December 10, 2010

God Bless the USO!!!

Now I’m sorry, I know I haven’t posted in a while. Time seems to get away from me, but right now I apparently have all the time in the world … or so Southwest Airlines thinks!

I came home to Houston for a brief trip to exchange Christmas presents and attend an “event” will later become public knowledge. Anyway, today I was supposed to go home. It’s the first time I’ve been away from the baby and being away from hubby for any length of time is hard after so many deployments, schools and training missions in the past 7+ years.

Well, my flight was suppose to leave at 2:40 p.m. from Houston’s Hobby Airport, so like a good traveler I get here just after 1 p.m. to check in and wait. Finally the time (and plane) arrived … we line up like good little first graders and wait to be boarded … and wait … and wait.

The staff member then comes over the intercom and states that the plane has a mechanical issue discovered in the pre-board inspection and it will take an hour and a half to fix … that right hour and a half! However, in many situations dispatch could chose to switch to another incoming plane, though they hadn’t decided that option yet.

So we trudge back to our seats to await further news. A few minutes later we are informed that they will switch planes and it will arrive about 5 minutes before the hour and a half mark for the other plane …great! Now we wait!
I was told that they were going to hold my connecting flight from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale since there were 8 of us were suppose to make the flight. Good for us, but now those people are delayed … good plan!

So the plane arrives and we are told that it will get there at 3:50 p.m. and we should be boarded and on our way by 4:10 p.m. … Um, sure …

The plane arrives … people deplane … we line up to wait for boarding … and wait … and wait …

There were jokes that there was an issue with this plane and they were drawing straws to see who would tell us … it was funny until the intercom scratched, drawing us all into silence as we listened for news …

A timid voice comes through the speakers, breaking up as she delivers the news … the second plane has mechanical issues and is being taken out of service. There is no plan as to what the alternate solution is, but we will be kept informed.

After waiting a bit more we were told that a 5:30 p.m. flight to Philly would be rerouted to take us to Orlando and the Philly passengers would be put on another flight … another bright idea! But wait … !

Those of us who were suppose to make a connecting flight in Orlando to Fort Lauderdale would not be there in time to catch any flights … I’m not sure if there were none, or if they were all booked, but we had two options …

1. Continue to Orlando on the flight coming in around 5:30 p.m. and stay overnight catching the next available flight at 2 p.m. arriving about 3 p.m. or …

2. Transfer to a flight going to Tampa at 8:05 p.m. and stay overnight to catch a flight going out at about 7:30 a.m. to arrive at 8:30 a.m.

While I was on the phone talking it over with George the decision was made for me, because next thing I know the supervisor, Chance, said he was switching all of our flight to Tampa and making overnight arrangements for rooms.

So I guess Tampa it is … but the flight will not leave until 8:05 p.m. and they were not going to give us food vouchers according to supervisor Chance.

So after getting my new tickets and room voucher, I trudged over to gate on the other side of the terminal to check in where I met an animated desk attendant named Joe. Joe had the energy of cup of the hot beverage whose name he shared. Once assured that is where I was supposed to be I got directions to the Hobby USO and headed over for my 2+ hour wait …

I'd heard about it many times from one of my favororite "mums", the mother of one of George's childhood friends who volunteers there, but I was not prepared for what I encountered.

The USO … I’d never been to one, but when I walked in it was like the CHRISTMAS STAR … the one bright spot in an otherwise irritating day.

It was quiet and homey … its chocolate leather couches welcoming you with their cool, worn rawhide, showing the impressions of so many tired bodies who’d found comfort in their embrace. So far from home, this little hidden oasis offered a feel of familiarity and reassurance. It was like coming home to mom after your first separation. The refrigerator was stocked with a plethora of beverages and treats to perk up even the weariest traveler. Computers, TVs, books and magazines … there were a variety of entertainment options to help ease the boredom of travel. There was even a playroom for children, that called to me with enticing games and toys, but I was in need of recharging … for my phone and computer as well as my energy.
I settled into the worn leather chair at the little dining table, opened up my computer and attempted to lose myself … in my blog, of course! One good thing was that I finally had some uninterrupted time to write. A method of relieving stress as well as journaling just another one of my …err … “grand adventures”.

So as I sat there writing my blog and loving joking with my Sister Spouse EB mother-in-law is the mother who volunteered at the Hobby USO, I intermittently relayed information of my plight to get home to my mother, who is a force to be reckoned with when she deems a cause necessary, as she “discussed” my ordeal with Southwest Airline’s customer service.

Now, my mom is a die-hard Southwest fan … my brother and I flew SW from the time we were toddlers, going back and forth between or divorced parents. The only time we flew another airline was if we booked and paid for it ourselves. She flew Southwest and if they couldn’t get her there she’d rather drive … seriously … I’ve been on trips that took two days to get to a destination … she was that loyal, and by the end of the conversation I am sure that the CS rep knew that information in detail!

So there I was, basking in my oasis of comfort trying to decide if I wanted to eat or not. My called … again … and said the customer service rep stated that they should give us food vouchers since we’d been stranded so long … more than five hours since the original flight was supposed to leave. The CS rep said that I should go to the CS desk in the terminal, explain the situation and tell them the 1-800 CS rep said I should be able to get a food voucher.

So I packed up my books, computer and other items and headed to the customer service desk. There was no one there, so I headed back to the gate to see what advice Lively Joe could offer. After I explained the “grand adventure” up to said that point he said that the CS desk had been empty for a while, but that he could call a manager over. It sounded good to me, so I waited. A few minutes later I knew my hopes of getting a food voucher were bleak as Lively Joe points me out to supervisor Chance, the same supervisor who’d told me earlier that they weren’t offering food vouchers, that we’d have to pay out of our own pockets.

I didn’t want to take up his time since I knew it was fruitless, so I quickly explained that I was one of the displaced Orlando passengers from earlier and the CS rep had said to ask for food vouchers. He said that they couldn’t offer us food vouchers of we’d gotten hotel vouchers … some mumbled reason of it being over the amount they allot for displacement … I dunno. I knew there was no sense arguing.

I thanked him and then checked in with Lively Joe, who’d gotten quite comical at this point, only to learn that the 8:05 p.m. flight was running 15 minutes behind.

Oh, well. What’s another 15 minutes after I’d been there more than 7 hours. So I sat down with a snack from the USO and a view of some interesting people and prepared to do what I’d been doing all day … wait …

Well, that’s the story for now, my dear friends. It’s late and my adventure isn’t over yet. Come back to find out if … “I’ll be home for Christmas …”

Until our next cup of tea ...

1 Tea Party Guest:

ABW said...

I love the USO. When we moved from Germany to the States, it ended up being about 24 hours of travel time--the Army seemed more intent on making us take the cheapest but longest route! We ended up in the Atlanta USO tired as could be. They fed us, got us comfortable, and played with a wide awake 8 month old Emily while we half napped on the couches. It was heaven.