My Worst Travel Mistake Ever!

I couldn’t have picked a worse time for my first flight-booking snafu if I tried.

While running 61 marathons for charity in 2010, I took 124 flights and booked them all myself without a single problem. I was exactly where I needed to be when I needed to be while minimizing my time away from home.

I ran a marathon in Washington DC Halloween morning that year and trick-or-treated with my kids in Southern California that night. I ran a marathon in Seattle on a Saturday morning and arrived home with pizza 15 minutes before my son’s birthday party started late that afternoon in California.

I had Thanksgiving dinner with my family in California, and was home the next night after running a marathon in Washington state. Shoot, last Tuesday night, I was building a snowman for my kids in my front yard in Colorado less than nine hours before I ran the Operation Jack Marathon in Los Angeles.

I’m good at this. Or so I thought. I need to paint a bit of a picture before I explain my mess-up.

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind. I went from Colorado to Los Angeles on Christmas night, ran the Operation Jack Marathon early Wednesday (2:45 a.m.!) on 90 minutes of sleep and somehow blurred my way onto a plane Thursday night.

I felt terrible when I was gone. I was exhausted, but my wife was home sick with bronchitis, as was my daughter Ava. I hated not being there to help, but the Operation Jack Marathon is the centerpiece of my charity work and foundation, so I pretty much have to be there. I walked through the front door Thursday night at 11:30 p.m., was up at 4:40 when my son Jack woke up. A couple of hours later I unpacked and packed before getting ready for work. After work, I went straight to the airport to go to Kansas City for the Operation Jack KC Half In The Snow.

It’s my busiest charity week of the year, but sometimes long, exhausting weeks (or years, when I think back to 2010) are part of the deal when you’re busting your butt for a charity. And Jack started getting getting sick on Friday.

If I wasn’t putting on a race for my charity, I wouldn’t have even thought about still going to Kansas City. But I was torn. The race was put on by a great guy named Matt Popilek, but he had never put on a race before and he was running in it. I was managing it. I’ve done that before. It’s for my foundation. My son’s name is in the race. I needed to be there. But I needed to be home, too.

Tiff was on the phone with me when I pulled into the parking lot at the airport. She sounded terrible and I felt terrible for and I told her to be extremely direct with me and not to have me try to read between any lines. She told me to go to Kansas City.

I kept going, made it through security and she called again and told me she needed me to come home. I asked her about getting help for her and she didn’t want to get anybody sick. I was in a bit of a panic mode. Nothing is more important than my family’s health, but our foundation and charity efforts are very important to us and the race in Kansas City has good potential to be a long-term, annual fundraiser. The inaugural event is important and I got confirmation earlier that afternoon that the Kansas City Star would be there to cover the event.

I called a couple of friends of mine who are big Operation Jack supporters, but also wives. I needed instant feedback. I kept going towards the gate, because until I was on the plane, I wasn’t on the plane and I didn’t have to go. But I didn’t want the decision to be to go and then be too far away.

I got mixed feedback. They acknowledged that there was no good, easy decision. Between the two of them, they seemed on the fence, leaning a little towards advising me to stay home. I called Matt and told him I might not be going. I sensed some concern in his voice.

I called Tiff up, not knowing if I was going or not. I expressed my concerns about not being in Kansas City and not being in Colorado. She was concerned that she’d recover quickly with medicine and it might be a mistake for me to not go to Kansas City. This was a tough decision that we had to make impulsively, but she knew I’d be home Saturday night and she told me to just go. I was incredibly nervous to make that decision to get on the plane. I felt like I needed to be in Colorado and Kansas City, but I had faith that Tiffany would be OK.

I was boarding at about the time I needed to check in for my return flight, so I asked one of those friends I had called to check me in. She couldn’t do it. I sat down on my plane and I couldn’t do it either. It said my flight was either within an hour or more than 24 hours away. But that wasn’t the case.

So, I looked up my itinerary on my Southwest app on my phone. And then I discovered the worst timing ever for my first airline-ticket-booking error.

My flight back on Saturday night was actually on Sunday night. Not good. And then it was time to power down since the cabin doors were closing. Not good. Not good.

I hopped on wifi when the plane took off and saw that the flight back on Saturday night was going to be $313. Not in the budget. Not good. Decided not to tell Tiff Friday night, because really, it wouldn’t do her any good to know before Saturday. Ugggghhhh. Worst. Timing. Ever.

I went straight to the Southwest counter in the terminal and pleaded with the guy who was there to help. He said he’d do everything he could and even wave the fee. Oh, thank goodness.

Then he checked. And checked. And checked. Direct flights. Flights through St. Louis. And Dallas. And Houston. And San Antonio. The best flight he could find was 138 people checked in for a flight with 137 seats. In plain English, that’s a no. I was so bummed.

On the shuttle to car rental, I hopped on Travelocity. The cheapest one-way back was $441 or $433, something like that. Something way out of my price range.

I told Tiff that I landed safely, but didn’t tell her about my flight problem. She said she was feeling a little better so I let her sleep and prayed that she started to feel better.

At 4:45 a.m. Saturday morning Kansas City time, I got a call from her. She sounded about as bad as I’ve ever heard her. There was a 7:10 a.m. flight back that I could have bought up to for $100, but she told me not to bother, that it would be too late to help by the time I got home anyways. She was just glad I was going to be home that night.

Yeah, um, not the best time to tell her about my little problem.

So I couldn’t fall back to sleep and went out to set up the race. I had to run the course backwards to mark it and for the first time in my life, I had coffee before I ran. I was that tired at the start of my day. I’d had 19 hours of sleep in the previous four nights, and in those four days I’d flown three times and run a marathon. I was exhausted.

When the race got going, I was talking to volunteers about my predicament. My only real option was to drive a rental car back if it was affordable, but I didn’t know how affordable that would be. I was hoping Tiff would get better, but at about noon, I got a text from my oldest son Benjamin. He told me she wanted to know if I could catch an earlier flight home.

Tell me about it. I sure was trying, not that they had any idea of the irony in that question. I told him I was trying, but that I was having problems with my airline ticket.

Tiff took his phone and texted me in all caps, letting me know it was her, demanding to know what was going on. The gig was up. I told her. Of all the words I could use to describe her at that moment, happy was not one of them.

She told me to spend the money to get home. Earlier that morning, a neighbor took her and Jack to the hospital. This was the worst situation ever. I felt like I was stranded on a remote island and my wife and kids needed me at home and I could only buy my way back with money we don’t have. I already know how this story ends and I’m getting stressed just thinking about it.

Well, I went and did a quick search for a one-way car rental and found one from Budget for $84. 605 miles would be 20-25 gallons of gas. $150ish to get to Denver. I knew it would be physically demanding to make the drive, and I was mentally prepared to pull over at any time to be smart and take a nap. But I feel like one quality I have (see: 61 all-out marathons in 2010) is to step up and defeat exhaustion when I need to.

Tiff asked me what time I would get home and I told her sometime after her and the kids went to bed and before they woke up, just like if I was flying in. 136 ounces of coffee later, I eventually walked through the front door at 1:15 a.m., 21 1/2 hours after I woke up in Kansas City after 4 1/2 hours of sleep. I had been awake for 97 of the previous 116 hours.

As I put on my Facebook and Twitter that night, The worst thing about having war stories to tell is you have to earn them. New story in progress in Kansas …

Well, I think I’ve fully recovered and I have a new war story. And you can bet pretty good money I’ll never book an airline ticket on the wrong date again.


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