Several years ago, my mother was moving from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Erie, Pennsylvania. My wife and I flew down from where we live in order to drive the rental truck containing her possessions back north. We would meet my sister and brother at our home, where they would continue driving the truck to Erie. We would arrive in Raleigh about 3:00 p.m., giving us time to go to the truck rental agency to sign for and pick up the truck, which we would load that evening for an early morning departure on Saturday.
The trip was a typical profile: a commuter plane to Dulles where we would have changed to a larger jet for the leg into Raleigh. Note well, the "would have" phrase.
We arrived safely at Dulles International Airport at 12:30 p.m. with a connecting flight at 1:00 p.m. We immediately checked the status of our connecting flight, which was marked as delayed until 2:00 p.m. Ahh, that's nice, it gives us time for a leisurely lunch there in the airport concourse.
After eating we went back to our gate, and as we were again checking the status of our flight, the board changed from delayed to canceled. Not good. We were stuck half way to our destination. We got in line with a hundred-some other people to arrange alternate flights. The rumor in the line was that the flight was canceled due to mechanical problems with one of the engines. These things happen.
While we were slowly wending our way to the counter, one gentleman several places behind us told everyone he had just used his cell phone to book a seat directly from the airline on a 10:00 p.m. flight. Several of us immediately pulled out our cell phones to do the same thing.
While we were speaking to the airline agent, a woman several places behind us got her seat on a 3:00 p.m. flight leaving Dulles. The best they could offer us was 7:00 p.m., which we accepted, blessing our good luck that we had gotten an earlier flight. Before hanging up, we handed our phone to the young woman immediately behind us, who got on the 10:00 p.m. flight.
We called my sister and explained that we wouldn't be able to pick up the truck. Although the rental agency stated that the person picking up the truck had to turn it in at our destination, when the situation was explained, they allowed by my sister to sign out the vehicle.
After a cross-airport trip, we were waiting at our new gate in another concourse, but the flight number we were given was not displayed on the board. We inquired with the airline representative on duty there. She checked the computer and found no such flight listed at that gate. She called in another person and they checked several times, in several ways. No such flight was listed.
Finally, they did one more check and found that flight was leaving from Reagan International Airport, NOT Dulles where we were standing. We would have had to make our own way from Dulles to Reagan, with no reimbursement from the airline.
We phoned the airline again, and after some time spent explaining the situation we were finally given seats on the same 10:00 p.m. flight as others had gotten.
We arrived in Raleigh safe and sound after leaving home fourteen hours before for what should have been a five hour trip.
My mother and her possessions arrived safely at their destination. We don't fault the airline for canceling the flight under these circumstances. The employees were unfailingly polite and helpful.
For our trouble, the airline gave us two $75.00 vouchers for flights in the U.S. Non-refundable, non-transferable and good for travel within a year. Since we rarely travel, and found the mix-up of airports vexing, the vouchers expired, unused.
No doubt the airline was pleased.
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