Arles in the early evening sun. © 2013 Ralph Grizzle
See the beautiful photograph above? That is where I would be about right now, on a Tuesday evening, taking a walk along the river after having washed down a bowl of moules-frites with a glass of rosé from Provence.
Instead, I am Washington, D.C. sipping on a Starbucks Cafe Latte and preparing for a flight to Brussels that will connect me with Marseille. Once in Marseille, I'll pick up a rental car and drive to Arles, arriving (hopefully) around mid-afternoon on Wednesday.
I wasn’t alone in travel disruptions this week. A series of storms along the East Coast of the United States made travel a tempest. The storms are still brewing. Already, I can see that my Washington to Brussels flight is delayed, but only by 15 minutes at this point.
I made a few mistakes yesterday. Here’s what I would do differently next time.
• During the summer if you are traveling from airports that are not major hubs, book flights that depart before noon. Why? Afternoon thunderstorms. It has been hot and sticky in the South. Yesterday, the mercury was pulsing to more than 100°F — the perfect conditions for afternoon thunderstorms, according to theweatherprediction.com. As I drove from Asheville, North Carolina to Greenville, South Carolina for a 19:53 flight to Washington, there were no storms at all, but there were plenty up and down the East Coast, delaying our incoming aircraft. The lesson: I should have flown earlier in the day.
• Argue with United's ticket agent. Though polite and professional, United’s ticket agent told me that my flight was delayed and that I would not make the connection in Washington to Europe. In that chaotic moment at the airport, I believed her, and when she said my only option was for her to reticket me for the next morning, I let her work her magic. Turns out she was wrong. Though my flight was scheduled to arrive more than 30 minutes late into Washington, it was actually only 12 minutes late. The outgoing flight from Washington was 35 minutes late. I would have had plenty of time to connect. The lesson: I should have stood firm and demanded that I stay on the flights I had ticketed on the off chance (or in this case, the on chance) that I would beat the odds and make the connection.
• Prepare for further disappointment Oh, United's ticket agent failed to mention that I’d be overnighting in Greenville at my expense — along with hundreds of others who were vying for rooms because of cancelled flights. Rental cars were sold out (I would have driven back to Asheville), hotels were full. I managed to find a room at a Hilton for $299 a night. Fortunately, there was a shuttle to offset the $29 taxi fare each way. With taxes and dinner, however, I was out nearly $400. But wait, I had travel delay insurance …
• Read the fine print, and then question it. If your common carrier travel is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, you and your family are covered for unreimbursed expenses, such as meals and lodging, up to $500 per ticket. That's how Chase touts its Sapphire Preferred travel delay benefit on its website. Great, I thought. No worries about the expensive Hilton stay. Wrong. I had booked with points and even though travel using points is covered, expenses are reimbursed only to the amount charged on the Chase-branded card. For me, that was fees and taxes of $69. The amount of paperwork required to recoup $69 simply was not worth it. The lesson: I should have had better insurance.
• Go with the flow. “There’s a reason for it. Acceptance.” These were the wise words from a good friend upon hearing of my delay. The lesson: Relax. I’m lucky to be traveling and to be alive.
Arles, see you tomorrow. I hope.