Air Travel Lessons from the Pandemic

When it comes to my trips, I’m a planner. I’ve gone on at length in other posts about the way that I approach new cities and the way I plan out my trips. The experiences of the last three months have led me to rethink a few of my previously held stances about travel.

Never again will I book my flight more than 60 days before the trip: In the past, I have usually tried to get my flights about three months before I actually want to travel- having them booked relieves the mental stress of a hanging to-do list item, and getting them done early helps to get a good price on the ticket. Or at least that’s how it used to be.

The conventional wisdom used to be that the best prices on flights are usually found about 70 days before a flight and that the best booking window is 21 to 121 days before your flight date. If you wait until the last minute, flight prices are often hugely inflated, and if you get them too early, they can be just as bad.

When Covid-19 hit, my plans started to disappear and I was left with a need to cancel five separate trips out of state- that meant I had to cancel flights with JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, Spirit Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Frontier Airlines. I will never again buy my flight more than a month out- there’s just too much uncertainty, and having to cancel a flight is a giant pain in the ass. This leads me to the next lesson-

Never again will I use an all-in-one travel planning site: I have been an Expedia.com user since some time in 2001. I’ve used it for countless flights and hotels, using various airlines throughout the last eighteen years. I always felt like it was useful to have the web equivalent of a travel agent, and it worked well for me until it didn’t. The mass cancellation of all of those flights is where Expedia fell apart.

It was nearly impossible at first to reach an actual customer service representative, and when they finally started to get their response organized it was still clunky and hard to get a response.

JetBlue was the easiest to deal with- I was able to go directly to them and they canceled my flight and put a credit in their “Travel Bank.” Nice and easy. Several of the others wouldn’t talk to me directly though- if you book through an agent or a site like Expedia or Travelocity, a lot of the airlines will make you go back to that site to deal with any flight changes.

To my vast and unending surprise, the first airline to just do the right thing and give me back my money was Spirit Airlines. The cancellation with them was fully refunded, with a minimum of fuss. I was expecting more difficulty there, and their goodwill has guaranteed that I will use them again if the route I need is there.

Alaska Airlines also gave me a refund, once I called them and spoke to a customer service representative. They were very classy to me.

The other three allowed me to cancel flights, but only gave me credits. This is where the real lesson begins.

I have a long-standing relationship with Delta, and I’ve always enjoyed flying with them, but this experience has put me off of them a bit. For one thing, I haven’t been able to reach a person in weeks. For another, my Expedia flights resulted in airline credits, but those credits aren’t visible in my Delta account. If the credits from all those canceled flights lived in my Delta Skymiles account, I would be sanguine. They don’t, though. They live in Expedia. This is a problem.

The Expedia site is garbage. Up until a few days ago, there was absolutely no place on Expedia to even see a credit. Now you can see it on a per-trip basis, but there’s still no obvious list of them- if you don’t know you have a credit, you’ll never get a notification that you do. And you can’t use Expedia airline credits while booking on their site, you have to call their call center to use your credits. I’m not looking forward to that at all.

American Airlines is the same way- a credit, living somewhere in the Expedia system, that I will have to call in to use when booking a new flight with the same airline.

Frontier Airlines is the last of them, and Frontier gets all of my rage. All of it. The first time I called in, I only had to wait about forty minutes to reach a customer service representative. She initially said that I would have an airline credit, good until September of 2021, but that I would have to re-book within 90 days.

This is a problem because the event that I was attending via a Frontier flight is canceled, not rescheduled. None of my regular travel goes on Frontier routes, and I’m certainly not going to have more travel plans to coordinate with them in the next 90 days. I told the customer service rep this, and she said that she would get me a refund. She said she would route my information to another department to get the refund processed.

I now know that the Frontier Airlines customer service representative lied.

I know this because after a few weeks went by, I tried to call again. This time, it took me more than ninety minutes to get to a rep. He took my basic information, asked to place me on a “brief hold,” and that was the last I heard from him. I had roughly ten minutes of dead silence, and then the hold music came back and I was on for another twenty-five minutes, before I was suddenly disconnected from the call.

For my third attempt to reach someone helpful, I went the Twitter route, speaking to https://twitter.com/FrontierCare, who took more than two days for the first response. I explained my situation, and they said my reservation does not qualify for a refund. I repeated my explanation that the credit was useless to me, and a full two hours later repeated the “booked in 90 days, good until September 2021” bit.

So yeah, Frontier Airlines is going to keep my money, and will provide me no service for it. If they had said all along that they would not give me a refund, I would not have been angry, but the first customer service representative said I would have a refund. Either she lied through her teeth, or the next person I spoke to did. This is shitty customer service, and they’ve guaranteed that I will never fly with them or recommend them to anyone else I know. They can still save their relationship with me by doing the right thing, but they don’t seem willing to, and I’m not feeling up to spending another few hours of my life trying to get them to change their minds.

I have a long memory, Frontier, and I travel a lot. Just not with you.

I’m sure that I’ll still have new lessons from Covid-19 in the future. After all, most of my favorite things involve travel and the entertainment and travel industries are still changing and adapting to life with a pandemic. For now, I’ll leave you with this summary, the three main lessons I have learned from this experience:

  1. Don’t book early. Just don’t. Wait until no less than thirty days from your travel date to get your airfare. You might have to pay a little more, but it’s less expensive than having an airline just keep your money without ever flying you anywhere.
  2. Book directly with the airlines, not through a site like Expedia or Travelocity. If something goes wrong, it’s a hell of a lot easier to deal with the airline directly than with a giant nebulous glob like Expedia. At this point in time, I’ve got a bunch of airline credits that I can ONLY use if I book through Expedia during a phone call. Once those credits are gone from Expedia, so am I.
  3. Never fly Frontier Airlines. They suck. They have earned a spiteful place in my heart for taking my money without a usable service.

Have you learned any lessons from living through a global pandemic?

20/52

Ancient Ruminations on London

I have been slowly going through the old posts on my ancient LiveJournal, deleting most and saving some as pdf. There are a few, the rarest of posts, that are worth preserving, so I’ve been adapting or revising them to bring forward to this blog.

One such post was my answer to a question-meme, “If you won a trip to anywhere, where would you go, and why?” While I travel quite often now, that was not so when I wrote this on LiveJournal. This particular LJ post was written before I had ever been to Europe.

Anyone who’s known me for more than a week knows that I want to go to England more than any other destination; <lj user=’raptorgirl’> even gave me a London travel book a few years back as a birthday gift, The Irrevent Guide To London. I just need a travel buddy and a little lead time to put together the money and the vacation request.

It’s true, I used to go on and on about London. By the time I lived overseas, the money and vacation time was no longer a hindrance to going, and I realized pretty quickly that if I kept waiting for a travel buddy, I would never make it anywhere. So, I started traveling alone. And before long, I took that first trip to London- the first of many. By the time I finally made it to the UK, “The Irreverent Guide To London” was wildly out of date, but it was still a fun read. (And for those who aren’t hip to the LJ lingo, raptorgirl is the LiveJournal username of Vanessa, a dear friend here in Orlando. I met her originally when we were both students at the University of Central Florida, and it feels really weird that we’ve known each other now for more than two decades.)

I want to ride the London Eye. I want to see Stonehenge. I want to visit Stratford-on-Avon. I want to see that giant odd looking tower in Cardiff that figures so heavily in the early seasons of Torchwood. I want to see a show in Picadilly. I want to get drunk and lie in a field in Cambridge. I want to ride the Tube and mind the gap. I want to visit a very particular grave in Highgate Cemetary in London. Years of watching British television and reading British authors have given me a laundry list of things to do and see.

I’ve actually decided that I’m going to get there before I turn forty- that gives me just over a year and a half to get my shit together.

I’d like to see other parts of the world too, but that can all wait. London first.

All in all, I did pretty well on this list- In my first trip to London, I managed to ride the London Eye. (And again on a subsequent trip.). I took a day trip from Paddington Station to Salisbury to see Stonehenge. I went to Cardiff with one of my best friends on a subsequent trip to see Roald Dahl Plass, which was used for establishing shots as the Torchwood Hub. (Today is that friend’s birthday, actually- Happy birthday, Lorrie!) We went to the Doctor Who Experience on the same trip- alas, the. DWE has since closed. I’ve watched three different shows in Picadilly. I went to that grave in Highgate. I rode the Tube and minded the Gap. And I did so, so much more.

I didn’t get to go lie in a field in Cambridge, but maybe I’ll manage to do that after this pandemic wraps up. And while I still haven’t made it to Stratford-on-Avon, I did tour the Globe Theater in London, so maybe that’s close enough?

While I was wrong about the sequence – I was living in Germany before I ever made it to London- I did manage to see London before the deadline. Just barely. My first trip there was the summer before I turned forty. I’ve been back a couple of times since though, and there’s always more to see.

After seeing 28 different countries away from home, London is still my favorite place to visit in all the world. I miss it. I hope I can get back there sometime soon.

If you won a trip to anywhere, where would you go, and why?

16/52

[Ancient Repost] It’s bloody Brigadoon!

I’ve been clearing out an ancient LiveJournal in preparation for deleting the account. While most of the stuff there is utter fluff, a tiny portion of the posts are worth preserving. What follows is one such post.  Although I have updated this post with new material, some sections were originally written in May of 2005.

In the late 1990s,  I took a trip to Orlando with a friend to see another friend. I grabbed a hotel out of some guidebook or other, and based on the fact that it was listed as being “near Disney,” I just made a reservation blindly. I was at a place called the Sheraton Lakeside Inn, and it was on Highway 192 not far from I-4. The aforementioned friend and I stayed in that hotel for a few days, and when the trip was done, I mostly forgot about it all.

Flash forward to May of 2005.  I was traveling to Orlando again, this time for an Erasure concert, and I realized that I had forgotten to make a reservation for a hotel.  The place that I normally used for Orlando visits was booked solid, so I turned to Priceline.com. I told it to find me something near Disney, since the concert was at House of Blues.

Can you see where this is going? I didn’t. At least not right away.

I got a result at a La Quinta Lakeside, for $25 a night. Fine. Drove up, pulled in, got my room. Thought to myself, this looks a little familiar. Wonder why.

Drove around to my room after checking in, and found even more familiar looking stuff. The stairs looked familiar. The doors looked familiar.

Then I wandered around the hotel and really looked. At the restaurant, the general store, the pool, the mini-golf, the lake…

It was the same fucking hotel. The exact same one. I was even in the same building I stayed in when it was still a Sheraton. For all I know, it might have been the same room.  Crazy, right?

I was amazed and confused. It’s a little creepy to wander around and see the exact same things more than a decade later. The same, yet different. Wild.

Then it happened again.

Another ten years later, in September of 2015, Amelie and I were going to Orlando for some theme park time.   Once again, I used Priceline.com to nab a room, and once more, I got a place for $25 a night.   This time, it was called the Maingate Lakeside Resort, but I still didn’t catch the “Lakeside” part of the name.

This time, I realized what had happened as soon as we arrived-  the hotel still looks exactly the same, despite changing from a Sheraton to a La Quinta to a no-brand hotel over the span of more than twenty years.  They even still had the little mini-golf course.

I guess I’ll be back in 2025.

Singular Sensation

During the summer before my 10th grade year, my father and my brothers and I all climbed into dad’s 1986 Honda Accord, and hauled ourselves up the interstate highway into New York.  We stopped briefly to see dad’s cousin in Hyde Park, to visit dad’s cousin near the FDR Estate.  My flawed thirty-years-ago memory insists that dad’s cousin was a care-taker of the FDR estate, but I may not be remembering that correctly.

Ultimately, this trip took us into the city of New York.  We walked through central park more than once, due to mild lost-ness, and we also took in a show.  We took in this show:

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This was the original run of A Chorus Line, which started on July 25, 1975, and was still going strong in 1987 when my brothers and I saw it in 1987.  I’m pretty sure dad was behind the camera on this one, because he was definitely with us.

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A Chorus Line on Broadway ran until April 28, 1990.  When it ended its nearly fifteen year run, the Schubert theater had held more than 6,000 showings.  It held the honor of being the longest running show on Broadway, until Cats took the new record seven years later.  (Cats has since lost the title to the Phantom of the Opera.  There’s always something bigger.)

On the last day that A Chorus Line was running on Broadway, another much smaller production was doing its second to last day: Santaluces Community High School, in Lantana, Florida.

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In this production, a certain seventeen-year-old future blogger was cast in the role of Gregory Gardner.  Wikipedia hilariously describes the role as, “a sassy Jewish gay man who divulges his first experience with a woman.”

When I was a senior in high school, I didn’t know anything about gay people, so I had no idea that playing a gay person on a high school stage in 1990 was a big deal until years later.  What I did know was that I’m a mediocre tap dancer at best, and that I looked damn good in gold lamé.

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I’ve been able to keep track of a few of the cast and crew members over the years, mostly through the evil web of Facebook.  A precious few of the folks in this photograph have been excellent friends to me for the entirety of the twenty-six years since the show (and high school) ended for me.  If you know where to look, my good friend, fellow blogger, and Huffington Post overnight editor Jade Walker is in the cast photo below.

As for me, I’m in the front row, fifth from the left.  And I still think I look good in gold lamé.

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What was the first musical you saw on stage?  If you were in drama in school, what was the first show in which you took the stage?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?

Lost Photo Post: Vaduz, Liechtenstein

It is once again time to add to my series of photo posts where I took a bunch of photographs, intending to make a blog post out of them, and then never got around to actually writing the post.

On April 24th of this year, I joined two colleagues from our German office for a car ride from Regensburg Germany to Zurich Switzerland to attend some meetings.   The gentlemen in the car with me were kind enough to allow me to persuade them to detour very slightly, around lunch-time, into my 28th country visited: Liechtenstein.

The Principality of Liechtenstein is a tiny landlocked country that sits between Austria on the northeast and Switzerland on the southwest.  The entire country is roughly 62 square miles in size, with an estimated population of about 37,000 people.  That’s one-eleventh the population of Miami, Florida!

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The fact that Vaduz wasn’t a very lengthy detour helped me to persuade my colleagues.  Also beneficial to my request for a detour is the fact that both of them are fond of a good restaurant.  We set out to Vaduz to dine.  The choice was between Vaduz and neighboring Schaan, and I pushed for Vaduz.   The food at Restaurant Adler was just ok, but the decorations were fascinating.

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I preferred Vaduz to Schaan because Vaduz is the capital city. In this case, the city is less than seven square miles in size, with a population of a little more than 5,000 people.

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Liechtenstein is a very wealthy city, and while walking through the city center, we saw several banks, a Superdry store, and this Botero sculpture:

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Lest you think it was all ritz and culture, there was also this giant Weber grill.

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Liechtenstein is also a constitutional monarchy, and the most prominent landmark in Vaduz is Vaduz Castle, home of the current reigning prince.  The castle is sitting on a steep hill overlooking Vaduz, and you can see it from just about anywhere in the city.

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Here’s a slightly more zoomed photo of Vaduz Castle, taken after lunch and just before we continued our drive into Switzerland.

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Have you ever been to Liechtenstein?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?