Chuck Williams: Airline turns travel nightmare into workable situation

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 13, 2014 

This was going to be a rant -- a full-blown, all-out, in-your-face rant.

But a funny thing happened last Wednesday that turned this rant into a different kind of story.

A nice story.

Last week's trip home from the West Coast called for two airlines, two layovers and a full day of traveling from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., to Hartsfield International in Atlanta.

All you could do was brace yourself for stops in Denver and Dallas as we skipped across the country.

The itinerary indicated a day of travel purgatory.

And it started swimmingly. Woke up at 4:30 a.m. -- West Coast time -- for a 7:05 flight. There was plenty to do before boarding, including returning a rental car and getting through security.

But first, there was a cellphone message from American Airlines. Still in the hotel room, the news was the morning flight was delayed until 1 p.m. Then there was something about leaving Denver on Friday morning, two days later.

When faced with these kinds of issues, there is only one rule -- the Airline Counter Rule. You have a lot better chance of working through a tricky situation in person than over the phone.

So, off to John Wayne it was.

The nice man walked the line, informing everyone going to Denver to get in another line.

At this point, you are at the mercy of the American Airlines folks. And they were at the mercy of two issues -- bad weather that had crippled the nation's air grid and a new rule that required extended rest for pilots.

When you walk into such a situation, it doesn't help to get angry or show your rear end.

Which brings the story to Kathi, the woman at the American ticket counter in California. She spent 45 minutes looking at every possibility of getting back to Atlanta.

Yes, Houston, there was a problem -- and Houston was the problem. There was very little way to get in and out of Houston for next two days.

Finally, there was a plan. Stay on the delayed flight to Denver and keep the tickets on the Friday morning flight back to Atlanta. Worst-case scenario was a two-night layover in Colorado.

The Hail Mary was to fly stand-by on a non-stop from Denver to Atlanta. It would land in Georgia about 11 p.m. -- Eastern time.

Orange County to Denver was a snap, the plane was not even half full and the flight attendants were nice enough to give away snack boxes. All the American employees -- in the air and on the ground -- seemed to understand how screwed up it was and were not going to make it worse.

That left a standby flight in Denver on a small jet. No problems. No worries. Two hours after landing in the Rockies, it was homeward bound.

All of this has been said to say this: Thanks American Airlines. You and your people made what promised to be a travel nightmare into something workable.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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