Saturday, December 27, 2008

Stranded in Denver

Greetings from wintery Seattle. Having lived in Seattle my entire life, I have never had to travel during the holiday season until now and what an experience!! What I am about to write is going to detail my delay at the Denver airport last Monday/Tuesday and may not be the most exciting read as I am probably writing it more for myself so that I can pull it up later and remind myself of a very long day.

December 22, 2008 is not a day I will soon forget. I got on the plane early Monday morning in OKC after staying up all night. Had a Thunder game the night before and figured why waste time on sleep when that is time that could be better spent on hanging out with friends after the game, packing and blogging. I was tired when I got to the Will Rogers World Airport.

Got on the plane and slept almost the entire way to my connecting flight in Denver which meant I got about an hour of sleep. I was a little nervous as I walked to my connecting flight as I knew that Seattle was getting snow and that they had many delays the day before but I had heard things were getting better. I got to my gate and saw that they still had the Seattle sign up so I figured I was in good shape. Had about 20 minutes to kill so I walked down to where I could get a breakfast sandwich and proceeded back to my gate. As I arrived at the gate I noticed that the sign no longer said "Seattle" and now read "Chicago" and the adventure began.

It was about 8:00 am in Denver and we were told that our flight could not get into Seattle due to weather and that we would all be on stand by for the 12:30 flight. That left a little more time to kill so I put my belongings on the ground, made my jacket into a pillow and took a 10 minute nap on the floor. Also spent some time talking to a nice family from San Antonio that was trying to get up to Toppenish for Christmas. About an hour later the woman working the Frontier Airlines counter told us that they were trying to put together a midnight flight to Seattle and that we should head on down to another gate to get our names on a list. I went down and put my name and phone number onto a sheet of paper hoping that the midnight flight could be a back up plan in case another flight didn't open over the next 15 hours.

12:30 came and Frontier canceled that flight. My new San Antonio friends decided that things weren't looking very good so they went to the counter and got tickets for a 3:30 flight heading back to S.A. A little while later I found out that Frontier caneled the 3:30 plane and now there were a lot of people at the Denver Airport trying to get to Seattle. At that point I was still feeling pretty good because I knew I was on a list for the midnight flight and that was good enough for me. I just wanted to get to Seattle for Christmas and knew I was scheduled to play Santa at my Uncle's house the next day for my cousins.

The 3:30 flight also ended up getting canceled and I think we then all started to panic. Frontier was giving everyone all sorts of mixed messages. Most of their employees were telling us that the weather in Seattle was bad and that the airport was practically shut down but one person was a little more honest with us and mentioned to a few of us when there weren't many people around that the main reason we couldnt get home was because Frontier had run out of de-icer fluid in Seattle. At that point I called my friend Brenda that works for the Port of Seattle at SeaTac to find out what she knew. Brenda confirmed that almost every airline was flying in and out of SeaTac just fine and that Frontier was one of the only ones that wasn't. I then walked up to a counter where an employee of Frontier was in the middle of telling a bunch of standed travelers that most of the airlines were not flying in or out of SeaTac including Alaska. I called Brenda back immediately and she looked out the window of her offices and said "I'm watching an Alaska plane land right now". I then told the woman standing right in front of me what was being said and she immediately confronted the person at the counter with the information. The woman then admitted to us that Frontier was out of de-icer fluid in Seattle but that "other airlines were as well". I then interrupted her and started naming off airlines that I had confirmed were traveling in and out of SeaTac as I was growing tired of the lies. I know the folks at the counter have a rough job when dealing with delayed travelers and I certainly am patient but I don't like being lied to and wasn't going to stand by and let it slide without pointing that out.

The Frontier flights that were scheduled to leave for Seattle during the 5pm and 7pm hours were also eventually cancelled and a Frontier representative then told some of us that there was a good chance we would not be able to get to Seattle until December 26th which was really hard to hear. Some of the people that were staying around then started making arrangements to head back from where they had originally flown in from but I figured I would rather take my chances in Denver then go back to OKC where I would be spending Christmas alone. I was angry and called my Mom to let her know I may not be home for Christmas. I was not happy.

I started hanging out with a college student named Sam who was from Seattle but going to college in North Dakota. I went and grabbed a bite to eat at Panda Express in the airport before meeting up with Sam at the airport bar to watch Monday Night Football. Funny that I would eat at Panda since I used to work by one in Redmond and would always refuse to go there when any of my Keeney's co-workers suggested it because I didn't care much for it. Tasted pretty good though at the airport since I was starved, grouchy and tired.

Got back to Sam at the bar when he turns to me and says "you are going to kill me when I tell you this". I asked what he had and he says "I got a ticket on the 9:25 flight". I was actually happy for Sam. An hour earlier I was in line at the counter to get on the 9:25 waiting list and the woman at the counter told me "you are way down the list". Sam was behind me in line and I made a comment to someone else in line that Sam had been stranded at the airport since Saturday. The woman at the counter heard that and asked to look at Sam's other stand by tickets from earlier that day but didn't do anything with them. Apparently a short time after that Sam went back to the counter to ask another question and the woman said a seat had just opened and she assigned it to him. I told Sam I was glad he got it because he had already spent the past couple of nights at the airport and deserved it. I also warned him that the previous 5 planes that day had been cancelled and that Frontier hadn't landed a plane in Seattle for a few days so he might want to hold off on celebrating.

A few minutes later Brenda called me and said that the 9:25 flight was still on the board at SeaTac as coming in. I told her I figured that would change as I had yet to hear a de-icer update. Brenda then walked over to the Frontier gate at SeaTac and said the crews were in the process of de-icing a plane. I asked if she was sure so she asked a guy at the gate and he confirmed that Frontier has just received the fluid to SeaTac. I turned and told Sam that it sounded like he was going home. That didn't help me though.

At 8:45 pm my friend Jonathan Brooks (JB) landed in Denver from Oklahoma City as he was spending the holidays with his sister and family in Boulder which is about a 45 minute drive from the airport. I went to JBs gate to meet him and he reiterated that I had an open invitation to come to his sister's house with him if I wanted. I thanked him for the offer but mentioned I was going to be on standby for the 9:25 flight and was still hoping that a midnight flight might still happen.

I went to the gate for the 9:25 flight expecting to see a ton of people waiting on stand by but was surprised to only see about 20. Right before the plane was about to leave they started reading off names and all but 8 of us got on board. I WAS THAT CLOSE TO GOING HOME. Very depressing. The woman at the counter then confirmed that it was going to be the only flight heading up to Seattle that night and that the midnight plane never got scheduled. Funny since they told us a few hours earlier that the plane and crew were already at the airport and it was just a matter of them being allowed to fly into Seattle. I don't think they ever had any intention of flying out at midnight and just had us all put our names on a sheet of paper to get us off of their backs. Oh well. They did put all 8 of us on a waiting list for the 8:25 am flight the next morning but warned us that the plane was already overbooked by 5 passengers. I had nothing better to do on December 23rd so I got myself mentally prepared to be at the gate for every plane leaving the next day in hopes of getting home.

I called JB up to find out if he was still at the airport as I knew they were waiting for his sister's mother in law to fly in that night. He said they were in the car about to leave the airport and said I could still stay at his sister's house in Boulder. JB's sister Katie and her husband Rob could not have been any nicer and accomodating about the whole thing. They took me back to their place, gave me a sandwich, toothbrush, and a couch to sleep on. We got to their place at and went to bed at midnight. JB and Katie woke up at 5:45 the next morning and then took me back to the airport. JB even packed me a bag with 3 oranges and a slice of coffee cake. I can not thank all of them enough!!

I walked up to the counter at around 7am to let the woman at the counter know that I was there to be on standby for the 8:25 flight. The guy in front of me was giving her a story about how he had surgery on his shoulder, had a bunch of staples and really needed to get up to Seattle to pick up his 5 year old daughter (he shared the same story with me right before getting to the front of the line). She said she would do everything to help him but couldn't make any promises. I then got to the counter, said hello and handed over my standby pass as she was rolling her eyes and smiled as the other guy walked away. She took one look at my ticket and said "Mr Willits, I just assigned you a ticket a few minutes ago, here you go" and handed me a pass. I was a little confused at first as I thought it might be an "official" standby pass but I looked down and noticed it had a seat number. I looked up at her confused as I wasn't expecting this and was figuring I would be at the airport for at least one more day but the woman then looked at me, smiled and said "if I were you I would go out and buy a lottery ticket today". I thanked her about 5 or 6 times and immediately texted JB to let him and the family know that I would not be needing to be picked up later on that night. I waited about 45 minutes to call my parents as I didn't want to wake them up. A few minutes before boarding the plane I called my Dad and told him that I would be at SeaTac in a few hours. A couple of side notes: the guy with the surgery did get on the plane on standby and I decided what the heck, went out and bought $3 of lottery tickets that night but didn't win anything. Oh well, as far as I was concerned I had already won by getting on the plane.

Brenda met me as I was getting off of the plane in Seattle and I thanked her for all of her information the day before. I was then picked up by my parents and Max the family dog. I did have one more anxious moment as my suitcase was delayed by about an hour. I started to think it was still in Denver and that all of the delays had messed everything up. The bag did finally end up on the conveyer belt and I was ready to head for the house. I even got home in time to be Santa.

Spending Christmas in Seattle was never more enjoyable!! Now more than ever I feel for everyone that gets stranded during the holidays and can only hope that most of the people that I saw at the airport were able to get to their final destinations in time for Christmas.

Will write about my Seattle trip soon but figured this blog is long enough for now.

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