Shock From A Cancelled Flight and What to do Next

Labor day weekend getaway to San Francisco.  Flights booked two months ago on Southwest Airlines, leaving PDX at 5:45am and arriving around 7:45am.  We talked Lisa’s mom to join us – but she booked a separate flight on Alaska Airlines, leaving at 6:40am and arriving around 8:30am.  The plan was to travel together to the airport, get on our flights, then meet up in SFO and travel together to our hotel in San Francisco.

Since our flight was so early, we planned to leave our house at 4:00am to get to the airport, park and check in by 5:45am.  That meant we went to bed earlier than usual, around 9:00pm so that we could get a decent amount of sleep.  All went off without a hitch — up at 3:30am, on the road at 4:00am, parked and shuttle bus to the airport by 4:45am… however, while on the shuttle bus I checked my phone and found out that I received a text message at 11:29pm from Southwest Airlines.  “Your flight has been cancelled.”  That’s pretty much all it said, with the addition that I should call to rebook the flight.

Shock.  Flight cancelled?  What the hell?  Why?  What do I do now?  How can we get to San Francisco?

I called Southwest Airlines and spoke to a representative.  I asked if we could be re-accommodated to the Alaska flight.  Nope.  All she could do was either refund our mileage points or get us on the next Southwest flight to San Francisco.  And what would that be???  Well, there was a flight at 6:00am, stopping in Las Vegas and arriving to SFO at 10:35am.  But that one was already sold out.  There was another flight at 6:25am, stopping in San Diego and arriving in SFO at 11:05am.  That one was also sold out.  Both flights sold out probably because of the 5:45am passengers getting those flights rebooked earlier, but we didn’t read the message until about an hour before take-off so we were pretty much out of luck.  The next non-stop flight was at 12:45pm, arriving at 2:30pm.  Yikes.  There had to be something else we could do, right?

I looked up information on cancelled flights, and found out that the contracts state that the only obligation the airlines have is to (1) refund the cost of the flight or (2) get the passenger on the next available flight on the same airline.  And that’s it.  So there was no way for us to get on the Alaska flight, it had to be on Southwest.  What to do, what to do?

Once we were finally at the airport, we waited in line and made our way to a live Southwest Airlines human.  He couldn’t magically reinstate the 5:45am flight, but he could rebook us on a 6:00am non-stop flight arriving to Oakland by 7:45am.  It wasn’t SFO, but we could make it work.  That sure beat arriving in SFO at 2:30pm, and it beat having to pay a last-minute walk up fare at Alaska Airlines for $199 each person.  We took the flight to Oakland.

The rest of the story went like this:  we made it to Oakland and took the BART to downtown San Francisco.  Lisa’s mom got on her original flight to SFO, and she took the bus to downtown San Francisco.  We met up all around the same time.  So in the end everything worked out.   But I certainly learned from this experience.  I was dismayed to find out that the airline can pretty much cancel a flight for no reason and all I am entitled to is either a refund of my original flight or getting rebooked on the next available flight on the same airline.  It sucks that we never found out why our flight was cancelled, but I have a good idea.  I think that there just weren’t enough passengers on the flight to make it worthwhile for Southwest.  The reason why I think this is because Lisa and I both received very high boarding numbers, even though we did online check-in kinda late.  Usually, right at the 24-hour mark, you check in and if you are just even a minute slow, you’ll end up with a boarding priority number of B-1 through B-60 because so many people are checking in at the same time, trying to get those high numbers.  Well, Lisa checked in right at 5:45am and she got A23.  I checked in at 5:47am and got A24.  When we originally received those numbers, we were thrilled.  But now looking back at that, I think it just proved that there were not a lot of people on the flight at Southwest figured they could save money and just get us on different planes.  I have no concrete proof of this, it is speculation, but it seems likely.  But I will never know.  That’s the other thing I learned — if my flight is cancelled, I’ll never know the reason why.  It is just cancelled so there, so be it.  So be it.


Italy by Rail and Ship: Bathrooms

Some observations over the last month regarding bathrooms:

Many are labeled as toilets, or “WC.”  Officially, it is bagno in Italian, but we haven’t really seen this.

Bathrooms are not free.  You must be a paying customer of a restaurant or bar or cafe, or museum or paid attraction to qualify.  Public toilets cost money — typically .50 euros, and as high as 1 euro in Cinque Terre.  Oftentimes the public toilets are manned by a Bathroom Overlord.  He or she will keep the restrooms clean, point you to the stall that is available and enforce the law of payment.  If there is no person to take your money, then you will find a machine that you put your money into and in return you shall receive a token.  This token will allow you through the turnstile to access the toilet.

Line up for the public WC in San Gimignano. Two bathroom stalls. One person leaves, one person can enter the turnstile. Cost: .50 euro, which we paid for.

The fake free toilet:  this happens when you think you’ve scored a free public toilet, only to find that you must have an access code to open it.

Toilet seats are not guaranteed.  Actually, it is about 50/50.  Half the time there will be a toilet seat, the other time there will just be the rim of the toilet base.  We have been fortunate that in all of our hotel stays, there has always been a toilet set.  However, this evening Lisa was horrified to find out that our seat was not bolted down to the rim, and she found out the hard way as it basically fell down and to the side when she tried to sit on it.  Hotel maintenance eventually came to the room to affix the seat.  What is curious though is the fact that the housekeeper actually put one of those paper strips across the seat lid that has “Sanitized” printed on it.  Apparently she did not realize that the seat wobbled and was just sitting there without any bolts or anything.  Then how did she put that paper around it?

Some public toilets don’t even have proper toilets — it’s just a hole in the ground with an outline of where to position your feet.  This is for both men and women.  And this is to complete bathroom process #1 and #2.

Bidets are very common in hotel rooms, but not in public toilet facilities.

For many public bathrooms in a restaurant or museum, there are unisex washrooms.  In other words, you enter through one door that features two or three sinks.  And beyond these will be a door marked for men and one for women, which will lead to the respective gender toilets.

I am too cheap to pay for a public bathroom.  I am just so conditioned as an American to expect free bathrooms for public use.  But yes, I know that I am not in America and it is just something that has been an adjustment.  And that adjustment is this:  whenever I have a “free toilet,” I am going to use it.  I paid $4 for this Coke?  Well for sure I am going to seek out your restroom and use it!

Two points about toilet paper.  #1 – they mostly come in rolls, though there were a few places that the paper dispenser is pre-cut so you only get two sheets at a time.  #2 – you really aren’t supposed to throw toilet tissue in the toilet to flush, as many public waste water facilities can’t really process all of that paper garbage.  That is why there is a waste basket next to the toilet — it is for your paper waste.  This is especially true if there is a bidet — after all, it is there to help wash out your anus so there really shouldn’t be a need for toilet paper!  So, bottom line, throw out your used toilet paper into the available waste basket and do not flush it down the toilet!

Ready, aim, fire! Nice view from the window!


Italy by Rail and Ship: The Folly of Line Picking

When in Rome … you join the queue of long lines to enter attractions like the Colosseum and the Forum and the Vatican.   If you are lucky, you encounter little or no lines or you pick the line that moves the fastest.  For our just completed trip to Rome, we batted .500…

  • Colosseum Part 1 …. despite what some web sites tell you, it does NOT close one hour before sunset.  In the summer, the final entry is at 6:15pm.  We arrived at 6:15pm and 30 seconds.  I kid you not.  There was no line!  But you have to go through this barricade set up to the main entrance, and as we were walking through this, one of the security guards told us that they are closing the gate and we need to hurry up.  Hurry up we did, to no avail.  By the time we reached the gate, it was locked.  We could see it locked, and we could see another couple just ahead of us just shut out.  So at least we were not the very first ones.  But I still walked up to the gate, I suppose that I just needed to see that the gate really was fastened with that lock and that there was no other way to get in.  So despite no line, we did not get to the Colosseum.
  • Colosseum Part 2:  fortunately for us, the Colosseum is a combination ticket that gives you entrance into the Forum and Palatine Hill over the course of two days.  So we returned the following day right around the time it opened, which was 8:30am.  There are three entry lines:  one for reserved time tickets, one for people with no tickets, and one for people with regular tickets.  We only waited about ten minutes in our line before it was our turn to go through the security check point (x-ray conveyor belt and metal detector – is that what they still call them?).  From there we had to go to another line to actually hand in our tickets for admission.  This line combined all three former lines, but we were able to get through within about five minutes.  Total time in line was only fifteen minutes vs the one or two hours that I’ve read and heard others have had to endure.
  • Palatine Hill / The Forum:  opens at 8:30am, we arrived around 9:30am and had no line!
  • Vatican Museums Part 1:  it is highly recommended to have timed-entry tickets to visit the Vatican, otherwise people will be waiting forever to purchase tickets at the regular ticket counter.  I tried to buy tickets online, but on four separate occasions the transaction failed to go through, so we were taking a chance by having no reservations and trying the regular line.  At a minimum, it takes three hours to go through the Vatican Museums and it closes at 6pm.

    We arrived just around 2:30pm.  It is basically following the herd uphill on a narrow sidewalk that suddenly is divided into two lanes by metal barriers with chains.  And as you walk, there are so many touts and people with official-looking name tags and IDs around their necks, attempting to help you out.  What they are really trying to do is to sell you a private tour or a pre-purchased time-entry ticket.  I didn’t really want to engage with any of them, but when one asked me if I had a ticket and I said “No”, he told me to go to the line towards the right.  We were walking on the line on the left.  Trusting his knowledge, we walked up the right hand line and came to the top where tour groups are supposed to go to.  Looking back, we saw that the left hand line was actually the one we needed to be in for regular tickets.  And so retraced our steps and joined the correct line, probably losing about 25 spaces due to my mistake.  However, the line moved on pretty well and we only waited for about twelve minutes before they let us in. There were three lines to choose from for security, and the one we picked went pretty fast.  From there, we wound our way up some steps, following signs for the ticket window.

    Ah, now we had to choose from five ticket kiosk lines.  Lisa and I split up for the two closest lines and we would just see which one moved faster.  I thought I had the fast one picked out, because there was one family finishing up, another single guy after them, and then two early-twenty something chaps ahead of me.  Lisa had at least four separate groups/people in front of her, including a stroller.  The family ahead of me finished up, and it my line moved up, so confident in my line picking choice, I waved Lisa over.  Yeah, wrong move.  As soon as she came over, her line moved up.  And the lady in front of her moved over to my line, because she did the split line strategy with her husband, who was in the process of buying his and her tickets.  And then there was a delay.  I don’t know what it was, but by the time is was resolved, Lisa’s former place in line was now up to the ticket transaction window.  I still had the two young guys in front of me.  And then they had some sort of issue that the ticket lady had to process and wait on.  And so we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Ah, the foolishness of line picking!  At long last Lisa and I were able to move forward to buy our tickets, which took less than a minute, and finally we were in!  But had we stayed in Lisa’s line, we could have had a least another five minutes in the Vatican, which doesn’t seem like a lot, until….

    We are in the Sistine Chapel.  The time is 5:30pm.  I figure we have a whole half an hour of admiring the art.  But I am wrong.  You see, the 6pm closing time is when they want everybody out of the museums.  And there is a lot of walking to the exit out of the museum.  Which meant that just after 5:40pm, the security guards inside the Sistine Chapel rang this little bell, then proceeded to sweep everyone out into the other parts of the museum leading the exit.  Our little delay at the ticket window could have given us an extra five minutes in the Sistine Chapel, which is the main reason why we visited the Vatican Museums!  Ah, drat.

  • St. Peter’s Basilica:  immediately following getting booted out of the Vatican, we made our way to the famous church, which has its own stories of huge lines all throughout the day.  But on this evening there was no line — well, just two security lines.  I picked the one on the right because it seemed shorter.  Yeah, seemed.  It so happens that we were delayed because one guy had to go back through the metal detector to empty out his pockets, then take off his belt before he could successfully pass through.  As this process played out, I could only turn to Lisa and smile because this was just the story and folly of line picking.

All in all, we were pretty darn lucky and didn’t encounter any huge waits for any of the places we visited in Rome.  And whenever we did wait, or there was some sort of delay, we just had to remind ourselves that we are on vacation and we have all the time we need and to just relish the moment of being together, experiencing the delays and to expect the unexpected.  Queues and lines are a fact of life and sometimes we are super lucky and other times we just gotta give in and smile because we are still batting .500 and everything will balance in the end.  Or so we keep trying to convince ourselves…