Monday, September 12, 2011

Kilimanjaro - Day 1

The first day was to be entirely a travel day.  Getting to our final destination would take us close to 20 hours, so it was going to be a nice and relaxing day of flying.  It started off as such - I got to LaGuardia airport without any problems, boarded my plane and left the gate five minutes ahead of our scheduled time of 9 am.  I was supposed to get to DC at 10:28 to catch my flight to Africa at 11:45am (not a lot of time but seemed like enough).  East-coast weather had different ideas, however:

Not even five minutes after we left the gate we got some bad news - due to weather conditions between NYC and DC all flights in that corridor were grounded for an unspecified amount of time.  So we kept waiting; and waiting; and waiting.  After about an hour of waiting we were no closer to departing and I started to get really worried.  Another 45 minutes passed by and without warning we taxied onto the runway and took off (the time was now 10:45 am - Nigel, who was already in DC, has just informed me that our Ethiopian Airlines flight just started boarding).  The flight to DC took just about an hour and at about 11:40am we arrived at the Dulles airport.  I was a little relieved to see the Ethiopian plane still at its designated gate and had a glimmer of hope that I might still catch it.  Before we even arrived at our gate, however, all that hope had all but disappeared



It's not obvious from this picture (iPhone cameras are not all that great) but if you look closely at the small-looking plane (in reality it wasn't all that small) it's an Ethiopian Airlines flight 501 leaving its gate.  In case you didn't catch this - I am not on that flight (Nigel is though!).  A little panic set in, but I figured the worst that can happen is I talk to Ethiopian Airlines reps and get myself onto a flight the next day (there's only a single flight leaving every day on that airline).
There was one small problem with my plan - Ethiopian doesn't exactly have a large presence at Dulles.  In fact, I could not find a single representative to talk to in person.  Desperate I called the 800 number to try to change my flight.  Got to talk to someone pretty quickly and they told me to get some kind of a voucher from United Airlines (my first flight) that states that the reason for my delay was weather related.  That way they could rebook my flight for the next day without any extra cost to me.  I got the voucher without any problems and called Ethiopian again.  Apparently that wasn't enough; they kept asking me to tell United to do this and that in their system.  I had no idea what they were asking, but thankfully a very helpful agent from United was willing to talk to Ethiopian rep on the phone to straighten everything out.  The problem was that she also had no idea what they were asking about.  So after an agonizing hour and a half I was no closer to getting my flight rebooked.

Desperate I went over the the Ethiopian check in desk in hopes that there might be someone there.  The area looked as empty as ever except for a couple people who obviously didn't work for Ethiopian.  Thinking I got nothing to lose, I still ask them if they did (both of them were obviously working at the airport).  Neither of them worked for the airline but they told me that there are usually a couple people in the baggage claims area downstairs.  I went over there and found the Ethiopian office and to my relief there were some people inside.  Unfortunately they could not help me with getting my flight rebooked, but told me to come back at 8am the next morning and I would have no problem getting on the 11:45am flight that day.  It didn't really make me feel much better as I still didn't have a sure flight, but this was the best I could accomplish for the day.  I double check the status of my luggage (to make sure it was all safe at the airport) and I decided to call it a day.

Since it was rather early in the afternoon I needed a place to stay near the airport.  Thankfully with Jenn's recent travels she was kind enough to book me a room at a hotel nearby with the loyalty points she racked up (thanks Jenn!!!!).  I went over to the hotel and mentally exhausted took a nice, long nap.

In the evening I sent a quick email to Nigel (who was in the middle of his transatlantic flight) and our Guide to update them on my situation.  The idea was to get on the flight the next day and get to Africa 24 hours later than originally scheduled.  Hopefully without any more surprises.

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