The flight was at 10pm with direct service from DFW to SEA and you had taken all the responsible travel precautions. Reserve a seat next to your child, travel health papers for the new puppy, save all the confirmation numbers for the pet reservation for your flight, you have called and confirmed and re-confirmed more times than you can count. This trip is going to be seamless, you just know it. You are travel-savvy and so very on top of things.
Somewhere between bumping along in the rental car shuttle to the terminal and consoling a fussy 8 week old puppy who misses his mother you feel the fateful *burr-burr* of your phone's incoming text message. Perhaps you should learn that any sort of *burr-burr* an hour before your flight is a bad sign, but not today. Today all is well until the phone buzzes. The phone offers a sort of smug text that says "Your flight to Sea-Tac has been canceled." Not delayed, just canceled. With an hour's notice.
Of course you try to not panic. That would be dumb. Look at these delightful liabilities you are traveling with. An exhausted kindergartner and a freshly weaned puppy, now is not the time for you to become equally useless. So you make your way to the ticket counter determined to get out on whatever flight you could. You are the customer. These people would be out of a job if it wasn't for you. You've made reservations and paid hundreds of dollars, the least they could do is make sure you sleep in your own bed tonight. Right? Right!?!?
Of course. This is America. We didn't win two World Wars and become an economic superpower just so we could make sure people got what they actually paid for when it came to services. Of course not. No, this must be made complicated. Extremely complicated. We must find ways to avoid making sure customers are treated well. This is American Airlines: We can do whatever we want and you will have to pay for it!
Perhaps it was losing my bags during a European winter vacation that has made me completely unflappable when it comes to airlines misbehaving. They are jerks, but if you are a jerk right back the odds are good you'll get somewhere.
Traveling usually puts you at an emotional and physical disadvantage. Like playing an away game on the opposing team's home turf. (So I hear. I never actually played sports.) The airline is the beefy, undefeated football champions playing on their regular field. You? You are the little scrappy team coached by Rick Moranis hoping for a fair shot. Airlines are well aware of this fact, as they are also aware of the fact that you are more or less hamstrung unless they play nice. What is a stranded traveler to do?
I've done many things over the years when getting screwed over by airlines. Somewhere between spending the night in my sister's dorm and being stranded in London in the dead of winter I finally wised up to the one dirty secret commercial airlines don't want you to know: Hold them accountable.
Whenever an airline representative tries to put the burden of getting home on you, shift that bad boy right back over to the very people you paid.
So, yeah, I locked my knee (the other one won't) and figuratively banged my fists on the ticket counter and demanded to be put on the soonest flight out of DFW. Once I was told that the next flight wasn't until the following afternoon I requested a comped hotel room. When the guy tried to tell me that the flight cancellation was due to weather and not crew (absolving the airline of any and all responsibility to pay for the inconvenience of staying an unplanned night in Dallas) I promptly called his lie bluff and noted the staff who told me that is was due to issues with the crew.
The guy backed down.
I got my hotel paid for, with food vouchers.
Oliver was sprawled on the dirty linoleum sucking his thumb with his lovey.
I tired to not think about the germs.
A passerby noted how well seasoned Oliver was at travel.
We booked tickets for the next day.
This was not how I was planning to spend the night. But the hotel was free, as were the sandwiches.
Of course it didn't really end there. The clerk tried to book me on flights with airlines that had pet policies that were incompatible with next day travel and I insisted he take me and my son off those flights and put us back on the ones with AA. I swiped and poked my phone to confirm said policies for hotels and airlines and gave the guy real-time updates while he did my bidding on the keyboard. I've gotta say, it felt amazing. It was in this moment that I learned to put the burden of getting home on the airlines. You paid them for a service and they need to deliver. Sadly sometimes we have to remind them of that.
We were a ridiculous motley crew rolling up to The Westin in Dallas. I washed my underwear in the hotel sink and we took full advantage of the bath robes that were provided. The puppy slept in his carrier in the bed in hopes that he wouldn't freak out and wake the entire hotel. The next morning we donned our grubby clothes and boarded our flight that would hopefully get us home.
After another missed flight in Phoenix, we finally found ourselves arriving in Seattle nearly 24 hours after our original scheduled arrival.
Moral of the story is: Don't be afraid to hold airlines accountable. You paid them for a service, and if they don't deliver let them know. It is a shame they take advantage of you being in the more vulnerable position. Calmly putting the responsibility back on the airline to get you home is your best bet at coming out ahead. Take names, save receipts, call customer service, and take to Twitter if you must.
Movie Bilbo Baggins hit the travel nail on the head when he said "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”