Saturday, July 01, 2006


I {heart} you, Southwest Airlines!

Yesterday was a day of candy machine karma.

What is "candy machine karma"? A few days earlier at our hotel in Saratoga, seized by a late night chocolate craving, I hunted down a candy machine after making a floor-to-floor vending machine search. The least objectionable of its pathetic selection was a king-size Snickers for $1.25. The machine slurped up my first dollar but refused to take in my second dollar, while spitting back the first. After about six tries, and remembering that insanity is sometimes defined as trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome, I gave up.

Which was just as well. How could consuming a 3.7 ounce, 510 calorie vending machine candy bar at midnight possibly be a good idea, especially from the vantage point of the next morning? Thus candy machine karma: sometimes the universe conspires to prevent you from getting what you want, and you're better off.

Well, yesterday at 3:30, B and I showed up at the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station to catch the overnight train back to Chicago. I had managed to put the outbound Chicago-Albany trip behind me, and true to my positive-outlook, was looking forward to a much more enjoyable return trip. (Note definition of "insanity," above.) The train was cancelled.

This is not like having your flight cancelled. In that situation, the airline will try to get you on a later one that day or the next. This was "cancelled" as in dead, done, stick a fork in it. The ticket window clerk told us that there might not be another train to Chicago for days. The heavy rains that have pounded the Eastern U.S. had, we were told, put some track under water, and probably weakened the soil supporting sections of track or even railroad bridges.

"You wouldn't want to be on a train with track collapsing under you, would you?" she said complacently. No I most certainly would not.

B and I took this news serenely, almost with a kind of relief. We immediately set cell phones and laptops in motion and began formulating alternate plans. It was exciting to think of the possibilities for making lemonade out of this lemon: renting a car and taking that road trip after all to get back to the midwest. Or making a further weekend vacation out of the fact that we might have to wait two days to get a flight out on the busy July 4th weekend.

Of course we soon found that a lot of these last minute plans were prohibitively expensive, and at one point we discussed, more than half seriously, buying a new Toyota Prius and driving it home.

At the Albany Airport, I worked my cell phone headset like George Clooney in the Peacemaker, holding the phone with one airline's reservation line while hurrying from ticket desk to ticket desk trying to find a last minute deal.

As you know, for reasons of their own, airlines punish you for last minute purchases, and they punish you for one-way travel. I was getting quoted ticket prices between $550 and $750 per person, one way, to fly out the next day or the day after. This accompanied by patronizing looks and tongue-clucking, as if I were the frivolous last-minute grasshopper in a world of airplane traveling plan-ahead ants.

That's when I reached the Southwest counter. Sympathy for my plight and a price of $200 per person. They would try to get us out standby on the next flight. They bent over backwards to get us out on the next flight -- just 45 minutes away. And they did. The flight was on time, smooth as butter, and our luggage came out first on the other end.

So here's the net result of the weather-based Amtrak cancellation. Amtrak gave us a full, no-hassle refund that would not have been available to us when merely as disgruntled customers. We paid less to fly back than the amount of our refund. And we got home about 14 hours sooner.

I have to find that candy machine again.

first, i too have become a southwest fan, by virtue of its very cheap fully changeable tix that allow you to easily adjust flight plans as business meetings run long or adjourn early. second, altho many dislike its no-reserved-seats policy that results in standing forever prior to boarding, if you check in on line the night before you are pretty much guaranteed a no-standing-in-line option to board at a time when there are still plenty of aisle seats available. third, they are the only airline gutsy enough to allow a film crew to watch their boarding areas (see the painfully hilarious show "airline" on, i think, A&E).

but the most amazing part of this story is the refund from amtrak -- on this one thing, they beat the airlines, who don't tend to refund or accomodate for anything weather related.

welcome home.

ygshkp -- yegg skip -- how a thief runs away
Southwest is a wonderful cheap airline. It's good they were able to help you and B, and end your travel troubles. Sometimes what we think will be adventure turns out to be inconvenience, due to weather or unexpected events, and we're just happy to be back home appreciating our personal circumstances. If you can keep that positive spirit, you might see your travel troubles as merely humorous or even blessings in disguise, letting you see all the things you have in life that others have not yet been blessed with.
As a SWA employee thank-you for your business. Im glad we were able to help you out. Hope the next time you tavel you will consider us first. We know we have to earn your business and are not entitled to it.
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