I wasn't planning on writing about business travel escapades, but I think last week's travel experience from Newark to Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta deserves the spotlight. As my colleagues have said, "You can't make this stuff up."
The first flight of the day from Newark to Fort Lauderdale was glitch free. The "fun" began with my second flight from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta. Atlanta's airport is one of the busiest in the country with the most delayed flights, but on a beautiful day, one doesn't expect to hear that the Atlanta airport has been closed due to "weather". So much for making my business dinner that evening! Three hours later, the airport reopened and we landed at 11pm. By the time I retrieved my luggage and took the sky train to pick up my rental car, the only rental left was a large, bright red jeep! How cool would this be if I were driving with my kids to the beach? However, because it was approaching midnight and I had a 45 minute drive to the hotel, I took the jeep, although I don't recommend wearing a skirt and heels when trying to hike yourself up into the seat. Once on the way, the roads were empty and not well lit. Five miles out of town, the GPS stopped working and just blinked "no signal". I called the hotel from the road, got directions and ordered room service. Tired and hungry, all I wanted was a quick bite to eat and sleep.
Unfortunately, immediate nourishment and rest were merely wishful thinking. As I walked into the lobby to check in, I was greeted by a huge sign that said, "Please forgive our appearance while we are under construction." The hotel neglected to mention this when we made reservations, and after the long walk down a maze of many dimly lit and rundown hallways, I had a really bad feeling that I had made a mistake. My room was next to a room with a sign that said "Accounting Office" and looked like it hadn't been touched since the 1950's. It smelled musty and featured an old fashioned stand-alone air conditioning unit that was extremely loud and had a broken regulator. I sat on the bed and literally sank into the mattress. I felt like I was in the movie, "Back to the Future", and Michael J. Fox should have been my co-pilot in our time machine, the red jeep!
I called the front desk to request another room and was told they were overbooked and all they could do was send up their engineer to try to fix the air conditioner and bed. My response was, "wrong answer; I will meet you in the lobby and wait while you find me another room." While the front desk team was scrambling to find another room, the room service meal was delivered to me in the lobby. It was now 1:30am as I sat down in the lobby to eat my dinner. Low and behold, they miraculously found another room and this time, the bellman accompanied me to carry the room service tray down several dingy hallways to my second room of the evening. Frustrated but not surprised, my room key didn't work! The bellman tried his master key and that didn't work either, even after several attempts to "un-jam" the lock! It was now 1:45am and he said, "Stay here and I will go get help."
After the bellman was out of sight, the unimaginable happened: a man from inside the room, in his boxers, fearfully opened the door thinking someone was trying to break into his room!!! I was mortified, standing all alone face to face with a man in his underwear who we woke up in the middle of the night! I felt like I was in the middle of a Woody Allen movie and apologized profusely, explaining how the front desk clearly thought his room was unoccupied. He closed and locked the door with the dead bolt. Meanwhile it took another 10 minutes for the bellman to return, this time with a security guard who was carrying a tool box. They were literally going to break the lock to get into the room! I greeted them down the hall away from that man's room with, "Do you know when you thought it can't get any worse?" After sharing the drama that they missed, they were completely speechless and off the three of us went back to the lobby in search of my third room of the evening, now after 2am, with one of them carrying the now cold food on a room service tray.
Apparently, this hotel had a single, completely renovated, unused show room and guess what? They gave it to me. Two hours after arriving at the hotel, I won the prize to door number three and ate my now completely cold room service meal and crashed. I awoke to an apologetic note from the Front Desk Manager with a gift of reward points for the inconvenience but to my dismay, they did not comp the room or the meal! I certainly hope they offered some generous accommodation to the poor gentleman whom we scared to death in the middle of the night. I can only imagine how I, or any woman traveling alone would feel, thinking someone was trying to break into my room in the middle of the night!
The following night, I was back at the Atlanta airport and once again, waiting for another delayed flight. I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who ironically had stayed at the same hotel the night before and had to share a room with his colleague as they had overbooked his room. At least they didn't try to break his door down!
I now think that hotel experiences are like candidates. While most of them are fine and some exceptional, it is the bad ones that you remember and laugh about later - though the laughter part is no doubt a few weeks away.