Monday, November 12, 2012

Buddy Passes-Part 2.

Following in true New England fashion, the weather during our week in Provincetown was literally all over the place. It was hot and humid, sometime sunny, others cloudy. At other points, it was a bit chilly. Rain would come at random, often with great intensity. All of the above could be apart of one day. Weather literally changes in minutes and with frequency.

About our 3rd day there, we went to T-Dance at the Boatslip, a longtime Provincetown tradition for our late afternoon cocktails and dancing. We were far out on the very long deck area and it suddenly down poured. Mac had to hobble at great speed across the deck in is cast. He made an impressive effort. Unfortunately, or maybe really fortunately at the end of the day, his cast was soaked and ultimately destroyed. We spoke to his Doctor in Los Angeles and that evening we were introduced to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis; the only place within 60+ miles with the equipment to remove a cast. 

Cast removed, we now had some more options, albeit Mac was still not 100% healed. He just had a bit more flexibility. It also made us both a bit more apprehensive as people are cautious around casts, but aren't as attentive with the "boot" that followed. It also didn't garner nearly as much attention, which was a bit diappointing to my husband.

We knew we were going to spend 2 nights in Boston at the end of the trip as we had missed our 1 night in Boston on the front end. But, should we continue on and go to New York City for a couple of days? The 4th was nearing; should we just get home? 

I called US Airways. They told me I could change my existing passes, but I would lose the unused outbound passes and the fares paid for them. That didn't seem right. It later turns out, it wasn't correct. The agent was just ill informed. Something I find is a common problem with airlines on such passes. He suggested I request a full refund for these passes and ask for new ones, just one way for each of us, be issued. So, we did.

We decided to error on caution and head back on Monday, July 2, from Boston with the new passes. We made the 1st flight from Boston to Phoenix. We didn't make the cut for the 1st connecting flight, but did the 2nd some 2 1/2 hours later to LA. This was more than reasonable amount of inconvenience for the type of fare (I refuse to call it non-revenue since there is revenue). 

The real next headache arose after we returned home in getting our refund. The credit card which was used months earlier to buy the passes was no longer a valid account number, but US Airways could only credit to the card initially charged. Further, they had confusion on what was used, not used, etc. After many calls and emails, 2 segments were credited back to the credit card. After multiple calls to the credit card issuer, that refund was returned. We were then told my cousin would for fit the unused passes. That didn't seem fair. In another call, it was suggested because she is retired they might return them to the account, which they ultimately did. At the end of the day, we finally received our refund in full from the credit card last week, some 3 months after the trip was concluded. 

I remain most appreciative of the passes being offered. I was warned that it isn't a lot of fun to use them. Boy, did that ever prove to be true. Granted our circumstances pushed the limits of the typical buddy pass traveler, but it seems that the process could be a bit more streamlined. My guess is the entire program is more of a necessary evil to airlines and not something which they have any interest in making friendlier. Watching the hell a number of full fare passengers were facing trying to get on standby, most often for no fault of their own, I can say customer satisfaction remains a real problem in the airline industry.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Buddy Passes- part 1

In my last blog, I mentioned Mac and I went to Provincetown last June. I didn't mention the incredible experience we had getting there and back with "non-revenue" tickets. I put this in quotes as it is 1st misnomer of the buddy pass experience. "SA7" or space available 7 passes are less expensive than an even non-refundable fare you might by online, but they do cost money. In this case, when I went to book plane tickets to Boston, we were looking at airfares between $500-700 round trip from Los Angeles. It was the end of June, so right into the summer vacation peak season. On US Airways, where my cousin is a retiree and offered us passes, the round trip fare was $197.20. No idea how they come up with that number. Certainly far less expensive, but definitely not free. They are to be changeable and refundable, which is a nice feature. They still charge you to check a bag. On United, which our friend works for an affiliated airline of United and who's passes we also used, it is $75 each way on most flights across the US and they don't charge you to check a bag. They are also changeable and refundable. There are other space available levels, from 1 to even less than 7, though I can't imagine what falls below 7 and they are based on seniority and other factors, and some can only be used by employees and their immediate family. Each airline, while there is some uniformity, has it's own policies as well.

We were warned that it isn't an easy experience. We went into it being mentally prepared for a challenge and, as my husband remarked, thought of it as an "adventure." I think nightmare might be a better assessment following, though it did provide for many a conversation and this blog post.

We were told to try and go out on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. We were told red eye flights from the West Coast were less popular. So, we booked (which really means added our name to a wait list) a Thursday flight on a red eye from LAX to Philadelphia and we would then take a morning flight to Boston. We had a back up plan as there was also a red eye to Charlotte and we could get a flight to Boston from there. Philadelphia and Charlotte are hubs for US Airways. We arrived at the airport plenty early, which I now know is less important than having your name on the list. A flight that day, one flight, was cancelled, so every other flight on US Airways that evening was overbooked. So, we patiently waited and hoped while 3 flights departed. We then, at 1 AM, drove home, slept for 3 hours and returned to the airport, hoping one of the really early flights might be possible. We tried to get on at least 3 US Airways flights that morning, starting at 5:30 and around 8 AM a gate agent informed us that the odds were not favorable we'd get on a US Airways flight until sometime next week. Next week? We had reservations in Provincetown that I had made a year earlier that started on Saturday.

Distraught, we called a friend in Boston. He works for Cape Air and has been in the industry a long time. Because he works for a regional carrier, I didn't think he'd able to do anything for us, nor was I expecting him to do anything, but thought he could guide us on what to do. I didn't want to call my cousin as she was so kind to offer the passes to begin with and I didn't feel it was fair to "disrupt" her retirement with our whining how we were about to miss our vacation. I looked into buying one way last minute tickets before our call to Greg, but those were just absolutely cost prohibitive.

It turns out Greg had been awarded a bunch of passes on United as some sort of promotion when they merged with Continental. He generously offered them to us and we graciously (really more frantically) accepted. He listed us on a flight at around 9 or 9:30 AM, so we raced our way from one end of LAX to the other to get to United's terminal. Although one of the larger airports in the US, LAX is not terribly user friendly on multiple levels. Getting from terminal 2 to 7 is a challenging and even life threatening experience; not a simple tram ride.

Turns out that flight was overbooked as well. But, United is a huge airline and has lots of flights heading East. So, we get on a wait list for another and all looks really good until a flight is cancelled. Suddenly, we went from #2 on the wait list to close to #60. Realizing we were in for a long day, we purchased day passes at the United Club, which wasn't only comforting, but fiscally responsible. They provide snacks and free drinks, along with Internet and agents to help with booking, so the $50 per person investment was less expensive than what we would have spent over the course of the day at one of the overpriced restaurants at LAX. It also saved running around terminal 7 all day and provided a comfortable seat, as opposed to my sitting on the floor, as I had been earlier.

Not getting on flight after flight to the East, Greg suggests that we get to San Francisco and try from there. It took 2 attempts, but we did get to San Francisco in the evening. At this juncture, Mac and I really just wanted to be somewhere other than LA. While San Francisco wasn't in our plans, at least we would be "out of town" if we ended up stranded there. Plus, we love the city and have a number of friends there. Never mind, our bag is already sitting in baggage claim at US Airways at Logan International Airport in Boston.

We had a nice dinner at a restaurant called "Yankee Pier" at SFO. Clam Chowder to start at a restaurant with "yankee" in it's name; exactly how I thought we'd start our vacation; other than we were still on the opposite coast! After spending over $100 to eat dinner at the airport, we go to the gate now praying that we might actually get to Massachusetts. Thankfully, Greg's plan worked, and we were able to get on the red eye to Boston, arriving Saturday morning, only 1 day later than originally planned.

Greg picked us up at 6 AM and we all went to breakfast at some diner. Diner's aren't as big in California and I finally felt like I had arrived when the sharp accented waitress served me mediocre coffee and a plate of food that should have really been for a family of 4, not one person. We showered at Greg's, then headed into town to get the car I had reserved so that we could drive on to Provincetown. Except Avis was out of cars. Never mind I had made the reservation at least 6 months ago! After some heated words with customer service while wondering the streets of Boston, we get a car squared away and go to the Ye Olde Oyster House, proclaimed to be America's oldest restaurant for lunch. I had not been there since I was in 7th grade and thought it was a perfect part of the Colonial America vacation experience. It did not let us down.

After lunch, I picked up the car, a Prius. I had always had a disdain for the Prius, maybe in part because so many people have them in LA and it's such a stereotypical car. I almost took it right back as I was having troubles understanding how certain things worked. I'm glad I didn't. We grew to absolutely love the car. It fit our needs perfectly and we remain in awe that we averaged almost 50 mpg all week.

That evening, we arrived in Provincetown. Our place was ready. Because Mac had called and explained he was in a cast, they gave us a 1st floor unit on a corner of the complex, directly across from the pool and with handicapped parking right outside our door. Things were looking better.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Not accepting present realities.

Last Memorial Day, my husband, Mac and I went to Yosemite (one location in CA, despite much travel and having been here longer than anywhere else, I had never been) and then on to Lake Tahoe. Timing wasn't the best. Mac had just had foot surgery, was in a cast and had a scooter to get around. It rained, sleet and snowed. I came down from something like 8000 feet on narrow roads with near whiteout snow conditions, cautiously sliding my way to the bottom. I spent much of my early driving years in such conditions. It is one of the many reasons I have lived in Southern CA for so long. Mac in the back seat expressing his worry wasn't helpful. But, we made it to Tahoe.

Yosemite is beautiful. Sometime, without snow and Mac walking, we shall return. We have always loved Tahoe and been multiple times, though I prefer it  without weather where I can't see across the lake.

One morning, I went out and sought out a hair cut. I went to a small salon in a strip mall. The woman that cut my hair was the owner and had the business for about 2 years. She has 2 teenage children. Her husband manages an arcade. She is quite concerned about whether her children will be prepared for college. She recited a recent experience her husband had hiring high school Seniors. He was worried about their ability to calculate and asked some what should be insulting questions, like "how many quarters in a dollar?" Something like 2 out of 6 could answer correctly. "How many nickels in a dollar?" was even more frightening. Hearing this issue in a small, an albeit rural, also affluent school system (at least it's tax base) made me even more alarmed. Wow, we in CA (and yes, she lived in CA) have destroyed our master plan. What made us really could a part of the ultimate demise of the CA Dream.

En route home, we diverted and went to San Francisco. We met up with 3 close friends for dinner. We discussed Mac's surgery. We discussed our one friend's upcoming 2nd knee surgery. We discussed our other friend's earlier knee surgery. Neither of these people are heavy or otherwise unhealthy, just bad knees. Around this dialogue, while trying to read menus, we all discussed our vision, need for glasses, and how it has changed. Mac was the oldest person at this table about to turn 50. The rest of us between 40 and 45. I stopped, looked and said "Really? This is what it has gotten to? We are spending dinner together talking about our ailments and how we deal?" It caused pause. It caused a laugh. But, the ultimate consensus was "yup, that is our lives now." Nobody was defeated, in fact all were determined to prevail despite their obstacles. But, it was also clear that life with people whom, in some cases I have known for over 20 years, was changing. In a couple of the friends, they are among my wilder earlier memories. We know now we have limits. We drink less, in one case, doesn't drink at all any more, which so sucks since a huge part of our relationship revolved around wine and food pairing, wine tasting, etc. Mac and I are going to Napa for the New Year and it would be now nasty and torture to invite him to join us, whereas it would have been great fun before. I am not minimizing, nor am I going to be prolific on the details of his scenario, but knowing that his quitting drinking had much to do with other issues and a lot being legal, I just wish I had not lost one of my best wine buds.

This June, we went to Provincetown, MA with a visit to Boston. We have 2 friends in Boston. They have both battled issues with cancer. They are both in their 40's. It is isn't their environment or drinking water (they don't live in the same area, nor were raised nearby each other, albeit both from New England), it is just another reminder that things happen that have no explanation. Not about smoking. Not about anything in particular. Just happened. Luckily, both are doing fine.

This whole post and the commencement of this blog started because of visiting a Facebook page of a former classmate of mine at Morristown High School (NJ). She died 2 years ago this last September. She had cancer. She was married and had 2 young children. This isn't right for anyone; certainly sucks when you have any memory of a fun and engaging young woman when she was in high school and the hardship those 2 girls will face throughout their childhood forward. I find it weird, yet engaging, that the page remains.

I had a recent scare event. I was taken away in an ambulance and hospitalized for near 5 days just 2 weeks ago. I will be OK, but a long recovery. But, that is another blog post.