Be Nice To Your Airline Employees (Chamonix, France Part 1)

Of course, there’s a blizzard on the way. Just days before our departure we were experiencing spring-like conditions. There’s no storm that can get in the way of our 5-day adventure, right? Well, kinda. Winter Storm Stella was bearing down on the east coast and flights were getting canceled like they were going out of style. Our flight was scheduled to depart NYC on Thursday at 12:40 am, or basically, Wednesday night. Almost every flight was canceled in and out of the NYC area starting on Tuesday. The storm didn’t hammer the area as hard as first thought, but we still accumulated about 12-14 inches! Luckily our flight was untouched and scheduled to depart on time.

Once in France, our plans went something like this:

Thursday: arrive in Chamonix sometime in the evening, eat, sleep.

Friday: check the weather and ride somewhere in the valley, go to sleep early, be good boys.

Saturday: wake up early and ride the Vallée Blanche, take pictures, high-five at the bottom!

Sunday: check the weather and maybe ride in Switzerland or Italy, drive back to Geneva, eat some fondue.

Monday: wake up early, fly back to New Jersey.

Our whole trip revolved around riding Vallée Blanche, simple enough!

The Vallée Blanche Glacier is a 12-14-mile descent starting atop the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix, France. At the top, one would need to hike down a steep and exposed spine in order to safely strap in and begin the nearly 9000 ft descent, which takes anywhere from 4-6 hours. For first timers, a guide is recommended and we didn’t hesitate to book one. Whatever is takes to avoid falling in crevasses.

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The steep hike to the trail.

Needless to say, the psyche was high on our way to the airport. That damn Stella didn’t interfere with our reservations so everything is proceeding as planned. Until this,  Derek (1 of 3 handsome gentlemen and overall badass) was failing to check into his flight through his phone.

Well that’s weird”, one of us muttered.

Oh shit, wait! My flight is booked for the following Thursday!”, says not so badass anymore Derek.

I begin to feel another storm brewing

At this point, we weren’t too concerned since there looked to be open seats. Get on the phone, fix the date, and let’s continue our trip. Minor hiccup. We giggled in the car because it was such an honest mistake. Lesson learned, next time just double and triple-check your itinerary. This should be an easy switch until we learned that his reservations were made through a 3rd party booking site, something similar to a Kayak or Skyscanner, but lesser known.

GOAL Traveler tip #56: always book directly with the airlines!

Because his ticket was booked thru this random site, our departing airlines, TAP Portugal, could not assist. The 3rd party site was little to no help. Their advice? Take a later flight for a change fee and you will also have to pay a “no-show” fee. Fees on fees. What?!?!?!

The storm inches closer.

Quick, get to the check-in counter and explain your situation.“Sorry sir, the flight is completely full. We may be able to book you on the next flight departing tomorrow?”

The storm has made landfall.

Tomorrow is not an option. If our original plan stuck to riding the Vallée Blanche Saturday, this would have been fine. But, and this is a big but, our guide had contacted us that morning explaining predictions of bad weather in the valley Saturday and would need to schedule our ride for Friday instead! F*@k!

Stay calm.

No worries, my brother and I will go ahead and maybe we can ride the Vallée Blanche on Sunday? (More on Sunday in another blog) No! You’re getting on this flight! This whole trip was Derek’s idea and he needs to be there.

“Sorry sir, like I said, there are no seats available. You can wait until check-in is almost complete and hopefully someone does not show up. If that happens, all you would have to do is purchase a new one-way ticket…..”

We had no other choice. While my brother and I checked our snowboards and got our boarding passes, Derek was told to stand in the corner of the classroom and think about what he has done-sans dunce cap. Our well was empty, we tried every charming, sweet-talkin’ tactic in the book to try and score a seat for Derek. Luckily, our ticket agent was being extremely patient with us.

The clock is ticking. Does Derek just meet us Friday evening and skip the Vallée Blanche? Hell no!

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We waited for what seemed like hours, the mood was certainly bleak. An hour ago we were happy as pigs in sh*t driving to the airport and now this absolute buzzkill!

Defeated, we somehow lifted our heads from the palms of our hands to see our shining angel waving her arms wildly, standing on the luggage scale at the counter.

Is she directing airplane traffic on the tarmac?

Is she physically trying to flag down an entirely different plane just for us?

This could be Derek’s chance. We walked the long, intimidating gallows towards our sentencing. If no seat was available then hanging via noose was imminent. Seat available, we would be given another lease on life.

Willy Wonka must be hurting for cash because Derek was able to secure a golden ticket to the factory for the low one-way price of $1400! (ouch)  I don’t know who was happier because the airline employee was extremely pleased that she somehow was able to bump other people off the flight (for ticket vouchers, of course) or Derek because he was given the chance to drop a month’s rent on a one-way flight to Geneva to play in the chocolate waterfall, Augustus Gloop style.

One can attach any monetary value to that ticket but while we were at the counter receiving the good news, collectively, we all knew the real price. Stay home, sulk, and see your trip investment get flushed down the toilet or double down and make up for it with what we knew would be an unforgettable experience.

Pay the lady, Augustus!!!

I didn’t expect our adrenaline to be jump started until we stepped onto our first cable car ride in the Alps, but I was clearly wrong. With hearts pounding and smiles glued to our faces we had our first celebratory beer, just a little earlier than expected.

Moral of the story, be nice to airline employees and not just during times of emergencies. I know we needed a little luck but we could have shot ourselves in the foot if we were rude and demanding towards everyone at the counter. The employees at TAP Portugal airlines were some of the nicest and most accommodating I have ever come across. It wasn’t until we landed in Geneva that it was our time to pay it forward, so we gladly gave a complete stranger a ride to Chamonix in our already full car. It was the least we could do!

Now, all we need is some sleep so we can be fresh enough to ride 12-14 miles with the guide we “booked”…

Chamonix PART Deux…..Here.

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