Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pit Stop... New Jersey

We are finally in Italy! More about that later. Here's a little timeline of our hellish travel experience thanks to the combination of some crummy weather in NY and the world's worst airline, United! Truly, it was one of the worst customer service experiences we've ever had. United handled the situation just about as badly as humanly possible...

Friday, June 22
12:30 pm Shuttle arrived to take us to Cleveland Hopkins Airport, along with a family from South Korea, also in the GDP program, who was headed along the same route. We were all scheduled for a 7:00 flight from Newark to Frankfurt, Germany.
2:00 pm Made it through security at the airport and checked into our flights.
3:00 pm Originally scheduled to depart Cleveland at this time, flight was been postponed until 3:30.
3:30 pm Flight postponed until 4:00.
4:00 pm Flight postponed until 5:00.
5:00 pm Flight postponed until 6:00.
6:00 pm Flight postponed until 7:00.
7:00 pm Flight postponed until 8:00.
8:30 pm We finally boarded. The stewardesses were using a paper list and asking row-by-row what people's names are. (They started from both ends of the plane and then had to manually recheck their lists against each others.) Their computer system was down because lightning struck some piece of FAA equipment. Over the next several hours the plane sat on the runway. And sat. And sat. And sat. 
10:15 pm The pilot finally said we were waiting to be cleared for takeoff - in a long line of other planes waiting to takeoff. He gave us a 30 minute window. If we weren't cleared by 10:45 he planned to call it quits and head back to the terminal.
10:40 pm Back at the terminal we are letting people off the plane and the pilot now says we'll have another "final answer" in twenty minutes. Passengers are now finding their way to the back of the plane to get drinks from the stewardesses, who are doing nothing, aside from flirting with some married guy who's hanging out near their station. After I went back to get a drink from them, one of them followed me back to my seat to see if I need anything for the baby. She noticed that we had a baby! After TWO hours of sitting around with a crying infant, the stewardess noticed. Ok. Pretty disgusted at this point. We understand that the weather and lightning strike are out of United's control. BUT they do have the ability to offer excellent (or at the bare minumum decent) customer service no matter the circumstances. Enormous fail on their part in so many ways.
11:05 pm We are cleared for takeoff and passengers who left the plane reboard.

Saturday, June 23
12:00 am We finally took off.
1:00 am Our plane landed in Newark. We headed to customer service to attempt and reschedule the flights that we missed.
1:25 am Two women from United approached our very long line at customer service and tell the entire group that customer service for United will close at 2:00 am. Many in this group have international connections. Of course. Please go home. We don't mind if you leave at the end of your shift. Why would you want to go above and beyond for your exhausted, paying customers? So we were handed a slip of paper with an 800 number for customer service and told that we could not pick up our baggage. Since it was flying internationally, they will reroute it for us once we have booked a new flight.
3:00 am We finally found our way (along with our South Korean friends) to a shuttle and on to a hotel.. most hotels around the airport were competely full. So we wound up 30 minutes from the airport.
4:00 am Sleep, finally.
9:10 am Cole called the 800 number. 45 minutes on hold. Only to find out we needed to call the international 800 number. (The ladies didn't mention that there was a different line for international flights - we even asked about being on an international flight to them - .) So Cole called the other number and was on hold an additional 15 minutes. No flights were available to connect to Italy until 8pm Sunday, June 24, and it will take us into a different Milan airport. Which makes us wonder about our luggage...
10:15 am Reservations person cannot help with baggage questions, so she gave us the only baggage number she has - a lost and found number for Newark airport. You get the drift. It took forever. Then Cole helped our Korean friends rebook their flight, too.

Sunday, June 24
12:30 pm Rode to the airport in a shuttle with our friends from Korea.
1:15 pm The United flights we were on had been rerouted to a German airline, Lufthansa. Neither the Koreans nor us had actual seats on the flights. United hadn't reserved them. We had to visit customer service to straighten everything out. Our seats were then reserved. Our friends from Korea were put on standby.

Thankfully the Korean family DID get onto their flight, and so did we. We're now staying in Cernobio, just 10 minutes from Como, until our apartment is ready. Today we got our luggage - all of it! We were sure we'd never see it again. I think God knew we needed a little happy moment! So glad to have our stroller, too... that carseat was starting to get heavy. :)