Thursday, May 19, 2011

23 Hours from Pittsburgh -- Part I

As you will undoubtedly hear more about in the next week or so, we just got back from an incredible Lansey Family Vacation in California. This post is not about that, but instead about the trip back. I apologize for this long post, so I'll give the moral first: Avoid flying both Continental and US Air, especially to/from Pittsburgh, PA.

Our flight back was on Sunday, from LA to Newark (EWR) with a 2 hour layover in Pittsburgh, PA (PIT). Other than some minor groping and a little bit of TSA sexual harassment, the trip from LA to Pittsburgh was uneventful. We got in on time (6:09PM), strolled to the Continental gate for our connecting flight, and saw far too many people waiting at the gate then could fit on a little Bombardier turboprop. Turns out that, due to weather, the two flights ahead of us from PIT to EWR were delayed many hours.

Nevertheless, the cranky Continental gate staff told us that, although delayed a little, our flight would be leaving only 45 minutes to one hour late. They told us that the plane was on its way from EWR, and then we'd be on our merry way.

However, it took a bit of sleuthing (hooray free WiFi and the truly amazing website, but I determined there are basically two planes that fly back and forth between PIT and EWR, with a 15-20min break between flights. The plane that was supposed to take us to EWR was actually still sitting in PIT. Before it could take us to EWR it first had to do a complete round trip to and from EWR, which amounts to around 3.5 hours of flying and turnover time, before it could even fly us to EWR.

That first flight (CO3431) eventually left PIT at 7:31PM (4.25 hours late), which meant that the absolute earliest we could get in to EWR was around 1AM. Oh joy. But, "Don't worry," the gate attendants lied to us, "the plane is on the way from EWR," and that "your flight will leave, it just will be a little bit late."

Meanwhile, the lovely Pittsburgh airport, being a teeny tiny useless little airport, starts shutting down at around 8PM. Stores close and it basically becomes a ghost town. Finally, at 9:17PM, when it was apparent that there was no way that this airport would be able to handle the incoming plane from EWR (it was after 9PM, after all!) they cancelled our flight. This is the plane we were not on:

Now, we were travelling with an energetic 2.5 year old. And a car seat. And a stroller. And carry-on bags. And, did I mention the 2.5 year old? We weren't always sitting quietly at the gate, watching movies on our nonexistent iPads. We were (slowly) roaming the airport, exploring the very nice, desolate child play area
occasionally wandering, slowly, past the gate. Eventually, we settled on the other side of the moving walkway (Delta has charging stations). When they announced the flight cancellation it was basically like, "Ladies and gentlemen, flight CO3370 has been cancelled. Please, will everyone please rush the gate like a crazy person to try and book themselves onto another flight before anyway else."

Needless to say, we didn't beat the rush:
Check us out, all the way at the back, on the right. You can see some of the luggage. And, this picture was taken after some of the line had already been cleared.

By the time we arrived (~11pm), to hear the gate agent declare to my face, "Well, I guess there is no one left" and whine about being tired and wanting to go home already (after telling a line of 50 people, 'Sorry, you can't go home today') there were no flights left to EWR the following morning. They could maybe get us standby on Tuesday. Or maybe Wednesday or Thursday (for the record, lots of these flights were cancelled today, as well!).

While waiting in the long line I researched flights on other airlines to any of the major NY area airports. But no other airlines had availability either. Eventually we found a flight leaving at 7am the next morning on US Air through Philadelphia (PHL) to LaGuardia (LGA), with a 4 hour layover. It takes 2 hours to drive from PHL to our house, and around 0.5-1hr from LGA to our house, so we said, "Fine, we'll take that first leg (1hr flight instead of 6 hours driving), and drive the rest of the way."

The Continental gate agent suggested they book the whole flight for us, since they may not have cars available in Philly. They did inform us, though, that it was likely that although we had one free checked bag per person on Continental, we'd need to pay the $25/bag fee on US Air, and no, they couldn't reimburse us for that; if we wanted we could wait till Thursday for the next available Continental flight. Oh, and they wouldn't reimburse us for the rental car either. But, we just wanted to get home, so we agreed to this anyway, and they booked the flight, and called to get our 3 giant checked bags out for us (and, told us the wrong place to look for them).

They were required to put us up in a local hotel for the night. By the time we found our bags, found the hotel shuttle, made it to the hotel and checked in, it was some time after midnight. I reserved a one-way rental car from PHL to Hackensack (1.5 miles from our house), and, just in case, one from PIT to Hackensack. Finally, at 1PM, we got to sleep.

For the remainder of the saga, tune in next week.


  1. I don't get it.. Why didn't you just hop into a rental car and drive the 5 hours or so home?