The trip that wasn't

Well, folks, in one of life's odd coincidences, I was unable to fly to France today AGAIN.

I was all ready with my tickets and luggage, flying Northwest all the way this time (no more Delta--see last post). When I arrived at the airport, skies here in Baltimore were absolutely cloudless; I breathed a sigh of relief that no weather was going to hinder my trip today. I didn't count on a snowstorm in Michigan, however.

My flight to Detroit (the major Northwest hub) was delayed, and as I waited near the gate, the gate attendant began making a series of announcements, each one more dire than the previous:
  • "Due to a massive snowstorm in Grand Rapids, the Detroit airport is handling all the air traffic being re-routed from Michigan. This means that all flights in Detroit are being delayed due to overflow. Your flight will be delayed at least one hour."
  • "For those of you who have connecting flights from Detroit, there is a possibility that your flight will be re-routed to Indianapolis, because Detroit cannot handle all of the current air traffic. If this occurs, it will probably be decided mid-flight. If you are unable to handle this type of stress, we recommend that you rebook your flight now. "
  • "We are making the Northwest phone number available, so that you can call from here at the gate and make your booking options easily without waiting in line at the counter." (number flashed on the screens nearby)
  • "We do not yet know the exact time of departure, but if you have connections before 7:30 pm or that approximate time, you will probably need to be rebooked onto other flights. We can assist you with that now."
Listening to all that that, I decided I would not make my connection and being stuck in Indianapolis trying to get to France didn't sound like a good option at all. I chose to get in line at the gate counter, but also to call Northwest on my cell phone while I waited. By the time I got an actual operator on the line, I was nearly to the counter, but the lady was very patient. She could book me all the way through to Bordeaux, but I would arrive late Saturday night. Since I was already worried about only have three days to do all my work in France, I asked about rebooking the entire flight--perhaps in May. She said it was no problem to give me a full refund for the current booking (take that, Delta!) and processed it immediately. The lady at the counter offered (on her own initiative) to call down to baggage and make sure that my luggage would be offloaded.

The luggage still presented a bit of a problem, being somewhere with all the other Detroit bags. I waited down at the baggage carousel for an hour and a half, until I was finally told, regretfully that my bags had gone on to Detroit. For the time I spent waiting, I was given three $25 vouchers, good for reductions on my next Northwest ticket. I didn't ask for them; I was just handed them by the polite lady who handled my claim forms.

Having ranted about my frustrations with Delta the other night, I couldn't help but compare the two experiences: Northwest kept us informed nearly minute by minute of all the important facts about the Detroit flight. They provided information proactively, so that we could feel some measure of power in our own hands for the rebooking. Their gate attendants and ticket counter personnel were cheerful and anticipated my needs before I asked. They offered me vouchers worth money or miles, merely for having "lost" my bags. Northwest has made a loyal customer out of me!

Ariel Rainey