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Joel’s Arrival

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Joel landed in Seattle a week ago almost to the minute, ending a 48-hour journey from Grenoble. I wrote about the first half of the journey eight days ago in a post about his program in Grenoble’s having come to an end. But I never finished the story, and I also didn’t fill in some details Joel provided after he got here. Let me do so now.

Joel got through almost his entire 16 weeks in Grenoble without snow, but it did snow two Fridays ago, the day before his departure, and on Saturday morning, when he caught a bus from Grenoble to the Lyon airport. The snow and cold weather in Lyon led to a two-hour delay while the plane to London Heathrow was de-iced. Since he had a four-hour layover at Heathrow, this wasn’t a problem. He boarded the Boston-bound plane on time, only to have another delay over some issue about re-fueling the plane. By the time that was resolved, the sun had gone down and the temperatures had dropped, necessitating re-icing of the Boeing 777. The first truck ran out of de-icer. What was to be a 5-10 minute wait for a new de-icer took half an hour. Then the second truck ran out of de-icer and there was a repeat performance. At last, the plane took off, 2 hours late, for Boston. Instead of landing at Logan at around 6:30 PM, it landed around 8:30 PM. He was to spend the night in the Boston area anyway, so he didn’t have to worry about missing connections. The only concern was beating the snowstorm, which earlier in the day had shut down the airports in DC and later in the day led to cancellations in the New York airports. But he did beat the snow, and made it to the suburban home of a Grenoble classmate and her family.

So far so good, but how would he fare Sunday with a 5:15 PM flight out of Logan to Seattle? It turns out I didn’t have to wait until Sunday to find out. As I was three steps up the stairway that Saturday night on my way to bed, just before 11:00 PM, it occurred to me that I should go back to the computer and look up his JetBlue flight status. So I did. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the flight was listed as cancelled! The reports were for snow overnight and into the day in Boston, with maybe 4-8 inches of snow. It appeared that the heart of the storm was going to pass eastwards over Connecticut, Rhode Island, and the Cape, sparing Boston the worst. I could imagine delays, but cancellations? I logged into Joel’s flight to see what I could do. The website indicated that certain flights could be changed at no fee because of weather, and surely a cancelled flight would qualify. But Joel’s flight wasn’t listed as eligible. I called 1-800-JETBLUE to see what I could do about re-booking. If I could get him on the Monday non-stop that might be fine, provided his hosts were prepared to have him for another day. We were eager to get him home, but maybe a relaxed day in the snow would be better than worrying about some other flight on Sunday. Well, that turned out not to be the primary issue. While on hold, I tested availability by trying to make a new reservation on JetBlue, only to discover that they weren’t showing any seats until Thursday! Christmas Eve! This was Saturday night and they had nothing until Thursday.

Eventually, I got an agent on the phone. She said the computer must have not yet updated his flight status, but sure, he could re-book at no fee. I asked when he could fly. Thursday. It was true. I asked about other airlines. JetBlue doesn’t book passengers on other airlines. They have to wait for the next available space on JetBlue. I pointed out that that was 5 days away. Yup. That’s the policy. I asked if there are exceptions, or if a supervisor could approve exceptions even if she couldn’t. No. No. I asked if I could get full refund in case I got a seat on another airline. Yes. I asked if I could get the refund online. No, I would have to call in again, but she was making a note in the file that I was eligible for full refund. Clearly that’s the best I was going to get from JetBlue. While I had her, I re-booked him on Thursday morning through JFK. Then I hung up and went to Alaska. I didn’t even bother looking for Sunday flights. I figured that would be hopeless. I found no seats on the Monday non-stop. (They have a non-stop out of Logan to Seattle at 5:00 PM or so that we have taken many times.) I did find one last seat on the Portland evening non-stop with a connection on Horizon to Seattle. I took it. First class. What the heck. It beat waiting three days or taking longer routes.

It was now 11:30 PM Saturday night, with Joel long asleep. I texted him with the news and went to bed. He awoke early, emailed back that he got the news and would be seeing Avatar with his friend that day. When we got up, we called him and he was at the theater waiting to go in to see the movie. He was cool with the situation. And then Gail went online to Alaska, to find that there was indeed a seat available that very day on the evening non-stop to Seattle. One seat. I logged in with Joel’s flight reservation code and found that he was eligible to change flights once at no fee, because of the nature of the ticket I had bought for him. And I checked the weather and the flight’s status. It was snowing, but the airport was open and everything looked promising. We called Joel back. No answer. The movie had started.

What to do? We made the change. Joel would come out of the theater to texts from me telling him of the new plan. Basically, get to his host’s house, get lunch, get his stuff, get to the airport, he’s flying in a few hours. Actually, the first text was from Gail before we made the change, asking if we should do it, in case he might read the text before the movie started. So he saw that first and wrote back saying don’t bother, he was content to wait a day, it would be more relaxing given the snow currently falling. Sigh. I called back saying hey, bad news. You’re not waiting a day. He said it was white out and snow was falling. Not much choice though. And I was tracking the plane from Seattle to Boston that would be the one he would return on. It was due in a few minutes early. He needed to get to the airport.

That was pretty much the end of the drama. Once he knew his task, he did it. He got lunch, got back to the house, got his stuff, his hosts drove him to Logan, he got through security, got a burger at a place near the gate, got on, the flight left a little late and arrived just 5-10 minutes late, everything worked out. Oh, and Alaska refunded us the difference in cost between the Monday flight through Portland and the Sunday non-stop. I had to call JetBlue to get the refund from them, which turned out to take a long time, but that worked out too. Other than time and worry and aggravation, we got him home on the night originally anticipated and at roughly the cost initially anticipated. Alaska is our hero. Hooray Alaska Airlines! You did it!

It remains a mystery to me why JetBlue cancelled over half their flights out of Logan last Sunday. I looked at the Logan website and could see that most flights weren’t cancelled. Delta cancelled some of their shuttles to LGA, but still had many flights down there. There might have been another cancellation here or there on other airlines, but then there was JetBlue, with every west coast flight cancelled (LA, San Diego, etc.) and lots of others. When JetBlue works, they’re the best, with the extra legroom and all that. But when they don’t work, geez.

Another thing. While we were waiting to pick up Joel last Sunday, I wrote a post about my effort earlier in the day to memorize the standard radio letter codes, A as in Alpha, B as in Bravo, and so on. As Gail and I drove to the airport to pick Joel up, I told her I could do the entire alphabet except ‘P’, and then she gave me some hints and I remembered it. Now I can unerringly go through the alphabet from A to Z. But what I realized as Gail and I talked about it some more was that this is not the essential skill. Being able to recite the code words in order is not in itself useful. What’s useful is being able to come up with any one of the code words instantly when confronted with its first letter. I wasn’t able to do this yet. Airline personnel can. Once we got to SeaTac, as we were waiting for Joel to arrive, an announcement was made over the PA about a Horizon gate change, the gate being moved to something with an E in it, and the woman said “E as in Echo.” I was pleased that I now spoke the lingo, but could I come up with “Echo” on seeing an “E” without first going through Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta?

A week later, I’m pleased to announce that now I can. With continued practice, I am now able to spell out the letters of any word using the code, albeit at a slow pace. I need to work on speed next. When you see me next, go ahead. Tango-Echo-Sierra-Tango Mike-Echo. Yankee-Echo-Sierra India Charlie-Alpha-November.

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