Saturday, June 10, 2017

When Travel Goes Wrong. The Trip That Wasn't

We were all fired up about our trip to Portugal's Azores Islands to film over the Memorial Weekend Holiday.

Weeks of planning had taken place and the Visit Azores folks had everything set for us and put together an excellent itinerary. This was going to be a great couple of episodes, but first, we had to get there.

Azores Air flies direct to the Azores once per day out of Boston Logan Airport at 9:05PM. Our flight was scheduled weeks in advance and was to leave on Thursday.

I had lunch with our Providence affiliate, WNAC Fox 64 and MyRI 64.2, so I decided to drive up from NYC via a rental car from Avis/Budget which has an office near where I live in Manhattan.

I booked a flight for the film crew on Delta Airlines leaving from JFK in NYC at 3pm and arriving in Boston Logan a little after 4 PM. Our plan was that I would meet them there around 5 PM after my lunch and a couple of afternoon meetings in Boston.

I was worried that the crew would be exhausted waiting around Boston Logan before catching our fight out hours later as we were to begin filming immediately on arrival to the Azores the following day shortly after  6:30 AM, so we'd all be sleep deprived.

Turns out, my worries were misplaced.

I began getting texts from the crew around 2 PM that Delta Airlines was postponing the flight. I began to get worried because I know things can go south quickly when this begins to happen. It was a rainy, dreary day but a little light rain shouldn't be enough to cancel flights, especially a shuttle flight from NYC to Boston which are pretty much every hour on the hour. I've made that same commute many times myself.

After receiving notification that the flight was going to be really late getting into Boston Logan, I decided to pull over at a rest area about 70 miles and 1.5 hours outside of Boston Logan to make some calls.

I alerted our travel hosts at Visit Azores and called Azores Air to see what our options were.

They indicated the crew should be at the gate no later than 8PM. Delta's new ETA for the crew's flight into Boston Logan was now 7 PM (or at least as best as my crew could decipher from the reportedly un-helpful gate agent at JFK's Delta terminal).

At that point, I could have booked the crew on the following evening's flight on Azores Air out of Boston as the ticket agent told me there were exactly 3 seats available. But those 3 seats would go fast and the Azores ticket office was scheduled to close soon.

I decided against it assuming Delta would make the flight happen. Bad decision.

Budget Rental Car Tire Goes Flat

To complicate matters, after visiting the restroom at the Rest Area, I discovered my rental car had a flat tire and, surprise, surprise...the car did not come with a spare tire.

Roadside Assistance was called but the folks they arranged to tow the car were 1.5-2 hours from being able to assist me, so now I was in danger of missing the flight as well. David, the very nice telephone agent at Roadside Assistance, advised me to abandon the car and get an uber to the airport if I could.
Budget RAC Doesn't Provide a Spare 

I set about arranging for uber pick up and was in luck as one happened to be in my area. Uber driver Keith swung by to pick me up and we were on our way, albeit in heavy traffic.

Minutes later I get a call from the crew informing me that the JFK flight had just been officially cancelled. Delta gate agents then suddenly became helpful and booked the crew on a flight out of LGA to Boston that would get in around 7:30 PM, it would now be really, really tight but we could still make it. The Domestic Terminal was a 15 minute walk / run from the International Terminal I was told.

I instructed the guys to sit up front as much as possible. They already only had carry on luggage/gear.

But flying out of LGA is especially nightmarish these days, with construction going on. I was afraid the crew's taxi wouldn't make it on time with car traffic a mess there.

They actually did, but it didn't matter because as soon as they arrived the LGA Delta Flight to Boston Logan began getting delayed, and eventually cancelled.

Unfortunately for us, all this happened too late, the 3 seats were no longer available and the ticket office for Azores Airlines was closed.

When I arrived to the airport (1.5 hours and $96 poorer from the Uber ride), I promptly checked in and received a call from my Azores Tourism contact, who, was working into the wee hours of the night there to try to accommodate us and save our trip.  I felt so guilty.

She suggest I fly in (it's not like I could just turn around and go home as I'm now in Boston, live in NYC and had abandoned my transportation due to the flat tire/no spare scenario) and then we either try to get the crew on the next flight in the following couple of days, or I could scramble and try hire a local crew there. Either way, hopefully,  I would still be able to shoot something.
Taxi Back to the Gate

Alas, after the Azores Airlines flight at was on the taxi way at around 9:30 or 10PM, we received word from the Captain that the flight had been cancelled due to a technical problem with the plane.

After waiting what seemed like hours for my checked luggage, I did a quick online search only to realize there were no hotels to be had in Boston as this was Harvard Graduation week. I had not graduated from Harvard, but even dumb little old me could figure out this was not my time to visit the Azores.

I could hang out in the Boston Airport for more than 24 hours and hope to catch the next flight to the Azores or take a train home (I was already exhausted having been awake since 6AM and it was now 12:30 AM the next day).

Trying For Shuteye @ Boston Logan Airport

I ended up sleeping (or trying too among the bright lights and constant airport announcements of "if you see something, say something" and "Lexus the official car company of Boston Logan" or some non-sense announcements)  at the Boston Logan Airport before taking the 5:05 AM train to NYC.

The Amtrak train home was by far the most pleasant part of the journey.

A lot of sweat equity and money was wasted on a trip that never materialized thanks to  bumbling, fumbling travel corporations that dropped the ball and just plain old lady luck.

I also share the blame because obviously, in retrospect, I should have never relied on airplane travel or even car travel, I should have just trained it. But with Amtrak's own woes of late, that carries it's own risk.
Train Ride Back Home

Is there a boat service up to Boston that anyone is aware of?

I've included  some photos and a short video of the entire experience. I hope you can enjoy it because I sure didn't.

P.S. Be on the look out for this and more misadventures in Season 5 when we premiere "When Travel Goes Wrong" in February 2018 and here's hoping the Azores trip gets rescheduled. Stay Tuned.

6/10/17 POST SCRIPT: 

Avis/Budget Adding Insult to Injury
Today I received this bill from Avis/Budget Rental Car for $182.04 for the Roadside Assistance and Towing.
Remember they didn't provide a spare tire in my car rental and advised me to call RA and take an Uber to the airport as a result. So let's see
(1) Original 1 Way Car Rental Cost NYC to Boston = $115
(2) Uber to Boston Airport = $75
(3) Roadside Asst. Cost = $182...
So my $115 Car Rental Tab has now more than tripled in cost to $372.04 for a trip I ended up never taking. Ouch. Talk about adding insult to injury.

The Myth of Roger Ailes & Fox News

Roger Ailes recently died, and I couldn't help but think about the comparison to another formerly heralded man, shamed just before dying, Penn State Coach Joe Paterno.

Ailes was  recently forced out at Fox News after accusations of sexual harassment by several female staffers. Paterno was forced out of Penn State after a horrific charge of ignoring child sex abuse for decades by long time assistant Jerry Sandusky.

Whereas Paterno died of a broken heart a few months after his dismissal, Ailes apparently died of a head injury after suffering a fall at his home in Florida.

The obituaries and remembrances of Ailes poured in and to their credit, few tried to sugar coat his recent troubles. But in remembering the man's career as a broadcaster, I felt some made a few misleading statements.

They heralded Roger Ailes as the brains behind building Fox News Channel to the cable news behemoth it is today. The New York Post (sister company to Fox News Channel) said:

"Roger Ailes single-handedly rewrote the rules of TV news, building a media juggernaut to cap a landmark career." 

All true, but then the article goes on to say:
"But it was in partnering with Rupert Murdoch (whose News Corp. also owns The Post) in 1996 that he unveiled the formula for success: Appealing to centrist and right-of-center viewers turned off by the relentless liberal skew of existing media. 
And that's where the NY Post and most media accounts get it wrong. You see in 1996, the cultural, political divide was nothing like it is today. Folks in the southern U.S.  and "rural America"(where I'm originally from), didn't consider themselves "liberal" or "conservative", they were just people with common sense ideals. 
There weren't all these constitutional hobbyist or people "in awe of the founding fathers", as if the founding fathers were sent to earth directly by God to create a constitution that could be memorized, quoted and frankly bastardized to conveniently support positions that defied common sense (I also admire the founding fathers, but they were humans and some supported slavery so it's kind of hard to deify them).  
Back then the media tried to at least put forth an image of objectivity and news was on the whole, center or maybe just a smidgen left of center.  Most people didn't discuss politics, or religion publicly. It just wasn't polite and most folks were just focused on their families and everyday lives. 
But if you believe the media critics and history revisionists, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch swept down from heaven and FINALLY spoke for the poor, forgotten common man, who'd been dying to have a news channel to FINALLY reflect their views. 
Ailes and Murdoch wedged themselves into the smallest of cracks and exploited and pushed that crack into a huge gulf, I believe for one reason and one reason only - to make money and to gain political power. 
Fast forward to today and Fox News is not only the #1 most watched Cable News channel, the country is bitterly divided, and most of the media now just picks a side where only the most extreme views on either side of the political divide or "culture wars" are represented. 
Yes, Roger Ailes has a legacy beyond sexual harassment and people should also consider his professional legacy, because if you ask me, it's been more far reaching and damaging than any charges of sexual misconduct. 
So last week Roger Ailes died, just as Rupert Murdoch will and as will I. 
The worms will eat all our corpses and only our souls will be left to consider either the good or damage we have done to our fellow human beings and the world at large. 
I'm ok with that.  I wonder if Ailes was?  

Health Insurance For Circus Clowns (or the USA)

A few weeks ago my Health Insurance company cancelled me for lack of payment after I signed up for their recurring auto payment feature on their website which is how I pay 99% of my bills given my travel schedule.
It worked just once then stopped working and I never was made aware. Turns out their website had an option to pay the bill on the actual day it was due which I, like a dummy, checked off because, you know, it was 1 of 2 options (the other was to pick a date out of thin air and plug it in manually).
Turns out that particular "pay on due date" option doesn't actually work (never did get an explanation to the logical question: If it doesn't work then why was it included on the website?). Their website is like a sadistic game of Healthcare Roulette, choose the wrong payment option and you could lose your insurance.
Since they never sent me a bill (neither via USPS or Email or carrier pigeon), I had no idea my healthcare premiums weren't being paid until I was cut off. Ironically, I DID receive the cutoff notice promptly.
After a fumbling, circus like comical adventure that would have made Moe, Larry and Curley very proud, I was finally reinstated after paying back premiums and jumping through hoops like a trained schnauzer. Lucky for me, no buses hit me during my multi-week, no-insurance adventure.
Despite my complaints and half a dozen requests, I still don't receive bills or notices (they claim they are being mailed) and only receive the same "Welcome Aboard" Packages (3 of them so far, 1 every couple of months, which makes me even more concerned) and the big aforementioned "you are hereby cancelled" notification.
However, today, I finally received some actual mail correspondence from my "healthcare provider" (AKA My "If I get hit by a bus" policy). It was a form notice of non-discrimination as required by New York State Law. At least this mass mailer of legal gibberish made it to the mailbox, which maybe means I'm still insured... for the time being.
Why did I waste my time writing this long screed, I have no idea.. but thanks for indulging me.