After this weekend's Northeast snowpocalypse, you've probably been hearing stories about travelers delayed for hours, even days. So how does shit get so bad that your flight is pushed back a whole week? Allow me to explain, firsthand.
CNN reports that delays forced passengers to sleep on airport floors (one friend described the situation at La Guardia as "cots lined up like in a war"). Amtrak trains experienced severe delays (and if you don't want to take my word for it ...). Several New York subway and bus lines are still closed, and a concerned Times commenter helpfully reports that this morning, "few drivers seemed to be looking for pedestrians in the roadway, who were slipping and sliding at times on the slick surface beneath the snow." And yet, those seeking to return to this paradise face delays of several days. Or more.
I was in LA for Christmas, and as late as Sunday night I was still naively taking leave of friends, assuming I'd be headed back to New York the next morning. Ha. When I woke at 8 AM Monday, my 11:15 AM flight had already been axed. I commenced calling the airline. And calling. And calling. Their phone systems were so overloaded that I could not even be placed on hold — I just got repeatedly kicked off the line (CNN says this was common, as everyone and their mom called to reschedule cancelled flights). I tried calling for about two hours. I also tried to rebook online, but stopped when it appeared the process might cost me $2000. Finally, concerned that my flight's originally scheduled departure time would pass and I'd no longer be eligible for a free rebook, I decided to physically go to the airport.
Frankly, LAX is a hellmouth under the best of circumstances, and I was expecting to find it full of stranded travelers wailing, rending their clothes, and crying tears of blood. In fact it was eerily quiet. CNN says lots of people simply stayed home when their flights were canceled — people luckier or less neurotic than me. In any event, I was seen by a ticket agent almost immediately. She typed and tut-tutted a little bit, then said, "The earliest seat available is Sunday." I bugged my eyes out and said something like "In a week?" The agent kindly did not point out the dumbness of my question (no, airplanes cannot yet travel into the past) and instead started doing this sort of auctioneer patter at me: "take-it-or-leave-it-yes-or-no-yes-or-no-yes-or-no!" What could I do? If I hesitated, the next available seat might be in 2015 or something. I agreed.
Which is why I am now blogging at you from sunny Los Angeles, and will be for the next several days. I spent the balance of Monday morning figuring I had messed up in some way — like, obviously if I were a more assertive and confrontational person I would be on a flight right now. But as of today, I'm relieved to know it may not be my fault. According to Joe Sharkey of the Times, new laws imposing fines for long tarmac delays have made airlines more likely to just cancel flights. And since airlines have already cut back on flights to cut costs, "the domestic air travel system is far less resilient than it used to be."
All things considered, I got pretty lucky. My travel plans were totally screwed, but at no point did I have to sleep in a place that was not a bed. Consider the plight of the poor souls stuck overnight on an A train Sunday. In what the AP aptly calls a "frigid hell night," 400 passengers were stuck for eight hours on a snowed-over elevated track, at temperatures where "it wasn't quite cold enough for water in the car to freeze, but it felt nearly that bad." Which is a handy reminder that no matter how horrible your travel story is, it could always be worse.