Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I’ve traveled extensively for business and pleasure for over 25 years and have my share of good, bad and ugly travel stories.  Here are a few of my more memorable ones.

Planes

After a week in D.C. on business in the mid-80s, I was returning home at about five in the afternoon on the Friday before Memorial Day.  National Airport (that what it was called then) was as packed as you’d expect for a holiday weekend.  I had to sit across the aisle from my flight’s departure gate and between the din and poor speaker quality  the flight announcements were hard to understand.  My flight’s departure time passed without a boarding announcement.

About a half-hour after the scheduled time, there was an announcement I couldn’t make out but everyone in that boarding area got into line and so I did too.  I showed my boarding ticket to the agent and was waved through.  I located my seat for the flight to Atlanta and hoped I wouldn’t miss the connection to Florida.

Then, another passenger asked if I was in the correct seat and I flashed my boarding card.  He remarked there was a screw-up because he had the same seat but would find another one.  As the flight attendants began their routine before shutting the door, I overheard a passenger in the seat in front of me remarking about what time the flight would arrive…in Dallas!

I was on the wrong flight! That explained the seat assignment “error.”   I quickly exited the plane and my flight boarded at the same gate after the Dallas flight left. This experience began bad, ended up good but could have been very ugly.

More Planes

Enroute to Manila in 1995 for a three week trip to Asia for our honeymoon, Susie and I had an overnight layover in Seoul.  The next morning, I noticed the Korean Airlines agent was closely scrutinizing my passport and the temporary Korean Airlines frequent flyer program membership card I had picked up in Atlanta to get credit for the thousands of miles we were flying.  Finally, she gave us our boarding documents with a simple “enjoy your flight.”

As we boarded, I flashed the documents to the attendant at the 747’s doorway and began to turn to my right.  She stopped me and said, “Sir, your seats are to your left.”  I looked to the left…first class?  I gave her a puzzled look and she just smiled, saying “Today is your lucky day.”

Then I realized that the check-in agent noticed my passport showed Manila as my birthplace, decided I was visiting “home” and put us in first class even though there were many Korean businessmen in coach she could have upgraded instead.  That three hour flight to Manila was my first (and to date only) time in first class and it was heavenly.

Even More Planes

No so heavenly was the pre-flight experience two weeks later during that Asia trip when we were enroute to Bangkok from Hong Kong.  Our Cathay Pacific 747 was almost full but we didn’t leave as scheduled and with no AC it was getting hot.  After about 30 minutes the captain advised that we had not left the gate because two passengers had not boarded.

For security reasons, we could not depart until either they boarded or their luggage was found and removed.  The luggage compartment was being searched but finding a few pieces of luggage on an almost fully loaded 747 was not a quick proposition.  It could be five minutes or an hour.

After about another 30 minutes, the missing passengers showed up. It was a Japanese couple and the husband was intoxicated so he would not be allowed to board.  It then took another 15-20 minutes to locate their luggage, so we left about 90 minutes late.  My only consolation is that the husband became belligerent when told he couldn’t board and was arrested by airport police.  Lucky for him, Hong Kong was still under British rule at the time.

Trains

My experience with trains is largely limited to two trips to three European countries totaling 7 weeks.  We traveled quite a bit by train in both Italy (1988) and Spain (2006).  In Italy, a train trip between Pompei and Sorrento on the Amalfi coast was like one of those TV commercials I‘ve seen Amtrak run for it‘s Western routes.

For a portion of the trip, we were on a mountain with spectacular views of the coast below.  And the great part was I could watch the scenery the whole time, unlike when we drove many scenic routes, such as Big Sur or the Oregon coast, and I had to keep my eyes on the road if I didn’t want to end up in the ocean.

Automobiles

At a rental counter in Tallahassee, the agent asked where we were headed and I replied that we would be in Tampa Bay for a long weekend.  He remarked that the weather was really nice for driving and would I mind a complimentary upgrade from a mid-size to a Chrysler Le Baron convertible?  Gas was still fairly cheap then, so I took him up on the offer.  That five hour drive to Tampa Bay, with the top down, was delightful and we got a lot of looks from the “hardtops.”

On a business trip, I arrived at the Tampa airport Avis counter to find a single agent and a line of about six folks.  I noticed that the “Select” line at the other end of the counter was open and even though it had no agent I decided the single agent was doing double duty.  So I stood in that area.

The busy agent hadn’t noticed me but a frustrated looking woman at the end of the “regular” line had and was giving me the evil eye.  I avoided eye contact and watched the agent.  After about a minute, “frustrated” cracked and said to me in a loud, unpleasant voice: “Sir, the line is over here.”  It was clear from her tone that she really meant:  Stop trying to sneak in ahead of us, you #$&^@….

As I considered whether to even bother replying to that completely out-of-line remark, the Avis agent looked up to see what the commotion was all about.  She looked at me, told me to stay where I was and told “frustrated”: “Ma’am, he’s Select and he’s next.”  I gave “frustrated” a pointed “How’s your foot tasting?” look as she pursed her lips and looked down.

To borrow from American Express, “membership has its privileges.”  Even if you don’t travel that much, there’s no cost to join all the loyalty programs of the airlines, hotels, and auto rental firms you’re likely to use.  I’m technically a member of at least six airline programs although I fly Southwest almost exclusively.  I belong to probably eight hotel programs although I usually stay at either La Quinta or a Choice brand hotel.  I also belong to five car rental programs but usually rent from Dollar.

The major benefit is the freebies from earning points.  Besides the free flights and hotel stays are the free upgrades “if available.”  Both La Quinta and Choice often give me a complimentary upgrade to a suite.  Dollar often upgrades me to an intermediate for the price of a compact.

Also, my experience is that membership in these programs provides an edge if there is any problem with service.   In the rare situations I’ve had to escalate an issue to a manager, I always begin by noting my membership in their loyalty program and the problem is often resolved to my liking.

On a trip to Georgia‘s Golden Isles, I was told by a clerk that there was no room available even though I had a guaranteed reservation.  When I took it up with the manager and expressed my shock that this could happen to a loyalty member, he found me a room.  Seems most hotels “hold back” a room or two, even when “sold out” for just these situations and loyalty members get priority because they represent repeat business.

In Orlando airport returning from New Mexico, there was a backlog of folks waiting for a vehicle and I was told there would be a thirty minute wait for a car of any size or they could upgrade me for free to an SUV.  I didn’t want the SUV because of poor gas mileage since we were driving it back to Tallahassee.  They had no other cars in any other size because of the backlog.

My perspective was that since I’m an “Express” member, I’m supposed to have a vehicle ready for me upon arrival.  They had given that vehicle to someone and hoped to replace it before I arrived but that hadn’t happened.  So why was I supposed to wait at the back of the line now when it was their fault no vehicle was ready for me?

I called the toll free customer service center for the loyalty program and explained the situation.  They asked me to give the phone to the agent.  I received an acceptable vehicle (intermediate) as soon as the first group of vehicles arrived and the crowd gave me the evil eye while one customer began hollering at the agent about why I received a vehicle when he had been there before me.  Her reply: HQ told her to do it because I was an “Express” member and not supposed to wait.  That seemed to satisfy him.

May all your travel adventures be only good and your travel deals be monsters!

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6 responses to “Planes, Trains and Automobiles

  1. Thanks for all the tips. One of these days, when I become a regular traveler, I’ll know how to work the system!

  2. Omg…your first section “Planes” is like the worst nightmare I’ve ever had, not to mention that flying these days is a nightmare in and of itself. But it reminded me of a flight I once took on Southwest (I love them too). The flight attendant started by saying, “We’re going to Fort Worth. Is that where you’re going? If not, you need to get off the plane.”
    I’m also reminded of the time when I got lost in the Syracuse NY airport. Which is pretty hard to do. I had pre-rented a car and couldn’t find their desk. So I called Travelocity on my cell phone, of course I got someone from India, and they said, Where are you? I said, I’m in the middle of the aisle in Terminal A, and to my right is a restuarant named something or the other. They said, look to your left and walk like three feet. Spooky, huh? In my defense, the car company was in temporary quarters and had no sign.
    I love trains. Never had a bad experience on a train.

    • Wow…I’m impressed they could direct you. They must have had a map or written info.

      Where have you ridden trains? U.S? We did take a commuter train between Baltimore and D.C. Flew into Baltimore and there’s two trains to D.C. there – Amtrak and Maryland. Just $4 (maybe $5) each and they go right into Union Station, which is gorgeous since the renovation.

  3. As a native Washingtonian I will always refer to DCA as National Airport. The damn Republicans have tried to name everything in D.C. after Reagan.

    I hope you had a great trip last weekend. I refuse to fly anymore because after 9/11, I get pulled every single time.

    • I’m with you on National.

      > I refuse to fly anymore because after 9/11, I get > pulled every single time.

      What? Our TSA screeners are profiling? No terrorist act has been committed by black folks.
      Tall, skinny white guys who look like Tim McVeigh need to be thoroughly searched. This country is awash with white terrorists!

  4. I’ve taken a train more than once from Memphis to New Orleans (the famous “City of New Orleans” train, which runs from Chicago to NOLA.) Also from Memphis to St. Louis. And in France, to and from Paris to Les Eyzies. To see the cave paintings at Font de Gaume and visit the French museum of prehistory. http://www.lacombe.ws/en_dordogne_perigord_les_eyzies.htm

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