in Portland. We made it right up to the ticket agent and we had the choice of a reserved flight to Bermuda by way of Chicago and Newark (so, one more stop) on Wednesday, three days later, or to arrive at the airport on Monday and wait as a standby as the rest of the US slowly got back on schedule after the Winter storm. We opted for the Wednesday reserved flight.

We rebooted our calendar, "only three days until we are sitting on the plane, vodka tonics in hand." and enjoyed a few extra days at home with Ole and Asta (who always love it when we stay at home, never quite grasping why we have to go away some days).

On Wednesday, with Aunt Jonie taking care of the puppies, we headed off to the airport!!

When making reservations, it is important to note what they are proposing to do with you on your flight. One thing is the difference between "direct" and "non-stop". For those of us who were raised on Monopoly ("go to Jail, go directly to Jail, do not pass Go") you might think that "direct" is the same as "non-stop". It isn't.

The other thing that you need to watch out for is that you can have a "direct" flight, from point A to point B, on Flight 784, but that this "direct" flight may include an undisclosed stop at point C (isn't A before B, except when C is involved?) where you stay on the same flight, which is Flight 784, it's just that Flight 784 is now a different plane. In our case, our "direct" flight from Portland to Chicago included a stop in San Francisco (as in, the "wrong way" from our ultimate destination) followed by deplaning, walking down the concourse and replaning (which may or may not be a word) on the same flight but with a different crew, seats, hull, engines and magazines (which is to say, some other idiot has taken an inartful stab at the crossword puzzle and Sudoku messing it up for anyone with half a brain who would like to do it - it amazes me the random answers that some people come up with - " 4 down - Facing glacial direction" -- attempted answer: "North" "5 across - 16th President of the US" attempted answer - = "Clinton").
Planes waiting to take off at EWR

Well, from San Francisco, we went to Chicago and from Chicago, we went to Newark, then from Newark we went to Bermuda. When you add the various layovers in each airport, it ended up being about 20 hours to make the 7 1/2 hour trip. Of course, if this had been the 18th century and we would have gone by boat around South America, it would have taken a month and a half. I'll bet Continental Boatlines could have done it in five months.

We finally arrived in lovely Bermuda. Our luggage came out in fine style, immigration/customs was a snap, "Welcome to Bermuda, Mr. and Mrs. Barnum, too bad you are only staying with us for four days," and we were met by a cab from the resort with our name on his sign.

Coming round the bend in the road (with an old rock arch framing the ocean), we were greeted with the beauty of Cambridge Beaches once again!!! The pink stucco siding on all the buildings, with the white roofs, the graceful English reception area for checking in. We were greeted by Nadia, our wedding organizer from five years ago. Whitney brought us a warm wash cloth and a "Dark and Stormy" (a wonderful ginger rum thingy). We then were whisked away to Kiskadee Upper, the gorgeous room where we stayed on our honeymoon.

All was right with the World.

Well, at least for three hours.


More in the next post.

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