Sunday, April 24, 2016

Travel nightmare: flight delays, missed ship, broken ankle

“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up.” That was me just before Christmas, on a public phone in the popular LGBT Blue Chairs Resort in Puerto Vallarta, after tripping and falling on the rooftop veranda floor.
“Very funny,” the desk clerk said, apparently thinking I was imitating the television commercial. “Are you drunk?” Then he hung up, thinking it was just another crazy American on a bender in Mexico.

I crawled on my hands and knees to the elevator. Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach the call button so I started yelling, “Help!” Soon guys started coming out of their rooms, and the desk clerk, who was horrified when he realized I really was injured, called an ambulance.

This sad tale is about an aborted 18-day holiday dream cruise departing San Diego, hugging the Pacific coast with stops all along the southern route, then crossing the Panama Canal to venture through the Caribbean, with a stop at Aruba and in the Bahamas before docking in Fort Lauderdale.
Unfortunately, I never stepped foot on Holland America’s MS Amsterdam and instead returned home to Dallas-Fort Worth for emergency surgery on a broken ankle.

We’ve all heard airplane travel has changed drastically in recent year. But the reality of the flying experience today will shock the most seasoned traveler. It’s not important what airline I was flying because they all operate the same today. Policies are more geared toward turning profits than satisfying patrons.

I had spent three months planning my trip down to the tiniest detail before I left for DFW International Airport Dec. 18. As we sat on the plane — buckled up, ready to lift off and already 30 minutes late — the captain advised us of a mechanical problem. About 45 minutes later, he told us to return to the terminal.

For the next six hours we waited, and every 60 minutes the monitors revised our departure time by an hour. Our bags were on the plane, and we could not retrieve them to make other arrangements. In fact, there were no other arrangements to be made. That’s the result of cutbacks in the number of flights operating today.

I met one other passenger in the terminal headed for the cruise ship, a gay 91-year-old World War II veteran who planned to meet his gay 94-year-old brother from San Francisco onboard. He hung out with me after hearing me complain to the airline representatives.

For hours our plane sat at the gate, preventing other planes from landing and unloading and reloading. Chaos ensued as passengers came and went, looking for their planes.

Finally, after the mechanics finished we boarded and the plane took off for San Diego, arriving about two hours after my ship left the port.

The captain asked us to be nice to the flight attendants because after all, “they’ve been sitting and waiting too.”

In San Diego we met a crowd of passengers waiting for the flight back to Dallas who had been stranded. When we got there, my new friend and I went to the airlines ticket counter — if we had been expecting concern and assistance, we had that figured wrong. We were traveling coach, not first class.

At first, the ticket agent refused to put us up in hotel rooms for the night, but a manager reversed that decision. Still, they balked when I asked them to book us complimentary flights to Puerto Vallarta where the ship would dock first.

Their advice: “Always book your airplane travel with us through the cruise line so they can take care of your needs.” Then they offered to sell me a ticket to Puerto Vallarta through Phoenix for almost $1,000. I declined.

My new friend bought the last remaining ticket on another airline for about $500. The manager said I couldn’t expect the airline to help me out when I had paid so little for my ticket online. Later, I found a ticket on Expedia for $265 on the very same flight offered to me by the airline for $1,000.

The next day, I flew to Phoenix where the agents told me they had oversold the flight so I still might not make it to the ship. I begged them to get me on the flight, and somehow they did.

When I arrived in Puerto Vallarta I reconnected with my new friend at the Blue Chairs, where we had booked rooms the previous night.

We went out to dinner at Café Olla, my favorite restaurant in the resort. What a fiasco we had endured, but we toasted with margaritas over the thought of boarding the ship Monday morning.
Later that night I was walking in the moonlight, trying to relax enough to get some sleep after two hectic travel days. I tripped in the dark.

Long story short, I went to a Mexican hospital where they put my ankle in a pre-operative cast and charged me about $2,800. You don’t get your passport back if you don’t pay the bill. (Never travel in a foreign country without travel insurance that will reimburse emergency medical expenses.) I flew home to Dallas on the same airline Monday morning, but first class this time. What a difference $200 makes in the price of a ticket and how you get treated. They actually showed me some sympathy and catered to me.

I had said goodbye to my new friend who boarded the ship as I headed for the airport.
My nephew and his wife, who live in Winnetka Heights, picked me up at the airport and the next day she took me to the doctor, who sent me immediately to surgery. Now, I’m home on Cedar Creek Lake, recovering and confined to a wheelchair.

The airline representatives in San Diego told me when I take a cruise I should always arrive in the city a day before the ship leaves.

Obviously, the airlines can’t be trusted to get you where you are going on time.
I also will take their advice and book my air travel through the cruise line, whose representatives could not have been more gracious. They have already refunded all of the money I paid for the cruise, including the entertainment package.

What’s more, I’m flying first class from now on. It’s nice to be treated a little special, rather than being herded around like a cow on a trailer.

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