We have been back in Switzerland for almost a week now. I haven’t written anything, because as soon as we got back we repacked suitcases, and headed up into the Alps to celebrate the New Year with the kids. I will have more about that later this week, but this post is going to solely be about why no one really likes to travel any more. Sure, most of us love the adventure of exploring new places. We enjoy being with family or friends. However, it is the actual travel that sucks today. Getting from one place to another is not the enjoyable experience it used to be. I know I am sounding like a BOOMER. Darn kids get off my lawn!!
It really wasn’t that long ago that flying was a more pleasant experience. The seats had just a little more leg room. You were given free beverages and snacks. If you were bored, you could even get a pack of playing cards for some solitaire on the tray table. Little kids could go up front and see the cockpit. I won’t even get into the kabuki theater that is security today! The news today is filled with people assaulting flight attendants and other passengers. There is no excuse for violence, but it is easy to understand the frustrations. Here is our latest travel story.
It started back about 8 or 9 months ago. This was the time that prices were dirt cheap; no one was flying anywhere except for emergencies. Trying to be a smart consumer, I booked our flights from Switzerland to Indiana for the Holidays. I always try and book a direct flight from Zürich to Chicago. Yes, O’Hare airport is awful, but there are myriad connections to Indianapolis, or at worst we can rent a car and drive to my parent’s house. The problems started when United started changing the flights. They kept changing the flights and making more and shorter connections. What should have been a one stop trip, suddenly became a three stop trip. I went round and round with United, and we finally got a travel schedule that was at least doable. However, I was really frustrated. The original flight I wanted to take was suddenly back on the schedule. I asked about taking that flight, and was told, “Sure, you can have that flight for an additional $4500 per passenger.” So the airline can cancel the flight at their whim, and then charge an extra $9000 to be booked on the same flight I booked in the first place? What I originally planned to be a 12 hour journey had suddenly ballooned into a 24 hour ordeal, and it meant getting a hotel in Indianapolis, because we were now getting into Indiana at 11 PM and I was not going to try driving another hour and a half being that tired. So going into the trip I was already irritated.
Anyway, we made it to Indianapolis, and it actually wound up being a really good change. There are a LOT of things we cannot easily find here; so my wife and I spend a day shopping every trip back. The changes allowed us to wake up, have a nice breakfast, spend our day shopping, and then drive down to Southern Indiana. Once we were done with the “chores” we were able to enjoy spending time with our families.
So coming back to Switzerland is where the problems really started.
We had been listening to the news for 5 days about how airlines are cancelling numerous flights due to Covid. So many flight crews were calling in sick, that airlines could not staff the flights. Also knowing how busy the airports are immediately before and after the holiday we wanted to make the return trip as stress free as possible. We planned to get to the airport FIVE hours before the flight left. Have an enjoyable lunch with shrimp cocktails at Harry and Izzy’s. (Great restaurant by the way. Give it a try if you find yourself in Indianapolis anytime soon, or the Indy Airport!)
Julie and I go to check in and are told the flight has been cancelled. The counter agent tells us the reason is weather in Chicago. This immediately makes zero sense, because she offers to book two out of the four on other airlines flying to the same airport at roughly the same time. One was an American flight leaving about 45 minutes before our flight, and the other was a Delta flight that was scheduled to leave about an hour after our flight. I have never heard of a weather prediction being that specific, that flights leaving in four and six hours were fine, but five hours? You are out of luck. Anyway, since there were four of us flying and there was no guarantee that we would be able to get back together we declined the offer of those flights. Instead Julie and I were rebooked for a flight the next morning. United did offer that we could drive to Chicago and catch the last leg of the flight there.
We decided not to do that, because of cost. Renting a car in Indy and returning it to Chicago was going to cost almost $350. If we had each of the kids drive a car to Chicago (the only way to get all four of us plus the luggage) it would have meant an additional $400 in parking fees. We knew it would be much cheaper to simply send the two kids up north, while Julie and I would stay another night in Indianapolis. Making the situation even more confusing was our son’s girlfriend was meeting us all in Chicago so she could spend New Years in Switzerland. We thought that made the most sense.
So we got the kids driving north. Julie and I found a nice hotel to spend the night that had a restaurant. The next four and some hours were very relaxing.
We had just sat down in the restaurant and had some cocktails delivered when my phone rang. It was my daughter telling us that Swiss would not allow the kids on the flight to Zürich. The first reason they were given: “You cannot be here. Your flight from Indianapolis was cancelled.” Then they were told, ” The united gate agent cancelled all your tickets.” My daughter called me because the hold time with united was pushing 2 hours so by the time she talked to someone the flight would have left. I quickly scrambled and found a ride back to the Indianapolis Airport to have a discussion with the United people there. The next hour was spent arguing between United and Swiss Air about if the tickets were good, and if the kids actually had seats. I do not know what caused Swiss to suddenly accept the tickets, but all I know is that within minutes of the united agent printing off boarding passes for the flight that did not exist. Swiss was able to see the reservations and print off tickets for the kids. Thank goodness the security lines were not that bad, because by this time there was only about 45 minutes before the plane took off. The kids ran through security and to the gate. They got there with a few minutes to spare. So we thought things were good.
Seeing as we were going to be gone about two weeks we had to do something about the cat. Boarding animals over here is even more expensive than in the US. Instead we hire a pet sitter. This person comes in for an hour each day to check on the animals and play with them. The laws here are very strict about animal care; so I quickly contacted the pet sitter and asked her if she would come one more morning. I sent another message once we knew the kids would make the flight telling her that there was no need to come by the apartment because our kids would be arriving one time. Unfortunately, she did not get the second message, and instead of leaving the key in the mailbox she had the key with here. So the next morning as I had just sat down on the plane, my phone rang again.
This time it was my daughter explaining that there was no key in the mailbox. Telling us it was raining, and they had no way to get into the building. I was able to call the pet sitter and she ran the key up to the kids. She only lives about a mile away; so they did not have that long of a wait. So the last crisis was averted.
The worst part about the flights being re arranged was the wait in Chicago. Our original plans called for reasonable layovers in all the airports. Not to long as to be annoying, but not so short as to miss a flight. Well because of the cancellation, United booked us on a 7:30 am flight to Chicago, while our flight to Zürich did not leave until about 7:30 PM. This meant an 11 hour layover. It is not fun to be in an airport that long. You can only walk the terminal so many times before someone has called security because you are probably a terrorist that is casing the place for an attack.
We were able to stay in a United lounge for large chunk of time. The dining room in the Polaris Lounge was very good.
Our biggest concern now were the COVID tests. Switzerland requires a test 24 hours before the “departing” flight. The real question is what IS the departing flight. We figured it was Indianapolis, but when we got online to complete the arrival form Switzerland says the departing flight was the one from Chicago. This was a big problem. We got our COVID test the morning before we were originally supposed to leave. That was well within the 24 hour window. One of the reasons we had to take the 7:30 flight from Indianapolis; was that United considered the departing flight to be Indianapolis. The 7:30 flight meant that we still had 30 minutes left on our COVID tests!
I was very worried about this so I made Julie check in with Swiss Air about 4 hours before flight. This would give us plenty of time to get a quick test. It would have probably cost another $200 but at least we would be ok to get back home. I was needlessly worried. The gate agent never even questioned anything. She took one look at the test certificate and said we were good to go. Now the worst thing would be if the custom’s agent looked at the test when we landed and tried to send us back.
The last few hours were not nearly as enjoyable as the first few. We checked into the swiss lounge, but it was a major step down from the united lounge. It was a lot more crowded, the seats were very uncomfortable, and the food and drink selections were sub par. I really shouldn’t complain because this was still better than sitting on the floor of the terminal, because there were absolutely no seats in the public area. The worst part, however, of the lounge was that the restrooms had not been cleaned in weeks. They reeked and were filthy.
We were finally able to board the flight, and we got home a day later than originally intended. I guess this was a good thing, because I have chatted online with people that have been stuck for days.
Once we were back we re-packed some bags, and headed up into the mountains. Where we were able to spend an enjoyable few days skiing, and celebrating the New Year.
I was originally not going to write about the problems of the trip. However, once again United has upset me. We were forced to spend an additional $400 + to get back home. I do not buy United’s excuse about the weather; so I wrote a complaint and asked for some compensation for our troubles. I know the airlines do not give compensation for weather delays; so I was very offended when they stick to the weather excuse, but then offer me a $75 credit for future flights. I would have at least given them credit for sticking with a bad excuse rather than offering me a pittance for the added cost and added stress they caused. I guess I have to start looking at different options for flying in the future. Unfortunately, there are not many options for Zürich to the US. I will now look for flying to other destinations in Europe, and then making the atlantic leg. Paris or London are much bigger cities; I am sure there are more choices to get to the US than from Zürich.
I hope you had a wonderful New Years celebration. I will write more this week with some pictures of our New Years celebration and skiing experiences.
Talk to you soon.