Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Spending The Night At JFK Airport

We've all see the news reports of passengers stranded at a closed airport, forced to sleep on the floor or on uncomfortable chairs until they could catch a flight out of town. Sometimes I would wonder why they don't just get a hotel room someplace, or perhaps they didn't budget for another night's hotel stay. So it was stunning last week when I found myself forced to stay overnight in Terminal 5 at JFK airport.

A couple of months previously we were booked to fly to New Orleans from Dallas on what turned out to be the day before Hurricane Issac hit that city, but properly warned, we instead flew home to Los Angeles from Dallas. When we flew out of Burbank last Wednesday morning to New York, and then connecting to Washington D.C., we were aware that a Nor'easter might strike the east coast, but the last reports the night before were that the storm was starting to veer away from the Atlantic Coast and the effects would not be serious. And when our flight boarded as scheduled at 7 am, I figured everything would be manageable. Now flying on Jet Blue, we had the advantage of watching TV while flying cross country, and the reports were worrisome. The storm had been given a name, Winter Storm Athena, and we saw that some carriers were canceling operations at JFK, prior to our scheduled landing time. However, we did continue on and landed on time at JFK, where it was raining with snow flurries. We waited for our flight to DC and even boarded the plane but it started snowing heavily. We were on the plane for a couple of hours, watching the snow blow horizontally and cover much of the window, before they eventually canceled the flight, due more to the winds that the snow. When we got to the front of the customer service line after an hour wait, it turned out the best alternative was to fly to Boston at 6:30 am, then from there to Reagan, rather than Dulles. However by the time that was settled, there were no hotel rooms by the airport so we had to stay overnight at the airport, essentially homeless. (I would have considered staying in Manhattan if we weren't booked for such an early departure in the morning.)

We really didn't sleep much at all overnight, since the seats in the terminal weren't made for sleeping, plus they didn't lower the lights, even though there were no flights after midnight. Also for some reason they kept running a general announcement about the pet walking zones once or twice every hour. And it seemed like a lot of the other stranded passengers didn't even try going to sleep, preferring to engage in animated conversation. So by 4:30 am we were up and walking around. And the airport at 4:30 am was a real revelation, seeing how busy it was with shops opening up and passengers (aside from those who were stuck in the terminal overnight) arriving for the flights. There was an incredibly long line of people buying coffee at the Dunkin Donuts and at the Cibo checkout.

A major issue in all this was our luggage. When they rebooked us for the New York to Boston to Washington Reagan circuit, I asked about our luggage. The agent told me it would stay on the original plane and be delivered to Dulles airport in the morning, where our cancelled flight had been scheduled to land, and that indeed it would be there before we landed at Reagan. I really didn't relish the thought of driving out to Dulles just to pick up our luggage, but it would be much better than losing your luggage completely. However during the chaos I heard a voice shout out of a speaker phone something like that there would be no rerouting of cancelled flights "except for the DC flight". At first I didn't understand what that meant. However later in the evening while perusing the flight departures board looking for an update of the morning's Boston flights, plus looking for clues or patterns from Thursday flights already cancelled, I saw that the Thursday morning Jet Blue flight from JFK to Dulles had been cancelled. Well if that flight was cancelled, how would would our luggage get to Dulles? Did the reference to "not re-routing except for the DC flight" refer to luggage, and were they going to track the replacement flights of the passengers on our plane and send those luggage along because there was no follow up flight to Dulles? So when we arrived at Reagan, I went to baggage claim and asked them if our baggage might be there. The agent replied that another passenger from our cancelled flight had already found his luggage so it could well be there. And by the time I caught up to Mrs. Chandavkl, she had grabbed our bags and I was happy that I pieced things together and didn't believe what Jet Blue had told us.

At the time all this transpired, it was certainly aggravating, tiring, and trying set of circumstances. But in hindsight, this turned out to be a very interesting adventure that was almost worthwhile.

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