Our recent family trip to Southern California was fantastic. From enjoying the beauty of Joshua Tree National Park to riding coasters at Disneyland, we loved every moment. Coming home, however, wasn’t quite the experience we expected. Airline delays and cancellations are becoming more common and, unfortunately, it was our turn.
We purchased one way tickets for our trip so we could fly into/out of smaller airports and not have to return to the same starting point. Flying into Palm Springs on Southwest Airlines was pretty straightforward. The only real stress point was finding Dallas Love Field super busy making food and bathroom lines long. I am still grateful to the man who saw the stress on my face as I tried to find a quick bathroom option for my daughter before our connecting flight and pointed out the vacant companion bathroom beside it. The little things are a big deal and his help was so appreciated.
Leaving Anaheim later in the week, we opted to fly American Airlines from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana. Small and not nearly as busy as nearby LAX, the airport itself was fine. The issues began when our first flight was delayed. Only by about half an hour so we weren’t concerned. A short time into the flight, the pilot noted that with winds behind us, we were making up time and should arrive close to schedule. Even better!
About 3 hours into the 4 hour flight, the pilot made another announcement. This time he let us know that weather was bad in Chicago causing delays. We were being diverted to Des Moines, IA, for refueling as a precaution. Then we would continue on to O’Hare. Again, we weren’t too concerned. A quick check of the airline website even showed our connection home as delayed. All good.
Refueling was quick and soon we were ready to fly again. Before we could takeoff, we stopped a second time because O’Hare was under a ground stop. Still we weren’t concerned. Everyone on the flight was in good spirits. It wasn’t too long before we were back in the air en route to Chicago.
A short time later, however, we had notification that our connection had been cancelled. While we would make it safely to Chicago, the final journey home wasn’t clear. The next 4-1/2 hours were filled with long lines and required lots of patience.
We learned the hard way that standing in line to speak with airline employees at the airport is a huge waste of time. Since our connecting flight was canceled due to weather, American Airlines refused any compensation or reimbursement. My husband had booked us on new flights via the airline website for Saturday (2 days later) before even getting in line and, unfortunately, even the employee he finally spoke with wasn’t able to find anything sooner. The only ‘help’ we were given was a hotel discount card that proved to be useless.
Time wasted in line meant no hotel vacancies nearby. We ended up finding a great option in Glenview about 15 minutes north, but then spent an even longer time trying to work out transportation. So late at night with numerous stranded travelers also trying to get out (I overheard one woman joke it was like a reality show where whoever escaped O’Hare would win), we had 3 Lyft drivers cancel on us before we finally opted for the taxi line. By the time we got one and to our hotel, it was after midnight. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so glad to see a bed.
Things We Did Right
Getting stuck at an airport hundreds of miles from home was a first for us. I started mentally saying thanks while there for the few things I realized we did “right” without even knowing this might happen:
- Carryon Only – earlier this year we purchased a 4th rolling carryon suitcase so we could each have one. Since then, we haven’t checked bags for any flights. This was a huge benefit that night. We didn’t have to worry or stress finding any luggage. Everything was with us.
- Extra Medications – this was a half win. I packed one extra day of my medications (next time I’ll pack at least 2-3 days additional). Most I can skip, but my asthma prescription is a must. I managed. It wasn’t pretty, but I was thankful I had at least 1 extra pill as well as my inhaler for the 2 days we were stuck.
- Clean Underwear and Socks – my Dad taught my sister and I to always pack extra of both in our carryon when we were kids. This way, even if your luggage is lost, you have those basics clean and ready. To this day, I pack extra even when I only travel with carryon luggage. They take up little space and it’s one less thing to worry about.
- Laundry Basics – every trip I bring a small laundry supply bag with me regardless of whether we plan to do laundry or not. Inside I have a pop-up hamper, clothes pins, detergent pods, dryer sheets, mesh bag, stain wipes, and dish detergent. I did have to get change from the front desk at our hotel, but I was able to do laundry the following afternoon so we had clean clothes for our flight home.
- Snacks – we had an assortment of snacks in our backpacks. Given our flight ended up longer than expected and beverage/snack service was only offered once, our packed snacks were much needed by all 4 of us.
- Remained Calm – getting upset wasn’t going to change the situation and would only make things worse. Maintaining our composure helped our kids do the same as they were reading our cues for how to react.
- Turned Lemons into Lemonade – since my first trip to Chicago in 2018, I’ve wanted to take our kids. This wasn’t the way I planned and we didn’t see much, but we did manage to take them downtown to enjoy Millennium Park during our one full day in the city. They thought Cloud Gate (the ‘Bean’) was cool and had fun playing at Maggie Daley Park. The ride on the L was also exciting to them as we don’t have a subway system locally.
What we didn’t do that I consider right? We did not purchase trip insurance. I bought it once (for our Alaska cruise in 2020 that was canceled and then was able to push the insurance to the following year which was also cancelled). Since then, I haven’t done so. Not even for our 2022 Alaska cruise when we actually went. Shockingly, every flight went smoothly and every checked bag made it to our destinations to Vancouver, BC, and back for that trip. Some might argue that we should have gotten it. I did consider earlier in the month, but ultimately decided not to. It’s a personal decision and one I don’t regret even after our recent experience.
While I’m certain we’ll find ourselves dealing with airline delays again in the future, I do hope we don’t experience additional cancellations. Regardless, we will be much more prepared and ready to manage it thanks to this experience. One of the first things I will do is book that hotel and get out. Being stuck for hours once was lesson enough.