Trying to minimize travel headaches due to the Denver Blizzard.
December 21, 2006 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm scheduled to fly out of Seattle (SEA) tomorrow (Friday Dec 22) on my way to visit family in Ohio (columbus, CMH) for Christmas. However, my layover is in Denver (DEN), which seems to be under a couple feet of snow. They say the airport might not even open until tomorrow afternoon... What are my options to make my trip less of a headache?

I bought my tickets (From rather late in the year, and thus am already paying a LOT more than I should. However, I didn't get the extra $25 or so for the insurance for refundable tickets. They haven't sent me ANY trip updates saying whether I'll be delayed or not, but I can't see how I *won't* be impacted.

My flight leaves Seattle at 7am PST and is due to arrive in Denver at 10:48am MST and then leave for Columbus at 1:07pm MST.

My question is... with the holidays already crowding the airports and with the blizzard conditions, I'm not confident I'll get very far calling up the airlines or airports. I don't see an easy way to transfer my tickets to a different flight since I'm sure anything I search for now will be even MORE expensive. I don't really want to chance flying into Denver and having to wait around all day in a crowded mess.

I've never flown stand-by, but does this sound like my best option? get to the airport early tomorrow and ask them to find me another flight to take? but if I say this, won't they just charge me the difference between the flights?

Of course, only the airlines/airport can answer this fully, but I really don't have any experience with out-of-the-ordinary flying since all of my previous experiences have been relatively trouble-free.

I'm checking luggage, which I believe will have an impact since if I start switching flights, I doubt my luggage will be able to reliably keep up with me.

Any insight or tips on the most efficient way to proceed?
posted by johnstein to Travel & Transportation around Denver, CO (23 answers total)
The airlines will *want* to route people through places other than Denver because of the mess there. If your flight is cancelled, heavily delayed or oversold, they may be willing to move you to a different itinerary voluntarily, assuming one is available. Call them and ask them.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:33 PM on December 21, 2006

Call the airline now. Ask if they will reschedule you on some other flight(s) to get to Columbus, at no charge to you. Be insistent on the "no charge to you" part. It's not YOUR fault that this change is occurring.

It is entirely possible that they will do this for you. Since, you know, they can't fly into Denver. What's the point of you showing up at 7AM tomorrow? You know your flight to Denver won't be taking off then.

I don't see what checking luggage has to do with anything. If you change your travel arrangements *before you start flying*, your luggage should arrive in the same place you do.
posted by jellicle at 12:36 PM on December 21, 2006

I only see one choice. First, have you contacted the airline that issued your ticket? Ask them what you should do since Denver will likely be closed
I would think you would be on the phone right now trying to figure out your options. My guess is that if you can't get another flight with the airline you have tickets with you are out of luck. At this late date there is no easy way to proceed. Have you even checked with ANY airline to see if there is a seat available? You really need to get going and see what, if any, options you have.
posted by JayRwv at 12:37 PM on December 21, 2006

They haven't sent me ANY trip updates saying whether I'll be delayed or not, but I can't see how I *won't* be impacted.

I hope you're not just waiting for updates but are also checking the airline website. Also, keep your eye on the Denver airport website The moment you see a change (i.e. flight cancelled) act on it immediately - call the airline. Sometimes they have other options available that are first-come, first-serve.

Sorry, but in cases like these, the airlines essentially pit traveler-against-traveler. If you have any status at all on the airlines (frequent flyer) now is the time to flash that badge.

Weather is unpredictable so the airlines are likely playing wait and see. Its possible Denver may clear some runways and allow a few planes in and out... That said:

- Yes, get to the airport as early as possible. They may cancel or delay the flight and you want to be around there by then. If they do either they shouldnt charge you to take a later flight (since a delay will mean you miss your connection)

- Talk to someone at the counter and ask their advice. Please, please be courteous and nice. In the past, I've gotten good advice from agents that differed from the official advice e.g "Yeah...right now we're showing a 2-hr delay but I doubt this plane will leave today. If you really want to get to Columbus my advice to you is...."

- Have a fully-charged cellphone with you and the number of your airline. In the past, when stuck at airports I've had an easier time rebooking on the phone than dealing with long lines at the counters

- Don't check luggage if you can manage it.

Good luck!
posted by vacapinta at 12:38 PM on December 21, 2006

Adendum: My above advice only applies if you are unable to re-book or find another flight. I agree with those above that you should be calling around right now.
posted by vacapinta at 12:40 PM on December 21, 2006

I agree that you should preemptively reschedule your flight asap. This is especially true when flying into Columbus because it isn't a hub for anyone, so flights in are limited. I've spent many a night trying in vein to fly into Port Columbus.
posted by B-squared at 12:49 PM on December 21, 2006

Assuming you are on United, they will *want* to rebook you (through Chicago, probably). Call now. Do not read any more responses; call now.
posted by raf at 1:00 PM on December 21, 2006

Are you flying Frontier? I took Frontier once from SEA through Denver to the Midwest a couple of years ago, and Denver was closed due to a blizzard. I showed up at the airport, and they gave me a ticket on a Northwest flight instead. I had to leave the next morning, but they did take care of me and put me on a flight with a different airline that doesn't route all of their flights through Denver. I didn't know about the blizzard until I got to the airport — the flight before mine had been able to get out just find — so presumably, you have enough advance warning that if you call the airline, they'll do something.

You might not leave when you wanted to leave, but you're not going to have to stay in Seattle for Christmas. And you shouldn't have to pay for a new ticket, either. Just call the airline.
posted by limicoline at 1:24 PM on December 21, 2006

Best answer: Call now. United will change your flight, no penalties. I'd presume Frontier will as well, but I've seen the UA announcement.

The current NOTAM on KDEN is "AERODROME CLOSED WIE UNTIL 22 DEC 17:00" Translation -- we're closed, with immediate effect, until December 22nd , 17:00 hours UTC, or 12:00 MST. Since they've announced a time (rather using the WIE UFN -- With Immediate Effect, Until Further Notice -- slug), they won't open before then.

You aren't going through DEN before then, and you're probably not going through there Friday anyway.

The bitch -- it looks like UA only flies DEN-CMH and ORD-CHM. DEN is closed. ORD is seriously delayed -- average delays are now 4 hours, they're cancelling flights right and left. Rain and fog have the arrival rate down to 60/hr, ORD needs 100/hr for normal traffic. It's bad enough in Chicago that MDW is actually running a delay program. While things may be better now, all those cancellations at ORD are just making United's backlog of passengers worse, and the fact that they can't dump the ORD load off through DEN means that there's going to be around 200 flights worth of passengers rebooking.

Worse, the forecast for ORD tommorow? Dense Fog and rain in the morning. It's just a bucket of suck if you're flying UA this holiday.

If you're willing to be flexible and you have family willing to help, remember the layout of Ohio. Dayton's only 70 miles away, and that may be the difference in getting a plane -- UA could even walk you to US, and move you through CLT or PIT, though since you're on a consolidator fare, you won't get walked to another airline that isn't in an alliance with UA, and you probably won't even get US.

If you're on Frontier, you're stuck. Frontier doesn't really have any agreements with anyone, and they hub at DEN. You'll almost certainly have to hit the airport early, do everything you can to get on the first flight to DEN, then keep trying to get on planes to CMH. It will, however, be ugly. Open just means they've got one runway an a place to park planes. DEN is huge, the ramp is huge, and it's tough to plough when there's 70 some UA planes trapped there.

The bitch is that consolidator fare. Status wise, that puts you above plankton, but below everyone else. Even if you had frequent flyer status (unless you have top tier, in which case, you *know* this stuff already), it won't matter -- you're flying a bucket ticket, you're going to be the least of the airline's problems.

Pack light. Stay hydrated. Bring whatever your Zen tool is -- music, video, videogame, whatever.

The following applies to UA only.

If they mention that they can get you to PIT or CLT, make sure that they'll reticket you onto US Air. If the answer is yes, get on that plane. Once you get away from DEN's snowdrifts and ORD's fog and crossed runways, you'll make it easily. But make *damn* sure that US Air is going to honor that ticket before you hit their hub, or you'll find yourself spending hours trying to get back to DEN or ORD.

If they offer you IAD or SFO, take it. IAD's a better bet, SFO fogs up often (they're fogged up now, it's really a sucky day for UA) but SFO and IAD are UA hubs.
posted by eriko at 1:43 PM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

seconding the "call and reroute now" people. anyone who's already in Denver wants to get the hell out, but it will take the entire weekend to do so. If you voluntarily reroute yourself, you're one more person not going in and out of Denver.

(Is this United? Did this last week to voluntarily not go to Boston after they cancelled the morning flight and had 200 people flying standby. And that was only ONE plane. Do NOT try to do standby on this! Get them to send you through a different hub!)
posted by whatzit at 1:47 PM on December 21, 2006

{bows down in amazement to eriko}

What do you *do* for a living?
posted by baylink at 2:02 PM on December 21, 2006

Response by poster: Yes it's united. purchased through cheaptickets. The rebooking fee seems to be waived, but I've been unclear whether I have to call cheaptickets or united to get this changed. cheaptickets routes me through their phone system, then transfers me to a busy signal, requiring me to recall, which sends me to another busy signal.

after 15 minutes of that I tried united, and was on hold for 30 minutes. I realize the actual times may be longer, but since I'm at work and keep having to get up to deal with last-minute work duties, it's been tough to even call at all.

the alternate airport option might be a possibility. I'll have to see how much my family likes me to travel that much further to get me.

thanks for the tips so far, and if anyone has more, I'd appreciate it. but I think I'll have to keep trying United and just see what they can do, assuming I *ever* get through with them.
posted by johnstein at 2:10 PM on December 21, 2006

What do you *do* for a living?

Sysadmin. But all my friends are scattered around the planet, and I've been traveling for a long time. I knew lots of TWA folk when there was a TWA, and like all good sysadmins, I have this compulsion about systems and finding out how the work.

Plus, knowing this stuff has gotten me home.

After 15 minutes of that I tried united, and was on hold for 30 minutes.

Between everybody cutting reservation staff, and UA having its largest hub shut down and its second largest hub seriously delayed, all I can say is "get a speakphone and dig the lousy music."

This is a case where status helps -- you get to call the frequent flyer desk, instead of the general reservation desks. But on days like today, everybody on the airline loses. It's just not that often that a large airline loses that many flights at their hubs, and nobody can afford to staff for it.

I'll have to see how much my family likes me to travel that much further to get me.

If they really like you, it puts Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati into play -- but those are 2 hours out of CHM. (Airports, in order -- CLE, TOL and CVG.) If anyone actually flies to Akron, that's closer than Cleveland. I think the Airport there is CAK, not AKR, but both are in Akron.
posted by eriko at 2:53 PM on December 21, 2006

after 15 minutes of that I tried united, and was on hold for 30 minutes

It will definitely take longer than this to get the answers you need. The phone lines are jammed to the max and it just takes time.
I was call UA last night before I'd heard about the blizzard and was wondering what could be taking so long. And I encountered the 'respond to all the prompts and end up with a busy signal' several times before I actually got through to a rep. The key is persistance and patience.
Good Luck!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 2:57 PM on December 21, 2006

Response by poster: The key is persistance and patience.

yea, I sorta figured that would be the case, so I realized I would have to work through lunch to get everything done, so I can actually spend the hour tied to the phone.

Thanks for giving me hope that someone might answer.
posted by johnstein at 3:05 PM on December 21, 2006

Response by poster: and to eriko,

actually it also puts rochester, and buffalo NY in play too since my brother works up there and will be travelling that corridor on the way home.

so right now the trick is to actually SPEAK with someone who can make these changes happen. I keep getting the busy signal for United, which means I have to call back, listen to the Denver travel advisory again, hit '0' to get the automated guy, then say 'agent' over and over till he transfers me. takes about an average of 2-4 minutes per call to get to the busy signal... that's 15-30 calls an hour, so I figure I should eventually get it... I just don't know how long. Does anyone know another number besides the '1-800-UNITED-1'?
posted by johnstein at 4:54 PM on December 21, 2006

If you could leave from Vancouver first thing tomorrow you'd pay $195 CAD. Thru Chicago to Cincinnati. Could you take a bus from there?

AC5132 10:28 16:30 320 0 Chicago (ORD) -
[Operated by United Airlines] 1
AC5708 18:45 21:06
posted by loiseau at 5:07 PM on December 21, 2006

johnstein - I know it's a little old-fashioned, but a travel agent is just the right person to talk to.
posted by yclipse at 5:10 PM on December 21, 2006

Sorry, I meant Sunday.

Here's an image of what I was looking at on the Air Canada site.
posted by loiseau at 5:11 PM on December 21, 2006

(You could actually fly into Columbus for that fare but not 'til the 25th.)
posted by loiseau at 5:15 PM on December 21, 2006

It may be a little late, but I have had great success with AA phone lines by pushing the button for Spanish or calling the Spanish line directly. I do not speak Spanish beyond adios MF. When the person picks up and starts talking in Spanish, i say, "Sorry, I only speak English and this was the line I was given." They will not hang up. They will work with you in English. It may work for United too.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:03 PM on December 21, 2006

United Airlines 800-241-6522
posted by JayRwv at 8:01 PM on December 21, 2006

Response by poster: Well, I made it to Ohio... but at a cost.

Got through to United, but after the 2 hours on hold, all they could tell me is that they had a flight for me on christmas morning at 11, if I wanted it...

my heart sunk.
said no thanks since I wanted to get home earlier.

Found out that the only way to get a refund was through cheaptickets... which shouldn't surprise most of you.

so I had to wait on hold for 1.5 hours (then phone disconnected) and had to wait another 2 hours to talk to a regular specialist, then an advanced specialist, then a multicarrier specialist (got sent to orbitz) and then to the correct cheaptickets specialist... and she said I'd get a refund in 2-3 months.

so I just bought another ticket for 1200 and here I am at home.

so I think the moral here is... don't fly through denver in winter. don't get multicarrier tickets. don't get them from cheaptickets or the like.

Thanks for all the advice everyone. Merry Christmas... and if anyone else is stuck in Denver, or have relatives stuck there, hope they get home safe.
posted by johnstein at 11:47 PM on December 23, 2006

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