WDRB employee recounts travel experience "you can't make up" - WDRB 41 Louisville News

WDRB employee recounts travel experience "you can't make up"

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an op-ed piece written by Rick Wookey, a sales account executive with WDRB/WMYO. The views expressed here do not represent the views of WDRB or Block Communications.

By: Rick Wookey

From the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" Department...

After nearly a year of planning a destination wedding for my oldest daughter in Italy, my wife and I, along with our other daughter, arrived at Louisville International Airport on Friday, Aug. 31, for a flight to Charlotte, N.C.  The bride to be and her fiance were meeting us there for a connecting flight to Munich, Germany with final destination in Naples, Italy. 

With confirmations in hand, we checked in with the U.S. Airways ticket agent for the flight to Charlotte -- and thus began a series of events you wouldn't believe could happen.

But they did. 

Upon presenting our flight confirmation, we were told we were no longer booked on our confirmed flight but had instead been move to a flight earlier in the day.

A flight that had already departed. 

The ticket agent couldn't explain how or why we were moved, and indicated that the only option available was a flight leaving on Monday that would get us to Naples by Tuesday afternoon.  This would make it impossible for me to be at the wedding in time to walk my daughter down the aisle. 

I immediately called Orbitz customer service, only to be routed to some offshore call center that provided absolutely no help.  Fearing there was no hope of getting to my daughter's wedding if I didn't get to Charlotte in time to make the connecting flight to Germany, I opted to charter a private jet. 

Problem solved?  Oh no.  It gets better.

After confirming our party would be picked up in Louisville at 2:30 p.m. and arrive in Charlotte at 3:45 p.m., we booked the private jet and rushed by taxi to the Executive Air terminal to meet the chartered jet. 

We waited. And waited. And waited...until the jet finally landed at 3:30 p.m., one hour later than quoted. 

Despite the late arrival, both pilots assured us we would get to Charlotte by 4:30 p.m., which still gave us time to make our flight to Munich at 5:10 p.m. When the jet landed in Charlotte at 4:55 p.m., we realized we were not only going to miss the flight to Germany, but we would also be out $7,800 for the effort.  The response from the company owning the private jet was essentially, "We tried. We don't guarantee flight times. No refund." 

For the next three hours we stood at the U.S. Airways ticket counter in Charlotte determined to find a way to get to Italy in time for the wedding. Thankfully, we got that accomplished and were provided tickets for a flight from Charlotte to Chicago, then on to Munich and finally Naples the next day, with the possibility of making a flight scheduled shortly after our estimated arrival in Munich, which would have prevented any kind of layover. 

With the Democrat National Convention about to begin, the next challenge was getting a room in Charlotte. Unfortunately, we would have to pay for our hotel stay because U.S. Airways contended it was our fault we missed the flight in Louisville.  

We finally found a room and got checked in about 10:30 p.m. on Friday. 

The next afternoon we boarded our flight to Chicago, but before takeoff were informed that Hurricane Isaac was stalled over the Midwest, and we would have to fly around the weather problem by flying over Atlanta, and then Memphis, before arriving in Chicago. This detour -- we were told -- would result in a one-hour delay and jeopardized our flight to Germany. 

The pilot made up some of the delay and was going to get us in a bit earlier than indicated, until he got too close to the plane in front of him on approach and had to pull out of line, circle O'Hare and get back in line for landing, effectively adding 20 more minutes to the flight. 

Thankfully, our gate was next to the international shuttle, so we made the flight to Munich with about five minutes to spare, and settled into our seats.

At least my wife and daughter did. My seat cushion for some reason wouldn't stay in place and my wife's video monitor wouldn't switch channels, so we asked the flight attendant to see if the problems could be corrected.  He said he could replace my cushion and came back with what I've learned is actually a flight attendant's take-off/landing seat, which is significantly smaller. 

There was no remedy for the video monitor, so for the next nine hours I sat on about half a seat cushion, while my wife's video monitor played an endless loop of a Robin Williams comedy special. For the inconvenience, United Airlines gave us a certificate for $50 off our next trip.  How gracious of them.  End of the story?  Nope, things keep getting better.

Thirty minutes after take-off, a German gentleman (and I use that term loosely) seated across the aisle from me decided his assigned seat was simply too small for his long legs, and demanded an upgrade to first class. 

Wouldn't we all. 

This debate went on for some time until the flight attendant finally threatened to have the flight aborted and returned to Chicago if he got out of his seat. With some "encouragement" from me, he opted to live with the seat he was assigned and the flight proceeded to Munich.

I thought nothing else could dampen our trip.  It was wishful thinking. It gets even better.

Upon landing, the vehicle pulling our plane into the gate broke the tow bar on the plane -- about 100 feet from the gate. Passengers of course were kept on the plane for safety reasons until the tow bar was replaced, which took quite a bit of time and killed any chance we had of making an earlier flight to Naples. So we had to endure a 10-hour layover until the next available flight. 

Thankfully that flight was on Lufthansa, so we were out of the incompetent hands of U.S. Airways and United Airlines, and the remainder of our flight was pleasant and uneventful. 

With a private transfer to Sorrento, our party finally arrived at the hotel to meet our daughter and her fiance at midnight on Sunday, three days after our journey began which resulted in us missing two pre-planned wedding activities.

Our stay in Italy and the wedding was wonderful. The bride and groom went on to their honeymoon on Wednesday and my wife and I along with our other daughter went on to Rome for three days before returning home.  Wanting to make sure we wouldn't have the same experience on the return trip, I called Orbitz to confirm nothing had changed with our itinerary.  Our flights were confirmed, but Orbitz recommended we change to a later flight to Washington D.C with only one connection, rather than the three that were on the original itinerary. 

I approved the changes and asked to be sent a confirmation.  I called United Airlines and Orbitz each day until our departure to confirm the flight bookings, and was assured we were booked on the flight from Rome to Washington D.C., with a connecting flight to Louisville. 

Think the story is over at this point?  Oh no, it gets better.

Upon our arrival at the airport in Rome, we presented our confirmation to the ticket agent and were promptly told that we were not booked on the flight to Washington D.C, but were booked on the original flight to Brussels/Chicago that had already left at 6 a.m. 

After being informed that this was the second time this had occurred on our trip, the ticket agent was able to get us on a flight to Newark, N.J. within the hour, with connecting flights to Chicago and Louisville. 

We rushed to make that flight and settled into our seats on the last row of the plane, which I found out do not recline, and are about four inches closer to the seats in front, which do recline. For the next nine hours, I sat with an Italian gentleman's bald head about 10 inches from my chest. 

This story doesn't end here. It gets better.
Weather in Newark on arrival was beautiful, and we were happy to be on this side of the "pond."  While waiting for our flight to Chicago, we watched CNN on the airport monitors and, during their weather segment, saw red boxes displayed over the New York area. Being from Louisville, we knew exactly what those meant.


Sure enough, 30 minutes later, tornados touched down in the New York area, closing the airport for seven hours. 

Our flight to Chicago was obviously late leaving Newark, so we missed our flight to Louisville. 

We arrived in Chicago at 11:30 p.m., were re-booked on a flight to Louisville the next day, and once again spent the night at a hotel at our expense of course, and without our luggage because the missed flight was weather-related. 

We thought this saga is finally over, but it gets better.

We arrived at our gate the next day for the final flight to Louisville, and watched as our plane arrived and were told the flight would board shortly. After more than 20 minutes, United Airlines announced the flight had been canceled due to an oil leak in the engine. 

We rushed to the ticket service center only to be told there were no other flights available to Louisville until Tuesday. 

At that point, we terminated our tickets and opted to rent a car and drive the six hours to Louisville, but unfortunately no major car rental company would rent us a car for a one-way trip to Louisville.

Our only option at this point was to contact Southwest Airlines out of Midway Airport and hope for seats on any flight to Louisville before Tuesday. Fortunately, we were able to book a flight later in the afternoon to Louisville and spent $80 on a taxi for the 20-mile trip to Midway Airport. We boarded our flight without any headaches, only to be told before the plane left the gate that it would be delayed or canceled due to an exit light that was out on the cockpit control panel. 

Thankfully the light was fixed about 45 minutes later, and we departed Chicago, finally arriving in Louisville that evening. Unfortunately, one piece of luggage arrived on Monday, with the other two on Tuesday, which we took as a major miracle given our experience with U.S. Airways and United Airlines to that point. 

End of the story? No. It gets better.

None of the airlines has acknowledged any desire to discuss our various complaints. All complaints are handled through their Web sites, which may take up to eight weeks for a response. 

Our request for ticket refunds for the canceled flight from Chicago to Louisville (again through United Airlines' Web site) has been denied because their records show we were on the flight! 

How can that be? It was canceled!

End of the story?  Hopefully it's not. This trip will be forever known within our family as the "you can't make this stuff up tour." Of our 10-day destination wedding/vacation, five days were spent in an airport or on an airplane.  Our unplanned expenses for the charter flight, hotels, meals, taxis and tickets on Southwest Airline total about $9,000. None of this would have happened had U.S. Airways not changed our flight to Charlotte without notifying us of the move. 

It certainly makes you wonder how U.S. Airways or United Airlines is able to keep a plane in the air much less get anyone to their destination.

Weary & Frustrated Travelers,

Rick Wookey
Brynne Wookey
Fallon Wookey                

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