Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Use Traveloshitty to book your next flight on Northworst Airlines

Ok guys, ready for a rant?

Big family reunion in the old country last weekend. BIG one - Grandma turns 85 this year; Grandpa turns 90; they just celebrated their 65th Anniversary. Not only that, but mom and dad both turn 60 this year and are celebrating their 40th anniversary. So it's a big year for the fam, and a bunch of the extendeds came from far and wide to a park near what remains of the family farm in Wisconsin (not to be bucolic about it all, that's just what it is).

Booked my flight through Travelocity, which I've used several times and had no problem with. This time however, they didn't email me the itinerary, and every time I tried to get it from the website I'd get an error page. Every time. Finally navigated voice mail to the tune of half an hour to get the info. So, ok, inconvenient and bad service, but nothing serious.

The night before my trip, I get a voicemail from Northwest Airlines: my flight connecting through Detroit has been cancelled, but not to worry, they have rerouted me through Minneapolis, and I'll only arrive about 45 minutes later than I would have. Fine. Good to know. I appreciate the call.

I even sign up with Northwest for frequent flier miles when I do the online check-in the next day.

But when I get to LaGuardia that evening, just after I call my friend in Madison to let him know things are going swell, they cancel the Minneapolis flight too. Huh. I look at the Departures monitor and notice they've cancelled an Indianapolis flight as well. So I look at the weather monitor: there's some storm action going on down south, and maybe a bit near Cleveland, but the Midwest is looking pretty clear. Call the 800 number and get a person who seems helpful at first.

"Yes, that flight has been cancelled, but we've already rescheduled you."

"Great! When's the new flight?"

"Tomorrow morning leaving at 11:30, arriving Madison at 5"

See, here's the thing. The party starts tomorrow at 10 a.m. It's a 2+hour drive from Madison. And we're talking about some elderly folks; they'll be wrapping up around 5.

So I try to impress upon my increasingly unhelpful customer service agent the importance of arriving in Madison tonight.

No flights available. Maybe they can get me into Milwaukee on Midwest Airlines. Hold please.

So I do, for about 20 minutes.

I should mention that at this point, the reasons given for the flight cancellation have been: 1) no crew available, and 2) air traffic control has forbidden the flight (no reason given)

When customer service gets back to me, she explains that her supervisor won't approve purchasing me the ticket with Midwest because the cancellation was weather-related and thus out of their control.

"What weather? I am looking at the radar - it's clear. What invisible weather system is reaching from Indy, up through Detroit and over to Minneapolis, but allowing the Midwest plane to land in Milwaukee? Plus, it looks like other airlines have been flying to this part of the country just fine."

She stopped even trying to be helpful at this point. Told me I could get a full refund, and that I'm free to book that last-minute fare on my own, at my own expense.

After many more minutes on hold with Midwest, I found out what that expense was (suffice to say: it was high), and tried Northwest again. This time, after even yet still more time on hold, I got someone more contrite who offered to find me a trip in on a different carrier, but by this time that evening's Milwaukee was totally booked (hmm. wonder why?) Best she could do was put me on a plane next morning at 7:15, through Kansas City, getting to Madison at 2:30.

So ok, that's what we did. Stayed the night in Astoria with a friend, cabbed at the crack of dawn back to the airport and slogged into America's Dairyland in the middle of the afternoon.

45 minutes away from the park I get a call from my folks that the party is in fact breaking up.


Still had a good time with the immediate fam, thankfully, but missed out on the many 2nd and 3rd cousins and such, the barbeque (complete with corn on the cob that had been picked that morning!) and the games in the park with the kiddos.

Oh, and the true reason the flights were being cancelled? Northwest has been trying to schedule too few pilots for too many hours, and the union is responding with sickouts. Why not cop to that? Well, oddly enough, labor disputes aren't on their list of reasons it's ok to cancel flights without being liable to the customers. Guess what reasons are on that list: being forbidden by air traffic control, and weather.

Pretty lame, guys.

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