Broken Radio Part Triggers Travel Hell

April 28, 2014

in Delay/Cancellation Stories

Last year we went to Rome for a week for my 30th birthday and brought our then 2-year-old. The flight there was no problem other than our stroller getting lost (but it was a cheap umbrella stroller so I wasn’t too put out). I’d actually flown with him several times before that and had learned from experience to bring a wide variety of toys and snacks to keep him occupied on the train. We had a great vacation.

On the day we’re supposed to fly home, we arrive at the airport (after a detour to our car service’s office so the driver could pick up something he left), check in, and make the trek out to the international terminal with all our stuff. We board on time and leave the gate and sit on the tarmac for four hours. At which point we should have been halfway home. They finally tell us that a piece of the radio equipment is broken and we can’t fly the plane and there is no other plane available. They put us on buses back to the terminal and we sat around forever waiting for our baggage.

We then had to trek across the airport to the airport Hilton where thankfully the airline had arranged rooms. Because strollers were the last thing unloaded, we and the others with small children were at the end of a long line and got to wait in the rain to get inside the hotel.

We finally get to our room and call the number that we’re provided to set up our new return flight, and are ticketed on an Air Italia flight the next morning through Toronto. We spent a boring night at the hotel with nothing to do.

The next morning we trek back to the terminal to check in and get shuffled from desk to desk at Air Italia. Instead of a counter with people who can handle any flight on the airline, they had different sections for different flights and hundreds of desks. We would go to one desk as designated by our flight number and then get sent to another because we weren’t originally ticketed on Italia, then to another because we were flying with a car seat which is oversized baggage, and then there was a disagreement as to whether we could take the car seat into the cabin, etc. We finally got our tickets and everything settled. I stocked back up on overpriced airport snacks since most of the ones I had got eaten while waiting for the flight to take off the day before.

We flew into Toronto, cleared their customs, and somewhere along the way half of our checked bags got separated. We took the ones we had through to the other terminal with the assurance that they would catch up to us eventually.

I should probably note that this was at the beginning of the US government shutdown last spring, so US Customs was way understaffed. We went to get in line and were told to go sit in the lounge and wait until our flight was called by the Customs agents. They weren’t clearing anyone before they were called, even though they were running about 45 minutes behind flight times. (And they had an agent checking boarding passes to keep people who hadn’t been called from getting in line.) Every airline but the one we were flying was delaying their flights to allow passengers more time, but ours was just waiting for people to miss the flight and then rebook them on a later flight that would start the nightmare over again.

I was stressed about the prospect of spending another night in an airport hotel without any more clean clothes, my husband getting in trouble for missing another day of work, and leaving the dog at the sitter’s another day. I kept going up to the desk to see what was going on (I was nice about it but frazzled). I made friends with one of the desk clerks who, after we missed our original flight, managed to ticket us on the last flight (11:30pm, arriving around 2am) into the next city – over a 2.5 hour drive from home. I called Hertz and reserved a car to pick up and begged them to stay open until we got there (official closing time was 2am, about 5 minutes after our flight landed).

When we landed I ran over and picked up the car, leaving my husband and the kid to get the baggage. (The other bags didn’t make it to Raleigh with us that night.) We got in the car and drove home arriving around 5am for a quick nap before my husband went to work. I called off for the morning and slept in a little with the kid, then dropped the rental car back at our local airport and picked up my car. On a whim I checked with the baggage people about the missing bags and thankfully they had them.

The funny thing is, to wrap up this whole nightmare, three days later I got a call from the airline apologizing because they hadn’t been able to find my bags. I laughed and told them that they beat us home and I already had them.

We did end up getting back $800 from each ticket, a bit over half of the original tickets, and I had trip insurance that covered the rental car.

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