(UPDATE: See this entry for the follow-up.)
If you don't feel like reading yet another holiday travel story, you should skip this post. I wouldn't blame you. But we had an interesting time getting to Colorado for the holidays, and I want to tell the story.
Traveling with a one-year-old is something that requires some extra planning under any circumstances. I'm grateful to be able to do this with Dana. Working as a team makes has made this pretty manageable. When I hear of parents traveling alone with a very young child, I can't imagine how challenging that must be.
We did what we do to get to the airport and through security. We went to the gate and soon learned that our flight had moved to a different gate. In a different terminal. At the far end. We had plenty of time, so we hiked over to the new gate, where the sign indicated a flight to Orlando. We were still quite early, so we waited. While we waited, Jessica walked to a window to see an airplane. It was a Virgin America plane: Air Colbert. The pilot sitting in the cockpit waved back at Jessica through the window. I'm looking forward to giving Virgin America a try.
After a while, a number of people arrived at the gate. We overheard snippets of conversations which indicated these folks had been moved around, too. Things like "They found a plane for us coming in from San Francisco." An older woman sat next to me and asked me to read the sign for her at the gate. I did, and she told me that she was going to Florida, and that they had been waiting for another plane but it had air conditioning problems, so now they were getting on another plane.
This made us suspicious, of course, so we checked the monitors again. Our flight was now back in the first terminal, right next to where it was initially supposed to be. Undeterred, we made the hike back. Once there, we were able to gather that the plane we were about to get on was the one from the Orlando flight. They had fixed the problem, so were giving us the plane to go to Denver.
We got on the plane. It was around 3:30 pm.
As the last passengers settled in, the captain announced that there was too much fuel on the plane. You see, the plan had been prepped to for a flight to Florida. Apparently if the plane flew to Denver as it was, it would be overweight when it came time to land. De-fueling was going to take around 45 minutes, we were told. It actually took longer.
Once the plane was lighter, it pulled away and taxied toward the runway. About halfway to the runway, we stopped. For a while. The captain came on again.
"Folks, you may have noticed that we've stopped." We had. "We're getting an oil filter warning light up here. We asked maintenance about it, and we weren't able to make it go away, so we're going to have to go back to the gate so they can take a look at it."
We went back to the gate. 15 or 20 minutes passed. We began to detect the smell of oil in the air from the little air nozzles. The captain came back on.
"Folks, you may have noticed we stopped and restarted the engine. We wanted to see if that fixed the problem, but it didn't. The warning light is still on. So they're going to have to get the part, and then it will take about an hour to replace the filter."
It was a few minutes before 6 pm.
Some more time passed, and the flight crew announced that they were going to give out meal vouchers, so if we wanted to leave the plane and get some food, we could, but we should take all of our belongings. We didn't want to gather up everything, so Dana took Jessica and brought back a quick bite.
A little after 7 pm, most of the passengers were back on board. Some passengers, who had long since missed their connecting flight in Denver, had tried to get alternate flights to their final destination, but this was 5 days before Christmas and empty seats on other flights were not easy to come by.
The captain made another announcement. "Folks, we've installed the new oil filter and started the engines again, but the warning light is still on. We're going to have to troubleshoot a bit to find the problem."
It wasn't too much later that they seemed to fix the problem, and as we pushed away from the gate the cabin was filled with the sound of applause. We taxied to the runway and took off.
It was around 8 pm.
About 20 minutes into the flight, the captain made yet another announcement. "Folks, you may have noticed that we haven't been accelerating as we normally would. We made it to 10,000 feet and the cabin isn't pressurizing properly. We've asked maintenance about it, and tried a few things, but it isn't going away, so we're going to have to go back to Los Angeles. Sorry about this."
When we got back to Los Angeles and parked at the gate, it was 9:30 pm. Jessica had been sitting on a plane for 6 hours, with one short break when she and Dana grabbed a bite to eat.
Despite the fact that the powers that be knew we were coming back for about half an hour, the airline was completely unprepared to deal with us. The first customer service representative to arrive at the plane told us, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I just started my shift, and they told me to come meet this plane. I don't know what we're going to have you do, and they aren't answering my call at the podium, so I'm going to have to go to the main counter and find out what the plan is. Thanks for your patience."
A few minutes after that announcement, the flight crew told us "the captain says he's not flying this plane," so we were able to get off. The gate agent was also not at all prepared, at one point berating the crowd, saying he'd talk to us when we were rational.
He sent us to the customer service desk in the terminal, where all 100 plus passengers got in line, and the folks at the counter began helping one or two at a time. After waiting 10-15 minutes, they decided they couldn't handle us there, and led us downstairs to ticketing. Where we all waited in line, and they began helping us one or two at a time. Then they realized they couldn't handle us there, either, and led us away. Some more waiting, and we're led to yet another counter.
At this point they're still only helping one or two parties at a time. We, and a few others, decide to just find our bags and get out of there, planning to handle the re-booking on our own, though at this point I wasn't 100% sure we were going to try again. Jessica was completely exhausted, and Dana and I were pretty drained from all the waiting and trying to keep her entertained.
We head down to baggage claim. Since our flight wasn't exactly an "arrival", there was no clear indication of which carousel might have our bags. After some asking around, we got someone to figure it out for us and announce that we should go to carousel 3. About 10 minutes later, they changed their mind and sent us to carousel 1. We did get our bags, and made it home (thank goodness we live so close) around 11:30 pm.
I called the airline and they booked us on a new flight the next day, with a connection through Orange County. The only downside, other than the silly short flight from LAX to Orange County, was that they couldn't guarantee us three seats together, or even two seats together. Since one of our three seats was for Jessica, it wasn't going to work if we had three separate seats. In that case, we would have just put her in our lap and left the third seat empty.
The next day came, we repeated our get-to-airport routine, just half an hour earlier than the day before. We flew from LAX to Orange County on a tiny plane, and the flight attendant was able to put Dana and Jessica together despite our seat assignments. Must be the shortest flight I've ever been on. Wheels up to wheels down was one quarter hour.
We ended up able to get three seats together for the flight to Denver, and Jessica did very well. When we got to Denver, however, there was one more surprise: no bags. Seems they had made it to Orange County, but were never put on the plane to Denver.
This was at 9:30 or 10:00 on Friday night. Our bags were eventually delivered to us at my Mom's house around midnight Saturday night.
That, I believe, is the end of this particular story.