Flying the not-so-friendly skies

Wayne MitchellJenny and I were pretty tired by the time we wheeled our bags through U.S customs in Chicago after getting off an eight-hour flight from London. It had been a wonderful two-week vacation in Paris and London, but now we were ready to be home.

All that was left was the United Airlines flight from Chicago to Memphis, where our car was waiting in the parking garage.

“We’re going to Memphis,” I said, to the woman holding a hand scanner and rechecking bags after customs.

“Beep” went the scanner and a red light appeared.

“No, you’re not; your flight has been cancelled,” she said. “You’ll have to take your bags and catch the shuttle train to Terminal One and get booked on another flight.”

As we headed to Terminal One, I was getting a little nervous. I remembered that there was only one later United flight to Memphis. And with a cancelled flight, a lot of passengers would be trying to get on it.

The United ticket area at Terminal One was a mess. With automated boarding passes these days, there are few ticket agents. And they were overwhelmed because United had cancelled other flights, too.

“Maybe, it’s too sunny to fly,” I joked to Jenny as we looked at the bright, clear weather outside.

Soon, I wasn’t joking, anymore. When we worked our way to the front of the line, a not very pleasant ticket agent told us there were no seats available to Memphis on any airline. She said she could get us two seats on a flight late Monday night.

“But it’s Sunday afternoon,” I said. “That’s more than 24 hours.”

“All the flights are full,” she said.

“Will United pay for meals and a hotel?” I asked.

She muttered something about the airline had no responsibility in cases of inclement weather or air traffic control and handed us a pamphlet that basically said the same thing. No, she didn’t know why flights were cancelled on a sunny day.

The pamphlet also said that United could not retrieve any bags and that they would be forwarded on the next flight. In other words, if we hadn’t had to take our luggage through customs, we would have been stranded in Chicago without clothes or a toothbrush.

We decided to rent a car and make the eight-hour drive to Memphis. We had to try three rental car companies before we found one that had a car available. It was Avis, where the agent was apologetic that the only thing available was an SUV, but said cancelled flights had caused a run on rental cars.

We settled into a Subaru Forester and drove four hours before we were too tired to go on. After spending the night in Effingham, Ill., we got up early and made the rest of the trip to Memphis and got our car. We were back in New Albany by 1 p.m., about 12 hours earlier than if we had waited on the flight.

A day later United sent an e-mail with a survey, wanting to know how we had enjoyed our trip home from London.

I never fill out surveys. Well, I guess that’s not true. I filled out that one.

T. Wayne Mitchell, Gazette publisher, can be reached at 662-534-6321.

About Wayne Mitchell

Publisher of the New Albany Gazette