Those of you who follow this blog know that I was in the DC area last week to attend my Mom’s interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery (to read my eulogy from same, see my blog “You have 4 minutes to speak…”). To combine a visit with the living members of my family for a little early Christmas celebration, and to help my Dad tie up and conclude my Mom’s accounts and affairs, we stayed on through Sunday, December 20.
On Friday evening, December 18, it started to snow all over the Washington DC metro area. In fact, it kept snowing through midnight the next day, and by the time we hit the road for the Baltimore Washington International Airport (aka BWI) on Sunday morning at about 6:30 AM, local weather reporters were calling it the “great blizzard of 2009” and “the biggest snowfall recorded since 1984.” Even though I checked the airline Web site at 6 PM on Saturday evening and the flight information still indicated “On Time,” by the time we got to the airport at about 7:30 AM on Sunday, we learned that all flights were cancelled until 6 PM that evening. When the ticket agent informed us the earliest they could get us home was Christmas Day (12/25!) I nearly had a cow. We hadn’t planned for an 11-day break, and there were lots of good reasons why we had to get home sooner than that.
So here’s what we did: After quizzing the ticket agent, I learned that the closest airport where flights remained on schedule was the Atlanta Hartsfield International airport. We returned to the rental car counter, engaged a vehicle for a one-way drive to Atlanta, and took off down route 95 to 85 all the way to that airport. Of course since this meant a drive of nearly 700 miles (MapQuest says it’s 683 miles from BWI to the Atlanta airport, but we made enough detours en route to eat and get gas that we topped the 700 mile mark easily), we didn’t get into our next hotel room until after midnight. Thanks to my wife’s persistent efforts to get the airline travel desk on the phone as we were driving, we scored a flight from Atlanta to Austin at 8:30 on the morning of the 21st. By 11 AM that day, Texas time, we were off the plane and into our own car, on the last leg home at long last — more than a little worse for the wear. At age 57, after 9 hours behind the wheel two days before, I’m still feeling a little hard-used even today.
During the long drive from BWI to Atlanta, I found myself thinking about how successful recovery from problems or failures is about the same in everyday life as it is in IT: assess the damage, get out from under, and create a way to get back on track and on schedule as quickly as possible. In both cases, there’s usually a lot of long hours and hard work involved in restoring order and schedule, and unforeseen expenses to absorb along the way.
On a whim, I purchased trip insurance for this journey, and will be interested to see if my solo, spur-of-the-moment response to the situation will be good enough to warrant some reimbursement for added expenses incurred (car rental, gas, meals, and an extra night’s hotel) in getting us home. Frankly, because of the travel crush traditional at this time of year, I didn’t want to take the time to contact the insurance provider to let them make alternate arrangements — as a former “frequent business flyer” who routinely clocked 100,000 air miles per year or more from 1987 until 1994, I knew what I had to do and also understood that speed was of the absolute essence. I’ll soon find out if my rapid response merits external validation in the form of a reimbursement check…in the meantime, I’ve added to my stock of lessons learned and unplanned travel adventures. And boy, is it ever good to be home again, safe and sound!