Tickets – the new restaurant from Albert and Ferran Adria in Barcelona that Ferran himself told me was even harder to get into than elBulli, was where we were supposed to have lunch on our first day having arrived in Barcelona. I was excited and felt really, really lucky, especially since that was the only possible time I could go with my wife and two of my children while in Barcelona – the restaurant would be closed after that service through Easter week. Alas, it was not to be that day.
Reminiscent of previous travel debacles suffered in India when I missed my flight home because of a poorly conceived connection plan, a canceled overnight train from Madrid to Paris and more recently a canceled train from Milan to Geneva that put my flight home the next day in jeopardy, I could not and did not make it to Barcelona in time for my reservation. The difference this time though was that I was not traveling solo – I had my wife and our eleven year old son with me as we were heading to Barcelona for a celebration of our 25th Wedding Anniversary. While the company was great, the additional responsibility just added to the stress and disappointment.
I had been planning this trip for several months and had arranged for some special dining experiences along with a nice apartment rental on the Passeig de Gracia just off La Gran Via right in the heart of Barcelona. To help keep costs down, I utilized American Express points to book Business Class travel on Iberia for my wife, son and myself, flying from JFK to Barcelona with a connection in Madrid. Little did I realize how much this would come back to haunt us later.
The drive from our home to JFK takes roughly four hours. We made it there in good time to check in for our scheduled 6PM flight, but not with a lot of additional time to spare. As we were checking in, the attendant informed us that since our scheduled flight was going to be late, we would miss our connection in Madrid. They were changing our flight plan to American Airlines. This flight would be direct to Barcelona, however, there was a catch – the flight was scheduled to leave forty minutes before ours and we would have to go check in at American in a different terminal. At the time this was first put to us, they assured us it would be doable, though I had my doubts. By the time the attendant was able to actually change the tickets (it took a lot longer because we had used “points”) about 30-40 minutes later, I was really concerned, but somewhat relieved to discover that that flight was now running late too. We made it from Terminal 7 to Terminal 8 as fast as we could, running up to the American Business Class check-in.
We were too late. Since we had one bag to check between us, we had to be at check-in no later than one hour before the scheduled departure. We were now somewhat in limbo, though American did manage to find room for us on their later direct flight scheduled to depart at 8:45PM. I was actually relieved, as this flight would arrive around the same time we were supposed to arrive at BCN in the first place. Besides, now we had time to go to the Admiral’s Club and watch the rest of the Barcelona-Madrid soccer match.
Happy with a 1-1 tie, we relaxed and read, waiting for our flight. I was at first a little disappointed to discover that our flight’s departure time would be 30 minutes late, butI was still ok, especially on hearing of other flights, including international flights, getting cancelled. A short while later, I enquired at the desk as to when we might expect to start boarding, only to discover that our plane was not actually at JFK. It was inbound from somewhere and now wouldn’t arrive until 8:30PM and that our flight would not leave until about 10:15PM. Starting to become more concerned, I left to write some emails to people who would be awaiting us in Barcelona including the manager of the apartment where we would be staying, and our son, Andrew. Around 9PM I went back to the desk to check if our plane had arrived. On the way there, I notice that the flight to Barcelona was no longer listed on the Departures Board. In n the meantime, both earlier flights we might have been on had left.
Dismayed, I hightailed it to the desk to confirm this and start to make alternate plans. As I feared, the cancellation was indeed confirmed, but I was told that my wife and I had automatically been re-booked for the same flight the following night. I asked, what about our son, Michael? Oops! For some inexplicable reason, he hadn’t been re-booked and by this time there wasn’t any more room on that flight! I asked, then how about another flight? By this time other passengers headed for Barcelona had also shown up at the desk with their own tales of woe including no longer being able to arrive in time to begin their cruise itineraries. After a quick check, the attendant said that since we had been transferred over from Iberia, we would have to have them do any additional changes. There was nothing she could do for us! Leaving us high and dry at 10PM on a miserable rainy and windy Saturday night, I was in shock!
We had to go collect our baggage and figure out what to do for the night as well as how to get to Barcelona in as timely a way as possible. Tickets, was, alas, now a foregone conclusion. We would also miss a day at the beach at Sitges that we had planned to visit with some Catalan friends. My dreams of getting re-introduced to the best roast chicken of my memory, the pollo a l’ast that we had eaten years before from a simple seaside rotisserie had disappeared just as our flight had. Still, now I was concerned that our whole trip might be in jeopardy.
I tried calling Iberia reservations as soon as we were dumped by the unhelpful American Airlines attendant, but remained on hold, waiting for the next available representative. While my wife waited for our luggage, I high-tailed it back to Terminal 7 to see if anyone would still be at the Iberia counter. The place was deserted. I was still waiting on the phone and managed to meet up with my wife and son. She had contacted my sister in Ft. Lee, N.J., so we at least now had a place to stay, but for how long? As we got into a taxi, someone from Iberia (about 45 minutes after I had initiated the call) finally picked up. Just as it seemed we were starting to make progress on a solution, the call got dropped (thanks, AT&T)! I called back immediately and somehow after a much shorter wait I got reconnected to the same person. As we arrived at my sister’s building and began to unload from the car, the Iberia rep put me on hold to check on one last thing. Now out of the cab and standing in front of the building, being buffeted by heavy winds, she came back on line and started speaking. I started answering, but though I could hear her plainly, she couldn’t hear me! I had given her my phone number for just such a possibility, and reluctantly hung up. Not receiving a return call by the time we got up to my sister’s apartment (now around 11:30PM), I tried calling back, but this time got a different attendant, who said that he couldn’t help me, because we had used points. Since he could only help those who buy their tickets with money, he could be of no assistance. He said that we would have to call Iberia Plus in Spain to get help, but that we really should have American Airlines rebook us, since we were last booked with them. Now totally about to lose it from getting the royal run around – it seemed that no one was willing to take charge and help us and with so many cancellations from the evening the possibilities for re-booking were dwindling. The really irritating thing was that the first attendant on the phone from Iberia appeared poised to put us all on a 9PM flight the next evening. I tried calling Iberia again and managed to get her again, but this time her tune had changed to the same one sung by the attendant who told us to call Iberia Plus. Since we had paid with “points” she couldn’t re-book us.
I did call Iberia Plus in Madrid and tried to work with them, but there was no one there at that time who spoke English. My wife and I both speak Spanish passably well, but in this instance, both being exhausted, angry and desperate, we could not communicate effectively enough for such an important situation. We wanted to make sure that we and they understood everything.
I had arisen that morning at 3:30AM after a few hours sleep to try to acclimate to Spanish time so that I could sleep on our scheduled 6PM flight. We would have to wait until at least 2AM to call Iberia Plus back to find someone who spoke English. In the meantime, we tried again with American. Once again, the attendant couldn’t actually do anything for us over the phone, but she was as helpful as she could be. She suggested that since our original tickets were with Iberia, they could possibly do something over the phone. Another possibility, she said would be to go to the American counter at the airport, where they could possibly do something for us. The counter at JFK would open at 3:30AM.
We called Iberia Plus back at 2AM and finally found someone willing and able to help us. She booked us on Iberia’s 9PM flight from JFK to Barcelona via Madrid and told us that we would get email confirmations shortly. Thankful and relieved, we hung up the phone and waited for the emails….and waited….and waited until finally, one came through for my ticket. We waited a bit longer until finally one came through with my wife’s name. We called back…”It would be coming soon.” We waited some more and called back again with the same response. We finally decided to give it some time and get some sleep. At 6AM there was another email…also with my wife’s name! We called back once again. This time, I received the email with my son’s confirmation immediately. Relief! We were now booked for the 9PM flight scheduled to arrive in Barcelona at around 1PM the next day. The day was sunny. We kept our fingers crossed…