Nightmare in Newark!
I just concluded a two week work trip to New Jersey, and had a 1:45 flight home from Newark to Cincinnati on Friday afternoon. I got to the airport at a little after 10:00 AM, giving me plenty of time to get checked in for the flight, check my luggage, get through security, and grab some lunch.
There was a fair amount of rain in the vicinity of the airport, but nothing that I would really call storms - just a steady rain. When I got to the departure concourse, the first thing I noticed was that there were a lot fewer travelers waiting for flights. This should have been ringing alarm bells, as it meant either that people were calling ahead to find that their flights were canceled (and therefore were just not coming to the airport), or that arriving flights into Newark were being canceled or diverted (so there were fewer people there making connections). Anyway, my flight at that time was listed with a 30 minute delay.
As the day wore on, the 1:45 departure became a 2:15 departure, then a 2:30 departure, then a 3:00 departure, then a 3:30 departure. Sometime during this time, however, I saw them loading bags on a plane on the ramp (actually recognized my bag going up the conveyor into the baggage compartment), so I figured that, late we may be, but eventually we would go. No dice! At 4:00 they announced that the flight was canceled!
There was a mad rush as a whole planeload of passengers queued up to yell at the three gate agents. (This has to be a sucky job - being the designated holleree - when the problem is not of your making and not in your control.)
Keep in mind that I really wanted to get home! I had already spent 11 days in New Jersey, it was Friday afternoon, and Monday morning I was booked on a flight to Portland, Oregon. I really, really, wanted to get home!
Anyway, here I was, having been at the airport for just about 6 hours already, the last flight was canceled, and no more flights out until 4:45 on Saturday! What was really steaming me was that, at 7:00 AM while checking out of my hotel, I was seriously thinking about heading down I-95 in my rental car, starting what could have been about a 10-hour drive to Cincinnati. Had I followed my instincts, by 4:00 PM I would have been south of Columbus, OH heading down I-71 on the home stretch.
Enough was enough. While waiting in line, I got on the cell phone, called my secretary in Cincinnati, and had her call all of the rental car companies to find me a car that I could rent in Newark and drop in Cincinnati. She called Dollar, Avis, National.....no joy. Either no cars to rent, or no cars that they would let you pick up in Newark and drop in Cincinnati. Hertz, however, would do it, for over $400.00. Book 'em, Danno!
When it was my turn to yell at the gate agent, I walked up and said to the young lady:
"I've made other arrangements. I'm renting a car and driving. Cancel my reservation. All I want is my checked bag."
"Huh? All you want is your bag?"
"Yep! Just my bag."
A smile of relief spread across her face. "Your bag will be at carousel 2 or 3, sir."
I boogied out to baggage claim, there was my bag, right there in the midst of about 3000 other unclaimed bags. I grabbed it, rode the escalator up to the Skytrain terminal, got on the train for terminal P3, and got in line at the Hertz #1 Gold counter.
By now it's nearly 5:00 PM. I'm at least an hour farther away from home than I would have been had I left right from my hotel, meaning I'm staring down the barrel of at least a 10 hour drive, putting me in the driveway at 3:00 AM. Sucks, but still 13 hours ahead of my next possible departure time on the great silver buzzard.
While standing in line, three more ex-Delta passengers show up. I thought occurs to me.
"Hey, three more Delta refugees, huh?"
"You guys trying to get to Cincinnati?"
"How about this? That's what I'm doing too. Whattaya say I rent the car, you guys throw in with me, and we can share the driving?"
So, now it's Lou, Steve, Pam, and Tom (me) on a road trip!
Actually it worked out OK. We shared the driving, stopped a couple of times of gas, grub, and nature. There was about an hour lost in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike between Newark and the Delaware River bridge. We didn't have any maps, but I had my Lowrance iWay250 GPS navigation system in my computer bag (won't leave home without it), so we were good all the way.
Broke the ice doing crossword puzzles, and making conversation. By the next morning we were all pretty good friends (figured it would be either that, or blood-enemies). It turns out that were going within about 5 minutes of Pam's house, and she called a friend to meet us at a gas station alongside I-71 where she jumped ship. Lou and Steve had their cars at the Cincinnati airport, so we swung by there at about 4:30 AM to drop them off. I called my wife, who drove out to the Airport to meet me at Hertz, where I dropped the car. Home in bed by 5:00. Still beat my next possible arrival at home by about 17 hours.
In three weeks I'll be back in Newark waiting to catch the same flight. Life on the road sucks.