The New Year’s That Wasn’t, Part II

After the lights finally came back on, SVV threw in the towel. “This night isn’t going to improve after all. I’m taking a shower and an Ambien and going to bed,” he proclaimed.

SVV and Ella, partying it up on New Year’s Eve in Nanconnah, Tennessee

So I went back to devouring Mockingjay as much I could with an apparent party going on in the hallway outside—who parties in the corridor of a dingy Courtyard in Nanconnah, I ask?—when a pounding on a door interrupted the most exciting part. Katniss was in the square at the Capitol—you Hunger Games fans know exactly the part I’m talking about—and I was not pleased to be disturbed. Wearing just a tank and boxers, I peered out the eyehole to see who had come to disrupt what was left of a hardly-peaceful evening. If I were your grandmother I’d call them hooligans, but because I’m a grandmother in a 27 year old’s body but 27, I’ll stick to calling them punks. Four punks, blinged out and flashing their underwear to the world as their pants settled somewhere between their ankles and knees, stood in front of the door. I cracked it enough to hear them out, but they just stared at me. No words were exchanged on either part. No “sorry, wrong room,” no explanation for why they were there, just blank stares that resulted in me shutting the door in their face.

Our last feast of 2010: Dinner of Champions

I expected name-calling to ensue, but instead, the partying continued without a second thought to a disheveled me in my boxers. SVV emerged from a cocoon of steam, turned his light off and tried to go to sleep. But the party outside prevented any Ambien-induced slumber. Now hardly anything rattles my husband, a tried-and-true Californian, but after the day we’d had, all he wanted was a little shut eye. After deducing that wasn’t happening anytime soon, he trudged down to the front desk for the third time that night and asked to be relocated. We were the fourth room to complain about the punks already, so they sent security down to assess the situation and move us to the other floor.

Ella keeping a low profile

After packing up our belongings for the second time that day, we were questioned by the armed guard about the punks as we stealthily snuck Ella past him—this was no pet-friendly hotel, remember, and American Airlines put us in this uncomfortable predicament—but all was good. I then popped an Ambien myself before laying down. I had just drifted off when my phone rang. But of course! It was 2011 in Richmond, Virginia, where my sister was spending New Year’s Eve with her boyfriend, and my mom, Kari and I don’t ring in a new year without calling each other when the clock strikes midnight in our respective time zones. Too bad the Ambien muddled my mind, and I don’t remember much of that conversation. I went back to bed without so much as waking at 12am on Central time; it was probably the first year since I was a small child that I wasn’t conscious to celebrate the new year.

But that’s because 4am, our wake-up time, was drawing near, and if there’s anything I hate more than getting up early, it’s getting up early to catch a flight. But obediently, we did just that, arriving at the airport to find all was on time and going smoothly. At last.

I checked in at the gate to inquire about my upgrade—usually when an airline has stranded you for a non-weather situation, they upgrade you if possible; we should have been double priority as the business class cabin was empty, and I am a gold AAdvantage member traveling on a Y class fare, which entitles a companion and me to complimentary upgrades when possible—only to find I wasn’t on the list. The Memphis employees, both working security and at the at gates, were truly lovely. I adore that about flying through the South: They seem to always want to make your travel experience as seamless and enjoyable as possible. Too bad corporate often has other plans.

Unfortunately, this woman could not find my name on the upgrade list, as much as she tried, even though I saw it myself on the American Airlines website that morning. She gave me a number to call; I did just that and received the nastiest AA employee I’ve ever spoken with, who sneered at me and told me if I wanted to be upgraded, that would be $300—apiece. Kind of defeats the purpose of achieving elite status for the “complimentary” upgrades, eh?

Needless to say, we flew back in cattle class—not that this is out of the ordinary—but all was good. We had a two-hour flight to Dallas, a four-hour connection to Reno, then an hour flight to San Francisco, all with just two-hour layovers in between. Ella continued to be an angel, not so much as emitting a bark. Even better, we got exit row seats, the only open seats on each flight, which I find hysterical given the fact that we were flying with a pet—something they very well knew given we made her reservation months in advance and were forced to pay $100 for her each way—and sitting in an exit row with such cargo is strictly forbidden. We had two really nice male flight attendants on the first two flights who turned a blind eye and let us hold Ella for much of the time (also not allowed). They were the bright spot in our day. When we got to our third flight, we found we were in bulkhead, meaning no seat in front of us to store her. We flagged down the FA to ask for a seat change, at which point we got a good lashing for sitting in an exit row. Like we had forced everything to go awry, thus resigning ourselves to the only empty seats, which happened to be in an exit row. “That’s not allowed!” she scolded. We know, we said, but we hardly chose our seats.

You’d think the woman had never had to reconfigure a flight for as much time as it took her to figure out how to switch us with other passengers. (Eventually, we just did it ourselves.) We did land in San Francisco, finally—and only an hour behind schedule—gathered our bags and hailed a cab. SVV had left my car on the street of our friends’ house in a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, near where we used to live and where I parked my car on a daily basis. Only we arrived and my car wasn’t there.

Let’s back up and rewind. SVV flew to Tennessee a week after me. We are some of the lucky ones who have a garage in our apartment building in San Francisco, so I planned on keeping my Altima safe and protected as I always do. I assumed SVV would leave his Jeep on the street, as he has a neighborhood parking permit. When he told me he’d be driving close to the airport and leaving my car uncovered in a residential area—for a full nine days—I sufficiently freaked out.

“Haven’t you seen Home Alone?? All the home burglaries and car thefts happen during the holidays!”

But as it turned out, SVV’s parents were going to come housesit for a few days over Christmas, and being the thoughtful, obliging son he is, he didn’t want them to worry about finding parking while they were here. How can you argue with that?

Well, did you know residents of California, that if you leave your car parked anywhere on any city street in the whole state for more than 72 hours, whether you live there or not, whether you have a permit or don’t, that the police can deem it “abandonment” and tow your ass? And that’s exactly what happened to us. But first, I spent a solid hour convinced my car was stolen—it probably would have been better that way as I’m fully insured—since the local police station couldn’t find a record of my vehicle for a good long while. At last, after we got back to our apartment in the city and made some calls, it was found.

Only the irony is that the car was towed the day before, just after the time we were supposed to land on our original flight on American Airlines. You know what else I’ve since learned from friends in the industry? American has a tendency to cancel flights that aren’t full and write it off as “mechanical errors” or something equally as vague. I had checked the seating chart the night before the flight, and it was hardly a third full. Fishy, that’s all I’m saying.

My point being had we gotten in a full day before as we should have, my car would have never been towed, SVV would not be out $700 (yes, when all tickets, “lein fees,” charges, etc. were tallied, that’s what it ended up totaling), and we would not have spent the first night of 2011 in a police station in San Bruno begging them to release my car and being stalked by mutant raccoons (true story).

So there you have it. I’m not so sure American Airlines will have my loyalty after this predicament. Especially since they haven’t so much as given us a credit or a voucher or a simple apology for all the trouble.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh to be so angry about the outcome of our situation? I realize that tens of thousands of travelers were stranded over the holidays—and that it could have been so, so much worse—but let’s remember that a) none of this was due to weather and b) IT WAS SIXTY-NINE FREAKIN’ DEGREES in Memphis that day. Is there not a single airline left that we consumers can count on? I’m starting to become really doubtful…and seriously afraid for the future of air travel.

UPDATE: American Airlines read this post, called to issue us an apology and offered a $400 travel voucher for the two of us. We appreciate the gesture and are happy to be compensated in some way  for all the hassle (though we’d still really like our $700 for the towing back!). Moral of this story? You have to fight to be get what you deserve in the travel and airline industries!

COMMENTS
  • January 10, 2011
    Bethany

    This whole story is just unbelievable. What a way to spend New Years. As far as American Airlines goes, I think they should have offered a credit or voucher or SOMETHING, at the very least. My flight home from Ireland was delayed (for ‘mechanical reasons’) by just three hours and Delta gave me a $100 credit.

  • January 10, 2011

    No, I don’t think you’re being too harsh at all. It’s a sucky situation and they haven’t treated you properly. Unfortunately, they tend to ignore us little people. I think the best thing in this sort of situation is to send in an email to Elliott.org or Clark Howard or one of the other major consumer advocates and see if you can get them to press AA on the issue.

    • January 10, 2011
      Kristin

      Akila, funny you say that–I was with Chris in Tahoe all weekend! He asked what I needed, and I said we were going to try to fix this on our own (for now), and if nothing happened, he’d be hearing from me =)

  • January 10, 2011

    Have to say I have never had a good flight with American Airlines and I’ve only ever heard bad things about them.

    • January 10, 2011
      Kristin

      Too bad they’re the cheapest from California to my home in Tennessee. Also, they have a monopoly on a lot of the Caribbean (and some South American) destinations from the US, which is just plain frustrating!

  • January 10, 2011

    I do not think you are being unfair in the least, I would’ve FLIPPED MY LID and there is NO WAY they would get my business again.

  • January 10, 2011

    US Airways does the same thing. I had a flight cancelled because it wasn’t full from Philadelphia to Atlanta and then had to wait another 8 hours for my flight. One of many reasons not to fly them. I don’t even know what airlines we can count on. Definitely not American, it seems. Delta is a hit or a miss with me. AirTran is usually good, but I haven’t seen good international deals with them lately. I’m sticking to United until something goes awry.

    • January 10, 2011
      Kristin

      Caroline, until Jan. 1, I was United Premier and didn’t have much better luck with them. AT LEAST, though, when they stranded me in a similar mechanical-issue situation, they were the ones who gave me a free RT domestic ticket, a first class upgrade, a nice hotel and a $250 travel voucher. I seemed to always be delayed on them, but they do have much better customer service than American!

  • January 10, 2011

    I don’t think you’re being too harsh, but I also don’t think it’s a problem that’s isolated to American. I’ve heard – and had – horror stories with pretty much every major US carrier plus British Airways (HATE. THEM.) and LAN for good measure. Gold status means nothing anymore, sadly, and they don’t even always seem to care about my executive platinum father. It’s a shame that flying often used to get you perks and be enjoyable, and now the entire industry is just a hurdle you have to jump to get to wherever you want to go. Write to American and complain, and you should at least get some miles for your troubles.

    Your story is particularly horrendous though – and I say that as someone who wore a cocktail dress to Denny’s at midnight outside DFW thanks to American’s 14 hour delay of my flight back to Santiago last year.

    • January 10, 2011
      Kristin

      That’s the thing, Emily: I’m well aware that my case is not an isolated one, nor is it at all rare. I’ve had much worse travel experiences, and I’ve also read some true horrors from people traveling over these past holidays. It’s horrific what these airlines can get away with! But I’m very pro-consumer (obviously), so I try to complain (via the Internet–Twitter, Facebook, blog, etc.), not for sympathy or to be all “woe is me,” but in an effort to get my voice heard and call out these businesses on their shady practices! They get away with murder; it’s absolutely ridiculous!

      • January 10, 2011

        Oh, totally agree – I complained about my experience on my blog and don’t think people should keep quiet because maybe someday things might actually improve (although I’m not holding my breath). I have just sadly come to the conclusion that the threat of “taking my business elsewhere” only means I’d be starting from scratch on elite status with another airline that’s just as bad, so for now I’m sticking with American/oneworld. Anyone feel like starting an airline?

    • January 10, 2011
      SVV

      LOVE that visual. I’ll bet (just a shot in the dark here) that you were the best dressed in that restaurant.

  • January 10, 2011

    i hope you have seen this youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo all you have to do is get someone to write you a song and it go viral to the tune of 5 million hits!

    • January 10, 2011
      Kristin

      Too bad I’m neither musical nor creative! Maybe you can work on that for me, cuz =)

  • January 10, 2011

    Yikes yikes yikes!!! Well, you got all of the crap out of the way and now 2011 can be the most amazing year yet! Definitely not being too harsh. Hope someone from AA reads this.

    • January 10, 2011
      Kristin

      They’re reading–it’s whether or not they do anything about it. Fingers crossed they come to their senses!

  • January 10, 2011

    Unreal.
    Most airlines lose money on flights that aren’t nearly 100% full these days (gas prices!) so I would be less than surprised if a “mechanical problem” was truly the reason for cancellation. Very suspicious, if you ask me.

  • January 10, 2011

    How awful!!! Though I’m very glad American read this and offered some form of compensation and apology, even though it was far from sufficient. I hate how on bad travel days, it seems that everything goes wrong (Murphy’s Law is so true). What a bummer that you guys had a lousy New Year’s Eve and crappy travel day–I can’t believe you didn’t get upgraded and that you were seated in areas where your dog couldn’t tag alone. Flying is such a necessary evil. I hate it!

  • January 10, 2011

    Holy fuck! I was going to write my own post about shitty travel (our own flight home was canceled for “mechanical errors,” forcing us to take a flight the next day,) but after reading your tweets I knew I should probably leave this one up to the master.

    And for what it’s worth, the only disastrous flight I’ve ever had was on American. I’m not a fan.

  • January 10, 2011

    I hope 2011 has been looking up since that start! I would be furious and I would write letters to the head honchos at American AND their mileage program- they should listen to you as a customer, but especially as an elite flier. I think I remember that you’re not a fan of United either, but I have been really well treated by them when things go wrong, especially with elite status- always apologies and vouchers etc…

    • January 10, 2011
      Kristin

      Erin, you’re right, I’m not a fan of United, but when a similar situation happened to me on a United flight, they more than fairly compensated ALL passengers (RT voucher, $250 travel credit, complimentary upgrades), without anyone needing to complain.

      • January 10, 2011

        I’m glad American came through with a voucher, finally!
        Now I hardly fly at all, but after our Christmas flights (3 hour delay with baby in tow, no thank you!), I don’t mind so much!

  • January 10, 2011

    It kills me that they only offered the courtesy of a voucher AFTER you write these posts.

    I hope 2011 has treated you a little better since New Year’s

    • January 10, 2011
      Kristin

      Exactly! That’s why I think everyone should be so aggressive–it’s the only way to get what you’re due in this day and age (at least when it comes to the airlines), you know?

  • January 10, 2011

    Sometimes, I’m glad I don’t fly very often. Even as much as I love to travel, flying can be such a hassle. They are in control. Glad they compensated you something.

    • January 11, 2011
      Kristin

      I think on our next big trip, we’re going to mimic your mode of travel. SVV’s parents have a 19-foot camper, and we’re hoping to borrow it to see Montana, Idaho and Wyoming!

  • January 10, 2011
    Sid

    Ha. I knew that there was a good chance that American Airlines would read this post and try to refund you. If your blog wasn’t this popular, they’d probably just have ignored you.

    What a rotten way to spend the New Year. So? What do you have planned this year with regards to travel destinations?

    • January 11, 2011
      Kristin

      Sid: I think it was more a matter that I Tweeted them a bazillion times, and finally when I Tweeted and linked to this post, they noticed. But you’re right: It’s frustrating how much effort it takes just to get their attention, right?

      My 2011 is blissfully open! Well, that’s not totally true, but no international plans–rather, a lot of domestic travel. I’m going to LA this weekend, SVV and I are going to Tahoe for a week at the end of the month and a week at the end of February, then Ojai and Santa Barbara, and Vail for more skiing. Since he’s currently not working, we’re taking advantage of that. We also might do a massive Western road trip in May and June if his parents will let us borrow their trailer!

  • January 11, 2011

    This whole story is insane! Good thing you’ve got a blog, I guess, and they read this! I hope 2011 has been better for you since then…what a rough holiday, jeesh.

  • January 11, 2011

    Not too harsh AT ALL. Customer service in this country (listen to me…who’s the grandma now?) is a shit-show and only started to improve when the economy took a nosedive. Unfortunately, airlines haven’t jumped on that bandwagon and are STILL as unhelpful as ever, which really pisses me off, as you pay SO MUCH for air travel and are treated the absolute worst.

    In other news, my second cousin is a FA for AA…I wonder if he was one of your nice guys!

    • January 11, 2011
      Kristin

      That would be rad! Does he ever fly routes in and out of Dallas? I had the same two male FAs on my Memphis to Dallas and Dallas to Reno legs.

  • January 12, 2011

    I hate having cars towed– I remember ours was towed one day in Hoboken and it cost us $300 to recover it, which is why I fear for leaving my auto unattended. Not that Airport parking is cheap, by any standards! Booo to AA–glad you got that refund voucher.

  • January 12, 2011
    TraciJ

    YIKES – What a travel story!! I don’t think you were too harsh at all……………The car being towed was the worst ever (especially after your travel nightmare)! I had my car towed years ago (brand new) and also thought it was stolen…..No, only towed and expensive!!! =(

    We also flew on New Year’s Eve. We were on the opposite route: Oakland to Nashville (connecting at LAX) – We had a 2 hour delay at LAX because our plane was coming in from Denver (weather), so we were almost 2 hours late getting in. We stayed in a hotel in Nashville, because we wanted to go the the block party/guitar drop Downtown, but it was 10pm and it was raining. So we decided to stay in and my hubby ran to the liquor store for some bubbly and Micky D’s – another dinner of champions, HA!

    Happy New Year!!

  • January 14, 2011

    Sounds like a horrible day! I can’t hardly believe how much bad luck someone can have on one day! If you have a little time and if u are interested in reading a (tiny little bit) more positive, European version of snowmaggedon 2010, check this out:

    http://respacedgirl.blogspot.com/2010/12/chaos-in-copenhagen-day-2.html

    best wishes from ur new follower,
    respaced girl

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  • March 21, 2017

    We also flew on New Year’s Eve. We were on the opposite route: Oakland to Nashville from Denver (weather), so we were almost 2 hours late getting in. We stayed in a hotel in Nashvill!!

  • March 21, 2017

    What a travel story!! I don’t think you were too harsh at all. The car being towed was the worst ever (especially after your travel nightmare)! hahaha it’s okay

  • March 21, 2017

    This whole story is insane! Good thing you’ve got a blog, I guess, and they read this! I hope 2011 has been better for you since then…what a rough holiday, jeesh.!!!!
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