I spent the last week of March in Montana. It was my fist trip to that part of the country. Little did I know when I arrived to visit my friend George Constantin at his mountain cabin 10 miles from Canada the biggest adventure of the week would not begin until it was time for me to leave for home.
There is much I could write about my week with George. Our friendship dates back 40 years when he and his wife rented a pasture on six-acres we had near Gallatin, Tenn., for their horses. Our friendship continued when my wife and I moved to Ashland in 1979, and I continued to stay in contact with George when he and his wife divorced.
After talking for years about moving West after retiring, George pulled up roots a few years ago and moved to a remote cabin about 10 miles from Eureka, Mont., population 1,037.
That’s where I visited him. My wife and I traveled to the Columbus, Ohio, airport on March 23, where she took a flight to visit her mother in Lincoln, Neb., and I left on the first leg of a long flight to Kalispell, Mont., a community if 21,000 I had never even heard of it until I booked a flight to visit George. The trip to Kalispell was long, but uneventful.
The trip home on March 30 was far more eventful — and George and I have no one but ourselves to blame. Although we left the cabin at five minutes after 4 a.m. Saturday, we did not arrive at Glacier National Park International Airport until less than 30 minutes before my flight was to depart.
George assured me that would not be a problem since it was such a small airport. George was wrong. Alaska Airlines had already closed the flight with a young woman and me holding tickets for Seattle but unable to board the nearby plane. I have missed connections before, but it has always been the fault of a flight being delayed. When you miss the first flight you have no one but yourself to blame.
And if you miss a flight, I strongly recommend you do so at an airport larger than the one in Kalispell. The Alaska Airlines agent offered me seats on the exact same flights to Columbus for only $25. The only problem was the next flights would not depart until Tuesday morning.
George thought that was an offer I should take, but I had several reasons for declining it. One was I was expected back at work on Monday, not Wednesday. A second reason was I had booked the flight on Saturday to be home for Easter Sunday services at my church in Ashland.
Then there was the problem with my wife, who was flying home from Lincoln that Saturday and was to meet up with me at Columbus. Unfortunately, the keys to my car parked in long-term parking in Columbus were in my pocket. When my wife landed in Columbus, she would have no way of driving home without me.
Let’s make a deal
The Alaska Airlines people pressured me to make a decision. They said the offer would end when they closed the ticket counter in about 20 minutes. I declined the offer.
Since my flights from Seattle to Columbus were on United Airlines, I went to the United counter to secure tickets to get home before Tuesday night. It was not easy. The closest airport to Kalispell was in Missoula, Mont., 120 miles away, but the earliest I could get to Columbus by flying out of that airport was Monday afternoon.
To make a long story short, I rented a car and drove nearly 400 miles to Spokane, Wash., where I was booked on flights to Chicago and then to Columbus that were leaving early on Easter.
In another circumstance, the nearly seven-hour drive to Spokane would have been a pleasant one. The weather was sunny and reasonably warm. The route took me through the Rocky Mountains south on U.S. 93 to Missoula and then west on Interstate 90 took me through much of western Montana, across the Idaho panhandle and into eastern Washington. In addition to the necessary restroom breaks, I stopped several times just to gaze and take photographs of the awesome mountain scenery.
However, all that driving upset me in another way because every inch of it was in the wrong direction of where I needed to go to get home. But arriving in Spokane was not the end of my adventures.
Not wanting to repeat my experience of the day before, I arose early Sunday morning, drove to the airport less than two miles away, turned in my rental car and was at the United ticket counter almost two hours before the flight was to depart. That was when I learned the flight the United agent had booked me on from Spokane to Chicago did not fly on Sundays.
Not to worry, the ticket agent said. I could fly to Denver, wait about four hours and then catch a flight to Chicago in plenty of time to catch my flight to Columbus. I figured I could wait in the airport in Denver as well as I could wait in Chicago.
As I was waiting to board my flight from Denver to Chicago, the announcement was made the flight was overbooked and United would offer a $300 voucher, plus a guaranteed seat on a flight to Chicago leaving at 3 p.m., to anyone willing to give up a seat. That sounded like a good deal to me, so I told the ticket agent I would surrender my seat if they could guarantee I still would make my connection to Columbus in Chicago.
Instead, they offered me an even better deal. I could take a flight to Cleveland and then another flight to Columbus and arrive about an hour earlier than the flight to Columbus from Chicago. Anytime I can avoid Chicago I do, and this offer not only allowed me to avoid O’Hare, but it got me in Columbus earlier.
The only problem was the flight to Cleveland was leaving from Gate B96 in less than a half hour and I was at Gate B14. I don’t walk nearly as quickly as I once did, and I was not sure I could walk so far in such a short time. Not to worry, the United agent told me. They had already informed the ticket agent at Gate B96 I was on my way and they were holding my boarding pass for me.
I thought I would catch one of those shuttles to speed my trip to Gate B96, but apparently they don’t run on Easter. I’m not sure how far it was from B14 to B96, but I am fairly certain it was more than a mile and if it had not been for the rolling walkways, this old man would have never made it.
But I did make it in time only to learn I had been bamboozled by the folks back at B14. Yes, the agents at B14 had called and said I was on the way, said the agent at B96, but the flight to Cleveland was full and there was no seat for me. In addition, the flight from Cleveland to Columbus also was full.
What had I done? I had just traded guaranteed seats on flights to Chicago and to Columbus for seats to Cleveland and Columbus that not only were not guaranteed but were not available. It was Easter, but I felt like I was the victim of some kind of cruel April Fool’s prank a day early.
The agent at B96 said the earliest he could get me on a flight to Columbus was on a direct flight that was not leaving until midnight and would arrive in Columbus just before dawn on Monday. I asked about the 3 p.m. flight to Chicago that I had first been offered back at B14. It was a good thing I asked because I soon was booked on the same two flights I originally had been offered.
However, there was a downside. I had to go back to B36 to catch the 3 p.m. flight and, because there were no other seats available on the Chicago flight, United was forced to book me in a first-class seat. Thus, I was seated in the lap of luxury on the two-hour flight from Denver to Chicago and I was like a fish out of water.
I told the flight attendant I had always flown “back with the sardines” and I needed her help in turning on my overhead light so I could continue to read my book.
The rest of the flight home was as uneventful as the flight to Kalispell had been the previous week. I had no problems making my connection in Chicago and my wife and I finally met in Columbus just after 10 p.m. Sunday.
Thanks to missing the first leg of my flight in Kalispell, I was only about 30 hours later and the cost of renting a car, driving 400 miles, spending a night in a motel and buying five meals poorer.
Well, make that the cost of renting two cars. My wife rented a car Saturday to drive home and returned it to the airport on Sunday,
Let’s just say it was a learning experience. But I still have my $300 voucher good for my next United flight. That is if I take it within the next year.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at email@example.com or at (606) 326-2649.