The weather this summer at home had been milder than usual, with spells of rain, very unlike the heat stroke type climate we would normally be dealing with.
Day 1 of our trip saw cloudy skies with some rain but it all cleared up by the time we were ready to leave for the airport. We couldn’t obtain online boarding passes. Turns out, the agent had to okay our departure since we were transiting through Turkey and didnt have an E-visa. We didn’t need an E-visa since our transit time was under 24 hours. Once the agent had all the boxes checked, it was smooth sailing. After security, we sat at the gate for our 45 min wait. Just before 3 pm, the gate agent announced that the flight was delayed due to thunderstorms in Houston leading to stopped traffic. Online radar showed storms until 6 pm. Our flight out of Houston was at 8:55 pm and luggage was checked through to Athens, so we felt secure waiting an hour.
At 4:30 pm, we were told that the flight had been moved to 6:15 pm, reaching IAH (Houston) around 7:30 pm. It would be a rush but we figured we could still get to the next flight on time. Still, deciding to look at alternate options, we searched for a gate agent to help us but one was not available. Around 5 pm, two other gates opened up that were for passengers on diverted flights. All in all, six flights were diverted from IAH to DFW due to the bad weather. And our flight was cancelled. Which meant a lot of frustrated and anxious travelers. And worse yet, frustrated and stressed gate agents.
By this time, Mr. JJ was on the phone with customer service for rebooking our flight to Houston. The Turkish flight was scheduled to depart Houston on time. With every growing minute, it looked less and less likely that we would be on that flight. With the kids standing in each open line for an agent and with the two of us on our phones, it was an interesting situation. A deja vu. My mind flashed back to the missed NZ flight in December and I had a sinking feeling that it would happen yet again.
I started researching all airport openings to Athens and Istanbul so I could prompt the agents into looking at all possibilities. Eventually, two agents showed up at our original gate and we joined that line. By the time we bellied up to the gate agent, the rep on the phone with Mr. JJ reported that our only option was to fly to Newark the following day and take the direct Athens flight on United that evening reaching at 10:30 am on Monday morning. We would lose a few hours but better than losing a full day or worse, so we agreed. The gate agent was able to retrieve that information and she moved us to a 9 am flight from DFW to EWR (Newark) connecting to a 5 pm to Athens, also on United.
She called the main center to cancel our Turkish booking and rebook on United. This took nearly 25 minutes as they couldn’t reach Turkish Airlines. Eventually, she printed out new tickets to EWR and stopped. After staring at the screen for a few seconds, she informed us the connecting flight to Athens from EWR was on Monday evening and not on Sunday. That would mean we would have to pay for meals, stay and transportation in Newark and lose two full days in Athens. A costly proposition!
By now, the line was growing longer. She was at the end of her tether and so were we! We decided to retrieve our luggage from baggage claim and walk over to the main ticketing desk to sort out the tickets. And allow other patient travelers a chance to finish their rebooking.
What I found frustrating was that no agent showed up to rebook our canceled flight for nearly 45 minutes after the event. When they did, one of them left several minutes later to take care of a different gate. Eventually, the agents passed out cards with phone numbers to call for rebooking while passengers stood in line. I am sure dealing with six diverted flights at one time is no easy task. But it appeared to me that the staff needed more back up and resources that didn’t materialise. The efficiency and effort seemed inadequate for such a big airline.
But there are silver linings to every black cloud. Or one could always end up creating one, sometimes. Luggage in hand, we marched back to the main ticketing desk. The first agent printed out the EWR-ATH tickets and asked us to step back without listening to our concerns. She said the lead agent would have to help us. Rude though she was, Mr. JJ remained polite and stepped back, patiently awaiting our turn again.
The next agent to help us looked like someone with greater experience. After looking through couple of airports and finding no tickets, she asked us to keep the EWR schedule. Since we were on mileage tickets, she said, our options were severely limited. I found flights out of Atlanta but United doesn’t fly there.
In desperation, I asked her to check for tickets on the same itinerary via Houston for the following evening. Doubtfully, she searched proclaiming success after a few minutes. As she prepared to print the tickets, she warned us that despite her rebooking the itinerary might not show up on Turkish airlines system. It had happened to another passenger just that morning. So it was a risk we were taking booking the Houston route again.
Before we left the airport, I called Turkish airlines and confirmed our reservation and requested a vegetarian meal. After a quick dinner at our neighborhood stop and Fro-yo for the kids, we reached home and I called Turkish again for seat assignment. They couldn’t give me one for the first leg from Houston to Istanbul, only for the second.
Tired but in good spirits, we made some small changes to our luggage and decided to call it a day.