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Commentary: Frigid temperatures, heavy snow make air travel a nightmare

An American Airlines jet crosses International Parkway as motorists travel slowly at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Dec. 6.

An American Airlines jet crosses International Parkway as motorists travel slowly at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Dec. 6. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Traveling this weekend was a lot like what I imagine any kind of purgatory to be.

Before and after heavy storms strongly affected the Midwest and Northeast late last week, flights nationwide were delayed, canceled and rescheduled as airlines reeled to accommodate their customers before the second wave of less than ideal weather rolled through Sunday.

I was caught in the crossfire, trying to travel to Columbus from Connecticut, but compared to others who spent days figuring out what flights they could take to get where they needed to go, I was fortunate to only spend about a day and a half doing so.

My flight was supposed to leave Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey at 4 p.m. and land at Port Columbus International Airport at 6:08 p.m. Saturday. I ended up landing in Columbus closer to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, about 32 hours after I originally left my house at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

What happened in between was a whirlwind of phone calls, muttered profanities and a lot of the good and bad of humanity and air travel.

The bad:
When a flight attendant snapped at me for asking what time we’d be boarding (I asked five minutes after we were supposed to be on the plane), telling me the airplane was just being cleaned and I needed to be patient, Saturday at 3:40 p.m.

A different airport employee announced at 3:50 p.m. over the loudspeaker the flight had been canceled and instructed us to please head to customer service.

Some good:
When I was able to find a customer service area for my airline that didn’t have an hour-long wait and was assisted by an employee who was kind, patient and relatively helpful.

When I made some friends in the standby line waiting for the flight to Columbus that was supposed to board at 5:10 p.m. Saturday and leave soon after, but instead got pushed back and pushed back until it left at about 8:30 p.m.

More bad:

When a man who made it on the Saturday evening flight from the standby list, who I had been standing next to for about three hours, looked at me when I desperately asked for his ticket and maybe even considered giving it to me, but just said “sorry” and got on the plane instead.

Little good things:
When I got on the phone Saturday after calling my airline many, many times and an agent helped me book a flight to Columbus for the next day at 3 p.m.

A woman next to me in a dark corner of the airport where we were charging our phones lent me a pen to use while I was booking the flight.

My parents drove me back home, an hour and a half from Newark, for the night at about 10 p.m. and let me order a hot pizza.

The annoying:
Being put on hold on the phone for 45 minutes and later an hour and 45 minutes waiting to see if there was space on an earlier flight and where my checked luggage was.

Finding out Sunday morning the plane my 3 p.m. flight was supposed to use was supposed to come from Jacksonville, Fla. — a flight that had been canceled.

The lucky:

After calling 25+ times Sunday before and during the hour-long drive to LaGuardia Airport in New York City, the airport I typically use, I got on the phone with the best agent I’d talked to yet who was able to find three flights to serve as backups in case the 3 p.m. one fell through.
The bad again:

Two of those flights weren’t until Monday, a full day after I was expecting to be at work Sunday at noon.

After getting to my gate for my Sunday flight, the gate changed.

The flight was then delayed in small increments, sometimes increments that moved closer and mostly increments that moved farther away, until…

The best:
I boarded my flight at about 6:30 p.m. and landed in Columbus at about 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Our flight attendant thanked everyone on the plane for being understanding — I think most of us would’ve used the word “resigned” instead.

Out of the stories I heard from everyone else at the airports, mine was mild. Others had to deal with days of rescheduled and canceled flights, trying to book a hotel room in an area where thousands of others were in the same situation and knowing they wouldn’t be able to get their kids to school on time this week or might not be able to graduate college if they didn’t make it back by a certain day. It was no airline’s or person’s fault, either. There was only a bad bit of weather to blame.

It was a weekend when all of us were in similar boats, and none of us knew where the boats would end up — just waiting, wishing, hoping we’d get where we wanted to go.

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