Thursday, November 15, 2012

Change of Plans: DSM and Opening Day

I had already decided what I was going to write about for this week's Flashback Friday. With Opening Day scheduled for this Friday at two of the local ski resorts, Heavenly and Northstar, I was going to deviate from my usual travel related stories and pay homage to the best ski season on record: 2010/2011. The post was bound to have a slight aura of self-pity as I was scheduled to miss out on this years Opening Day. With my husband working, grandma out of town and with no babysitter, I was going to be kicking it with my kiddo while everyone else went to play in the abundance of not-so-great early-season man-made snow.

Heavenly Mountain
About three hours before I was going to leave for this week's mileage run to DSM, news came that Heavenly and Northstar were going to be opening early on Wednesday instead of Friday. That's not one of my husband's work days so there was hope...except for the fact I was heading to flat plains of Des Moines, Iowa instead of to the mountains. If you read my Dream On, Dreamliner post, you might have a better idea of what I messed up itinerary I had, and between hurricane Sandy, a trip overseas last week, and more and more of my time being spent chasing after an increasingly mobile and curious baby, I never got a chance to call United and fix it.

So I was supposed to get home at midnight (well, to the airport, not home-home) Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, then wake up early, drive 2 hours to Lake Tahoe, go skiing, turn around and drive 2 hours home all after 24 hours of mileage running...It sounded more and more like a punishment and not something I wanted to do for fun. Do I dare choose one of my interests over the other? After sitting out most of last year's season due to pregnancy and with plenty of miles to still make Platinum this year I was kind of leaning towards skipping this whole trip to Iowa and going skiing instead.

I am not a very spontaneous person. I am a planner. I always have been, or at least was back in the day before baby when I had the luxury of spare time to work out every last detail in my life. Instead of being excited about now having an opportunity to go ski, this change of plans kind of upset my day a little bit. Besides, Wednesday was already reserved for being tired and hung over from my mileage run. That, and a trip to Costco to buy formula and diapers. I'm not the type to just blow stuff off, so my frantic search for a way to make it all work commenced.

My first hope was that the first leg of my trip, the 12:30am flight between Sacramento and Houston, would be oversold (as it often is), and that I would accept a VDB voucher, essentially getting paid to go home and sleep. That is one change of plans that I would have liked. Of course, that didn't happen and naturally I felt obligated to continue. After a three and a half hour flight (and about that much sleep) I landed in Houston. Part of the reason for going to IAH in the first place was to get my husband a "Houston We Have A Problem" NASA t-shirt that he really wanted. That didn't happen either. The place that sells them was closed at 5:30am so my long walk from the C terminal to the shop near gate E-15 and back again was in vain. With things not going my way, and less than a full night's sleep, I was just maybe getting a little cranky at this point.

I continued on to Chicago in a lousy E- seat in the back on a Continental 767-200 instead of in the BusinessFirst seat I had once reserved on new Boeing 787. When news came of the aircraft swap, I returned the system-wide upgrade my dad had so generously lent me. So at least going in I was aware that I would no longer be flying on the new Dreamliner (trust me, it wouldn't have been pretty if that been a surprise), but beyond that I kind of neglected any and all details including seat assignments and layovers. When my perfect and precisely planned SMF-IAH-DEN-DSM-DEN mileage run originally was dismantled due to a schedule change and it became SMF-IAH-ORD-DSM-ORD-LAX-SMF, I jumped at the opportunity to fly on the 787 between Houston and Chicago, and didn't pay attention to much else. A four hour scheduled layover in Des Moines was the price I would be paying for that mistake!

Change of Plans: ORD. I wasn't even supposed to go to Chicago.

With a generous amount of time at ORD as well, I headed to customer service to see if there was anything they could do. Armed with my trusty smartphone and already knowing all the flights out of DSM and the answer to my own question, I decided to ask anyway. There was a not-quite-legal connecting flight out of Des Moines about half an hour after I was scheduled to arrive, and other than that, I was on the next earliest flight out of there. The agent in Chicago looked into my itinerary and my proposed amendment to it, and shut me down almost immediately. At least she was nice about it. They weren't particularly busy so we struck up a conversation and naturally she started asking questions about what I was doing. I was honest with her. I explained that I was on a mileage run to earn Platinum status. Not impressed. But then I also told her why. I told her how I was trying to make Million Miler so that I could earn and share lifetime Gold status with my family and how I recently used some of the miles to send my husband to India so he could visit his mom as she struggled through a difficult time during her battle with cancer. All true. I told her about my flight on the Island Hopper last week, and wanting to do it herself, she started asking me for tips. Her attitude went from "You're crazy" to "God Bless You"; she actually said that, and while she ultimately couldn't help me get an earlier flight out of Des Moines, she did get me better seat assignments.

The gate agent in Des Moines helped me with the earlier flight out of DSM. A not-quite-legal connection turns into not-a-big-deal when the plane you're arriving on is also the plane scheduled to turn around and go back. It didn't hurt that I was well-versed in the Premier same day standby policy and as luck had it I landed myself in the same seat going back to Chicago that I had sat in coming from Chicago. I only spent about 20 minutes in Des Moines. For a day that didn't start out that well, it was getting better and better, so from that point on I decided to make it a game out of it- to see how many of my boarding passes I could trade in for new ones on my way home. I was having fun. I liked being spontaneous. When I landed in ORD, I knew there was a flight through Denver that would get me home before 10. It was for fewer miles, but I was willing to accept it to get a full night's sleep before going skiing, which now I was stating to look forward to. What I didn't know was that there was also a flight through Houston, for even more miles, getting to Sacramento at 9:30, and that there was an agent willing to put me on it, if I was able to run.

When I got to Houston we arrived at gate C-31 which I think is the second farthest gate from the Houston-We-Have-A-Problem t-shirt shop...and you thought I forgot. In case you were wondering, the farthest gate from the Houston-We-Have-A-Problem t-shirt shop is gate C-30, which is where my flight to Sacramento was leaving from in less than an hour. More running.

Change of Plans: IAH.

Between my first trip the the Houston-We-Have-A-Problem t-shirt shop, a leisurely stroll through all of ORD's C terminal and the magic underground neon-lit tunnel, a run from one end of Chicago's B terminal to the other, followed by a speedwalk/jog from C-31 to E-15 to C-30 at IAH, I definitely got my exercise on Tuesday, which of course is never a bad thing. I also got a first class upgrade from IAH to SMF, something that never would have happened between ORD and LAX. I got a decent amount of sleep on each of my flights- 5 flights times about an hour catnap on each plus three and a half hours on the first. I took care of an essential Christmas list shopping in Houston, and I made it home early enough to sleep more. After using another one of my $200 e-certs I earned at least 6070 miles on a trip that I ended up paying nothing for. Not a bad day. I'm still waiting to see if one of the agents who helped me get an earlier flight screwed up and booked me in Y for extra miles. The end game was never to con United out of extra miles as revenge for the 787 aircraft swap, but I wouldn't feel entirely bad about it if things turned out that way.

So if you follow me on twitter (@hulagrrl210) you probably already know that I did in fact end up going skiing after EpicMix completely too over and spammed my feed yesterday. In case you were wondering, EpicMix is Vail's social media app that uses RFID technology to track our passes all over on the mountain so we can share with friends and earn pins for our accomplishments (like foursquare but for skiers and boarders). I'm usually more the tin-foil wallet type and I've actually purposely broken all the RFID chips in my credit cards, but when the technology enables me to brag about what a great day I had skiing yesterday, I'm all for it!

My EpicMix Opening Day Northstar Pin

My husband and baby ended up joining me yesterday for a little family day trip up to Tahoe. Getting anywhere with kids can be slow-going, but I really enjoyed their company and a chance to spend time together after being gone so much recently. It also turns out that the bottom of a stroller is also a great way to transport ski boots, so I didn't have to walk very far in them- something I definitely appreciated after my several miles of running through airports. Back in 2010/2011 I took skiing pretty seriously. According to EpicMix I skied over 350,000 vertical feet at Heavenly and spent 20 days on mountain (not including what I also skied at Northstar that year before they had EpicMix). I thought nothing of waking up at 5 or 6am, driving to Shore Shore, getting first tracks, skiing hard all day, then turning around and getting back in time to have a healthy and nutritious dinner ready and on the table before my husband came home from work. I didn't miss a powder day and enjoyed more than my share of bluebirds too (Bluebird being the skiing term for a perfect clear sunny day, and not just a type of pre-paid credit card).

Yesterday, I was on the mountain by about noon, and instead of skiing at my favorite resort Heavenly we opted for the shorter hour and a half drive to Northstar. I didn't make first chair and I only skied for a couple of hours. The early season conditions sucked, but I still had fun anyway. Since I got to have my fun, dad got his too; once we got back I dropped him off at a bar with his work friends while the baby and I went to Costco. After that we hit both Sonic and the In-N-Out drive thru for dinner. All of the above felt like major accomplishments after what it took to get there.

Opening Day 2012
In the end it everything worked out perfectly and I am grateful not only for my first day on the mountain this season, but appreciative of the life lessons on spontaneity and being more laid back about change that both having a kid and this last trip have provided me. So because plans change, I wanted to ask you guys what you'd think about Miles, Points and MaiTai's becoming a ski, I'm just kidding (but you can expect a few photos of secret stashes and panoramic views of the lake from the top of Sky chair). Anyway, because plans do change (and who knows what will happen when I'm stuck kicking it with my kiddo all day tomorrow), Flashback Friday is coming to you a day early this week (or a few hours at least). It's another video and I hope you enjoy it!


March 17th, 2011 was one of the best days of the season and I took my GoPro along to capture some of my favorite places at Heavenly: Skyline Trail, Milky Way Bowl, Gate 4 in Mott Canyon and some of the trees on the Nevada side (I'm not telling exactly where, because that's still my go-to secret powder stash). It's not exactly a Warren Miller film- there's some traversing and a little bit of me backing out of stuff, but in my defense some of those places are a lot steeper than they look on TV! Don't believe me? There are plenty of flights to both Reno and Sacramento leaving from an airport near you! I'd be glad to show you around in person any time.

During the next few weeks, if you don't see me on the plane, look for me on the chair lift. I'm pretty happy with making Platinum status after visiting all of United's domestic hubs this year. I've been flying every week now for two straight months now and to be honest I'm ready for a break and a little time off to spend with my family and on the slopes. I also hope to get time to post more on my blog and catch you guys up with stuff I've been meaning to share for a while now. We have one last family trip to Maui planned in early December then that's it for 2012. Be advised however if a crazy cheap fare comes up to somewhere far, far away, I might just go for it to make 1K. From now on, my plans are always subject to change.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful pictures.Picture of an island towards the end looks like a big heart from the sky. I am always afraid to take pictures in an airport or airplane for obvious reasons.