This was easily the worst trip of my life. The trip was with my wife and then 15-month old son from Boston to Jackson Hole, WY for a vacation with a group of friends in late June. We were supposed to leave Boston on a flight at about 8AM, then catch a connection in Denver to Jackson Hole with plenty of time to make the connection.

We arrived at the airport and thanks to my wife’s travel status, we had access to the United lounge at Logan. Upon arriving there, we learned that the incoming plane for our flight was delayed and we were looking at a 2-3 hour wait. OK, we wouldn’t make Jackon for a late lunch but could catch the next connection and arrive mid-afternoon.

The delay lengthened and we camped in the United lounge. Since my son was just a toddler at the time, we’d packed our carry-ons for with supplies (food, snacks) for what we assumed would be a simple, one-connection trip. As morning turned into afternoon, my wife decided to take our increasingly fidgety son for a walk in the terminal while I stayed with the bags and read a book. After a few minutes I heard some commotion up near the lounge entrance and though it was far away I was pretty sure I heard my wife’s voice screaming “Shut it off! Shut it off!” I lept over seats and sprinted to the entrance where I fould a bunch of people standing around slack jawed, my wife screaming and my son in tears. The doors to this United lounge where glass panels that opened automatically, Star Trek style with the door panel sliding in front of the window wall with about a one inch gap. In that window was a big model of a United plane which my son saw from the concourse and toddled over to take a look at. He put his hands on the glass to admire it at the same time somebody came through the door. The doors had nosafety mechanism at all and went right over his hand and arm, pinning him to the window. The door then jammed leaving him screaming. People were trying to figure out what to do but I didn’t wait. I grabbed the glass door and pulled it away from the wall and back closed, fighting the motor all the way. With our son free we were hustled into a private seating area in the club and medics were brought in. The examination turned out OK and aside from a small bruise there was no damage. We were kept in the private room and supplied with free drinks until our flight arrived. This would be the high point of the day.

All the while our delay continued to lengthen to the point where catching the mid-afternoon flight was in jeopardy. There was an evening flight as a worst case (so we thought then) scenario but it would mean missing all of our afternoon plans with friends. The flight to DEN was uneventful until about half an hour before our scheduled landing when I noticed a) we weren’t beginning our descent and b) we were banking right every few minutes meaning we were circling. That was confirm after another half hour by the pilot who said there were weather issues in DEN and we were holding. The afternoon connection option slipped by and we were looking at an evening flight. So we though. Now it gets worse.

After another while the pilot comes on and says they can’t circle anymore and we are being diverted to Lincoln, Nebraska because the weather is still a problem in Denver. The hope is to not be there very long, but upon arriving we’re told that the crew is past it’s duty limit and United will need to get a new crew to continue the flight. The problem is, Lincoln is a relatively small regional airport which doesn’t have 757 traffic so they need to fly a new crew in from Chicago. We’re going to be stuck for at least a couple of hours. It’s almost 8PM Boston time, we haven’t had a solid meal since breakfast, and they do us the courtesy of mentioning that there is only one restaurant in the airport and it’s about to close. My wife takes charge of the kid and I sprint out of the plane to try to get us some food. The restaurant is nothing more than a prepared food café and they are already cleaned out. The only option I can get that we can feed my son (we are well out of snacks at this point) is a chicken Caesar salad where we were able to pick out the chicken and scrape off the dressing for my son. By the time my wife got to the café the line was down the concourse. Again, Lincoln doesn’t get 757s so they don’t normally see that many people at once. Fortunately I had been one of the first in line so I was one of the few who was able to get anything.

People sat anywhere they could and waited. The 1-2 hour estimated wait turned into 3 ½ hours when the new crew arrived to thunderous applause. We’d be on our way shortly but there was one catch. The fact that we were on a 757 meant that for some reason the boarding systems at Lincoln couldn’t handle a plane that size, so even though we were just getting back onto the plane we had been on, where most of our belongings still were, we were going to have to be boarded by hand using an alphabetical paper manifest and showing our IDs. Reboarding took almost an hour and twenty minutes.

We finally departed for the short hop to DEN. We were apologized to profusely by the crew for our day and told we’d be met at the gate by staff who would get us lodging for the night, and we’d be rebooked on connections for the next day. We were arriving at about 12:30AM local time so about 2:30AM by our body clocks and our poor child hadn’t been able to sleep at all due to the constant commotion. We knew we had to get him to a hotel fast and so it was my turn to stay with him, gather our bags and wait for our gate-checked stroller while my wife tried to get out and make hotel arrangements as quickly as she could. She was one of the first ones off the plane and when I finally got my son and all of our baggage off the jetway, there were no attendants waiting for us. What I found was my wife staring at a line of people that went past our gate and down the full length of a DIA concourse. There were at least 300 people in line, and it wasn’t moving at all. If you know Denver, you know there aren’t that many hotel rooms close by so there was little chance we’d have a room by the time that line got processed, which would take hours.

The perk of having a spouse who travels is that they have access to good travel services. In this case my wife had a very aggressive corporate travel agent who was able to get us a suite in one of the airport hotels which they said was the only room available. We paid for it ourselves (fully planning on cramming the bill down United’s throat) and managed to get about four hours of sleep before needing to be back at the airport for the morning flight to Jackson. It was not a particularly restful break but it helped. As we lugged all of our stuff back to the airport early the next morning, we found it littered with dozens and dozens of people trying to find a comfortable place to sleep anywhere they could. We also finally found out what had happened. A massive hail storm had come through the area and over 40 flights had to be diverted. The woman at the counter checking us in said her car had been dinged up and there were many far worse. We got some large coffees, boarded our flight and settled in.

The flight to Jackson was delayed over an hour due to mechanical issues.

The weather was an uncontrollable element but I can’t let United off the hook for a day of ridiculous missteps in how they handled the situation. I’d like to say that was the end of it but there’s an epilogue to the story that I just don’t have time to write, but it’s equally nuts.