COLUMN: Wrap-up of the airline saga, for now

Kim Poindexter

When last I wrote, I was explaining a long check-in line at a hotel close to the Cleveland airport, on our way back from Halloweekends at Cedar Point. Unfortunately, our ill-fated fetes have run together, so I confused that part of the saga with another chapter.

In fact, the awful hotel line was on a trip the next weekend. The Cleveland Southwest team put us up in a Crowne Plaza and gave us a food credit. No problem there - unless you count the fact that the next-morning flight from Cleveland took us through Denver - halfway across the continent - before we doubled back and arrived in Tulsa. This was the second to last weekend in October, part of our ongoing dreadful saga involving airports that began Sept. 17. After the Ohio/Oklahoma fiasco, we figured our bad luck had played out at least for a month or two, but we were wrong.

I plan my vacations for the year well in advance, but this past summer, we had to add an unexpected couple of days because we snared Rolling Stones tickets. We had never seen those geezers and figured they couldn't be long for the world - well, except Keith Richards, who will never die. The intent was to fly to Tampa and meet my sister and her husband, who live just outside of Orlando. But my brother-in-law, Al, always waits until the last minute to score cheap tickets to concerts, so things were up in the air.

That infamous Poindexter bad luck had prevented us twice from seeing this band . In 2019, they were slated to headline the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which my family usually attends. But Mick Jagger had a medical situation that made them cancel. The Stones rescheduled for a couple of months later at the Superdome as part of their "No Filter" tour, and as Jazz Fest ticket holders, we got first crack at those. That concert was on a Sunday, and we planned to fly back early Monday morning. But then, Hurricane Barry roared through, forcing the concert back a day, and there was no way I could take another day off work because someone else in the newsroom was gone. Then, in 2020, COVID delayed that same tour again, and it resumed a few months ago. We were hoping third time would be the charm.

We knew trouble was afoot just weeks before the concert, because American kept tampering with our flights. After studying the situation, I realized the connection between DFW and Tampa only allowed an hour-long window, so I rebooked and left considerably more time. We were to leave Tulsa early Friday morning - the concert was that night - and arrive in Tampa just after noon. We drove to Tulsa Thursday evening, intending to eat dinner and spend the night at the airport Hilton Garden Inn. Just as we were about to check into our hotel, we received a text from AA - and our flight had been canceled. We decided fortuitously to forego dinner and drive straight to the airport, and it's a good thing we did. The ticket agent told us the reason for the cancellation was because the crew had "timed out"; everyone who draws breath knows the airlines are all short-staffed, so they're pushing their crews to the extent of the law. But with help from his supervisor, the agent found the only route available. We'd have to go to DFW that night on a flight that luckily had been delayed a few hours, spend the night in Dallas, and head on to Tampa on the second leg of our planned journey. While we waited for the late flight, we went into the bar at the Tulsa airport, where we joined several angry business travelers were drowning their sorrows. Later, the AA employees coached us to demand vouchers from the gate attendants the second we arrived at DFW.

When we got there at 11 p.m., we found the gate attendant wasn't as cooperative as we hoped. She kept insisting "weather" caused the cancellation of our flight from Tulsa, though we told her the crew had "timed out." I finally asked her if she was suggesting her Tulsa colleagues were liars, and added that at the time the Friday morning flight was canceled - around 6 p.m. Thursday evening - there was no way "weather" could have affected a flight that wasn't even due to take off for another 12 hours, unless AA had a Star Trek transporter. She caved in and gave us vouchers; I'm not sure whether it was because she decided I had a good point, or because my voice sort of carries.

I hope what happened next wasn't part of a vendetta. She dispatched us to a Holiday Inn near DFW, and arrived to find a line of about two dozen people waiting to check in. It took us an hour to get to the front desk, and in the meantime, more displaced AA travelers were arriving. We and the folks in line with us began placing friendly bets on the responses of newcomers who walked through the doors, and cast a glance at the line that eventually contained more than 100 people. There were several extremely loud exclamations of "Holy sh*t!" The best one came from a sweet-looking little old man who belted out, "What the f*** is THIS sh*t?!?"

Being seasoned travelers, and by now well-accustomed to the abuse parceled out by the airlines, we knew better than to rely on the hotel shuttle to get us to the airport, and AA had given us a voucher for a cab. A sad-looking couple waiting out front couldn't fit into the packed shuttle, and they had a baby with them, so we offered to share our taxi.

On the way over, they told us they'd stayed in line to get their room for three hours, and got only about an hour's sleep. But they soon perked up; they were fascinated to learn we lived in the capital of the country's largest Indigenous tribe, and asked us all sorts of questions - some close to the most common of all, involving great-grandmothers who were "Cherokee princesses."

The Stones concert was great, we dropped by Universal for a day and did the coaster thing, and to no one's surprise, we wound up coming back a day later than planned - except, of course, we did plan it, because we just knew. I may be an old dog, but I can still learn new tricks - and everyone else better learn them, too, if they want to travel anywhere they can't get quickly with a car.

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