Friday, December 29, 2006

 Holiday Travel Frenzy 

Well, that was interesting.

As you have probably heard by now, we had a remarkable blizzard in Colorado on the 20th, just a few days before our scheduled road trip to Kansas for Christmas. After postponing that trip a day so we could dig ourselves out of 16 inches of snow in Fort Collins, we did manage to make the round trip without a hitch. Yet as we prepared for our California trip on the 29th, we saw that *another* heavy snowstorm was on the way for this weekend. Every 6-12 hours or so, the forecast for Friday (our flying day) seemed to get worse and worse. Storm totals began to increase, forecast winds got faster, and the duration of storm kept bleeding further into the weekend. As we drove back from KS yesterday, we began to really worry about how we were going to get out to California (and therefore onto Hawaii early in January).

Our airline (Frontier) put up a notice on their company website yesterday afternoon announcing special suspensions of change fees for customers flying Friday who want to reschedule their flights for Thursday, just to get out of town before the onslaught. Even though we'd driven all day Wednesday and only gotten home around 4pm, we decided to try to move our flight day up from Friday to Thursday. However, the published 800 number for reservations was completely unreachable in the early evening. I even tried dialing the local Denver metro phone number for reservations, but only got busy signals. It wasn't looking good for being able to change our flight in time before the arrival of the storm.

I then decided to try to call a customer service number, with the goal of simply trying to talk a human being so I could figure out how to then reach a reservations agent. While going through that menu, it allowed me to connect to reservations by pressing 2 or something like that, so I decided to give that a shot. To my amazement it actually worked - I got put in the queue for talking to a real reservations agent. 25 minutes later I had a human voice on the other end of the line - huzzah. I have no idea if this is how all the other people in that queue got through, but I'm certain I would have never gotten through (at least not until very late) if I'd kept calling that 800 number. A helpful hint for the next time you need to reach a number that's impossible to connect to - do an end run like this around it.

After some finagling with the agent, she was able to get us two seats on the Thursday morning version of our Friday flight, as long as we were willing to sit in the Exit Row. (Yep, we're able-bodied, and our English is pretty good.) We jumped at it, knowing full well that meant we'd have to start packing right away, and not get any sleep before heading out to the airport in the wee hours of the morning after our 10-hour drive back to Colorado. It was like cramming for a final exam at 8am the next morning - consider it a "travel final". But we did it - we left the house at 2:30am and got to the airport at 4am, at the suggestion of the agent, and made our flight before a slew of Frontier cancellations of flights today, tonight, and tomorrow. And now, the forecast is for this storm to last perhaps all through the weekend! If we'd not jumped at this opportunity, it's quite likely we'd have had to cancel not only our California trip, but our whole Hawaii trip!

So now we're in sunny California, and it's beautiful here. We're a day early, but somehow we'll get by. We'll be able to do Hawaii after all, and Cindy is thrilled. And Colorado is shaping up to get hammered by yet another blizzard, a very rare thing for two major winter storms to hit within a week of each other. I'm sure all that snow will still be there when we get back.

POSTSCRIPT: we later found out that the flight we were originally scheduled to fly on for Friday was *not* cancelled, and in fact was one of the few flights out of Denver for Frontier that stayed on the schedule. It did leave an hour late, but arrived only a half hour behind the original arrival time.

Of course, we still believe we made the right call by leaving early. There was no reason to assume that our flight would have been one of the few to leave, not to mention that getting out to the airport last night would have been very difficult as well. Overnight it appears that Fort Collins received about 8.5 fresh inches of snow, with more on the way as we speak.

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