Sunday, August 01, 2010

Traveling Blues Part 1: Escape From SFO

We had a great time in New England last week, but getting there was a nightmare. The trip from SFO to Boston was a 36-hour ordeal involving canceled flights, misdirected luggage and a desperate attempt to get a toddler to sleep on the bare floor of the airport (very hard to do).

Here's how it played out:
Friday night we arrived at SFO to take a redeye to Boston (already a risky proposition when you're traveling with an in-lap baby). As the cab pulled up to the airport, Kelly got an automated call saying the flight was canceled. We got inside and they told us the crew hadn't shown up, so we would have to take a flight the next day. As a bonus, the new flight would require a stopover of several hours in Los Angeles. Kelly tried to get them to put us on another airline, but United said they couldn't do this because she used miles to buy the tickets.

So we took another cab to get home. Elliot seemed a bit confused, since I had played up the idea of us taking a plane trip — only for us to take a round-trip taxi excursion instead. Fortunately, cabs are one of the many vehicles that Elliot gets excited to see (the list also includes helicopters, fire engines and cement trucks, but he never gets to ride in those).

We arrived the next day and were told that the new flight had been delayed four hours — just long enough so that we'd miss our connecting flight in Los Angeles (or at least, that's what the guy working at the United customer-service desk said). So this time, they agreed to put us on an American Airlines flight instead.

Fine. The problem was, this flight was also massively delayed. (It's worth noting that there were no weather issues in either San Francisco or Boston that I could discern.) It wasn't going to leave until 2:15 a.m. There was also the matter of our luggage, which was still checked to go on the United flight. To sort that out, we were told to go to the United gate, which required walking to a different terminal (flights to Los Angeles leave from the international terminal for some reason). When we got there, we found there was no one there. So we went back to American, which told us to go to United customer service.

They told us we had to go to baggage claim and make sure they didn't put our bags on the flight. So we headed out of security and went downstairs to the baggage customer-service person, who said it was already too late to retrieve our luggage — it was bound for Los Angeles. No one seemed too concerned about this, since the bags would get to Boston eventually. But since the flight would be too late to make the connection, the luggage wouldn't reach its final destination until much later. (And we were due to drive to Maine immediately after arriving in Boston.)

Also, isn't this a major security violation? I always thought it was a big no-no to check bags on a flight and then not accompany them yourself. In this case, we checked our bags and then flew a DIFFERENT AIRLINE.

All the while, Elliot is running around with glee — thrilled to be allowed up at this late hour. That made it a bit challenging to impart our dissatisfaction to the airline's personnel. It's hard to tell people they've ruined your family's vacation when a member of your party is behind you delightedly shrieking.

Anyway, we then talked to a different person at United who said that actually our bags would catch their connecting flight. That meant that we could make the flight too. Unfortunately, we'd missed it by about 15 minutes. Ugh.

So we were back to having to wait until after 2 a.m. We pretty quickly exploited all of the attractions of SFO. Did you know there's a "Kid Spot" with educational activities — most of which are in some state of disrepair. Elliot enjoyed playing in these large plastic tubes, which I think are supposed to teach children about wind currents or arteries or something.

An older child (whose parents had clearly lost their will to live) was launching himself off the top of the tubes and nearly collided with Elliot several times.

On the bright side, did you know that SFO has a Thiebaud in its art collection?

We had to force Elliot to go to sleep. We tried laying him down on the benches and then on the floor, but he would immediately hop to his feet and start running around again. Finally we had to strap him into his stroller. He was still restless and barely got any sleep.

When we did finally board, the saving grace of the flight was it wasn't full. That meant Elliot got his own seat, and he basically konked out immediately. And when we got to Boston, our bags were waiting for us (no one from TSA had destroyed them for being suspiciously abandoned). It's kind of sad when that's the highlight of the trip.