Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Christmas travel debacle

I know I promised more of a story about our failed first attempt at a trip to Phoenix for Christmas, and I never followed through with the promise. So in case anyone's still curious, here's what happened:

We were supposed to catch our flight out of Spokane, the day after we had just experienced a whopping winter storm. This was the AP report from the day before we left:

SPOKANE — The winter storm that has paralyzed Spokane set a record for the amount of snow dumped in a 24- hour period, the National Weather Service said Thursday.

The weather service recorded 17 inches of snow at Spokane International Airport in the 24 hours that ended at 4 a.m., 4 inches more than the record of 13 inches set in 1984. Records have been kept since 1881.

More than 3 inches of additional snow had fallen on the city since 4 a.m., the weather service said, driving the total to more than 20 inches.

I didn't have my camera with me, but this photo, taken by Bill Church, who we know from, er, church, captures the road conditions pretty well.

So I dutifully checked the highway and airport reports before leaving, and (Spokane being used to this sort of onslaught) the airport was already sending flights out on time, and the WSDOT page reported "Patches of snow and ice: Moderate impact on travel." Sounded like we were in reasonably good shape for departure, so we allowed for an extra hour to get the airport, just in case.

Right. I don't know how the WSDOT defines "moderate" or "patches" of snow. The snow was packed quite solidly on the road, and three cars were off in the ditch (right at a bend in the road where we lost cell phone coverage, incidentally...) Also, WSU apparently had just had its last morning of finals before Christmas break (although they probably don't call it that anymore), and we found ourselves amidst thousands of twenty-somethings heading home for the break in cars ill-equipped for winter roads.

It took us two solid hours to get to the little town of Colfax, which normally would take less than 30 minutes.

The kids had to go the bathroom, so we pit-stopped at the Colfax Arby's. And as we sat in the parking lot, watching the cars crawling pitifully by at 4 mph, we determined that, even if we drove 60 mph the rest of the way, we would still miss our flight, which was leaving Spokane right on schedule. (Too bad the Spokane airport is so shockingly well prepared for snow burial.) And, because all flights had been cancelled the day before, every flight leaving for the rest of the day and the next several days following was completely booked.

We made the obvious decision to call the airline to tell them we wouldn't be coming. Silver lining: we very probably made somebody's day by opening up 5 seats on a very full flight for which several people had been waiting on standby all night. And thus, with heavy hearts, we drove back home.

Well, long story short: We rebooked flights for Christmas Eve, after paying MORE to reschedule our tickets than we had paid for the original tickets. (Thank you, US Airways...) And we also had five additional days at home to relax, attend a couple of Christmas parties, and be far better prepared for Christmas Vacation, take 2. We even went to Spokane and spent the night at my sister-in-law's parents' house before our flight, to ensure a stress-free departure. Our whole Phoenix adventure involved an amazing amount of packing and unpacking and repacking suitcases for six people at each stop (First attempt. Home. Second attempt. Night in Spokane. Phoenix, Brandon's house. Phoenix, Marilynn's house. Spokane motel. Home.) So I am very, very glad to not be traveling again for a while!

And we had a fabulous Christmas in Phoenix with Jayson's family, enjoying, among other things, the complete absence of snow!


Aunt Brenda said...

You make it sound much more calm than I would have been. Here's to not traveling at Christmas time.

Kjerste said...

Wow! It's been over two months, and I still feel a little stressed just reading about it! You deserve a medal or something! I'm just glad you didn't find yourselves at the airport a day sooner, stranded with all your children!

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