2008 shall now forever be known as the year of the shitty holiday travel episode. I’m writing this at 2:30am on December 24th while sitting at Chicago O’Hare airport, waiting for our flight to take off “tomorrow” morning at 8am. For some reason, our travel this year has been plagued by delays and abnormalities.

Most of this has been caused by the unseasonably snowy weather we’ve had this year. In Mount Pleasant, for instance, we’ve already had over 45 inches of snowfall this year. With our typical total seasonal average around 50-60 inches, we’re approaching that quickly with 2-3 winter months still to go. We’ve broken records for the most snow in December (around 35 inches so far). The previous record was 21 inches back in 1907…

This has made for a pretty miserable travel season. For us, it started late last week when we were driving to Rochester, NY. We were planning to leave Friday morning, but a storm was coming in, so we decided to get a head start on it Thursday night. We left at 5pm, and ended up near St. Catharines, Ontario around midnight, so we decided to stop for the night. Of course on Friday morning, we woke up to blizzard-like conditions and 4-6 inches of new snow already on the ground. We decided to tough it out, after all we only had 2 hours left to the drive, so how bad could it be? We have snow tires on the car, which make driving so much easier (usually). We spent 3 hours battling our way to Buffalo in near white-out conditions, where we decided to hold off at a family member’s house until the snow let up, passing who knows how many cars stuck in ditches along the way. Finally, after another 3 hours driving that evening, we made it to Rochester. A day and a half of traveling when it should have only taken us 8 hours.

Then, this past Sunday we were planning to get together with the family, but of course after the large storm passed, we were left with some pretty strong lake-effect snow. Some areas around Buffalo got another foot of snow that day, and it was bad enough to cancel our family party for that evening. Bummer…after spending all that time driving to NY, a good part of the reason we went didn’t end up happening at all…

Monday, we drove from Rochester back to Grand Rapids, MI. Driving this day was pretty good in general, though it was snowing pretty heavily by the time we got to Grand Rapids. We stayed the night in a hotel, with our flight to California leaving the next afternoon (Tuesday, the 23rd). Tuesday morning we woke up to another 6 inches of snow. We ran some errands that morning, and between the snow and a busy Christmas shopping day, it took us about an hour to drive 5 miles in town. We made it to the airport by around 3:30pm, without seeing any break in the snow at all during the day we were there.

Of course, with our flight going through O’Hare, I kind of expected that we might be setting ourselves up for a long travel day. Our 4:45 flight from Grand Rapids to Chicago didn’t end up leaving until 7:45pm. Our connecting flight to San Francisco was delayed until 9:15pm, and with the time change we thought we had a good chance to make it. Sure enough, we landed in Chicago at 8:10, plenty of time to make our connection, until American Airlines pulled some stupid shit…

First, we couldn’t park at our gate because there was already another plane there. Then we proceeded to taxi for 45 minutes before getting to our new gate. To top it all off, the walkway on the new gate wasn’t working, so we had to wait until they figured out WTF was going wrong. Finally off the plane, I ran over to the next departure gate (it was only 3 gates away) to find our connecting plane sitting there being de-iced. Except nobody was at the gate, and the doors were locked. I ran over to the next gate to see if they would re-open the doors (there were 10 of us making this same connection). Seems simple…finish de-icing the plane, open the door, let 10 of us on the flight, close the door back up and let’s go. Nope…they wouldn’t do it.

Now rebooking a flight shouldn’t be a problem, but with all the cancellations today, everyone is trying to rebook. We ended up waiting in line for 2 hours, but finally got a connection on United for tomorrow morning at 8am. Walking to the other terminal took us around a half hour, and then we had to wait for another hour in line at a United counter to get our new tickets issued, only to find out that American booked the tickets without actually reissuing them to United, so while our seats were reserved, United couldn’t actually give us tickets for them. A call to American and another hour waiting in line finally resulted in some tickets on the next flight out tomorrow morning.

I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky…I can’t count how many people we’ve run into that have been delayed until the 26th; had to call off their trip completely; or even worse, made it halfway to their destination only to have to turn around a fly back home. Now as long as that flight at 8am doesn’t get cancelled…