Valentine’s Day Winter Weather

Due to the system delays caused by Winter Storm Pax, my flights home on 14 February went through rather a lot of transitions.

A chart visualizing all of the changes for my flights on 14 February 2014. All changes are described in the text below.

While I was in St. Louis for a trip, a large winter storm was beginning to affect airports along the U.S. east coast—and since many major airline hubs were affected, the flight changes and cancellations had ripple effects on air travel throughout the country.

As originally booked, I had a pretty simple trip home on Friday, February 14: a quick 10:32 flight from St. Louis (STL) to Chicago O’Hare (ORD), followed by a flight from ORD to Dayton (DAY).

Thursday

I received an alert from United that my Friday 10:32 STL–ORD flight was cancelled, and I was rebooked on a 18:06 STL–ORD flight instead (with a shift to a later ORD–DAY flight to match it.)

I debated calling our corporate travel agent to see if I could just update my rental car’s return location and just drive it the six hours back to Dayton. However, the roads were already looking bad with the winter weather, so I decided to take my chances with flying.

Friday

St. Louis

My new flight was over seven hours later than my originally scheduled one, but since I had to check out of my hotel and return the rental car anyway, I decided to just go straight to the STL airport and see if I could update my itinerary. I was able to at least get moved up to a 16:15 STL–ORD flight; although it wouldn’t get me home any sooner since I’d still be connecting to the same second flight, it’d at least give me more margin for error in Chicago.

I headed to the United gates at STL around 11:00, and noticed that a Chicago flight that had been scheduled even earlier than my original one had been delayed by several hours, and would be boarding soon for a noon departure. I asked the gate agent if I could switch to this flight. She was able to put me on standby for it, and sure enough, there ended up being a free seat. I was finally on my way to Chicago!

Chicago

We landed at ORD around 13:00, and unfortunately, I was still booked on a 21:06 Dayton flight. Though I like O’Hare, an eight-hour layover certainly wasn’t ideal.

Things were obviously chaotic at a midwestern megahub, with most of the east coast hubs shut down, and lots of planes not where they needed to be. The flight boards were overwhelmed with delays and cancellations. So I wasn’t expecting to be able to get home sooner (honestly, I was expecting that I’d end up spending the night in Chicago), but I had time in abundance, so I got in line for customer service to see if I could get myself an earlier flight.

As predicted, they didn’t have any earlier ORD–DAY flights with empty seats. They did, however, have a different option: if I were willing to take another layover, they could put me on a 17:00 flight to Cleveland, where I’d connect to a Dayton flight, and I’d still get home earlier than if I waited the eight hours for the direct flight. I accepted, and received a pair of boarding passes.

American Airlines jets at ORD.

At least I had time to wander over to Terminal 3 to view some AA jets. The weather wasn’t too bad in Chicago, at least, but the air network as a whole was strained badly by the east coast storm.

I still had several hours to burn, so I got a late lunch, and got to spend the afternoon watching a lot of adults throw outright temper tantrums (including one person who lifted their carry-on bag above their head and spiked it directly down onto the floor in frustration). But finally, I was able to board my Cleveland flight.

Cleveland

With the change from Central to Eastern time, I got to Cleveland around 19:00, and my Dayton flight was scheduled for 20:54. Of course, it was delayed until 23:32—over two and a half hours later.

By this point, it was almost instinct to just go straight to the nearest customer service counter I could find. The flight board gave me the same situation I’d had in St. Louis—there was an earlier Dayton flight that had been delayed enough to have not left yet—so I went to United’s customer service once again and was able to get myself switched to that earlier flight.

I had dinner, but eventually I just headed to the gate, where I got to spend the rest of my time in Cleveland witnessing irate passengers yelling at the gate agents about delays completely out of the agents’ control. Our incoming aircraft finally arrived, and we eventually departed just after 23:00.

Dayton

We arrived safely in Dayton just before midnight. Retrospectively, it probably would have been better to drive even if the roads weren’t great—it took me an entire day and three flights to get the 339 miles (546 km) between STL and DAY. But I was finally home!

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