There’s always a big conundrum about travel.  Sometimes it’s good.  Sometimes it’s bad.  Sometimes it’s very, very bad.  But it never seems to be very, very good.

Then why do we do it?  Simply put, it’s a mean to an end.  Unless you’re traversing the United States or Europe on a touring motorcycle, travel is rarely about the travel – it’s about the destination.

More often than not, things go smoothly and as planned, and we arrive at our destination of choice feeling upbeat and ready to get our vacation on.

But when things go south, they go south quickly.

The winter storms blowing through the Southeast are a prime example of the magnitude of things going bad, then worse.  We were originally slated to fly from Nashville to Miami at 5:30 Friday morning.  I flew from Chicago to Nashville late Thursday night, then the plans were to catch a few zzz’s and head back to my second home, aka the airport.

When I went to check us in for our Friday morning flight on Thursday afternoon, I noticed that Colette had no seat assignment.  Being the conscientious traveler that I am, I called Delta to get a seat assignment, preferably towards the front of the plane, and in an aisle seat.  This is when Delta informed me that the Friday morning flights were cancelled.  Nice of them to call me and let me know!  I guess when times are tough, even Platinum-level cash cow customers get stiffed on customer service.  The best thing is that despite cancelling our flights, they hadn’t even bother to rebook us on a later flight.  We were officially in limbo-land.  Nice.

After some weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, we managed to get rebooked on a Saturday morning flight (yes, that’s Saturday not Friday as originally planned), made arrangements to meet our friend Sherry for lunch in Nashville and went to happy hour with our friend James.  A far cry from enjoying the tropical sunshine of Southern Florida, but certainly making the best of things considering the circumstances.

3AM – I realize that my cell phone (set to vibrate as always) is ringing.  Delta again.  Flight cancelled again.  Not rebooked again.

Now I’m not in the travel industry, and I certainly don’t claim to know the inner workings, but having run my own business for quite some time, I understand the concept of catering to those customers who generate the highest rate of revenue, especially those who have been generating that revenue continuously for 15 years.  Painful.

Delta provides a “priority” phone line for Platinum customers, which usually gets you right to a real live human being (as opposed to the real dead human beings on the “regular” line).  An hour and five minutes of listening to the same static-broken clips of really really bad hold music (Really?  Delta?  Static in your hold music?  And crappy crappy music?  First it was no peanuts back in coach, now it’s this music.) I finally broke through to a real person.  Make that a real, stressed person.

No, there are no more Saturday flights.  No, none.  Oh I just rebooked you for Sunday morning.  Ms Peterson?  Who’s that?  Oh you have a travel partner.  No, there’s only one seat on that Sunday morning flight.  We’ll get her rebooked for Sunday afternoon.

Really.

I understand that you don’t need a PhD in physics to work the midnight shift on Delta’s help desk, but let’s explore some alternatives, shall we?  Simply saying “no” really just pisses people off.  How about Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami?  Nothing.  Tampa?  Nothing.  Fort Myers?  Ah ha!  930am, both booked, pack your bags Mabel, we’re headed to Fort Myers with the rest of the geezers.  Better to drive an hour and a half from Fort Myers to Miami than spend another day in the frozen tundra of middle Tennessee.

A quick call to Avis to change the rental car booking, and more fun.  The First (preferred) line tells me that there isn’t a single car available in Fort Myers.  Not a SINGLE car for a frequent renter in an entire airport…  Ummm how about getting one there?

It’s amazing how the trickle-down from a massive airline outage affects every other aspect of the hospitality industry.  Think of all the stranded passengers who now need a local hotel room.  Think of all those cancelled hotel rooms at their original destinations.  Think of all the cruise ships that sailed without those stranded passengers.  Airport restaurants overcrowded.  Terminals packed with people stranded for two days, and additional people showing up for their actual scheduled flights.  Mayhem.  This is exactly what we found when we arrived at Nashville airport.  Friday’s flights that were headed to Atlanta were diverted to Nashville, a small airport that simply isn’t designed to handle that volume of air traffic.  The rerouted passenger lines stretched to the doors, and I’m sure that we were being cursed as we bypassed the lines and headed straight for the Medallion check-in line.  At least check-in was fairly painless despite the ticket agents high frustration level and the chorus of unhappiness coming from the other passengers waiting to rebook.

I’ve always paid for a SkyClub membership for a very good reason:  it’s an oasis in the middle of the airport.  Comfy chairs, free booze and snacks, internet access, quiet rooms, I simply don’t understand how anyone can travel without being able to duck away from the rest of the insanity for a break.  The Nashville SkyClub is exactly this.  Small and quiet, most folks don’t even know it’s there.  The Atlanta SkyClubs are quite different though, noisy and packed, especially with rerouted frequent flyers jamming up the place.  Still a break from the general craziness of the terminal, but not quite the solitude you can find in the smaller clubs.

And the rental car problem?  A quick jump onto avis.com, and those previously “unavailable” cars?  Booked in less than a minute.  Two customer service representatives were easily replaced with a computer and the internet, and frankly I’d recommend that Avis consider doing just that.

So while you’re cursing me for the sunset and sailing pictures that fill your inbox constantly, keep mind that every silver lining has a cloud to it.  Or something like that.