Sometimes a reality check about the joys of travel is in order. This is it.
We became the victims of our own desire to escape the chills and blasts of winter by planning a week in St. Martin, in the Netherlands Antilles.
We hoped and prayed that the blizzard-like snows of Friday March 16 would have disappeared by the time we drove out of town on Saturday Morning, St. Patrick’s Day. We had heard all the horror stories about plane cancellations, travelers being captive on planes for 8 and 9 hours, lack of crew, lack of planes, lack of food, etc. that had been going on in recent weeks.
We figured that, with the mess on the roads, and the improving weather forecast, we would be “home free” if we could get to the airport. We arrived at the new American Airlines Terminal 9, in plenty of time. Luggage got checked, off we went to the Admirals Club to await our flight, remembered we’d been in the new club a couple of times before, that they had free computers for internet access, lots of comfortable seats, free coffee, juice and bagels in the morning, and were ready for a nice relaxing time reading the morning paper. When we got there, there was a huge line of people talking to the AA agents at the door. Hmmm, I thought, this is new, but we didn’t need a thing from them, so I flashed my membership card and walked in along with DH (this is a Fodor’s term, look it up on the internet). Wow, what a crowd! But, we found a spot, had some breakfast, and settled in with our reading.
I took a walk downstairs to see what kind of shops were there, bought a magazine (I am hopeless about magazines in an airport) (and a chocolate bar) (ditto re: hopeless.) An announcement came that the plane would be a little over an hour late. Well, OK, not so surprising, considering all the trouble they must have had the day before, when just about every flight was cancelled. That must be why all those people are in line, I thought, trying to get out of town, since their flight was cancelled the day before.
Sooo – after having gotten up at 6, left for the airport at 7:15, for a harrowing drive, passing 5 or 6 accidents and spin outs on various NY bound highways, and vegging out comfortably at the airport for a couple of hours, our flight was cancelled at 12 noon. Period.
Several people in the lounge groaned, and I began to hear the tales of all the travelers who had much worse stories to tell than ours. Some had been there since Friday morning. One couple had tried to get out on Thursday and was stranded since then. Several had come back three times from relatively nearby homes, to try to get on a flight, only to be cancelled at the last minute.
Here are my thoughts and tips for winter travel, gleaned from a long day at JFK observing both ourselves and others dealing with the stress.
- Drive yourself to the airport. We park offsite at a place called AVISTAR, they take your car, and take responsibility for it, drive you to your terminal, come pick you up when you get back, and drive you to your WARMED UP car, so you can drive home. (If you have someone drive you, as we often do, you have no way to get back home, unless you wait for a couple of hours.) There is an AVISTAR AT Newark also.
- Check out hotels in the area of your airport, in case you need to go the night before, or stay when stranded. At JFK, we have discovered the following possibilities, all on or just off the Belt Parkway, usually on Conduit Avenue, Jamaica, Queens. (I give you the address, as you might have to distinguish various chain hotels exact location when cell-phoning for a reservation.) They are: The Hilton Garden Inn, The Double Tree Inn, Hampton Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, Holiday Inn Express, and Howard Johnson.
- When going through Security, don’t throw away your bottle of water. Find a plant and water the plant with your water bottle contents. You can take an empty water bottle and fill it on the other side, thus saving the exorbitant price of a too-large bottle of water purchased past security.
- Bring some food. It will pass through security, and then you can have your baby carrots or apples, or other healthy food without likewise paying an exorbitant price.
- Be nice to the security people. You may think some of the practices are off the wall, but they are all there for your safety. I remember thanking one security woman who had to go through the entire body search routine with me (I have an artificial hip and I always set off the alarm.) She had done a very thorough, but very polite job of it. She told me she had lost three family members on 9/11, so she was proud of her work. I decided to go tell her supervisor, my good deed for that day.
- Also, be nice to the airlines personnel. They are only doing what they are told, even though what they are told to tell you about delays, etc. often seems like a downright lie. (Was it lack of de-icing fluid, lack of crew, lack of airplane, fear of keeping planeloads of people captive for hours on the runway, who knows?)
- Write to all the airlines you can, and try to get them to be more honest with waiting travelers, as most of us are human beings and are hard-wired to be pleasant, until we are given the run around multiple times.
- Take the train, or the bus.