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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Comments (65)

65 responses to “My Las Vegas Travel Nightmare”

  1. 5234

    All the hotels in Vegas wreak of cigarette smoke - EVERYWHERE!  It's also too expensive.  I won't ever go back there.

  2. 214

    Godspeed, Paul.

    Been there.


  3. 774

    Well, the C119 whose rear door system kept popping open in flight from Massachusetts to Tullahoma, TN was worse than your AA flight. (ROTC cadet trip.) It became much worse when the crew got tired of securing the door and said "would someone still wearing a parachute please secure the door" (someone did, that someone was NOT I).

    On the other hand, the VIP C47 (that is, DC3) from Massachusetts (same airfield whose name escapes me) to Messina NY for an in depth (literally) look at the Eisenhower Lock (different name then?) was really nice, as was the tour.

      --John (who hasn't flown commercially for almost 2 1/2 decades, or military since an OV-1-B in 1965)

    PS: CES no longer requires in-person coverage.

  4. 169

    My worst was a flight from Belgium to Baltimore.  Got stuck in a layover at Heathrow during 4th of July during an airport strike.  Was stuck for almost three days.  Eventually got back through Canada.    Since then and a few other experiences, I now avoid evening flights, especially in winter, and try to get the first flight out of the morning.  

  5. 2

    Thanks everyone.

    Quick follow-up: My flight home Sunday happened without any drama, aside from the fact that American Airlines' plans are terrible compared to JetBlue's. But I was happy to be on it, of course. 

    Next up, I need to figure out how to get JetBlue to compensate me for completing f'ing me over. Curious how that is going to go: I've been a JetBlue customer for many years, and love the service. But this episode was unforgivable. 


  6. 3272

    I would have been so pissed off that I would have stroked out. Seriously, no matter how angry you have gotten, you have handled it better than I would. I can't stand flying as it is. Hopefully by next year CES will have a VR app so you can strap a Rift on your face and attend the show without getting on a damn plane. Wish you luck getting home.

  7. 2585

    The universe is giving you a reason to avoid CES next year. Sounds like a great reason to return...!

  8. 2428

    Here is to wishing you get home safely Paul.

  9. 5477

    Paul, I think you should invest in an RV. This way, you can travel and sleep at the same time! 

    • 5553

      In reply to polloloco51:I'm looking into a Ram Promaster City.
      Great reviews and a little over 30 real MPG on the hwy.
      I can sleep in it after my bike rides at the beach while waiting for traffic to clear to drive inland to home.


    • 5566

      In reply to polloloco51:

      Go first class...


    • 54

      In reply to polloloco51:

      Driving and sleeping at the same time isn't a good thing... and although Paul might like looking at trees through a camera, I'm pretty sure Paul doesn't want to see one come through the windshield (or not see it if he doesn't wake up...)

      Having done some "long distance" driving here in Australia (Brisbane to Townsville is two days, and Brisbane to Sydney is 12 hours), it's almost as stressful as flying...

  10. 210

    My wife and I had an experience somewhat like this many years ago. I don't remember which airline it was, but I do recall that they used the same excuse of needing to bring in a new flight crew.

    When it became clear we were going to be stuck in St. Louis overnight (not part of our original flight plan) the airline gave us vouchers for a nearby hotel. We got on the shuttle to the hotel, which turned out to be something like half an hour away and not particularly nearby after all. Then when we went to check in, the desk clerk told us the airline hadn't been paying the hotel chain and our vouchers were no good. We were so exhausted we ponied up for the room anyway, even though money was tight for us back then.

  11. 180

    I feel your pain. I've had a couple of travel disasters in my life, enough that these days I do consider the insurance option depending on distance and itinerary. A few years ago, we were flying from New Jersey back home to Albuquerque, NM, and our connecting flight in Dallas was cancelled. We were able to use insurance to both book a hotel and, when we were unable to get a flight back home the next day(!) it paid for a rental car and gas, and we just drove the distance. A 10 hour drive with the infant we had at the time was utterly miserable, but at least we got home.

  12. 8607

    If you'ld of taken a train, you'ld be home now... huh.

  13. 3391

    Hopefully you are getting home today.

  14. 5641

    Happened to me flying United from Orlando to Vegas. Thought it was direct flight but was actually via DC. Flight was late so missed connecting. Had to fly to Chicago, then Los Angeles then Vegas, all on standby. I had the wife, a three and two year old and wife's two elderly parents in their late 70s.

    kudos to United though, as when we got to the baggage hall in Vegas, all our bags, which wed checked in, in Orlando, were waiting for us. Amazing.

  15. 5456

    Sounds like Paul had a fun weekend :-D

  16. 2532

    Lack of information is not just limited to Jet Blue. My family had a similar experience with Air Canada with delay after delay and lie after lie. And rescheduling, and more delays and more lying. It's really tragic that in this age of instant information that the front line employees are either one, making it up, or two told to stall and lie. Either one is unacceptable. the air line industry really needs to get it's act together it's truly getting out of hand.

  17. 442

    I've learned to just sleep in the Airport, with an alarm every 20 mins to catch changes to the flight info.  Jet lag is one thing, this kind of travel is killer!  My hats off to your resolve Paul!

    P.S. I used to work for an airline.  One perk was almost free flight to anywhere in the World.  Bad part was, it was only if there were free seats, which you never knew until you went to the airport and the last paid passenger had loaded.  So, it was usually a sit and wait game, sometimes a LONG wait for a flight that was empty enough for any employees who were waiting for a flight.

  18. 5072

    I understand and acknowledge that when running a big airline, STUFF is going to happen; it's part of the landscape.

    What rankles is that just about every airline I've ever dealt with uses, as a first line strategy, feeding lies and BS to the gate personnel and letting them take all the flack when it's determined that everything that's been said for the last couple of hours is lies and BS.

    I have a hard time finding trust for any organization who uses lying as the first choice response.  The fact that the practice is enshrined in the entire air travel industry just saddens me.

  19. 2330

    Don't worry, Delta decided to delay our flight by almost four hours and not to have reps at the baggage drop off at the regional 30 minutes before the plane even touched down (after Christmas mind you, but it's a regional). I along with eight other people sat there paging people to come check our baggage, so my wife whom is in the Air Force was forced to go through while I held all the luggage because they'll send people after her if she doesn't return from leave.

    Delta never came, instead someone came after they took to reschedule ALL of us. I asked to see the station manager and asked why no one was at the baggage drop. She said she was there at 1:55 PM, I said absolutely not, I have pictures of me holding up my watch and the baggage drop area where no one was. She then proceeded to tell me that I should have been there two hours before touch down (that's supposdley Delta's official policy). I said I was furious at this point and to rebook my flight tomorrow and give me a hotel room for the night which she said she wouldn't do (until a news crew just happened to show up - perfect timing). She told me sir I'm trying to help you at which point I snipped back by calling your customers liars? That's not very helpful, just please stop talking to me and print my vouchers so I can leave. She kept on trying to tell me that I wasn't there (again, I have proof) so I told her to please stop talking to me again and just give me the vouchers. She then told me that my luggage wouldn't have made it on the plane anyway (30 minutes before touchdown you guys have the luggage vehicle out on the tarmac, again more lies).

    I called Delta that night, they were HORRIFIED that no one was there and the supposed station manager treated us the way that she did. She wouldn't give us her name and her badge was hidden beneath a scarf of some sort. 

    Come to find out, she wasn't the station manager, she was just a attendant at the terminal as my wife recognized her and said she was the one that wouldn't go down there to grab luggage. The actual station manager apparently recognized me the next day and told me I should have been there TWO HOURS BEFORE THE ORIGINAL FLIGHT TIME. I've never laughed so hard in my life, I told her she obviously is insane and that no one is going to be there eight hours before a flight departure. 

    In relation to your article, the snow that we got up here in the NE area was much worse than anticipated by meteorologists (although I must say, I called it the morning of when they quoted us 1-3", we got 9").

  20. 1043

    The last time I flew AA was on a business trip, the plane to the destination was modern with fancy LED screens and mood lighting, the plane for the return flight had yellowed plastic everywhere and CRT screens that popped down from the ceiling. My worst flight though was a return trip from Mexico where they had to jump start the engines, it got worse from there. First time I ever kissed the ground and was grateful to be alive.

  21. 5285

    Hi Paul, I sympathize with your troubles, but believe you should have been on the 3:50am flight without compounding your issues.

    You wrote:

    "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."

    I disagree, respectfully of course.

    You already suspected the JetBlue Rep's story didn't add up. Why did you believe him when he said you could leave and come back at 7:30? I think that was the Double-Jameson impairing your judgement.

    Sleeping in a chair at the Airport would have afforded you the same fitful four hours of sleep, but would have gotten you out of Vegas. Although, Your story is definitely more interesting because you left and then missed the departing flights, so if the point is to increase your readership, well done!

    All that being said, JetBlue owes you a free travel voucher, or at least and apology for the mis-information at the gate.


  22. 265

    So how did it come out?  Did PT ever make it home, or he is still in the midst of some retrograde motion back westward, like the way the planets seem to move in the night sky?  

    My best travel horror was my last family trip to Disney World early one morning out of EWR when an unannounced TSA crackdown added at least an hour to our passage towards the gates, with the door closing us out even as we arrived.  Like if we were 15 seconds earlier we would have made it!  My wife who is a nervous flyer and my then-young 3 kids all were in tears, "We're NOT going to Disney World!".  As we were hardly the only travelers thrown off schedule, it was the predictable cyclonic despair at the desks, and we wound up taking 3 separate flights down to Orlando.  I did my part by repeatedly telling my wife and kids, "It's an Airport ADVENTURE!"  They didn't see the humor in it.  It was a little worrying, because I had to make the executive decision to send my son down alone first and trust he'd have sense enough to wait for us at MCO.  This was before everyone had cellphones, too.  So when we all finally arrive in Orlando at MCO and my son is nowhere to be found and my wife starts to panic but I thought to call the hotel and turns out he hopped on a shuttle and somehow talked the front desk into letting him check in for us, though he wasn't yet a teenager, and he promptly fell asleep in the hotel room.     

  23. 1377

    There are no safe flights to East Coast in January.

    The problem was believing a gate minion after 8:00 PM at night, especially on a Friday.

  24. 215


    My heart goes out to you.  I use to spend 100,000 miles a year in the air, and have a lot of stories.  But I can honestly say I don't miss it.

    Hope you made it home safely.

  25. 5245

    And I was afraid the Excalibur would be the worse part of the trip.  We are so lucky when people say "but you get to travel in your job." 

    Great narrative Paul.  #FeelYourPain 

  26. 5553

    My nightmare...I tried to play BF1 with a controller !

    Well I took it back (XB1S) and am building a gaming PC. So it will end OK.


  27. 5553

    This sympathy story got to me...but not enough to go Premium ?

  28. 217

    Wow, that sucks. Safe travels Paul. Get some rest!

  29. 8850

    Feel for you Paul what a nightmare. Let us know how you get on hopefully your next flights on time and you get back home ok. I don't think CES is worth all this aggravation.

  30. 5554

    "I was inconvenienced at an airport and this is the tragic tale of woe.." 

    • 2

      In reply to PeteB:

      I was lied to by an airline representative and instead of spending 9 hours at the airport, I used a crappy $400 per night hotel, plus $100 in taxis, to miss my $900 flight. It's a little more dramatic than you make it sound, especially when you realize that everything around CES is very expensive. $500 in new airline fees later, a free night stay and two airport drives by my sister in Phoenix, I got home. Oh, and my parking fee in Boston was $160.

      It kind of adds up.

  31. 8899

    Exactly why I vacation at places within a day's drive.  Flying is a nightmare

  32. 5530

    Why do airlines and air travels in the west suck so much? Over here in South-East-Asia we never have problems like these, and when we do, the airline - or airport - provides you with a place to stay. Hell our airport has a "Airport hotel" specifically for this kind of thing.
    • 5641

      In reply to FalseAgent:

      One word. Snow. Can close an airport for a couple of days and then the backlog does the rest.

    • 507

      In reply to FalseAgent:

      You contradict yourself: "we never have problems like these" versus "when we do". ;-)

      SEA does experience disruptions, but those caused by a heavy rainstorm are short-lived delays where you can often complete your journey the same day. The disruptions caused by a snowstorm are longer delays or cancellations, much like some SEA cities experience with typhoons.

      European and North American airports also have airport hotels with many other hotels a short drive away.

      Depending on your airline and the ticket you purchased, you may or may not be entitled to a free hotel stay. With the cheapest flights, you have to buy "insurance" or pay some other fee to be assured of a hotel and priority rebooking services. Some gamble and take the cheapest options. Even if you are entitled to a hotel, the whole process can be slow. I was delayed a few years ago at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. The whole airport had been shut down due to a windstorm.  It's a hub airport, so many passengers were needing to connect to another flight. It took 8 hours for me just to stand in line and get my number and another 1.5 hours to get to the counter to rebook and get my hotel voucher.

      Also keep in mind distance. Were you to travel the same distance as many North Americans, you would be travelling out of SEA into other parts of Asia and increasing your chances of delays, especially if you were needing to change planes. Paul's trip was about 3600 km. Singapore to Hong Kong is about 2600 km.

  33. 2420

    But wait! Did Brad make it in time? :-)

  34. 699

    Good grief! That does sound like a total nightmare. Just glad you had family you could stay with! (This I why I drive everywhere because airlines stress me out.) I'm sure a royally pissed off Paul is not a pretty sight. ha! Best wishes for a safe trip home. More fodder for Brad to joke about, I guess.

  35. 2428

    Quick question? Could you flew to New York and take the train home?

  36. 3128

    I haven't flown much, but the worst experiences I've had were having to run to the gate, OJ Simpson style (pre-TSA of course), and having a 3 hour layover, but was given a meal voucher, so not too bad. I try to believe I don't mind flying, but I hate to travel, period.

  37. 6358

    Ouch. That's terrible. You have my condolences, Paul.

  38. 1519

    This is why I joined and have been in the Navy for the past 20 years,  Rooms avail, no traffic, no lines

  39. 5057

    Here is why I ALWAYS have a drive home backup plan in North America.   I know it sounds crazy but sometimes preferred over waiting and getting sick.

  40. 5476

    Not that it matters, but an FYI the plane that did go Fri night (sat AM) from LAS to BOS was actually impacted by the Fort Lauderdale shooting.  it was supposed to go from SFO-->FLL, then FLL-->Quito.  The plane you were going to be on got stuck in Florida, so they ended up moving that plane cancelled from SFO to Vegas which is how your plane ended up going in the middle of the night.  That said, telling you to leave the airport is a joke.  Hope you get your money back for the AA part.  

    You can check out the history of plane that ended up going here.

  41. 5619

    We have the same problem with the Easyjet App in Europe. A handy tip is to always screen grab your boarding pass from the phone. I've had it disappear, when a flight is delayed/gate has closed.

    The only difference in Europe is the notifications are pretty much 100% accurate on the Easyjet App (quite impressive actually, worth remembering). The Easyjet ground staff are the ones that lie. It's quite funny to listen to the Ground Staff over the tannoy, saying it is a 10 minute delay, when the App is telling you 35 minutes. It always ends up being accurate i.e. 35mins. I fly Easyjet a lot.

    Easyjet are quick to notify too if there is a long delay i.e. change of plane etc/several hours. I've been notified earlier in the day, that the flight will be delayed 4 hours and stupidly taken my time to then get to the Airport, only to find as Paul did, to arrive at the Airport, find that the boarding pass has disappeared from my phone, because I arrived long after the original flight time/gate has closed. The delayed flight hadn't left yet though.

    This is not something to do at UK Airport, turn up after the flight has closed. Security will try to prevent you getting through the security (and it can be quite hard finding someone to help at 12 midnight, if all other schedule flights have departed), because UK Airport security hasn't yet caught up with state of the art , notifications of actual delays via the Easyjet App.

    Hence they'll treat you very suspiciously (and I'm white, without a beard, it shouldn't matter but obviously does), if they indeed to let you through. They'll search everything and swab laptops and you. (Moral of this story, don't turn up late, turn up on time, even if you have been told flight is delayed by hours, silly as this is).

    Working in tech, we expect everyone else to be up to speed, i.e. everyone is using the App info from Easyjet. It doesn't happen that way (yet), sadly.


  42. 459

    What a complete nightmare! I wouldn't blame you for skipping CES next year.

  43. 2235

    Louis C.K. always put this in a little perspective

  44. 5664

    It's stories like this that make me dread flying so much in haven't seen beloved family members in years. 

    I know I wouldn't handle it well at all, so I don't do it. 

  45. 3709

    Can't wait to hear the epilogue.

  46. travelexplore

    Had to cancel due to travel buddy getting emergency surgery. Aneurysms. Made it up year later though ?

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