Travel Tuesday: The WORST Worst Trip Ever

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Travel Tuesday: Sharing untold stories of life abroad, continuing to travel domestically and internationally, and leaving nothing undocumented.

I'm going to have to tell this story in a series of enumerated mini-catastrophes, because telling them in the aggregate - as one major catastrophe - is too much for my weary soul to bear, as I'm still recovering from this whole experience.

Here we go.

But first, context: longtime readers of this blog may remember my good friend Erica, co-worker at the US Embassy Vienna turned lifelong friend (we've experienced too much together to stop being friends now -- we're stuck for life).  Erica was getting married in Milwaukee -- a date we've literally had on the calendar for, like, a full year.  However, with all of our foster/adoption deadlines these past few months, I hadn't been as responsive or involved as I would have liked in the wedding planning process.  I told myself it was okay, because I'd celebrate her at the welcome dinner on Friday night and the wedding itself on Saturday night, and that was what mattered most.  Aside from that, Joe and I had not yet spent a night away from our son in the 2 years since he was born, and thus we were looking forward to this parents'-weekend-away with anxious anticipation.  We were even thinking of it as an early 4-year wedding anniversary trip!  Tickets and hotel booked, bags packed, ready to leave on Thursday night.  That is, until....

Spoiler alert: this picture sums up our entire travel experience quite nicely.

Mini-catastrophe #1: Joe ended up not being able to take off work for Friday (tickets were booked for Thursday night) and I had a work conflict come up as well.  To top that off, our childcare fell through on Friday and despite texting every single childcare provider in my phone, I could not find someone to take care of our son.  We had no choice but to change our flights.  However, our tickets were non-refundable.  When I tried to change them, I was told I could cancel them, but even then would receive no refund in return.  There were no changes to be made.  We had to rebook our tickets entirely.  This. Was. Not. Cheap.  This also meant we'd miss the welcome party set for Friday night.  I was bummed, but at least we'd be at the wedding.  That was, after all, what mattered most.

Mini-catastrophe #2: When we showed up to the Tulsa airport early Saturday morning, the security line snaked around and around, seemingly into infinity.  Joe remarked that this was odd for the Tulsa airport (a small airport by all accounts).  As we waited patiently in the security line, we couldn't help but overhear passing remarks about flight cancellations and delays.  "Weird," I shrugged. "At least it's not our flight!"  At least it wasn't our flight, indeed.  That is, until it was.  I looked at my phone and saw an American Airlines alert that read, "Flight delay: 2 hours."

Mini-catastrophe #3: With a now 3-hour wait time until boarding, we sauntered leisurely through the airport in search of breakfast.  Our options were slim: Chili's or Einstein Brothers.  We ended up at Einstein Brothers (shocker, I know), paying $26+ for 2 bagels, a yogurt, an orange juice and a coffee.  This alone was a mini-catastrophe in and of itself.

Mini-catastrophe #4:  Joe's $8 coffee was allegedly undrinkable, so he tossed it in the trash and walked to a different airport cafe in search of something better.  He was greeted by an angry woman who hastily yelled (literally yelled) at him from behind the cafe's counter, "WHAT DO YOU WANT!"  He was understandably shocked and confused, so he stood motionless, contemplating how to react.  She glared with hostility until he responded with his order (a simple black coffee).  At this, she scowled, and may as well have splashed the hot coffee in his face before charging him a whopping $6 for a dixie cup sized coffee.  I assured Joe, "She was probably just having a bad day." In the meantime, I was beginning to wonder about the kind of day we ourselves would have.

Mini-catastrophe #5: Our departure flight kept getting further delayed.  The gate would change, then it would get delayed again, then the gate would change again.  By the time we finally boarded, we knew we would have 15 minutes to make our connecting flight to Milwaukee.  This did not make for a very relaxing flight, nor did the fact that the passenger sitting directly behind us was apparently suffering from the Bubonic Plague and coughing in our general direction every 3.8 seconds.  We ended up moving toward the mostly-empty front of the plane, where our only neighbor was a young man in large headphones listening to Beyonce's Homecoming so loudly that we could hear every beat of every drum (to be clear: this was not a mini-catastrophe, but rather a welcomed bright spot in our otherwise extremely cloudy day).  However, even the beat of the remixed 'Hold Up' couldn't rid me of my anxiety as we landed and taxied the runway, precious minutes ticking away on the clock.

Mini-catastrophe #6: When we landed in Dallas and the plane door opened, Joe excused our way past the other passengers on the plane until our feet hit the tunnel ground at which point we had no choice but to sprint......and keep sprinting.  You'd think the most annoying part of this marathon was the pain I experienced all throughout my body, not having worked out in over 18 months, when in reality it was the fact that bystanders felt the need to call out discouraging remarks to us.  "Oh, you know they're never going to make it", an older woman scoffed as we passed by in a blur.  A separate woman in a touristy getup called out to us, "Hey, if you have to run that fast, it means you're not gonna make it!"  Joe responded under his breath, "What? That doesn't even make any sense?!"

Mini-catastrophe #7:  We ran through terminal B, accessed the tram to transport us across the state of Texas (or so it felt) to terminal C.  I had told Joe, "When we get to the gate as the woman with the boarding passes is closing the door, be sure to crash into her.  When she drops the boarding passes, we can just sail past her and board the aircraft!"  However, it turns out that the pre-9/11 expectations set forth by Home Alone 2 had set me up to fail; we arrived at out gate, panting and wheezing, only to find that the door had closed 6 minutes prior.  The touristy woman in Terminal B's prophesy had come true, and I cursed her under my breath.

Mini-catastrophe #8:  As we stood at the gate, we took our place at the end of a long line of angry and disgruntled passengers who had also missed the flight.  As we inched toward the counter, the airline employee called out to us, "If you're trying to change your flight or get a refund, you have to go to customer service!  You can't do that here."  We let out a loooooooong sigh, picked our bags, and began the trek toward customer service, which was by no means nearby.

Mini-catastrophe #9: Upon our arrival at the customer service counter -- oh wait, where was the customer service counter?  Oh, that's right; we couldn't see it behind the SEA OF HUNDREDS OF ANGRY TRAVELERS.  We literally stared, wide-eyed and mouths agape, at the sight of this.  Somewhere among the sea, a line had formed, but where was the end of it?  We began to walk toward what we thought was the end of it, only to find out it never actually ended.  We walked past gate after gate after as the line stretched on.  Finally, we took our place at the tail end of it, behind what we could only assume was over 200 people, and surveyed our surroundings.  "How are we ever going to get to Milwaukee?", I asked Joe.  By this point, tears of anger and frustration were starting to form.  He shook his head in defeat.  We estimated that it would take hours -- several of them -- just for us to snake to the front of this customer service line.  Joe pulled out his phone to call customer service -- hopefully that would be faster! -- and I pulled out my phone to see if maybe we should just book new flights to Milwaukee (which would be our third set of flights for this one trip) and then apply for reimbursement later.  That's when I saw it: even though it was 2:00 in the afternoon, the earliest we could get to Milwaukee was 11:52 that evening.  The wedding started at 5:30.  There was no way we would make it.

Mini-catastrophe #10:  Mustering all the resolve I could amidst the panic that was settling in, I opened Google maps and typed in "Milwaukee, WI" to see how long it would take to drive there.  Maybe we could a rent a car!  I checked the map's results.  Okay, yeah, we could totally rent a car.  And in a casual 16 hours, we'll be there!  "Let's just drive back to Tulsa," I conceded to Joe with a lump in my throat.  "We're not going to make it."  He nodded, and we left the customer service line in silence.

Mini-catastrophe #11:  We exited the airport and boarded the bus to the rental car facility.  Throughout the bus ride, I stared at the floor, despondent, wondering how I was going to reconcile the fact that I couldn't be at Erica's wedding.  I sent her sister a frantic series of messages detailing our various emergencies and then followed up with a long apology text to Erica that I hoped she wouldn't read until longer after the vows were exchanged.  When we finally arrived at the rental car facility, we collected our luggage and stepped off the bus.  And then, we saw it: the rental car facility looked a lot like the customer service counter back at the airport.  A flood of angry travelers trying to get home and demanding immediate assistance.  We took a long, deep breath, and walked headfirst into the chaos.

Mini-catastrophe #12:  I'm just gonna summarize this paragraph with the number 90.  That is the amount of minutes that we spent in line at Thrifty Rental Car only to find out that they were sold out of cars.  Upon learning this, a murderous glare washed over Joe's face as he stared deep into the eyes of the Thrifty employee delivering us this news.  I, on the other hand, had a rather unexpected reaction -- one of hysterical laughter.  Totally delirious at this point, I began to laugh so hard that I felt as though I was having an out of body experience -- as though I were floating above our heads wondering, "Who are these idiots down there walking around this Dallas nightmare and why are they so helpless?!"  We left Thrifty without Joe murdering anyone, and headed next door to National.

Mini-catastrophe #13:  Same situation at National.  At this point, I began to wonder if maybe we should just live in Dallas.  Maybe this could be our new home.  We could get on Zillow, find a house, call a realtor, and then Uber to said house to make an offer.  That sounded like the easiest solution to me.

Mini-catastrophe #14:  We tried Hertz next.  Same problem.  Standing at the Hertz counter, though, something came over me.  I decided I wasn't going to leave that counter until we had a car that would take us back to Tulsa, back to our son, back to our home, back to a world that makes sense.  "But I'm a Hertz Gold Member," I told the employee. "Does that count for anything?" He nodded, seemingly willing to help me. "What organization?" he asked.  "The American Bar Association," I replied.  Hey, maybe I can threaten to sue Hertz!  I wondered.  Maybe I can threaten Thrifty, and American, and that touristy woman who yelled discouragements at us as we sprinted past her in Terminal B!  Maybe I can threaten to sue every person in this town!  Maybe that'll help!  Perhaps this employee was telepathically privy to my litigious train of thought, because he offered me a rental car to Tulsa for a mere $400.  I sighed.  Is this what it has come to?  I wondered.  Are we going to have to pay $400 on top of the $1600 we've already paid at this point (with our 2 sets of tickets) just to get back to the place we left this morning?  Miraculously, the man then offered something better.  "Actually," he told me, "I could get you a package for $260."  Success.  We booked it, and walked outside to select our vehicle from a row of 16 Chevy Malibus in slightly different shades of gray and black.

Mini-catastrophe #15:  Surprise!  There are no more catastrophes, big or small!  We drove our rented Chevy Malibu from Dallas to Tulsa without event.  And during said drive home, Joe delivered the following monologue which I think serves quite nicely as an epilogue to this saga.  "What a weird day.  We were on a plane, and then we weren't.  We were on our way to Milwaukee, and now we're on our way home.  We paid $2,000 to fly to Dallas and drive back to Tulsa.  We've gone so far, and yet nowhere at all.  We've seen so much, and yet so little.  We lost a day of our life, and aged who knows how many years."

And what a weird day indeed.  In my lifetime of travel, I've declared many trips "the worst trip ever", but among all these "worst trips ever", this was the only trip where we didn't actually go anywhere, and arguably the one that cost us the most: missing the once-in-a-lifetime wedding one of my favorite people.  Maybe I sue American Airlines after all.....

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