I was invited to speak to the CFA Society of Bermuda. My wife and I decided to make a mini kids-free vacation out of it. We rented the kids out to the grandparents. On the way to Bermuda we were to stop by NYC for a few days. I had my days packed with meetings; my wife, who is a New Yorker, was to spend time with relatives during the day, and in the evening we would have dinner and go to the theater.
We flew in on Sunday, and were due to fly out to Bermuda from JFK Wednesday morning (my presentation in Bermuda was on Thursday evening). Tuesday, I was visiting with my friend Marshall at Citigroup in downtown Manhattan. At 3:40 I get a call from my travel agent that all JetBlue flights out of JFK to Bermuda on Wednesday are cancelled due to snow. My travel agent tells me there is a flight leaving JFK to Bermuda at 5:30 (in one hour forty minutes).
I call my wife Rita, who is midtown (48 & Lex), a few blocks from our hotel. I tell her, “I’ll pick you up in 20 minutes, pack up and be ready.” I hail a cab and run the situation down to the cabby. He says, if we go to midtown we are not going to make it to the airport. I call my wife and ask her to take her own cab to the airport.
At 5pm that day I was supposed to be on Fox Business with Cody Willard. I called Cody, explained the situation, and apologized for having to cancel. Cody, being a gentleman, wished me good luck. Lesson 1: Don’t cancel your appearance on Fox Business, even if you have to catch an earlier fight; it won’t lead to anything good (as you’ll see).
We are in separate taxis, heading to the airport, when Rita’s cell phone battery dies. I never get a chance to tell her that we are taking an American Airline flight from terminal 8. I am at JFK at 4:45pm, run to the American Airlines counter, explain the situation. I do the paperwork to buy tickets, but the tickets are on hold until Rita shows up (if she is late I don’t have to buy them). I am trying to reach her but her phone won’t answer. I am running to every cab, looking through the windows for her – she’s not there. I’ve been told 5:05 is the deadline. It’s 5:15, and the lady at the American Airline counter is giving me a look – your time is up, but I’ll wait. Lesson 2: Always be nice to the people at the airline counter.
I get a call from a phone number I don’t recognize. It’s Rita. She’s at Terminal 3, where she has borrowed a phone from a stranger. With the little information she had, she had to assume we were flying out on JetBlue. The American Airline woman sympathetically explains that Terminal 3 is at least 10 minutes away; Rita has to take the train to Terminal 8. The plane will not wait another 10 minutes for just two people. We did not make the Bermuda flight.
But my travel agent has a backup plan. There is a Delta flight leaving from Boston at 8:30 the next morning (on Wednesday). Boston is not expected to have bad weather, so it is the closest and safest bet. We take what is supposed to be a 9pm flight from NYC. The plane is delayed, and we board at 10pm. It starts snowing. Now we are in line to be de-iced. Then we are in line to take off. The 37-minute NYC-to-Boston flight takes a lot longer than that, and we check in to the Boston airport Hilton at 2am. I check, and our 8:30am flight to Bermuda is still on. We get barely 4 hours of sleep, show up at the airport, and find out that our Bermuda flight is cancelled – the tail of the storm that is hitting the Northeast is creating strong winds (that are only expected to intensify) way down in Bermuda, and the airport there is closed.
I call the organizer of the conference and we decide not to take a chance on tomorrow’s weather – we cancel the conference. Despite the calm weather in Boston, a lot of flights are cancelled due to plane shortages, and planes from NYC and DC never arrive, so it’s impossible to fly from Boston to Denver (normally a 4-hour hop). A very nice lady at the Delta counter finds me a flight from Boston to Denver. The only problem is, it’s Boston-Orlando, Orlando-Atlanta (we have a 3-hour layover there), Atlanta-Denver – a 12-hour commute. But the alternative is worse – being stuck 3 days in Boston. (Lesson 2 applies here.)
I call my friend Greg in Atlanta to see if he wants to do a spontaneous dinner at the airport. He says he’d love to. Of course, our plane is ten minutes late to Orlando, so we miss our flight to Atlanta – but we get standby and make it to a flight that leaves 40 minutes later. Our layover in Atlanta is shortened, but Greg picks us up from the airport, we go out for Sushi, great dinner, conversation – the first decent food we’ve had in 24 hours. Lesson 3: Have a lot of friends in different cities. The flight from Atlanta to Denver was uneventful.
This trip was very frustrating, but it is full of good lessons.
Lesson 4: Have a good travel agent. I am a fairly computer-savvy guy. I know how to use Orbitz, but I always use a travel agent – Alex Acherkan. And he is always there to protect my back. He brings very valuable experience that human-less (though, I am sure, extremely efficient) Orbitz doesn’t.
For instance, when I was buying the NYC-Bermuda flight at the counter in JFK, he warned me to make sure to tell them we needed a flight from JFK to Bermuda through Boston; otherwise they’d charge us $850 per ticket instead of $260. He was right. Ticketing should make sense, but it doesn’t. At the counter, the Delta person said, “Your ticket will be $850.” I relayed her what my agent told me, and magically the $850 turned into $260. If you travel a lot, and sometimes I do, having someone to rely on when things go wrong – and they often do – is very comforting. I know this: without Alex’s help we’d still be stuck somewhere. Now, at least, we are spending time with the kids. (Here is Alex’s contact info: (303) 910-5299.)
Lesson 5: When life hands you a lemon, , be thankful that life did not hit you on the head with a brick. There was a lot of frustration, running, waiting, boarding, and unboarding of planes, a little bit of worrying (people at the other end depended on me: 220 people in Bermuda were going to come to hear me speak. I also hated cancelling Fox Business interview and putting Cody in a bind).
But through all this Rita and I made the choice (and it was a choice) to maintain a good attitude. I heard some people at the Delta counter who were upset at their cancelled flights saying that it was the worst day of their lives. It made me think. I shared this with my friend Marshall, and his comment was, “I wish that was the worst day of my life!” He is right! Our kids were safe with their grandparents. We had each other. We were not hungry, not cold, there was a roof over our heads. We were alive. Believe it or not, we were laughing throughout this whole adventure and that made all the difference in the world.
Lesson 6: No could have, no should have. We were constantly making decisions with imperfect information. As in the stock market, hindsight provides the perfect clarity that you lack at the moment when you decide. Knowing what I know now, I should have just left for Bermuda a day earlier. Or left for Denver directly from NY (direct 4-hour flight), instead of going to Boston. But I did not know what I now know.
I received a last-minute invitation to a very interesting investing conference in Miami next week, so I am there Wednesday through Friday – the weather gods willing.
We’ll reschedule the Bermuda presentation for some time in March.
I hope you are having a wonderful time even if you are stuck at the airport, snowed in, or your trip to someplace warm(er) has been cancelled (happened to few friends of mine already).