A Not-so-fine Flight

It seems like almost every time my mom flies from Albany, N.Y., to visit us, something in the travel experience goes badly awry.

This past spring, a mechanical problem threatened to derail her getting here for an entire day — that’s what United Airlines folks announced originally — before she eventually arrived about eight hours or so later than expected. A trip or two before that, Mom and a few of her fellow passengers, rather than wait seemingly forever to get to a connecting flight in Chicago, teamed up to rent a car and drove in the middle of the night to get there. Of course, there has been a battle or two with missing luggage, too, but she’s been fortunate to have those eventually work out in her favor.

This past Dec. 19, Mom was supposed to fly out of Albany at roughly 6 a.m., change planes at O’Hare Airport and get into Sioux Falls, S.D., at approximately 9:50 a.m. Surprise — she didn’t make it on time. Or over the course of the remainder of the day, for that matter. She almost didn’t get here at all.

After getting up at around 3 a.m. to get ready to go, she was on the Northway (I-87), traveling south from Saratoga Springs to the Albany Airport, when her cell phone rang. She stopped to pull over a few moments later and listen to her voicemail and, lo and behold, it was a recorded message from United. Her flight had been overbooked, she would not be able to board her plane, and it was extremely unlikely she would be able to fly to Sioux Falls until the next day.

Mom proceeded to drive to the airport, and was told there that weather problems were making traveling connections difficult that morning. She spoke with a few airline employees, and ultimately traveled home without making any new arrangements. Calls to United later that day, while handled by what I was told was consistently friendly staff, were unfortunately not so accommodating. She was told that she would have to fly from Albany to Chicago to Denver to Sioux Falls, I believe; why she’d have to fly to Denver is beyond me. That’s especially after Bec and I looked online Thursday night — after we had spoken a few minutes earlier and she’d said she was giving up, and would try to come in the spring when perhaps the traveling season wasn’t so crazy and stressful — and we found with no difficulty a flight from Albany to Chicago to Minneapolis, where I had told her I’d be more than happy to pick her up. And pick her up I did, at about 3 p.m. the following afternoon.

I totally understand weather can wreak havoc on flying, but I guess I’ve never understood the whole overbooking thing. Perhaps a travel agent or someone in the airlines industry can explain this one to me, but it’s not like the number of seats on a plane can suddenly vary, right? And it seems like giving more than one reason for an unexpected delay is a common occurrence for many.

Now, with extra fees being seemingly added all the time, it appears fair to ask the question, “Why fly at all?” Well, struggling with getting somewhere over the course of one unpredictable and long day still beats driving over, say, three or four days for most people. And, when everything happens to somehow run smoothly, there’s simply no reason not to travel by air.

Mom did make it, and we all had a wonderful holiday with her. We’re pleased she braved the occasional inconveniences — as annoying and stressful as they were — to come out here and be with us. We’re also happy she made it back home without any negative incident, while also getting to enjoy a male flight attendant who she said spoke just like the Martin Short character in “Father in the Bride.”

That alone probably made taking the plane worthwhile.