Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Strands Passengers, Brings Unexpected Guests

This past weekend, Hurricane Irene slammed into the East Coast, leaving billions of dollars in damage, millions of people without power and thousands more stranded in airports. And while the impact was not as bad as many had anticipated, it still severerly hurt travel in one of the most frequented air spaces in the country.

Passengers wait in line. Credit: CNN
Airlines canceled over 11,000 flights over the weekend, including nearly 1,000 today. Not sure how many of those trips were fully booked, but no matter what, that meant for a whole lot of people hanging around airports across the nation waiting to get another flight or figure out alternate plans. Some made the best of it--like the guy who ended up at my rooftop party after his flight to New York was canceled on Saturday night--while others stressed and complained for hours until finally making it to their destinations.

Many travelers received refunds or rebookings without any penalties, but there were still hours of frustration for most. Customer service lines were jammed with calls, with people waiting up to an hour and a half before speaking with anyone. Obviously, this is not the first weather-related disruption for travelers, just think about everything we've gone through this year alone--blizzards, tornadoes, earthquakes. The best anyone can do is play the hand they are dealt.

For example, the guy I mentioned earlier, Chris, was making his way back to New York after visiting friends on the West Coast. He landed in Chicago, not sure if his flight would be canceled, hoping it would just be delayed. Despite the storm not being as extreme as expected in New York, he still ended up stranded in O'Hare. Luckily for him, United gave him a free hotel room for the night. But for Chris, a night in a hotel near the airport was no way to spend the night. He called his friend Josh, who just happened to be at my apartment for an end-of-summer soiree on our roof. Voila! Instant night out in Chicago. An unfortunate string of events that led to a fun evening meeting some new people.

I am aware that not everyone can get this lucky. Many people did not have friends in the cities where they were stranded. But the story does make a point that there is a way to make light of every situation. So no matter what kind of misfortune comes your way while traveling, there is always a way to make it better, more enjoyable.

This may seem a little too upbeat and optimistic for all those who faced horrific travel issues this weekend, and for those people, I truly am sorry. I am no stranger to those events. The best you can do is grin and bear it, and hope you get a damn good refund from your airline. If not, a good stiff drink should do the trick.

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