Yes, this was a Travel Avalanche. I have pretty good travel karma but it caught up to me on a recent trip. While I blogged about it here for my trip from Norway to Colorado Springs and here for the return trip, Joe Sharkey of the New York Times felt there were some lessons to be learned for other travelers.
Here’s the summary:
- Original outbound flight plan was KRS-CPH-EWR-ORD-COS.
- KRS-CPH flight was canceled due to airline strike, re-routed OSL-EWR which required a five-hour bus ride in the rain to get to OSL.
- Stayed overnight at OSL (after being assigned an already-occupied room), flew out the following morning OSL-EWR.
- EWR-ORD flight was canceled due to weather. Re-routed EWR-DEN with a delay. Lost my paid-for first-class seat.
- Flew DEN-COS in a tiny regional jet to finally arrive at destination, amazingly only four hours later than originally planned.
- Original return flight plan was COS-IAD-CPH-KRS.
- Because of coding error, entire return ticket was canceled but checked bag made the flight anyway. Red flag – checked bag on an international flight with no accompanying passenger.
- After more than an hour of discussion, had to purchase new same-day international ticket and re-routed COS-ORD-AMS-KRS with no checked bags. Another TSA red flag!
- Arrived safely but checked bag was delayed. It arrived two days later.
But it could have been worse. At least I wasn’t sent to the wrong continent! Talk about coding errors on a ticket!
I can count on one hand the number of times I check a bag when I fly. Why was it checked on this flight? Because in my luggage was a blender that I use to make smoothies. The blender blade could not pass through TSA security. So I learned a valuable lesson for future travel: When something like this blade makes it impossible to carry on a bag, that item needs to put into a separate checked bag while my other items – clothing, toiletries, etc… – can still be carried on with me.
Like all newspaper articles, it wasn’t long enough to give enough thoughts to help others so here are some things that may help prevent your own Travelanche:
- Once you become aware of an issue (weather, strike, etc.), take action right away. I waited until the end of my business day and by then all flight alternatives were gone. Worse, even train tickets were sold out.
- You may not be aware of all the various options to get from Point A to Point B. Enlist the help of your travel agent if you use one, your hotel’s concierge, local folks, or even Google. The corporate travel agent I went through only mentioned a car rental possibility. A local person mentioned taking a taxi but it was the hotel staff that alerted me to the bus option. I am glad I did not stop at the car rental suggestion for the trip from Kristiansand to Oslo, instead asking, “How else can I get there?”
- Never, ever let your luggage go on a different itinerary than you. The airline agent had good intentions when she got my bag moving along the conveyor belt. The deadline for bag checking was fast approaching and she had thought she had my return ticket situation figured out. As my bag rolled out of sight, she realized that my ticket still had issues. Alas, the bag made the flight but I did not.
- Take a photo of your checked bag(s). Luckily I did this and was easily able to show the Norwegian-speaking baggage agent what my bag looked like as I filed my missing bag claim.
- When filing a missing bag claim, get a copy of the actual claim form. I didn’t. All I received was a handwritten claim number along with being told to go to track the status on klm.com. My claim never did show up on their missing bag tracking site.
- Get a phone number for the local baggage claim office. I know better but forgot to do this. Trying to get ahold of the local office was darn frustrating as I bounced between United and KLM’s baggage claim departments. (My bag went via United and SAS; I traveled via KLM.)
- Ask for an overnight amenity kit from the baggage claim office. Being an eternal optimist, I figured that my bag would show up before the end of the day but shame on me, I should have known better. Toothpaste and hair brushes are expensive in Norway as I found out in my rush to get a few supplies. Stores close at 6pm so it was a mad rush after business meetings to get just the minimum needs in preparation for the next day’s business meetings.
Sometimes travel events are beyond our control, other times it is a matter of choosing between the lesser of evils. I got caught up in this, though I admit with embarrassment my own mea culpa for things I could have done better. My hope is that exposing my failures will help you in your future travels so you never have to go through a Travelanche like I did.