Generally I don’t blog about my work trips, but because this one was a bit unique, and many people are trying to figure out how to work from the road, I thought I would share this one. Up to this point we have been within an hour and a half of an airport, not including smaller regional airports. Plus, I had the company car so if I needed to travel for work, I would drive to the airport, leave the car in parking, and pick it back up when I returned. We knew when we turned in the car this would get more complicated, but I spoke to my boss and since he was open to me renting a car in those situations it seemed like it would work out OK.
So, when the work trip came up while we were in the remote location of Lake Kabetogama I thought it would work out. I always judge how remote we are by the distance to the nearest McDonald’s because sadly, in my mind, that is a sign of “civilization.” In this case we are 30 minutes from the nearest McDonald’s and 2-1/2 hours from the closest large airport in Duluth, MN. There is a small airport 30 minutes away in International Falls, but only Delta flies into there and the minimally offered flights run around $1100. Yikes! Since Lee didn’t want to drive the 5 hours round trip to the airport, twice, I decided to rent a car one way to get there, and do it again to get back. The first problem was finding one. The only agency anywhere close was Avis and they were at the International Falls airport. Still, a 1-hour round trip is better than 5 hours round trip and I booked it. My company books all travel through AmEx though and Avis is not on the approved list so I had to make the arrangements myself. A one-way rental is pricey ($131 plus gas each way), but there really weren’t any other choices. I picked the car up Sunday and then drove the 2-1/2 hours Monday morning. The drive was very pleasant, two lane highway with minimal traffic and I found a delightful local talk radio station to listen to along the way. The whole program sounded like an over the fence backyard conversation and I enjoyed it immensely as local radio is a great way to get to know the people in a place.
When I reached the airport I was surprised by how small it was. It only had four gates, and was shared by two airlines; United and Delta. Unfortunately, it only had one little snack bar/restaurant in it though, and they were packed. One of the planes got pulled for mechanical issues and one of the downsides to flying out of a small airport became apparent. There are no other planes to catch if something happens to yours. So it’s wait until the next one comes in or come back the next day. Luckily mine was OK and I made it to O’Hare with minimal issues. Normally I carry on my luggage but I was headed to Louisville (Howard and Linda’s hometown) and she had jokingly talked about these nuts she loved that were only in a store in Louisville. Since I was going to be 15 minutes from GFS (a restaurant supplier that regular people can also shop at) I was happy to go. Well, I was glad I did because the store was very cool, and if I would have left it at the nuts I would have been fine, but they had some other stuff I couldn’t pass up including a 10# bag of restaurant rice for $4.99 that I just had to have. That damn bag of rice led to a serious of unfortunate events as they say, but here I am jumping ahead again, so let me walk through the week.
I was in Louisville to attend a 2-1/2 day meeting but I had two full travel days on either end. Unless you’re going to a hub city like Atlanta or Charlotte, flying out of small airports practically guarantees a full day of travel. But that’s OK, I generally don’t mind and if you take an early flight you have some time the first evening to see the city or whatever. When I was on my way it occurred to me that I should take advantage of civilization and try to get some errands done. First, they have Super Cuts which is my haircut place of choice when I can find them, and I decided to get my hair cut and the highlights in my hair redone. I carry a color card from my Super Cuts back in Keene so it’s easy to use them when I want the stripe in the front of my hair done. I made the appointment online Tuesday and after the meeting headed over. Unfortunately the entire ATT network was down for data for several hours that day. Not sure if you heard about that but it was down for several hours in Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. So I had to go old school and use Map Quest and print out directions. Our company doesn’t get GPS in the rental cars so I am used to using my phone, but no phone and wow gotta say are we all in trouble if these data systems ever go down for long periods of time. I followed the directions and about two minutes from the destination got stuck waiting for a train at a crossing. Not any old train, but the longest one I have ever seen, and it was stopped on the tracks for a while. I couldn’t go around because I had no idea where I was or how to get there so I sat in that line for 30 minutes (not an exaggeration ) until the train finally moved off the tracks. Once I moved over the tracks I could not find Super Cuts anywhere. Finally I stopped in an auto parts store (I am not too proud to ask for directions) and saw that I had put in Old LaGrange Rd instead of LaGrange Rd and the Super Cuts was across the street and I would not have had to wait. ARRRGGGGG. No way! Thankfully I had used their online check in system (which I am a big fan of) and even though I was a half hour late they brought me right to the front of the line. On the way back, same problem, the freeway was closed down to one lane and again could not reroute myself. I ended up getting back to the hotel at 8pm but on the plus side a major check mark against the task list.
I also made an appointment at Aspen Dental. As I have talked about before, getting dental care on the road has been a major issue for us, and while in Florida I tried out Aspen Dental since they have a network of over 400 locations and I don’t have to go through the new patient rigmarole every time since they can look my records up on their system. On the plus side, at Aspen Dental the care itself is fine and no new patient nonsense, on the downside they do the full court press on services and you really have to be able to say no to go into one of them. Not everyone can say no to a medical professional, but having grown up with medical people I certainly can. So when I walked into their office Thursday evening for my appointment and was told, “We need $40 for a fluoride treatment today,” my response was “Excuse me?” She repeated the statement a little less certain and I said, “I just want a cleaning.” To her credit she let the issue drop. Let me be perfectly clear, if I needed work done I probably would not do it here, but they are fine for cleanings, just don’t be fooled into out-of-pocket up charges that are unnecessary. It’s turned into a decent option for me on the road though, but I still won’t send Lee there because he is one of those people who says yes to everything medical people say. I would rather in his case keep finding local dentists to send him to, but that’s stressful as well. Thankfully it’s only something that needs to be done every 6 months.
After the dentist appointment I stopped at GFS to get the nuts and really got excited about the other things they had. Suddenly I am thinking “How much can I fit in my bag?” and chose a 10# bag of rice (Lee loves rice), a big bag of powdered cheese, gravy, and fruit punch mix. I know, odd combination, but those were items we use commonly, and the prices were great. When I got back to the hotel room it took some careful packing but I got everything into the bag. It did feel heavier than usual, but I didn’t think too much of it. The next morning I was up at 4am and headed to the airport. I turned in the rental car and then checked in with my bag. When they weighed it, it was 13 pounds overweight…YIKES. So I moved to the side and started rearranging. Well, the rice and powders I bought were roughly 13#, so there you go. I could have thrown the rice away…thought of it, but I got stubborn.. and so the saga begins. OK, saga is a bit of an exaggeration but it definitely had a cascading effect. First, I ended up putting my work laptop in the checked bag, which I never do, because I didn’t want to carry all that through O’Hare. Second, when I went through security (not once but twice) the rice threw off all kinds of warning flags and I got pulled out of line for a second scan. When in O’Hare (my fault went outside to smoke) they actually did a full body pat down because it scored a warning. To be clear I don’t mind the security (I flew two weeks after 9/11 and never want to go through that again) and the TSA was extremely polite and professional. Still, I kept thinking “Is this damn bag of rice worth all of this?”.
I got on the plane to fly to Duluth and we made it all the way down the runway when we were forced to turn back for a mechanical issue. Thankfully they let us deplane (opportunity to go the bathroom, get a snack etc) and then finally decided to bring a new plane up. Again there are a limited number of flights so I was thinking I might be stuck overnight and the two-hour delay to change planes was better than the alternative. Actually, when we landed the airport was clouded in until 100 yards above the ground and the pilot said if we would have been on the original flight plan we might have had to reroute. So these things happen for a reason and as a seasoned traveler in general I try to be philosophical about them, but my forbearance was about to be tested in a big way.
Small airports have the huge advantage of being easy to pick up your luggage, so I was surprised when halfway through the luggage process the baggage carousel stopped working. It took at least 15 minutes for them to fix it, so I used the time to get my rental car back, and then I watched as person after person got their bag. Well guess whose bag didn’t come off?? Mine. And when I asked who to talk to this is when small airports are a major disadvantage. I stood in line for the one person at the counter and he said he couldn’t help me because he was a Delta employee not a United employee. He asked that I move aside and wait and I stood there for another 15 minutes watching him help other people. During this time a young woman in her 30’s came up and asked if she could book a flight to International Falls. Turns out Stephanie had booked a one way car from Alamo online but when she came to this airport they had no such reservation. Probably because they have no Alamo in International Falls. Avis wouldn’t help her because they said they had no cars and she talked to the cab driver who said it would cost $350 to take her there. She was bearing up well, but I recognized the look on her face because I was feeling the same way and I said, “I’m going to International Falls, why don’t you ride with me.” I meant it. The day was turning to complete crap, the airline was totally not helpful, so why not be people and just do the right thing. Plus it cost me nothing to have her come along and she looked like a normal person in trouble. She got an off look on her face though, don’t blame her it was a weird offer, and she went to talk to her boyfriend. Simultaneously I asked the young man at the counter if he was going to call someone or not, and he got on the walkie to get someone to come down and talk to me. So Stephanie comes back and asks very tentatively if she could send a picture of my driver’s license to her boyfriend (sure why not) and I am going through the painful process of having another kids take my baggage information which instilled absolutely zero confidence in me. Yes they would deliver the luggage 2-1/2 hours away but no he had no idea where it was.
Stephanie by this time (along with her boyfriend who was on the phone and rightfully concerned) had decided I was the best of their bad options so we walked across and got the rental car. Turns out Stephanie was a very nice person, mother of a 14-year-old and this was the first time she had ever flown alone. I appreciated the company because by this time I was very tired and having someone to talk to really helped me to focus on driving and not get super upset about the bag. We finally made it to the very small airport in International Falls and Mark her boyfriend tried to give me some money. I said, “Absolutely not” and told Stephanie that in some time in her life she would have a chance to pay it forward with someone else and to please just do that. Actually the whole experience really salvaged the day for me and I am grateful to her in a way for letting me do something nice for her. I gave her my card with blog info so Steph if you’re reading this it was a true pleasure meeting you and good luck getting through those teen years with your daughter lol. She sounds like a great kid though so hopefully you will have an easy time of it.
So it’s Saturday morning and they still haven’t found my bag but I am feeling better just writing this all down. Is travel from a small airport easy. No. Can it cause issues that wouldn’t happen necessarily in a larger airport, absolutely. Was the experience enough for us to restrict our travel to always be close to an airport…nope, but it was not a fun 14 hour travel day and I can absolutely see having similar issues in the future (the rice aside I am NEVER doing that again). It’s a price that, in my case, must be paid for the lifestyle and I am willing to pay it for the great views and isolated settings.
Update: I made a mistake on the July budget missing the $400 payment for our RV. This takes us to $3800 for the month which is still our lowest month but not the significant difference I thought it was. Very sorry for the mistake and I have updated that page for future reference. Thanks so much to Bill for pointing the mistake out to me. It was caused by rushing to get the post done prior to the work trip, but I will absolutely be more careful int the future.
Luggage Update: After 24 hours of watching the website and feeling like nothing was happening I sat on hold with the Indian call center until I got an actual person on the phone. I was polite but firm and finally the agent got Gail from O’Hare on the phone with me and she had actually opened my bag very recently trying to find a black bag for another person. Thank heavens!! She was wonderful and promised to put it on the noon flight to Duluth. So thanks Gail…I owe you!!
- When printing out directions from the web make sure you have the correct address
- Never ever check your laptop (or anything else you can’t lose) in your luggage
- Count on long travel days from small airports
- Count on fewer services in small airports
- One way rental cars are expensive; think about the cost in both dollars and time when you make that decision
- If you can help someone…do it. It really is a great feeling.
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