Shanghai or Bust

We are finally on our way to Shanghai. After three canceled connecting flights to three different hub cities in the last two days, I waited until we were safely up in the air and crossing the polar cap before I dared type these lines.

 This kind of thing doesn’t happen to us. In twenty years of international travel we have never had much of a dent put in our trip due to transportation issues. Sure there have been delays here are there, but never have we had to cancel a hotel reservation or rethink our itinerary. I knew it was just a matter of time. No lucky streak lasts forever and at some point you’re going to crap out. 

The first cancelation was predictable. One of the largest storms ever to hit the US had blanketed half the country in snow, ice and rain. We thought we just might luck out as we weren’t scheduled to depart through Chicago until the day after. But no, all flights from DC to Chicago were cancelled that morning and our Shanghai bound flight left Chicago without us, albeit late.

The “talented” agent at American Airlines quickly rebooked us on a flight departing that same night, rerouting us through JFK, London Heathrow and on to Shanghai on British Airways. A truly too-good- to-be-true itinerary as we were using special certificates to upgrade to business class which can normally only be used on flights operated by American Airlines, no code shares and certainly not on British Airways. “Wow” we thought, AA is really doing right by us.

Then, a half an hour before were to leave the house, with our bags sitting by the door waiting for our ride to the airport, the phone rang. “Bad news,” the AA agent starts, the flight to JFK has been cancelled. As the agent diligently searched the system for our next option, she remarked that she just couldn’t believe the itinerary we had going through London on BA. “This is a totally illegal ticket and you are lucky your flight was cancelled. I’m not sure they would have let you board the plane at JFK. Even so they would have certainly stopped you in London.” Well that scared us. Executive Platinum ticket agents are the best in the business. Would they really book us on an illegal itinerary? Moot point as we couldn’t get to JFK in time to make the flight anyway. Thus, flight number two left for Shanghai without us.

The next option was for the following morning through DFW to Narita, Japan and then on to Shanghai with JAL. The agent managed to snag the last two business class tickets leaving for Asia that day and we scheduled a 6:30 AM pickup for the next morning.

That morning, of course, Dallas is all over the news. The freak storm had dampened many fans’ travel plans for the Super Bowl. And what! The early morning news announced that an unexpected second storm had dumped another five inches of snow on this city that can barely handle one. I quickly check the computer and find that the flights are all on time. Still not convinced I have Don call AA. Everything is fine. We go the airport as planned, check-in and go the Admiral’s Club to wait for our flight. The 7:20am flight to Dallas leaves on time. Our flight is next. No, our flight is cancelled. Now what? The next flight to Dallas will not get us there in time to make the flight to Narita. Flight number three to Asia leaves without us.

This second snow storm in Dallas catches the American agents off guard and their call center is not adequately manned to handle the influx of calls. In fact, it is so bad that a non-Executive Platinum agent first offers a crazy itinerary that would get us to Chicago the next morning via a late evening flight to Dallas. Don calls back and tries again. While Don is on hold we reclaim our bags and then go back to the ticket counter. Of course the line is long and slow with almost everyone needing to be rerouted. We decide to split forces. I hold our place in line with the bags and Don goes back to the Admiral’s Club. The agents there can also rebook itinerates.  The Admiral’s Club agent comes through for us. Don calls me to ask when I want to go to Chicago. We are back to our original Chicago-Shanghai itinerary, two days later. (This itinerary wasn’t available the day before as the plane was schedule for maintenance.) “I want to go to Chicago as soon as possible. We’re not taking any more chances.” Now there are two flights from DC to Chicago. Both planes are coming from Chicago and both are late due to maintenance issues. In the end we’re given boarding passes for both flights and thanks to a very kind Admiral’s Club agent, our bags are switched at the last minute to the flight that arrived first. After two days we make finally make it to Chicago, a hub city.

We stay the night at the Hilton O’Hare, walking distance to the terminal. Unless we break a leg on the way to the gate we will make this flight. It’s a clear cold morning in Chicago but a good day for flying. We sleep well, walk to the airport, and board the plane. Only a slight hiccup as they can’t quite gets the plane off the towing-equipment leaving the gate. But yes, we are finally on our way to Shanghai.

As I mentioned before I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen. Some people might think I’m a pessimist, others a pragmatist, but I plan for the possibility that things could go wrong. Our three days in Shanghai will be reduced to one but we won’t miss our flight to Vietnam and the focus of our trip.  Dealing with the unknown is part of travel but it doesn’t have to ruin the adventure, becoming instead just another element in the journey.