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!