Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Worst Vacation Ever

It is the worst vacation ever because it never happened!

Since I bought the house 8 years ago I haven't done a lot of traveling. Both time and money are always tied up in the old Petch House, but this year I planned on going someplace outside of western states. So this week I planned a quick trip to Philadelphia. I've always wanted to go because of the history - First US Capitol, The Constitution, Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin - I mean, forgetaboutit, the place is oozing with history, not to mention a spectacular City Hall and all of the Philly Cheese Steaks I can eat. Also, a friend of mine spent 6 months there at a training center for a new job and she came back gushing about how much she loved the city.

So I was all set to go. I had a reservation for 3 nights in a hotel built in 1830. It is a small place with 12 rooms right in the heart of The Olde City, just a few blocks from Independence Hall. The plan was to not rent a car and just walk or take mass transit. I would only be in town for 2 full days and 2 half days. In fact, I should be there right now. Grrrr!

I had an A List of sites I wanted to see and things I wanted to do and then some additional things I would do, if there was enough time. The latter included some architectural salvage shops. I still need slide bolts for the front door.

Because this is Eureka, CA there are hardly no direct flights to anywhere. Every flight I've ever taken out of this city has first gone to San Francisco (6 hours drive south) and then on to where ever you want to go. The Eureka/Arcata airport is billed as the foggiest airport in the US. In fact, it was built during WWII specifically so the air force could come up with a way to land planes in low or no visibility, and the first “blind landing” was made at this airport back in 1947.

Until Monday, I knew nothing about this history of our little airport. I only know that now because of the front page article in Monday's Times Standard about how they are replacing the Instrument Landing System at the airport (ILS). The ILS is the system that allows pilots to land when they can't see the runway. If you go to the airport's web site it mentions nothing of this construction.

Did I mention that this is the foggiest airport in the country? Yes, I think I did. So take foggiest airport in the country and remove the ILS and what do you get? You get an airport that has no planes landing or taking off. There are two carriers that service the airport: Horizon and United Express. I don't know about Horizon, but United has landed 1 plane in the last 3 days because we are socked in by fog and there is no ILS. It is insane.

I rebooked my flight 3 times and each one was canceled. I could try and book a flight out of Redding (3 hours away), but the zillions of people whose planes were canceled before mine have taken every available seat. The fog is not going to lift and in fact, the weather is only going to get worse. It is supposed to rain Thursday and Friday.

The other option is to drive to San Francisco and pick up my already scheduled flight. Well, it is too late for that unless I book another flight. The next one I can get on would put me in Philadelphia at 3:00 AM and cost an extra $200. The small hotel I'm booked at has no late night check-in service, so that means my first night would be spent sleeping in a chair at the airport.

It is also too late to try and redo the trip from scratch because at this late of date I would be staying at the Ramada Airport Express or if I'm lucky, some absurdly expensive hotel, which would mean renting car, and most likely taking a more expensive seat on an airplane. In short, I would double the cost of the trip and it wouldn't be the trip I wanted. I wanted to be in the heart of the old part of the city and just live there for 2 or 3 days. I'm sure the rest of the city is very nice, but I don't need to see commuter traffic and a Pennsylvania Applebee's or Subway sandwich shop. I'm sure they look exactly like the ones in California, Kentucky, Florida, and Montana.

What really irritates me about all of this is that anyone who has lived on the north coast of California for more than 2 years knows that July, August, and September are the foggiest months of the year. According to the article in the paper they started work on the ILS last month and it will be another 2 weeks before it is back on-line. Why the hell did they pick the foggiest time of the year to do this??!?! Next Month the skies will be clear as a bell. Everybody knows that. Well, apparently, not everybody.

Hello?!?!? Airport managemnt? Did you just move here?


St. Blogwen said...

Oh, no!! So you have to just eat your prebooked airfare? This is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I'm not supposed to say it, living now in the Pittsburgh area, but I fell in love with Center City Philadelphia at first sight and moved there straight after college. Your plan to visit sounds perfect-- if you can just get off the ground from the Eureka area.

Shall I swear a little in your behalf? I certainly would like to.

Kate H.

Oh yes-- probably too late now, but the Latham Hotel at 17th and Chestnut is decent and in the heart of things, even if it's not as atmospheric as the one you booked in the Olde City (is that the current term for Society Hill?).

NV said...

Soooo sorry to hear this. you've definitely earned some time away. And Philly is awesome! I got to see some of the city a few years ago during a business trip. I made my neck hurt by spending so much time looking UP trying to take in as much sight-seeing as I could do with an hour or two here and there.

It reminds me of a little New York, laid out in much the same way and with buildings from about the same time frame. Philly's history is a little more contained and not sprawled like NYC though.

I hope you get another chance to go.

Karen Anne said...

What a bummer. Is there train service you could take to SF next time?

I have no idea how ILS systems work, but you'd think they could have built the new stuff in parallel and then brought it on line all at once, or something.

Greg said...

Nope, no train service. The tracks washed out about 12 years ago and they are still fighting over whether they should be rebuilt.

Latham Hotel was second on my list and about 10 blocks from where I was going to say. I'm no expert on Philadelphia. It was difficult for me to tell based on maps whether I should use the term Society Hill or Olde City. They are either right next to each other or the terms are interchangeable.

Fortunately, I will be getting a full refund for everything. It was a bitch though. That is a whole different story.

Scott "Q" Marcus said...

Hi Greg,

So sorry to hear about your problems. I travel regularly from our airport and I so agree. I understand that they had to upgrade the airport but when more flights are canceled than not, it certainly says something about the decision as to how they did it.

I have a can't-miss flight in a week and a half, and I'm already sweating it.

Greg said...

I was supposed to fly out Tuesday, so after reading the article on Monday I tried to find some things out and it was very hard. I have a AAA membership so I went down there to ask about how I can find out more about flight cancellation. How much advance notice is there? Is it just low clouds that will cancel a flight or does there need to be fog on the ground. The woman I spoke to didn't even know the ILS was down.

I contacted county and they were empathetic with my plight but could not give me any insight. When I asked why there wasn't any more information on the web site I got what amounted to a shrug over the phone.

I went to the airport on Monday to try and get a human being to answer my questions but it was chaos.

Basically, if United does not think they can land here then the plan never takes off from SF, so it is not like you can go to Redding to catch your United flight. Horizon was attempting landings when I was there, but none were successful.

If it is really important you should assume at this point that you won't get out of Arcata airport. I would try to get a flight out of Medford or Santa Rosa. I took the Greyhound to Santa Rosa once. I left at 7:00 and was there by noon.

Had the airport made a better effort to inform the public I might have known about this before I booked my flight. I would have changed plans or postponed the trip.

There is just no excuse for this. The airport is our life-line in and out of the county. There should have been a media blitz starting a month before the ILS was taken off-line. If there was, then I missed it.

Karen Anne said...

"Horizon was attempting landings when I was there, but none were successful. "

Okay...this makes me a teeny bit uneasy ;-)

Greg said...

Yes, the pile up of crashed planes at the end of the runway was getting big.

Robert said...

It is definitely a shame you couldn't get here. I live about 20 miles outside Philadelphia. It is a great city, a ton of history and a great walkable center. Olde City is great to walk in, you can get all over Center City (the original grid Penn laid out) with ease from there, and you're right in the middle of the history.

Olde City and Society Hill are two different neighborhoods. Olde City is north of Market Street and on the Deleware - where Penn landed in 1680's. Society Hill is also on the deleware, but directly south of Market. Both very historic, but you'll love Society Hill because in the 1950's it was a total slum of abandoned 1700's townhouses and warehouses you couldn't give away. After I.M.Pei designed and built the three Society Hill towers, then everyone bought up and restored the townhouses to all of their colonial splendor. Now you can't get a detached single house for less than 1 million (rest of the city averages $235K for the same house in a different neighborhood).

Hope you can get here some day!

Greg said...


Thanks for clearing up the difference between Olde City and Society Hill. After hearing a locals description of the area I WANT TO GO EVEN MORE.

This week has really sucked. I woke up this morning and the and the first thing I though was, "I should be in Philadelphia right now"


Mike said...

That's too bad. I was just in Philly last night for a concert and live about 10 minutes from the airport. There is so much history just in Philly it would take you weeks to see it all. Olde City is great! I was lucky enough to work in some of the old houses there in my electrician days. And then there is all the history in the Philly burbs... I live here and haven't seen it all yet! Definitely reschedule at some point and maybe try to fit a few more days in if you can.

- Mike

Greg said...

I'm already planning the trip

ellipsisknits said...

Interesting coincidence (though certainly infuriating).
We were connecting through Boston last week, which seems to be another of those 'oh, so you want to see the runway? Try back in a few days' sort of places. They too were undergoing maintenance to their ILS. Being a larger airport, they had some sort of backup system so they could still land a few planes, and all the flights were just delayed for hours on end instead of canceled outright.

I'm now wondering if there was some sort of scheduled maintenance or emergency bug fix that multiple places are replacing the same system at the same time. Or maybe airlines just work on a system where something has to be broken at any given time.

Greg said...

That is weird. In the case of Arcata airport it is federally mandated work that needed to be done. That I don't have a problem with.

The issue I have with the whole situation is 2 fold. First, there are better times of the year to do this work. Second, there was no information given to the public about the disruption of service. That is the worst. We are isolated and there is no rail service. If there was going to be - or even the potential for - this level of disruption to a major piece of the counties infrastructure there should have been numerous public service announcements in the weeks or months leading up to the start of construction. There should have been press releases and information posted on the airport web site. There was nothing.