Travel Nightmare – Newark Edition

A few days ago I wrote about our experience flying with a 10 week old baby. All in all, the flying portion wasn’t too bad. In fact, it greatly exceeded our expectations. Unfortunately, the lead up to finally getting home was a travel nightmare. What was supposed to be a normal nonstop Southwest flight from Newark to Phoenix turned into a few extra days in New York with a bunch of drama in between.

Southwest Problems

Last Wednesday, we were scheduled for a 5:45pm departure on Southwest, the second of two direct flights that day. As the day progressed, we received a few flight delay emails from Southwest, but nothing out of the ordinary. After a hour or so drive, we were within 20 minutes of the airport when the fateful cancellation email came in. Well, these things happen, we just needed to make some adjustments.

After a brief hold, I got on the phone with Southwest. The best they could do was get us from Newark to Phoenix with a stop in Denver two days later. Furthermore, our flight wouldn’t arrive until late Friday. That was a non-starter since we needed to be in Sedona, AZ Friday night for a wedding. I asked Southwest for a refund and began researching better options. Of course a last minute booking would end up costing more than my original Southwest flight.

Southwest Airlines – Friendly reminder, their footprint is small in the NY area

New Flight – United Again

Eventually I was able to find a flight on Friday morning with United. This was the first direct flight I could find that had a row of seats available for all three of us. Like our inbound flight, I put us in Economy Plus. All in all, not too bad. We thought maybe we’d go back to Jersey and stay with family another night or two. I just needed to contact Hertz to extend our reservation…

Hertz – Pay Up

After getting through to Hertz, we kindly explained our situation and asked if we could extend our rental another few days. The agent responded that we could definitely extend the reservation, as long as we were willing to pay an additional $800 for the privilege! Well then, it was on to the airport for us since paying $800 for an additional 36 hours is way too much. To be fair, upon our arrival to the return facility, Hertz drove us to the terminal in our rental car. Apparently they do this for families with small children. That was very helpful.

Art & Lounge: Newark (Or Not)

At this point, our baby was still sleeping rather peacefully, so the situation was manageable. Since we have a Priority Pass membership, we decided to head over to Art & Lounge at Terminal B after returning the car. From there we figured we’d sit down comfortably and make arrangements for the next couple nights. Think again. The lounge was rolling out the “Closed to Priority Pass Members” sign as we arrived. Noticing that we had a baby, the employee decided to let us in. Unfortunately, it was of no use. There wasn’t a seat to be had in the entire place. Apparently La Compagnie offers admittance to Art & Lounge for their passengers. That plus Priority Pass members meant the lounge was more like a chicken coop and wasn’t going to be helpful.

Photo: Newark Airport – I’m sure this place was great 40 years ago

Instead of the overcrowded lounge, we headed for a uncrowded public space to setup my laptop and get to work on a plan. I’m really busy with my actual job right now, so I figured our best option was to just get to a good airport hotel and stay there for the next 36 hours. We just needed a nice clean place with easy airport access and a desk. After some quick searching, the situation was dire. Literally every decent airport hotel was booked. I’m talking Holiday Inn Express level and up. Right as this reality was starting to hit, the baby woke up and needed a diaper change (not the good kind).

Newark Problems Continued

All hell started to break loose as my wife was changing the diaper inside the bathrooms at Newark. It felt like I could hear the screaming from a mile away. Apparently the diaper change turned into an explosion, and Newark isn’t exactly known for state of the art family facilities, changing tables, etc… Needless to say the babies frustration was starting to be matched by my wife. It was time to pull a rabbit out the hat and try to turn our bad luck around.

A few months ago I acquired the Chase Hyatt credit card while the sign up bonus was two free nights at any Hyatt property. Hyatt/Chase have since changed the bonus to 40,000 points. To my very pleasant surprise, The Park Hyatt New York had availability for the next two nights! That’s a great use of free nights as the hotel typically costs ~ $700/night. Sure, we planned to use our Hyatt nights in another fashion, perhaps Europe next summer. But desperate times call for desperate measures. I had to stem this tide of bad luck. My wife was happy with the nice hotel I promised her and we could walk the baby around Central Park the next day. Now, we just needed to get to Manhattan and everything would be ok…

Our Lyft Adventure to NYC

After confirming our reservation with The Park Hyatt, I quickly summoned a Lyft to pick us up. Once we loaded up the SUV, we were on our way. To our pleasant surprise, the baby actually settled down and started to sleep a bit. That all ended when we hit a backup at the Lincoln Tunnel. She quickly woke up and started crying. Then screaming. Then screaming even louder. Of course we’re limited on what we can do in a car. We can’t walk her down the aisle, nurse her, pick her up, or anything else helpful. The screaming went on for about 20 minutes as we made our way through the tunnel and were within a mile of the hotel.

Lincoln Tunnel Photo Courtesy Cesar Centeno, Jr — Our ride wasn’t so smooth

Sensing the urgency of our plight, and possibly trying to get himself out of the situation a little faster, our driver rolled through a red light while making a right turn. It wasn’t a dangerous maneuver given the positioning of other traffic, but illegal nonetheless. I was pretty grateful he did it since it prevented us from waiting through another traffic light cycle. Well, until NYPD pulled us over anyway. Wonderful. “License and registration!” yelled the officer.

As the officer approached, I told my wife that we needed to roll down our windows too. I hoped the officer would see our situation and perhaps cut the driver some slack. After our driver explained that he was trying to help us out, the officer took a quick look through my window. “I see you’ve got a baby there. You’re in luck, you guys can get going.” Thank God.

Park Hyatt New York Arrival

About 5 minutes after being released by NYPD, we mercifully arrived at the Park Hyatt New York. We unloaded everything as quickly as possible and said our goodbyes to the Lyft driver. He earned a nice tip for his efforts and patience. With baby still screaming, we rushed to the front desk to secure a room as quickly as possible. The Hyatt staff was more than accommodating. Perhaps assessing the type of day we’ve had, they even upgraded us to a suite. The upgrade came despite the fact that we only maintain Discoverist status via the credit card. From what I understand, that type of upgrade is rather unusual. Maybe they just wanted the crying baby out of the nice lobby ASAP?

Park Hyatt New York Suite – A huge relief from our crazy day

What A Day

We finally got up to our well appointed room when I realized that I lost my sunglasses somewhere along the way. Also a monsoon with micro-burst was striking our house in Arizona. The storm was so strong that it caused our power to be out for two days, which ultimately spoiled all the food in our house. Oh, and I was sick with a cold during this whole episode. I suppose this type of experience might scare off many families from traveling again. Not me. After a few days home to decompress, I’m back to looking for deals and checking for award availability like always! Whether it’s good or bad, travel always seems to leave me with a story to tell.

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2 thoughts on “Travel Nightmare – Newark Edition

  1. Way to roll with it Ben! I admire your strength of character and problem solving ability. Great attitude toward the whole series of challenges! I feel ya!
    BTW, I couldn’t stand it any longer and got both the AmExBlueBizPlus and AmEXEveryDayPreferred. Coupled with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Freedom, I’m maxing my point haul!

    1. Thanks Donald! It was a true test, but in the end we had a funny story to tell! Good luck with the credit card rotation, I like it!

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