Wednesday, June 18, 2014

This is not a rant

I do not want to attract any negative energy.  But, I have to record this crazy business day trip.  So how about a write this in the third person like a newspaper article or short story.  Let's Tarantino this and start at the end from the first person perspective...I'm here at Newark Airport, NJ sitting in the one place that seems to be open 24x7 and it has free wi-fi - one of my very few visits to a Dunkin' Donuts.  To be accurate I'm stuck here for a few more hours before my flight home at 6:30 am so I have a fair bit of free time to blog.

PJMixer was set for a common day trip to the NJ area. Although he'd had a late night, he was up early and prepared for his business meeting. PJ should have known the gods were against him the previous night when a friendly offer of a lift home after his ultimate game turned into an exhausting hour long side trip to Home Depot for his friend to order lumber for a weekend shed project. A service desk trainee mixed with unhelpful managers turned a somewhat routine order into something far more epic. Under the guidance of his enlightened wife, PJ remained calm and excepted the long wait admirably. 

With a freshly ironed shirt, minimum knapsack load and a early breakfast he was out of the door around 7:30 am allowing plenty of time for traffic and the unpredictable wait times for US immigration, to make his 9:45 am flight to Philadelphia. A beautiful spring morning on the ground and in the air for his short, on-time, uncrowded, US Airways non-stop flight. PJMixer had pulled a fast one on the machinations of the airline industry and booked a reasonably priced flight to Newark via Philadelphia and simply pulled a non-show for the Newark leg (which was unfathomably cheaper that a direct flight to Philly*). PJ lands on time and has a good long look at the Chipotle Grill in the airport terminal as his stomach growls but decides to head straight to his Hertz rental car. He doesn't want to chance Hertz giving away his car like they've done on previous occasions when he's a little late. He checks his watch and decides he'll have plenty of time to eat as he gets closer to his destination.

Although a little later than normal, PJ had reserved his Hertz rental car using his Gold membership with the only unusual characteristic of having a return location of Newark instead of Philly (once again, the mystery of airline pricing had provided him a reasonable non-stop flight home to Toronto from Newark on Air Canada). PJ suspected something was perhaps amiss when he did not get the usual email from Hertz telling him which stall he could find his car and speed away. PJ takes the Hertz shuttle bus to the rental car lot to find a long line of people waiting at the Hertz Gold desk. A so begins the downward spiral of PJMixer's business day. Another customer mentions to PJ that Hertz are out of cars ! What ? How can that be ? Their lots are usually full. But with a quick scan of the steaming hot lot, PJ can tell this was trouble, he could only see a handful of cars which appeared ready for their drivers.

PJ dutifully joins a long line of quietly steaming customers and finally gets to the counter after about a half hour wait. His car speeds up to the curb still dripping from the car wash. And he's away for a 70 km drive to the customer's office. With only a few ugly construction slow downs, traffic was light and  he arrived at the massive New Jersey countryside campus with about an hour to spare. Pretty as it was, there didn't appear to even be a town near by, never mind any decent lunch choices. He decides to find out where his colleague is in her travels and finds out she is only a few minutes away. He figures that a campus this size must have a decent cafeteria so the decision is made to grab lunch on-site. However, they naively think they can simply stroll into the cafeteria without being "badged in". But they are an hour early, so the normally simple task of checking in with security turns into a game of where's Waldo. An abbreviated, but tasty lunch sets up a good customer meeting with only a few hitches along the way.  

PJMixer keeps an eye on his watch as the meeting approaches the end time of 4 pm. His flight home to Toronto from Newark is scheduled to depart at 6:45 pm. He knows that there's maintenance going on at Newark airport and his rental car shuttle to the terminal may be longer that normal, plus he hasn't checked into his flight yet. PJ had tried to check-in the night before and earlier in the day via his smartphone with no luck. He also wonders about late afternoon NJ traffic and asks for advice from some of his local customers in attendance. As is the case when traffic and routes are discussed with more than a couple of people, a variety of suggestions are made, but it appears that they recommend the NJ Turnpike. He thinks he hears a derogatory comment made about Route 1.

As the meeting wraps up shortly after 4 pm, PJ glimpses his smartphone to see alerts from his Expedia app about a 2 1/2 hour delay of his flight. Annoyed, PJ takes his time with the customer and heads out to his car for a leisurely 80 km drive to Newark. But PJ checks in with his wife, notifying her of the delay at which point she professionally checks her systems and says the flight is on time. Confused, PJ rechecks his smartphone and is alarmed to see the earlier alert was for the "no-show" leg to Newark, NOT to Toronto.

PJ has become accustomed to following the orders from his GPS and doesn't really want to trouble himself with alternate routes. Maybe the GPS will take him via the NJ Turnpike. But PJ wasn't so lucky, the GPS picks Route 1 for a large segment of the drive to Newark. One of the features of the GPS that PJ likes is the ETA. Even when driving somewhere familiar, the ETA is a quick and accurate prediction and gives the driver a sense of how long delays really are as the ETA will change when stuck in traffic. When PJ begins his journey, the ETA is approximately 5:15 pm. But as PJ hits traffic, the ETA starts to worryingly increase, an ETA of 5:30 pm passes by and as PJ ironically crawls onto the NJ Turnpike, the ETA is approximately 5:50 pm. Definitely no time to stop to fill up the gas tank ! A frantic drop off at Hertz and a ready bus to Terminal A gets PJ at the Air Canada check-in desk at about 6:15 pm. Phew, he's almost there, 30 mins to clear security should be doable (and there are other people appearing to check in for the Toronto flight too). With a nonchalant look, the Air Canada agent informs Mr. P. J. Mixer that he's checking in too late and they have given his seat to someone else. He makes a small effort to book him on the next flight at 8:55 pm at no charge. But there must be some mistake, PJ had tried to check in ! The agent suggests Mr. P. J. Mixer didn't enter his full name when attempting to check-in. Doesn't PJ do this all the time ?

Saddened by the snub, PJ parks in the food court, grabs an early dinner burrito and sets into doing some work on his laptop. PJ's Flightview app on his smartphone is telling him the flight is delayed, however there's a discrepancy with the terminal monitors. PJ doesn't want to chance anything else, so he goes through security to find out at the gate that indeed the flight is delayed.  PJ learns from his wife that there are some very heavy storms hitting Toronto and the Air Canada gate agent is talking about tornadoes in the Toronto area. And as the hours tick by, the flight is delayed further and further until shortly after midnight the tired and weary are notified that the flight has been cancelled.  

PJ follows the agent's instructions without arguing and heads out to the check-in desk to re-book his flight for the next morning. He gets there early ahead of the masses, but while in line, he begins to realize there's the question of overnight accommodation quickly lurking. PJ is a little tired from his sentence in the departure lounge and would like to get a few hours sleep before heading home even though he has no overnight change of clothes, nor toiletries.  PJ naively calls the on-site Airport Marriott and is rather shocked to find out that they are sold out. Ah, maybe this is a new twist for our seasoned traveler. Maybe there are quite a lot of people trapped in Newark for the night ? PJ sets to using the app and finds some other over priced hotels, but alas they are selling out before his eyes as he hears around him other travelers talking with their travel agents trying to secure a room for the night. There's a cheap Days Inn showing, is that his only hope for a little kip ? Meanwhile, an Air Canada agent hands PJ a sheet of paper with helpful information about finding (discounted) local hotels when flight plans are "interrupted" through a service called Travelliance.  Meanwhile PJ makes it to the Air Canada counter and is lucky that he gets re-booked on the 6:30 am flight without too much more suffering. 

PJ calls Travelliance and he's on hold a short while before a customer service agent pleasantly informs PJ that there's a room waiting for him at Days Inn. It's only a mile away and there's a shuttle bus.  Not quite up to PJ's standards, but it's better than sleeping at the airport so PJ sets on his way, one shuttle bus to another waiting area for the Days Inn shuttle.  A large mob of delayed travelers are awaiting their rides to Mr. Sandman.  PJ's watch is now showing a few minutes past 1 am when the Days Inn shuttle finally appears. A family jumps in and PJMixer grabs shotgun and they're on their way.  

Now the story takes a detour toward the likes of Planes, Trains & Automobiles as the scenery turns gruesome and the travelers arrive at a very shabby Days Inn hotel/motel hidden away among truck yards and industrial buildings. Once again, PJ is greeted by a gaggle of people trying to check-in with a disorganized and disheveled crew behind the counter.  PJ couldn't recall when he'd last stepped foot in such a troubled hotel.  Beside PJ at the desk was a lady distraught by the news that her reservation through Travelliance was no where to be found.  So it was no surprise to find out that there was no such reservation awaiting PJ either.  

PJMixer steps out of the dank lobby into the Newark industrial wasteland night.  A young traveler appears to be in similar situation and feels very uncomfortable staying the night.  At this point, PJ concedes the fight and enjoys some brief banter with a young man on his way to Lisbon, Portugal.  PJ and the young man get back into the shuttle van and head back to the airport. 

And this is where we re-join PJMixer as he uses found time to record a tale of the unfortunate business traveler.  In a small, but effective way, releasing some of the tension, frustration and stress of the day into the written word and not being accused of a rant and spreading bad energy.

* note that this trick will not work on a return fair as the return trip will be cancelled if you're a no-show.