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When Travel Goes Wrong – Azores the Trip That Wasn’t

We were all fired up about our trip to Portugal’s Azores Islands to film over the Memorial Weekend Holiday.

Weeks of planning had taken place and the Visit Azores folks had everything set for us and put together an excellent itinerary. This was going to be a great couple of episodes, but first, we had to get there.

Azores Air flies direct to the Azores once per day out of Boston Logan Airport at 9:05PM. Our flight was scheduled weeks in advance and was to leave on Thursday.

I had lunch with our Providence affiliate, WNAC Fox 64 and MyRI 64.2, so I decided to drive up from NYC via a rental car from Avis/Budget which has an office near where I live in Manhattan.

I booked a flight for the film crew on Delta Airlines leaving from JFK in NYC at 3pm and arriving in Boston Logan a little after 4 PM. Our plan was that I would meet them there around 5 PM after my lunch and a couple of afternoon meetings in Boston.

I was worried that the crew would be exhausted waiting around Boston Logan before catching our fight out hours later as we were to begin filming immediately on arrival to the Azores the following day shortly after  6:30 AM, so we’d all be sleep deprived.

Turns out, my worries were misplaced.

I began getting texts from the crew around 2 PM that Delta Airlines was postponing the flight. I began to get worried because I know things can go south quickly when this begins to happen. It was a rainy, dreary day but a little light rain shouldn’t be enough to cancel flights, especially a shuttle flight from NYC to Boston which are pretty much every hour on the hour. I’ve made that same commute many times myself.

After receiving notification that the flight was going to be really late getting into Boston Logan, I decided to pull over at a rest area about 70 miles and 1.5 hours outside of Boston Logan to make some calls.

I alerted our travel hosts at Visit Azores and called Azores Air to see what our options were.

They indicated the crew should be at the gate no later than 8PM. Delta’s new ETA for the crew’s flight into Boston Logan was now 7 PM (or at least as best as my crew could decipher from the reportedly un-helpful gate agent at JFK’s Delta terminal).

At that point, I could have booked the crew on the following evening’s flight on Azores Air out of Boston as the ticket agent told me there were exactly 3 seats available. But those 3 seats would go fast and the Azores ticket office was scheduled to close soon.

I decided against it assuming Delta would make the flight happen. Bad decision.

Flat tire…

To complicate matters, after visiting the restroom at the Rest Area, I discovered my rental car had a flat tire and, surprise, surprise…the car did not come with a spare tire.

Roadside Assistance was called but the folks they arranged to tow the car were 1.5-2 hours from being able to assist me, so now I was in danger of missing the flight as well. David, the very nice telephone agent at Roadside Assistance, advised me to abandon the car and get an uber to the airport if I could.

No Spare?

I set about arranging for uber pick up and was in luck as one happened to be in my area. Uber driver Keith swung by to pick me up and we were on our way, albeit in heavy traffic.

Minutes later I get a call from the crew informing me that the JFK flight had just been officially cancelled. Delta gate agents then suddenly became helpful and booked the crew on a flight out of LGA to Boston that would get in around 7:30 PM, it would now be really, really tight but we could still make it. The Domestic Terminal was a 15 minute walk / run from the International Terminal I was told.

I instructed the guys to sit up front as much as possible. They already only had carry on luggage/gear.

But flying out of LGA is especially nightmarish these days, with construction going on. I was afraid the crew’s taxi wouldn’t make it on time with car traffic a mess there.

They actually did, but it didn’t matter because as soon as they arrived the LGA Delta Flight to Boston Logan began getting delayed, and eventually cancelled.

Unfortunately for us, all this happened too late, the 3 seats were no longer available and the ticket office for Azores Airlines was closed.

When I arrived to the airport (1.5 hours and $96 poorer from the Uber ride), I promptly checked in and received a call from my Azores Tourism contact, who, was working into the wee hours of the night there to try to accommodate us and save our trip.  I felt so guilty.

She suggest I fly in (it’s not like I could just turn around and go home as I’m now in Boston, live in NYC and had abandoned my transportation due to the flat tire/no spare scanrio) and then we either try to get the crew on the next flight in the following couple of days, or I could scramble and try hire a local crew there. Either way, hopefully,  I would still be able to shoot something.

Taxi back to the gate

Alas, after the Azores Airlines flight at was on the taxi way at around 9:30 or 10PM, we received word from the Captain that the flight had been cancelled due to a technical problem with the plane.

After waiting what seemed like hours for my checked luggage, I did a quick online search only to realize there were no hotels to be had in Boston as this was Harvard Graduation week. I had not graduated from Harvard, but even dumb little old me could figure out this was not my time to visit the Azores.

I could hang out in the Boston Airport for more than 24 hours and hope to catch the next flight to the Azores or take a train home (I was already exhausted having been awake since 6AM and it was now 12:30 AM the next day).

I ended up sleeping (or trying too among the bright lights and constant airport announcements of “if you see something, say something” and “Lexus the official car company of Boston Logan” or some non-sense announcements)  at the Boston Logan Airport before taking the 5:05 AM train to NYC.

The Amtrak train home was by far the most pleasant part of the journey.

A lot of sweat equity and money was wasted on a trip that never materialized thanks to  bumbling, fumbling travel corporations that dropped the ball and just plain old lady luck.

I also share the blame because obviously, in retrospect, I should have never relied on airplane travel or even car travel, I should have just trained it. But with Amtrak’s own woes of late, that carries it’s own risk.

Train Ride Back Home

Is there a boat service up to Boston that anyone is aware of?

I’ve included  some photos and a short video of the entire experience. I hope you can enjoy it because I sure didn’t.

P.S. Be on the look out for this and more misadventures in Season 5 when we premiere “When Travel Goes Wrong” in February 2018 and here’s hoping the Azores trip gets rescheduled. Stay Tuned.

 

6/10/17 POST SCRIPT: 

Avis / Budget Bills Me for Roadside Assistance

Today I received this bill from Avis/Budget Rental Car for $182.04 for the Roadside Assistance and Towing.

Remember they didn’t provide a spare tire in my car rental and advised me to call RA and take an Uber to the airport as a result. So let’s see

(1) Original 1 Way Car Rental Cost NYC to Boston = $115

(2) Uber to Boston Airport = $75

(3) Roadside Asst. Cost = $182…

so my $115 Car Rental Tab is now $372.04 for a trip. Ouch. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Traveling to Cuba? Buyer Beware!

I’ve been to Cuba twice, both times via another country. Now that travel restrictions have lessened and opened up to U.S. citizens there’s a “gold rush” of companies rushing to make money from the opportunity, from the well know, to the not so well know.  But it’s fraught with difficulty and if you throw in a good old fashioned incompetence. I’m going to offer some personal tips for travel to Cuba soon in an upcoming episode that premieres Super Bowl Sunday in the U.S. (sorry about that!) called “Travel Hacks for the Raw Traveler” and an accompanying blog post.

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Beautiful & Tragic Havana

But in the meantime, I thought I’d share with you an experience from a pal of mine who was heading to Cuba for 2016 Holiday Season, or thought he was and found out the hard way, how difficult it can be.

What follows is a 1st hand account from Ryan Lewis, a traveler from NYC.

FROM RYAN LEWIS/ NYC TRAVELER

Submitted 12/20/16 

If you were planning on flying JetBlue’s new direct flight from JFK to Havana Cuba… save yourself a massive headache and several days of lost travel time‎, book on another airline, or fly to another city and fly JetBlue through JFK to Cuba, but whatever you do, DO NOT plan on departing from JFK and making it to Cuba that day.

The beauty of a direct flight from the northeast to anywhere in the Caribbean is that it’s a short flight to paradise. Not so for JetBlue’s disastrous new service which allegedly instructs its passengers to arrive FOUR (4) HOURS ahead of time if they are to make their flight. Is this true? No, not actually, but that was what the 56 stranded passengers of flight 243 were told by JetBlue’s staff yesterday as they were being rebooked for flights several days out. Apparently it was the fault of the passengers for only arriving two hours early for their international flights – the same 2 hour advance arrival that is standard for all airlines throughout the world is apparently not standard for JetBlue flights to Cuba… or is it?  

Although our attendant informed us in no uncertain terms that all flights going to Cuba needed 3 – 4 hours to complete the allegedly cumbersome paperwork for U.S. passengers, that same attendant then proceeded to book us on a make-up flight from JFK, through Ft. Lauderdale to Havana, Cuba, which had a 1 hour layover, during which we were to have that same paperwork and visa processed by JetBlue’s staff in Ft. Lauderdale… soooooo, lie?  To be honest it’s unclear to me whether the necessary visa paperwork would even be processed in Ft. Lauderdale as the JetBlue attendant repeatedly assured us it would.  My suspicions were peaked by the fact that I was told by other passengers that on other JetBlue flights to Cuba, which traveled through JFK, the passengers had their paperwork handled at the airport of origin.  Is it just that JFK’s JetBlue staff is so incompetent or understaffed?  Seems plausible based on what I saw and heard yesterday. 

The same attendant who rebooked us on what was allegedly the next best flight (a non-direct flight that departed two days later, with no actual seat assignments), also insisted to my girlfriend and me that there was a warning on JetBlue’s website informing all passengers to Cuba that they had to arrive at the airport 3 – 4 hours before their flight in order to process paperwork. However, when I asked where on the site that warning was, she said she didn’t know. I informed her that no such information ever popped up when I was booking my flight, or after I booked my flight. She then informed me that I had “to click on something”.  I literally could not find words to respond.

So, what’s the skinny? Basically, I have heard from multiple parties flying JetBlue from SFO through JFK, flying other airlines from LA to Cuba, from various points in Florida to Cuba and elsewhere throughout the nation that by and large things go smoothly, short processing times and easy flights are the norm. However, of the people standing in line with me yesterday, the girl in front of us was in line for the second time in two days, having been rebooked to Cuba from the previous day by JetBlue. The man in front of her was also in line for the second time, having been rebooked from two days prior. And all, like us, had arrived two hours or more in advance and all, like us, were being rebooked for flights up to two or more days out. A week long vacation turned into mere days, all because of a problem which is, by all accounts endemic with the JetBlue staff and/or system of processing passengers at JFK. After a month of providing this “service” to Cuba, and a month of the same problems, the JetBlue staff simply find it easier to continue ruining their passengers’ vacations and covering their tracks with laughable lies and excuses than to actually find a quasi-workable solution to the problem.  

The problems there are so bad that the “managers” have seemingly stopped addressing them. After waiting at the airport for over three hours, no manager would come and speak with me to explain what had happened or what could be done. I was told that I could go upstairs and find “Justine” but she probably wasn’t going to come down because it was “real busy” up there. 

One last tip for those of you departing JFK to Cuba on JetBlue, another thing that no one will inform you of is that the JetBlue Cuba check-in and visa processing is not even actually on the same floor as all of the other JetBlue check-in and baggage lines, apparently they thought it best to secret this special check-in on the baggage-claim floor in the very back, behind baggage carousel #6.  When you go to self check-in, the terminal will simply tell you that you that you can’t check-in, but that you need to see an assistant.  However, it being holiday season, the check-in lines literally have hundreds of people waiting in them to check bags, etc. as does the “Special Help” line.  I am told that if you actually wait in any of those lines, when you get to the front they will simply tell you they can’t even take your bags and then they will (at long last) tell you that you need to go downstairs to a secret line somewhere behind all of the baggage claim carousels.  This unfortunately happened to a number of people on flight 243 yesterday, the rest of us simply spent 15 – 30 minutes walking around the JetBlue terminal asking stray attendants where to go.  

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Not So Fast Yanqui Gringo!