Saturday, August 27, 2016

A challenging round-trip to Orange County, California

Our eldest daughter's wedding was to be celebrated on Friday July 22, 2016, in Mission Viejo, California, where the parents of her fiance's live.  So on Wednesday, 20 July, we got up early for our trip to Southern California as we had to board our cats at the veterinarian.  We had no time for breakfast. We live about one hour + away from the airport and usually park our vehicle in an offsite parking, close to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport.  Unfortunately, after we parked, we had to wait a good 20 minutes, in full sun in the parking lot as the shuttle van had a flat tire.  I thought that this would be our only minor problem, optimist that I am  ...  We did make it to the airport, checked our suitcases, went through Security and arrived at the gate.  I always take a picture of our checked luggage, in case of them being lost or misplaced.

We had booked our flights on Southwest Airlines from Atlanta to John Wayne Airport, in Santa Ana, Orange County, California (SNA,) which is the closest airport to Mission Viejo.  We boarded the aircraft at about 2:00 pm for our 2:40 pm departure.  Then we waited, and waited.  The pilot told us that there had been a computer malfunction but we would soon leave.  We left Atlanta at 6:00 pm, sitting in the aircraft with our seat belts on all those 4 hours.  Our flight was not a direct flight, as we had to change in Phoenix, Arizona.  By the time we left Atlanta, I knew we would miss our connection in Phoenix.  I had a window seat and enjoyed the view to Arizona, though.  Below are some pictures I took from Atlanta to Phoenix.  The flying distance between the two cities is 1586 miles (2,552 km.)  (Click on photos to enlarge.)


The top left photo in the collage above is an air-view of Atlanta and the bottom photo on the right is arriving in Phoenix; Atlanta is much greener (one of the cities in the US with the most trees.)  As shown in the aerial views below of Phoenix and suburbs the developers have built communities of homogeneous houses, very close together.  The Millennial and Boomer generations are thought to wish to live in compact developments with easy access to shopping, but in and around Phoenix it looks like builders are still creating suburban sprawl - buying empty lots, further out, and quickly covering them with houses that look alike.

We arrived in Phoenix at about 6:16 pm Arizona time (3 hours time difference with Atlanta.)

Our connecting flight had been cancelled.  Another flight for Santa Ana (SNA) was to depart around 7:30 pm.  We boarded it at 7:00 pm and waited, and waited.  We were told then that Southwest's technical outage was statewide and most flights had been delayed or cancelled.  At 9:30 pm, still in the aircraft, we were asked to get off the plane as it was not going to fly to SNA and to re-book another flight.  There were hundreds of people waiting in line to re-book flights, it was surreal.  We went out of the area, back to Phoenix departure counters to get a faster reservation on another flight.  The only flight going to SNA was to leave the next evening, Thursday at 6:30 pm.  We could not accept this because if this flight were to be cancelled then we would miss the Friday wedding.  We requested to be placed on any aircraft going closer to California.  The only flight available was one going to Las Vegas, Nevada, around 10:00 pm - we agreed to take it.  We went back through Security and to the gate, and waited.  Since Tuesday night we had only eaten the little crackers and peanuts given to us on the one flight but were afraid to leave the gate.  We watched the almost empty tarmac and the sun going down.

We boarded the aircraft at about 10:30 pm and waited.  Fortunately, we only waited in the aircraft for one and half hour.  We departed Phoenix around midnight and arrived in Las Vegas around 1:00 am or so.  There, we were told that the next flight to SNA would be in the morning, at about 6:30 am.  We sat at the gate and waited, still with no food because nothing close by was open then.  The distance between Las Vegas airport and the SNA, John Wayne airport is 228 miles (367 km) and takes about one hour.  Luckily we did walk to the water fountain at about 6:00 am and noticed that our flight gate had been changed - no one had told us.  Below is a Southwest map showing our flights.

At 7:00 am our flight took off from Las Vegas and we finally arrived at the John Wayne Airport at about 8:00 am.  By then I had been on this trip for almost 30 hours (with no sleep or food) since getting up early on Wednesday (a much longer trip than flying to Paris!)  It turned out that because of a faulty router in their computer system Southwest cancelled 2,300 flights and delayed many more.  That is more than Delta's system outage two weeks ago when 300 flights were cancelled.  At least I saw the sun come up over the Arizona Mountains.  When we reached California it was quite light.

As we watched the luggage carousel turn round and round, we saw no sight of our luggage.  We waited in a long line to find out where our suitcases were - no one knew.  They did tell us that we should get them within a couple of days ... A couple of days!!  The thought of my husband taking his daughter down the aisle with his old jeans and snickers sent tremors through my body - impossible!  Our daughter had planned this wedding for a year, with family wearing complimentary outfits of similar colors; she was to wear a beautiful long ivory gown.  She could not enjoy looking at her wedding pictures throughout her life, with her parents wearing jeans and snickers among the formal party, goodness no.  After we left all our information and picture of the suitcases we went to the car rental reservation where I had booked a Prius with a GPS.  That vehicle had been let go when we did not show up on Wednesday night.  We were given a Toyota Camry without a GPS, but an archaic manual GPS in a small bag.  It turned out that it was defective, which I did not know then... Totally exhausted and weak we boarded the car and drove toward the freeway to Mission Viejo (see map below) - supposed to be a 20 minutes trip at most ... It was close to 9:00 am then, Thursday morning.  Anyone would think we were finished with our troubles then ... Not!

Our daughter had given me some directions to Mission Viejo a month earlier, but I had not paid much attention as I knew we would have a GPS - I had no map, either.  She had advised me not to take one of the toll freeways as one cannot pay for the toll with cash, it has to be done online, and it is not that easy.  Of course our on-again, off-again manual GPS would only direct me to toll roads, then would go blank.  So I would turn right or left to avoid them.  We did that for quite a while.  I did not see many signs.  By 11:30 am (we had left the airport at 9:00 am) completely disoriented, close to tears, I had to admit that we were lost, really lost.  We had kept driving higher and higher in the hills; there were hardly any houses left and we finally had to stop, because the road itself had stopped - there was just a walking path ahead.  I reluctantly decided to call our daughter - I knew she must be so busy because of the rehearsal dinner later on that day.  She told me to stop at a fast food restaurant or a gas station and ask for directions.  A fast food restaurant?  A gas station?  There was nothing around us but rocks and grass - maybe just a small sign on the left.  She asked me to see what the sign said.  I got out of the car and walked to it.  I did a double take and took its picture.  The sign looked like it had been eaten, and it said : "Warning Mountain Lion Country  A Risk ..."

I told her not to worry; we would turn back and stop when we'd reach some houses with people.  There were many new developments in the hills but they were not finished, with no one around.  Finally we saw a sign for "Model Homes."  I thought there could be a staff selling them.  We turned around several empty streets and finally saw a building with some cars parked.  We stopped and I could hear voices in the background.  I came close to the gate and said "anyone here?" a man came forward.  Later on I found out he was from Vietnam and his friends from Laos and Thailand (I had visited these last two countries years ago.)  We were at a community center.  First I asked him to tell our location to my daughter, on the telephone.  He did.  He told us it would take a good 45 minutes for someone to get us and invited us inside to wait.  It was a lovely place with large swimming pools and a profusion of flowers.  He gave us some cool water bottles - which we gladly accepted as the temperature was close to 100 F (almost 38 C.)  It was lovely to be resting for a while in a beautiful place after that trip.  I'll show on the Orange County map below where I think we drove - but I am not sure ...

Our son-in-law, our youngest daughter's husband, came to get us and we followed him back to the hotel in Mission Viejo.  We were able to go to bed for a couple of hours before the rehearsal dinner, which was to be at 5:00 pm (when we finally ate something, but were still in our traveling clothes).  This was the first time we had gone to sleep since Tuesday night and it was 4:00 pm Georgia time (1:00 pm CA time) on Thursday afternoon by then.  Our nephew drove us back to SNA airport after the rehearsal dinner as we never could reach the luggage counter by phone.  Once there and after waiting we found out that the luggage had just been delivered to the hotel.  At least we had our clothes and were very thankful.  The wedding on Friday was very nice and I'll have a post on it when I get more picture.

The week after the wedding we stayed in the area, by the sea, for several days.  I'll have posts about this stay later on (another challenging stay...).  Then we flew back to Atlanta.  I was hoping this trip back would be much better (being optimistic again...).  The flight from John Wayne Airport to Phoenix was on time.  But, unfortunately, the connecting flight to Atlanta was delayed.  I looked out of the window from the plane until there was no more light.

We arrived at the Atlanta Airport at 1:15 am.  The little train carrying passengers to the luggage area stops at 1:00 am.  We were told that we were welcome to walk the 1 1/2 mile in the tunnel to Baggage Claim.  There were many children, infants and persons like me who have problems walking (me, because of my knees) and many carry-on luggage.  Finally, since we were still over a hundred passengers, a special train was sent for us at about 2:00 am.  We piled in the two cars like a box of tight sardines.  Our luggage was there on the carousel at the Baggage Claim.  Then we caught a shuttle back to our offsite parking.  We finally were at home at 4:00 am - it could have been worse!  This is why I call this round-trip a challenging one - it is a trip to remember, or maybe to forget ...


-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Addendum -  Monday August 29, 2016 - As I pointed above, I tried not to enter any Orange County Toll Road while driving from the Santa Ana Airport to where ever in the mountains on my way to Mission Viejo, but I must have.  It was a challenge avoiding these toll roads and I, somehow, must have entered one for a moment, and did not realize it.  Just now the mailman delivered a letter from Irvine, California, from the Violation Enforcement of "The Toll Roads."  They are advising me that on July 21, 2016, at 9:47 am I entered a Toll Road without paying the toll.  The notice says "The Toll Roads are collected electronically from a pre-established FastTrak© or ExpressAccount© online via our One-TimeToll© payment."  This was something I was not aware of, apart from my daughter telling me it was a hassle.  So, California tourists to Orange County beware of this.  Oh, the penalty - it is $101.96 (or 88.29 Euros, or 129.56 Canadian Dollars, or 130.68 Australian Dollars or 75.26 British Pounds.)  



34 comments:

Frances said...

Vagabonde, just reading this post has exhausted me! What a truly terrible accumulation of traveling mishaps. Even if every part of your travels to California had gone as planned, it would have been a tiring journey.

I will say no more here, except to send lots of love to you and Jim, and best wishes to the newlyweds. xo

GaynorB said...

Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong on one round trip.
No wonder you were worried and exhausted. Hope you've recovered from your ordeal.
I'm so pleased that your luggage turned up in time for the wedding.
Congratulations to the happy couple, and I look forward to hearing more aboutv the wedding day.

bayou said...

Hello Vagabonde,
when i look at the map and all the hours it took you, you would have been better off with your car and at least could have travelled at your leasure and stop on road cafés. How utterly horrible and from what I hear, it was not over then. And your poor husband in all that. The one lucky thing was your luggage arriving in time. And what a joy to have your eldest married now, as well. Wishing her lots of happiness!
Hope you have recovered by now but I can only imagine how stressful it all was. P.S. I remember the electric trains at Atlanta airport and wonder that there is no service after 1h? They were not manned when I took one and I still 'feel' this horrible computer voice announcing the gates at the stops. *shudder*

ELFI said...

quelle horreur!!!!! et ces nombreux avions...
un voyage de pionnier... :))) à faire peur!

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

What a nightmare! I hope all went right at the wedding and you stuffed yourself with good food.

Jono said...

Glad you made it, but in retrospect it would have been simpler to drive. That's not often the case, but what a nuisance flying was for you.

Linda said...

Your photos are beautiful and so is your luggage! So sorry to know what you went through, though.

David said...

Vagabonde, Air travel isn't what it used to be, that's for sure! Computers are valuable tool but sometimes they are actually a curse! Terrible experience for you both... My worst flight adventure was from Chicago O'Hare to Dallas via Houston (to save money for my company) Late planes, equipment problems and various delays resulted in a 17 hour trip. My luggage was temporarily lost too...but at least I was able to grab a couple of meals. You misadventure makes mine look like a walk in the park! The GPS problem just aggravated your trip to the extreme... Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Al said...

What a nightmare of a trip. But congratulations on the wedding!

DJan said...

This is all a good reason why I no longer wish to travel by air. But you had the worst trip of any I've heard of in many years. My heart goes out to you and your husband for all you endured. Sending you many blessings and boy am I glad that is behind you! :-)

Jojo said...

The wedding may be memorable but the trip to the wedding will be unforgettable!!! I'm so glad that you hat time to stay a few days and rest up before heading home!

rhymeswithplague said...

Sacre bleu! or Mon Dieu! or whatever is appropriate here (I don't know curse words in French). I'm so sorry to hear of this Trip From Hell that you and your husband had to endure! As always, though, you have written a most interesting post, and I'm looking forward to hearing the rest of the story! You had me on the edge of my seat, especially the part about the mountain lions!

Mary said...

How about "merde"! OMG I can't believe you two dears survived all that. The airlines are just getting worse by the day - especially the US ones! Nothing is on time anymore, or even worse the flights are canceled. The only solution seems to be people need to discontinue flying within this country.

I'm so glad you survived such a rough trip and that you made it to the wedding.

Hugs - Mary

Reader Wil said...

What a good idea to take photos of your luggage. I had once to wait 36 hours in Hong Kong and when I arrived in Amsterdam we couldn't find the luggage.
Merci de votre commentaire. C'est une bonne idée de prendre les photos de votre bagage.Bonne semaine!

Pat said...

You are incredible Vagabonde! For both of you to go so long without food and all the trauma to deal with is beyond my comprehension. What is your secret? I am full of admiration. I would have had about six hissy fits and probably given up.

Things and Thoughts said...

C'est vraiment incroyable de subir toutes ces peripeties seulement pour avoir voulu voyager en avion.Tant de mesaventures en vue d'un evenement si heureux!De toute facon, felicitations aux jeunes maries!
Jolis et interessants collages
Olympia

rosaria williams said...

Unbelievable! I'm in awe at your stamina, dear Vagabonde, to live through this awful ordeal. Glad you made to the rehearsal and wedding. Looking forward to pictures, just knowing the human cost of your presence.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Oh my Lord what an ordeal-- I read about the computer glitch with SW of course and we said how awful that would be, but to read your account of it really makes it real. I'm just so glad you got your clothes on time and that the wedding itself went well. But I think that all that time without sleep and eating right would have killed us. (Not to mention the fear of being in a strange place with no GPS ).

We'll be flying in December to Florida and I hope we don't have any problems - but we won't be under a deadline like you were, so even if we do, it will be just us.

Denise Covey said...

Vagabonde, I got heart palpitations reading your journey. I've just attended a writer's retreat run by an American and she told us that flying around the US could be a nightmare. And losing your luggage! I don't travel with checked luggage anymore. I've learned to pack light. But needing clothes for a wedding is different! And I'll no longer feel so bad about Aussie tolls...we tag our cars and are automatically charged. If not, you get sent a bill which is the cost of the toll and a few dollars, no biggie. I avoid them when I can!

Thanks for the awesome pictures. Very exotic to someone who hasn't visited the US.

Denise :-)

Molly Bon said...


With so many glitches in your travels it's amazing you ever reached your destination! Your jeans and sneakers and tales of woe probably made for interesting conversations at the rehersal dinner. But troubles aside, isn't it inspiring to watch the vastness and beauty of the US from a window seat on a trip like yours?

Jeanie said...

Oh no, this sounds just terrible. It certainly brings to mind the point that even for great distances it is sometimes easier to drive (Rick had a somewhat similar delay experience where it took him 24 hours to get to St. Louis when he could drive in eight!) Well, I'm glad your clothes arrived in time for the wedding -- that's a relief. But you must have been frayed and exhausted. Oh, my dear. I'm so very sorry. Aren't you glad to finally be home!

Nadezda said...

This trip is a horror, Vagabonde. I can imagine how it was hard to you and Jim to sit in a plane for hours, to stand in line for re-booking and to sit up all the night waiting for departure on the morning flight.
And to be lost in the hills in California. Thank God, all this had finished and you're at home!

Magic Love Crow said...

I am so sorry about everything you went through! I am thankful, you met a nice person, who let you into his home, while you waited for your son in law! I truly loved all the pictures! I still can't believe what you and your hubby went through! I probably would have gave up! LOL! Big Hugs!

dritanje said...

Unbelievable trip! You poor things. But I'm glad you let us know. Worst of all is the fine for the toll road. How is one supposed to pay in advance if you don't know where you're going? I have to go to Oklahoma next month for my son's wedding, I'm hoping it will be easier than this trip, and it probably will, as I'm flying from the UK, only 2 flights, hopefully.

Vicki Lane said...

What a nightmare! But you got some beautiful pictures. I love looking out the plane window and always try to get a window seat.

May your next trip be smooth and without hassles.

Pixel Peeper said...

Wow - what a nightmare! I'm pretty sure if all this had happened to me, I would have lost it. This is just too much for any one person to endure!

I hope the wedding was nice and made up for some of all your misfortunes.

Down by the sea said...

Your trip sounds a complete nightmare it seems everything that could go wrong did! I'm glad the suitcases turned up before the Wedding. it sounds as if you need a holiday to recover from the experience. Sarah x

Linda P said...

So sorry to hear about your ordeal, Vagabonde. How you managed to keep going amazes me. I've had many a misadventure when travelling to Italy and back to the UK either by plane, van or car, but nothing quite like your recent attempt to get to the wedding. Your photos are beautiful and I'm sure once you arrived you had a wonderful time. I look forward to seeing your photos of the happy occasion.

Stewart M said...

Travel always finds ways to make things interesting! Hope your blood pressure is back in the normal range!

Cheers - Stewart M - Just back in Melbourne!

Magali@TheLittleWhiteHouse said...

Wow! It never rains, it pours, or so it seems... I'm so sorry the trip was such a nightmare, but at least the wedding was beautiful... And I love the pictures you took of the Arizona mountains!

BeachGypsy said...

Not right. Just not right. So sorry that you had to go through this and never even got an apology or any attempt to make it right. What a nightmare!! And you never should have to pay a toll for something you didn't on purpose do! Dang! I'm sorry for your bad, rotten experience. At least y'all got home safe and you were with your daughter on her big day. Thats the most important things but wow!!--the whole experience just makes me mad. Looking forward to seeing beautiful wedding pictures!

Ginnie said...

OMG, Vagabonde. I think this takes the cake on all travel horror stories related to airplanes...at least withing the USA. Thank goodness they gave you many vouchers for all your trouble (as noted in your next post). One wonders if it was worth it? Maybe now, in hindsight!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

A nightmare ! But , given that delays do happen , why don't airports at least have plentiful supplies of water and snacks for these occasions ?
And , in years to come it'll all become a part of your daughter's wedding story to be told to her grandchildren ...

joared said...

Am just catching up with your recent posts. Oh dear, I can relate to how exhausted you must have felt as circumstances a few years ago had me traveling from Hawaii, being stuck first in the Kona airport and then LAX when a prearranged shuttle failed me -- was up over 24 hours and you were up much longer with more issues. Had we only had contact when you finally reached John Wayne Airport I could have driven there in very short order, picked you up and on to Mission Viejo all in only an hour or so at best with no toll roads. Am glad all finally worked out for you, but what a trial. Delighted the wedding went well.

Taking a picture of the luggage is an excellent idea and I wonder why it never occurred to me to do so. Thanks. I've only had lost luggage once, years ago -- my first flight ever with Southwest on a very short California flight to Monterey, CA and my luggage went to San Francisco -- received it the next morning. Wonderful Southwest rewarded you for your thoughtfulness to those who aided you and to make amends for the inconvenience.

I carry protein bars when I travel in case I'm stuck on the plane or stranded elsewhere. I had occasion to use them last year when a flight, then backup flight delayed repeatedly due to mechanical reasons. Yes, the terminal food sources had all closed -- not even a vending machine.

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