As a frequent flier on Southwest for years and years, one would think it would only get easier, but it has only become more and more difficult to fly anywhere on any airline. Congested skies belies the fact that the airlines have cut back on their flight schedules, leaving the remaining flights loaded with passengers and convoluted flight plans. Unfortunately, with the “new reality” of air travel, considerations other than full flights come into play, especially when weather becomes a factor. Now most folks that grew up in the Mid West can tell you…flying out of Chicago in the winter is to be avoided at all times (unless travel to Chicago is the destination). Winter flights from the Windy City are always troublesome. So why the big problem last time when we were flying out of the Big Apple? Weather does not discriminate, and rolls in whenever it wants (Mother Nature can be a bitch ‘ya know!).
So looking at total travel time, it seemed to make sense to catch an early flight from LaGuardia to Tampa, except the flight was connecting in Chicago. So we fly a couple of hours West in order to head South for another 2 ½ hours – a small price to pay to get home by late afternoon and catch both the last Presidential Debate AND Da-Bears! Upon arriving at LaGuardia, we learned the flight to Chicago was overbooked and that Southwest was offering “compensation” for those willing to voluntarily bump from the flight. Ah, now you think we got ourselves in trouble by pursuing the “mighty compensation.” Nope, our offer was rejected and a flight full of eager passengers looking to connect to flights for home left the gate being assured by the pilot that our flight would be just one hour and fifty-five minutes. Perfect! All except he failed to mention the flight time actually meant “Flight” time. We sat in line to taxi to the runway for over an hour! Once in the air, we all felt a sense of relief because we were on our merry way. We should have known trouble was afoot when the flight attendant forgot to give us our pretzels and nuts! While in the air over Goshen, Indiana, the pilot announced that we were descending into the Chicago area and would be on the ground in fifteen minutes. As soon as his announcement ended, he came back on to tell us the bad news – Chicago was being hit with a huge thunderstorm and was closing for all incoming traffic. Worse yet, we were low on fuel and would have to divert to Indianapolis. Okay we thought, perhaps we could deplane and catch a flight to Tampa from Indy? No such luck…all flights from Indy to Tampa fly to Chicago first!
After an hour delay and an intake of fuel (with an outpouring in the lavatories), we finally headed out towards Chicago, only to be diverted to fly around the lingering storm by flying over St. Louis. Now I know the flight time from Indianapolis should not be very long, it took us close to two hours to fly to Chicago. Upon arrival, we saw literally thousands of passengers scrambling to find new connections, as virtually everyone missed their flights. So here we sit in Chicago, waiting on stand-by status for a flight to Tampa (which already shows as “Sold Out.”). There is a later flight to Tampa, but it too shows no seats are available. To make matters worse, we have been told our stand by status is not related to checking in at the gate first, but instead to some selection process utilized by Southwest (being a Rapid Rewards Members for over a decade better pay off!). If it does not, we will be missing our flights home tonight…but our bags will not (they will be heading to Tampa without us!). No change of clothes, no meds (my mistake for packing them) and worse yet, no coats (It’s COLD in Chicago)!!! Whatever happened to the “Friendly Skies?”
Post Script - We made it onto a flight to Tampa, but Southwest had to have made some folks angry. Seems the flight we took was posted as "delayed" until 8:15 our time, so many folks decided to head off and find dinner in the airport. Lo and behold, our plane arrived on-time and Southwest made the decision to immediately board, 1 hour earlier than they had previously indicated. Despite repeated calls for passengers, some did not arrive and we were granted two of their seats. By the time some of them probably got to the gate, we were thirty minutes into our flight to Tampa. We did make it home, some seven hours late. Better late than never!