We spent the start of our Thanksgiving holiday getting to FLL so catch our Caribbean cruise with Celebrity. Opting out of Thanksgiving and going on vacation instead has become a Jacobs-Heck tradition, started last year on our trip to Morocco, where we got in engaged.
After a hell week for both of us at working tying up loose ends (and Brendan getting sick), we were ready for a full two weeks off sipping fruity drinks with umbrellas in them on the beach or by the pool. Our journey began the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving with a Lyft picking us up to take us to DEN at 8AM.
We flying American Airlines on some frequent flier miles I was trying to dump, and were flying DEN-DFW-FLL a day in advance of our cruise to give ourselves plenty of time in case something went awry. Everything was on time when we left the house, but as soon as we got to the American check-in counter to drop our bag, the delays from the winter storm system sweeping the country just as wintry mix Denver weather began. We had a tight connection (45 minutes) in DFW on an all AA itinerary without split ticketing (we learned our lesson on TAP flying back from Portugal). After paying the $25 to check our large bag (we also had two carry-ons), we easily made it through security with TSA Pre-Check and decided to grab breakfast near our gate in Terminal A at Chef Jimmy’s Bistro & Spirits, which was actually pretty good.
After finishing breakfast, we started to tackle the delay notifications since now there are only a 20 connection window. We spoke with several helpful gate agents but there was essentially nothing they could do until we knew when the flight would actually leave. AA was not in a position to offer us a rebooking until we actually missed our connection (we decided this was a dumb policy).
Ultimately, we boarded late, and were delayed ever further because they couldn’t deal with the ice on the walkway. When we finally got boarded, but the plane had frozen over, so they were going to have to go through de-icing procedures. The flight attendants provided the number to American Airlines, and at this point we knew we wouldn’t make our connection, so we called and setup a new flight, not to Fort Lauderdale, but to Miami. Leaving at 5pm CT. This was not ideal, but we figured we could drive to Ft Lauderdale from Miami. There was plenty of time to make this work.
The de-icing procedures ultimately took 2 hours, and there was no warning to the passengers to set our expectations about how long this would take. After an hour and a half they said they had gotten the left side done, and were moving to the right side, and then we would be on our way. There was a noticeable groan heard throughout the aircraft. It was hot and we were thirsty. No waters had been handed out or real information given.
After another half hour to 45 minutes, they abruptly said that the plane was turning around and heading back to the gate without any additional information. At this point, we knew we were going to miss our new connecting flight as well, so we started calling American back to see what our options were from Denver or from Dallas. The person on the phone stated that they couldn’t book flights with other airlines, which we later found out wasn’t exactly true. They also told us that there was nothing they could find going to Ft Lauderdale, Miami, or even West Palm Beach. Talking to them we seemed screwed.
The air crew finally briefed us on the situation, and apparently it was another “medical emergency” – the TAP experience where a similar thing happened was still fresh in our minds. We later found out was someone having a panic attack!? It literally cost 200 people getting to their destinations on time for their Thanksgiving breaks.
At this point they were letting people off the plane, and we decided to take a chance and head off the plane to see what the gate agents could do for us. Brendan headed to the main gate, while I found an open gate across the way and headed over there. I had more luck talking with an agent named Kristen and essentially got a new itinerary booked going from Denver to Tampa and then Tampa to Ft Lauderdale the next morning, all on United. However, we didn’t yet have tickets and we also didn’t have our checked bag.
Brendan waited in the main gate line and I eventually joined to get the itineraries ticketed by the gate agents working out flight, as well as figuring out the baggage transfer situation. It then took us an hour and a half to move up 4 people to get to the agent. That agent was able to pull up our new booking, but told us we would not be able to get our checked bag and that it was going to Dallas. We continued to argue that that was not acceptable given we needed it for the cruise and that there was medication in there that we needed. We spoke with a manager of the baggage process, Brenden Miller, and continued to press until he agreed to get our bags. He ended up personally getting them off the plane, as well some bags for another traveler who decided to stay in Denver for the night.
An hour later, after a lot of stress and still figuring out our new tickets, pressing for more urgency around our bags, and a cancelled hotel reservation (Hilton luckily refunded our money in full even though it was beyond the cancellation period), we finally talked to Brenden again and he told us our bag was at baggage claim, so we could go get it and check it again. I went off to check the bag since we were now flying United and I could use my status. Brendan took our two carry on bags and backpacks to the new terminal and grabbed a spot at Cru a wine bar, proceeding to get drunk. I joined him about 30 minutes later.
Ironically, our next United flight also got delayed by about two hours, but it ultimately did make it in to Tampa (our getting to FLL saga continued, spanning not one but two days!). I even got upgraded while Brendan struggled in premium economy with painful ear pressurization issues. It arrived to Tampa around the same time our original flight arrived to Dallas. We were in a much better situation now that we were on the East Coast, with options of driving the 4 hours to FLL if we needed to open to us.
We chose a Doubletree hotel near the airport and checked in to our room around 2AM. To complete our final journey of getting to FLL, our flight from TPA to FLL the next morning was fortunately on time, at 915AM, and although we had an early morning wake-up to catch it and were not well rested (and on top of that Brendan had a cold and some inner ear problems), we were thankful that it was also on time. It was a puddle jumper – a short one hour flight on a code-share regional airline called Silver. We arrived early in FLL and our large bag was even there waiting for us. Finally some good karma!
We grabbed a Lyft from the Fort Lauderdale airport, and headed to the Port Everglades cruise terminal, waiting about 30 minutes to get past the security check point. We were easily checked in with Celebrity (not their first rodeo handling port operations), they took a scan of a credit card for our account (which later I had to cancel due to fraudulent activity, which I can trace either to the cruise ship transaction or to the hotel transaction), and we were on-board around noon.
Another transport comedy of errors, especially when we left ourselves an absurdly long amount of time to allow things like this to go wrong. Literally everything went wrong and more, but we made it.