The Traveling Steve's

Labor Day Weekend in Mendoza: Escaping from Hurricane Dorian!

I’m a bit behind with my posting as we were in Virginia most of the summer, and just got back from Mendoza, Argentina. On the last post I started a post about my brother’s wedding weekend in Roanoke, which was over three weeks ago in mid August. Here’s photo of my sister Jenni, brother Andy, and myself (Steve UNO) after the wedding ceremony.

I’ll finish that wedding blog soon, after I catch up on our Labor Day weekend trip to Mendoza, which we just got back from yesterday.

I’ll start our Mendoza trip in reverse chronological order and say we are home safe and sound as of yesterday (Sept 5), and had no damage to the home or neighborhood. We were most fortunate the hurricane mostly bypassed Florida, unlike the devastation that took place in the Bahamas while we were gone. We did not board up our home this time like many of our neighbors did, (neighbors house shown below) as we didn’t have a lot of time to get ready to leave.

We did tie up the double-width front door with an extension cord and a category five cable though – like something the Clampets from the Beverly Hillbillies might do, and stacked cases of water behind the doors. In 2004 I was out of town when Hurricane Charley hit, and both front doors blew in from the wind and caused lots of water damage. Upon arriving home the cords were still wrapped around the handles, so that was a good sign! Even our Christmas lights (we leave up year-round, but only turn them on during December) were still hanging.

Double front doors secured by extension cords and category five cables!
Calm before Hurricane Dorian, the evening before we left for Mendoza. One last photo of the house, hoping it would still be intact when we returned!

A couple other things I learned from Hurricane Charley and the two other hurricanes we had in 2004 (Francis and Jean) was to always have cash available (in case of power outages and no credit cards taken), of course have plenty of water, batteries and non-perishable food, flashlights, radios, etc, as well as a FULL tank of gas for the car. Optionally and preferably a generator for the home too, but if not head to a neighbors house or a hotel. As we were leaving amidst the hurricane, I just needed cash and a fill-up of my car this time. Filling up the tank was easier said than done the day before we left, and I had to go to five gas stations before finding gas, and then waited in a long line to pump some. Even though we were leaving the country for a pre-arranged wine-touring vacation in Mendoza, we wanted to make sure we had fuel when we returned lest the power be out. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, but it was best being prepared.

Long lines for gas, but at least this Racetrack had gas left for sale.

After removing all of the patio furniture from the pool area, securing the door, turning off the water etc, we left for our yearly trip to Argentina on Friday August 30. When we left, Hurricane Dorian was a category 3 hurricane, and it’s official path was headed directly for the east coast of Florida, but covering most of the state in its path. As Miami would most certainly be hit a day or two before Orlando (and airlines would start canceling flights) we changed our first of three flights to go from Orlando to Dallas (DFW) instead of Miami. We would then fly out of DFW on the night flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL). Since the flight to DFW from Orlando (MCO) left at 3:15pm, and the night flight from DFW to SCL left around 8:30pm, we would still make our connecting flight to Mendoza the next day. Sounds like a plan. Unfortunately “Murphy’s Law” had other plans for us!

The Steve’s at the Admiral’s Club in Orlando.
American Airlines Admiral’s Club in Orlando

Steve (DOS) had checked the weather forecast the day before, and Dallas was calling for clear skies and no chance of rain. (I digress, but how much do these weather forecasters make? Perfect job, you can be right or wrong and still get paid! LOL!) As fate would have it, our flight to DFW was delayed due to weather in the Dallas area, instead of Miami where the hurricane was headed! At first the flight delay was only 1/2 an hour, so we were told to stay by the gate, with boarding around 4pm. This stretched out until 4:45pm, and finally we boarded. I took my narrow width but with more room exit row seat next to DOS, and we settled in for the flight, just glad to be getting out of Orlando in the midst of the hurricane.

Surprisingly an American agent came aboard and moved me up to First Class. I was number one on the upgrade list (we lost our original upgrades for the domestic portion of the flight to Miami when we changed flight to DFW). The flight showed full in First Class, so some one must not have shown up or changed their flight like we did. I felt guilty leaving DOS in coach, but he insisted and I took a window seat in First Class next to a friendly and jovial businessman, whom I chatted with over a pre-departure glass of vino.

Well fate strikes us once again, and shortly after the cabin door is shut and we pushed back, the Captain announces we have mechanical problems and have to return to the gate. Uh oh – this means we would probably miss our international connection, which sure enough we did. ARRGGH! I must say the American flight crew were outstanding, and they were obviously as frustrated as everyone else but remained very professional and kept us informed of the delay. At least the very nice First Class fight attendant continued to serve us wine while we were stuck on the plane. Although we could have gotten off the flight, the airlines were rapidly canceling flights (indeed the next one to DFW and Miami) were canceled, and the ground staff at MCO told us we probably would not get out in the morning due to the hurricane approaching Florida. So what do you do, tell stories and show travel photos with your seat mate over more vino. By the time we finally left for Dallas we had finished the whole bottle of vino!

Once airborne the flight time to DFW was only 2 1/2 hours, and we would have almost made our connection to SCL, except there was not a gate open for us to deplane! The Captain said it would be at least an hour before we could get off the plane, and it turned in to closer to an hour and a half while we sat at a remote section of the tarmac. No chance in Hates of making our connection to Santiago, Chile tonight.

Once we finally deplaned it was 10pm Dallas time (11pm back home in Orlando.) I know it was 10pm because DOS and I walked to the Flagship Admiral’s Club Lounge in terminal D and the lady that worked there was closing the door to the lounge at 10pm sharp. I was quite taken back by this as one that is a nice perk for international Business Class passengers, and two we needed assistance with our delayed international flights. She told us to take the tram to the terminal C Admiral’s Club instead (which is no where near as nice). So much for quality airline ground customer service. The regular customer service line in the terminal stretched way down the terminal concourse; easily a couple football fields worth of people with the same canceled flight’s situation as us. (It wasn’t just our flight, it was nearly every flight in the airport! This is why I was astounded American did not keep open the Flagship Lounge later to assist their International Business Class customers.) Here is a photo of some of the ‘regular’ (ie. non-premium) passengers waiting in the snail-paced customer service line at DFW.

Once at terminal C, the line in the not as nice ‘C’ Club Admiral’s Club had perhaps a couple dozen people in line, with initially two agents to assist, although later a frazzled supervisor helped out). Since each transaction took what seemed like 15 minutes or more, we were in for a long wait, and even still we were the lucky ones: we were passengers with Club access and Executive Platinum status vs the poor ‘regular’ flyers who were stuck in an infinite-appearing line in the terminal corridors we saw in Terminals D and C. We were in the club for an hour and a half (10:30pm until midnight) trying to get our tickets straightened out.

DOS dealt with the re-routing (he has more patience than I do) while I went in search of some food and drink, which astoundingly stopped at 10:30pm too! And almost comical, but just one more thing that could go wrong: ALL of the urinals in the Admiral’s Club C lounge were out of order!

While waiting in line for an agent to assist us, we booked a hotel for ourselves since American would not pay for anyones room. I know because I walked around people to hear what the agents were telling other passengers. (This was pretty incredible for us since our flight was further delayed by mechanical as well as the initial weather issues. I heard one agent tell a passenger “we go by whatever delay is longer, weather or mechanical to determine delayed compensation and weather was longer so you don’t get a hotel voucher” What a crock of BS! There were others in line in the Admiral’s Club on his flight that protested their mechanical delay as well and I thought there was going to be a mutiny in the lounge, but fortunately it calmed down.)

It was midnight by the time we finally got our boarding passes for our international flight to Santiago. Our originally scheduled flight was delayed 12 hours until the morning. This meant we would arrive in Santiago the next night, and also miss our connection to Mendoza, and thus have to stay another night in Santiago. The agent that reworked our ticket also did it incorrectly and we had major delays in both Santiago and also later in Mendoza. AAAARGGH!

Shortly after midnight, we left the airport terminal, and headed over to the hotel exhausted from the whole ordeal. Granted this started as a weather delay for DFW, but it was handled terribly for a major hub airport. DFW as well as MCO routinely have weather delays and this was handled like something you expect from a no-frills, non-hub airline in a third world country lacking the resources or care to assist. American was severely understaffed to handle this, and our flight changes were still done incorrectly after being delayed and waiting in line for hours. Plus we ended up having not one but two overnight stays due to this missed international flight! Not a good way to start a vacation!

We walked over to the Hyatt Regency DFW Airport, cutting thru a couple parking garages, and arriving twenty minutes or so after midnight. We were both starved from not having dinner (even in First Class the DFW flight did not serve dinner as it was supposed to leave at 3:15; only cheese and crackers). Unfortunately the hotel restaurant and lounge closed at midnight, and surprisingly the Hyatt did not offer 24 hour room service at this deluxe hotel located on the grounds of a major international airport. The Hyatt did have a small coffee shop of sort with snacks and some food, but it was so late and we had to head back to the airport at 6:15am for our 8am international flight, so we went to bed, exhausted from the day. Good news, is we made it out of Orlando before the hurricane, and it can (hopefully) only get better! Flight delays happen, but some are worse than others. This was definitely in the latter category. The ironic thing is if we had kept our originally scheduled flight thru Miami we would have made our flight connection to Santiago fine. Oh well, tomorrow’s another day. Good Night!

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