My Las Vegas Travel Nightmare

Posted on January 8, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Paul with 64 Comments

My Las Vegas Travel Nightmare

Thanks to a crazy series of travel mishaps, my weekend evaporated and I found myself stuck in Las Vegas rather than flying home.

The weirdest bit? Despite all the work travel I’ve done over 20+ years, this kind of thing has never happened to me before.

I guess I was due.

As I noted in Thinking About CES, I’ll be doing things differently next year should I actually come back to this mammoth show. But there’s no change I could have made that would have saved me from this particular event. Aside from not traveling to Vegas, that is.

So let’s go back to Friday. It’s dinner time, Brad and I have wrapped up a fairly intense two days of show coverage, and we’re going to grab some food and then head to the airport. Both of us have red eye flights, which is never ideal. But my goal was to get out of Vegas as quickly as possible, and I figured if I slept at home Saturday morning, I’d salvage the weekend.

So naive.

We headed to the airport a bit after 8 pm, with Brad getting dropped off at Terminal 1 first for his Delta flight, and me ending up at Terminal 3, where JetBlue is located. After a quick pass through security—thank you, TSA Pre—I found myself with hours to kill. So I grabbed a Jameson—just $5 more for a double; thank you, Las Vegas—with an eye towards sleeping as much as possible on the plane that night.

Again, naive.

At some point, I noticed that the gate for my flight, which I could see from the bar, had emptied. So I packed up my stuff and headed over to see what was up. Which was a gate change to the other side of the terminal, which was no big deal. And a slight delay in the departure time, from 11:13 to 12:00 midnight. Not what I wanted, but not too terrible.

So I sat down nearby. And then watched as the departure time change, in turn, to 1:00 am and then 2:30 am. Naturally, the natives started getting restless during this time and the poor guy at the gate—who was getting bad information from JetBlue, and wasn’t the best communicator himself—wasn’t handling it very well.

At some point I asked what was going on. His initial response was to remind me that there had been a shooting in a Florida airport, but I knew too much about JetBlue’s limited Boston to Las Vegas routes to fall for that one. (The same plane just goes back and forth between the two.) Besides, the plane was sitting there where we could all see it, waiting for us this whole time. Which I pointed out to him.

Then the story changed.

He explained that a flight had diverted for medical reasons. I have no idea how or if that impacted my own flight. I suspect it did not. So I pressed him further.

There was an issue with the flight crew, and they were going to fly a new one in from Kansas City. I assume this was true, but the story kept changing. First they were going to depart for Vegas at 11:00 pm, and then at midnight, and then eventually their flight was just canceled.

The passengers waiting to leave were not happy. In fact, one girl kept crying after each time she interacted with this JetBlue attendant. There was one older gentlemen who explained that there were far worse things happening in the world. Sure, I said. But this is the worst thing happening to us right now.

The issue here seems obvious, but the tension was amplified by the fact that Boston was set to get a snowstorm on Saturday with as much as a foot of snow. The later this flight left, the better the chance that the snow would impact it.

And then things really went south.

Sometime between midnight and 12:30 am, the attendant announced that our flight would now leave between 9 am and 10 am, several hours away. I had already been at the airport for over four hours, and was hoping to sleep on the plane. But given this new departure time, a new plan emerged: I had booked my hotel through Saturday morning, so I could go back there, grab a few hours of sleep, and then come back for 9 or 10 am.

I asked him if this was OK. Yes, he said. Just be back by 7:30 am. So I left, as did several other people who, like me, actually had a place to stay. But as this was happening, the remaining crowd erupted with new displeasure because JetBlue, they were told, would not put them in a hotel for the night. There was much crying and yelling. But I left.

Heading down to the taxis, I asked one of the other passengers with a hotel room how good he felt about 7:30 am. “I’m a pilot,” he said. “We’re all set.”

I won’t belabor how terrible and disappointing it was to return to the Excalibur hotel. But I set two alarms—for 5:00 am so I could check on the flight status and then for 6:00 am so I could get up and head to the airport—and spent a fitful four hours or so tossing and turning. Not so much sleep as fever dreams.

When the alarm went off at 5:00 am, I looked at my notifications.

JetBlue had informed me that my flight had departed. At 3:50 am.

That gate attendant had had no idea what he was talking about. And what he did was completely [email protected]#k over those people who actually did have a place to stay overnight. He told us it was OK to come back at 7:30. And he even told us to ignore the JetBlue app notifications, as they were automated and inaccurate.

Naturally, I panicked.

My boarding pass had disappeared from the JetBlue app. And when I found JetBlue’s phone number and called, I was told to expect a 30-minute wait because of high call volume.

Suddenly, it was obvious that I could be stuck in Vegas, not just for the time being, but for the duration—till Monday, at least—because of a combination of full flights from CES and the snowstorm back east. The perfect storm, as it were. So much for my plans to return home on Saturday morning.

Clearly, I would need to figure out a new way home.

After ensuring that JetBlue wouldn’t be able to do this for me—I’m exclusive to JetBlue domestically—I checked Expedia for some other options. The best few were on American Airlines, which could get me to Boston through Phoenix or Charlotte. So armed with this information, I went to American’s website to see about booking a one-way trip home.

$500 later, I was booked on a flight to Phoenix, where I have family and friends, just in case, with a three-hour layover, and then off to Boston. Arrival time? 9:30 pm. Not bad. I’d lose just one day, not three, like I would if I stuck to JetBlue.

The Las Vegas to Boston flight was short, and while the plane and its seats were comically and vastly inferior (and smaller/tighter) than what I get on JetBlue, I at least had an exit row aisle seat (and on both flights) and was happy just to be in the air.

Oh, American.

Then I arrived in Phoenix.

I scanned the departure board to see how flights to the east coast looked. Here we go.

Atlanta. Canceled. Charlotte. Canceled.
Newark. Canceled.

Everything on the east coast was canceled because of the snowstorm. But Boston… Boston wasn’t even on the board. What the?

So I asked at the gate. And was told that Boston was canceled, obviously, you idiot, it’s the epicenter for winter storms. And that American was nice enough to automatically schedule me new flights. (Yes, with an “s.”) On Sunday (the next day). Through Los Angeles.

I’m not sure how well you know your geography, but Los Angeles is not on the way to Boston from Phoenix. In fact, it’s in the opposite direction.

Worse, I had a very long layover.

Much worse, I had terrible seats in the rear of both planes. One was a middle seat.

Ah boy.

So I headed over to the American Airlines customer service counter, where a very long line of unhappy would-be travelers were waiting to do exactly what I wanted to do: Figure out the soonest/best way to get to their east coast destinations.

Finally at the front of the line

After waiting half an hour to speak to someone, I then spent over an hour waiting to get a seat. I think it was worth the wait, though as I write this I’m still in Phoenix and not 100 percent sure I’ll be home before Monday. Long story short, I got the very last seat on an American flight from Phoenix to Boston on Sunday, and for some reason it was a nearly ideal aisle bulkhead seat. The bad news? I will arrive at 11:30 pm Sunday if everything goes well, meaning I won’t actually get home until after midnight on Monday. Or two full days after my original arrival time.

The good news is that I have family and friends in Phoenix. I called my sister from the customer service line and asked her if she was around and interested in having a house guest for the weekend. Thankfully, she was. She even picked me up so I didn’t need to rent a car. So I’ve been able to camp out in a familiar place, with people I love, and catch up with them, and catch up on sleep.

A quick postscript.

Given the events of the past 48 hours and my natural and unavoidable nervousness around travel, I’ve been waiting for this next flight to dematerialize in some way. At 4:30 pm on Saturday, I was able to check-in, and I’ve spent the time since checking and re-checking email and the American app, positive that something bad was going to happen.

So when I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was pick up the phone. And sure enough, there it was: A notification from American Airlines. Nothing serious, just a gate change, right? But then that’s how this nightmare started in the first place, with a gate change.

It’s going to be a long day.


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