As the holidays approach, the airports will be teeming with people trying to get home to family for dinner, for celebrations, for presents or for escape (Maui sounds nice right now). Many will not be accustomed to the rhythm of holiday travel and the airport experience especially if there are delays or disruptions so it’s a reminder to me to be patient and help out where I can. Over the years, I’ve had many people help me when I needed it on the road, today when asked what I’ve done to help someone, I was reminded of this holiday travel story.
There was snow on the East Coast and I was going to be stranded in London. I had planned for this when I changed to the earlier flight from Paris (reason to have a great travel agent), where the snow had also fallen and the unusual weather caused Eurostar trains to be stranded in the Chunnel (reminder to travel with a good bag of snacks and accessories). Planning to be stuck at Heathrow gave me more options as I had many offers by colleagues in London to stay and/or work if necessary.
I went about my normal routine at Heathrow knowing that the monitor which said “on time” was wrong given the almost two feet of snow falling in Philadelphia. Security decided that this one time they would confiscate my contact lens solution which they hadn’t done the previous three trips earlier in the year. While I argued this point with the staff (never a good thing), I walked to Boots to replace the solution. It was already a long day and I was exhausted even before the real stress would begin.
In the quiet lounge, I began planning for my overnight in the airport (my first time stuck at the airport due to snow) by stocking up on bottled water and snacks (back when they had these options available). I dialed the five star airport hotel, the Sofitel Heathrow, in Terminal 5 to check on availability, knowing that it was well outside my budget but a convenient reward for a stressful travel day. The front desk understood my plight, had a room and would hold it for me (I wasn’t going to give out my credit card info while seated in the lounge). When the flight was canceled, I was directed to a secure area to go through security again (it looked like an employee area) and was let out in baggage claim to retrieve our bags and then go to rebook our flights.
While waiting on my bags, I saw a few students upset not knowing what to do next. We started talking and they were flying back home after a semester abroad. One girl was on my flight from Paris and going home from Philly and I adopted her after I heard her parents yelling at her on the phone about the canceled flight. Really? She was already upset and unsure what to do so the stressful call didn’t help.
I told her to join me in the business class line to rebook the flights knowing that we could do it quicker than the hundreds waiting in coach. She waved her friends with us (yikes!) and I told them to act normal as this was the British Airways Club World line. Telling teenage college students to be cool was too much to hope for as they called friends and family, loudly saying that they skipped coach to get into the business class line. Of course, this alerted the other passengers in the queue and staff so they were asked to leave but my new Philly friend was able to stay as I said she was with me.
Flying business class, I was able to get a seat the next day but wasn’t offered the compensation I knew I was entitled to – a meal voucher and a hotel room. When I asked about the hotel, I was told it was off property. I asked “what about the snow on the ground now and tomorrow”, does the hotel have a shuttle? She didn’t know and I already made my mind up to stay connected to the terminal at the Sofitel (I do love the Sofitel St. James in London).
When they wanted to rebook my new friend via Boston, an airport I know she’d get stuck at even further once handed over to USAirways. I stressed to the agent book her direct to Philly (next flight in two days). Since it was less than a week until Christmas, all flights were full and one woman with three kids had to wait almost a week to get home! My new friend, like a little duck, followed me to the Sofitel armed with her “parent’s emergency credit card” (she was still angry at them yelling at her).
We both checked into the hotel and having never stayed at a luxury hotel she said she was going to stay in the room and order room service for two days before the flight home (if you want to make your father pay for yelling at you, this is one way to do it). All I could think about was how my father would have killed me about the costs (when he calmed down he would rethink his actions and be happy I was safe but money was still a sore subject) so I felt bad for the part I played in the cost but felt good that she was safe. As we both entered our rooms on the same hallway, she thanked me and that was the last that I saw of her.
Have you encountered an act of travel kindness at the holidays or in your travels? What happened?