Momma Told Me: Vacation Files: #1 Surviving The Trip to Philly

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Vacation Files: #1 Surviving The Trip to Philly

***Please Note: This post is in NO WAY affiliated with Southwest Airlines, Aloft, Sheraton/Starwood Hotels, JammyPack, Nick's or any entities mentioned there-in. All services mentioned were payed, out of pocket, by me. All opinions are mine, and mine alone.

Many of my readers know that I recently arrived, back, from a week long excursion to Philadelphia; affectionately referred to as a 'vacation', but also a reunion for Momma and I, who have not crossed paths in well over a year. I am 25 years old, closer to 26 than I'd like to admit, and as 'fully baked' (as Momma likes to put it) as I am, I still find myself missing my mother through the miles. Located in Ohio, and requiring a vacation of her own, Momma had suggested we meet somewhere local to her, when I'd first brought up a visit months back. As it turns out, her idea of 'local' was a 10 hour drive to Philadelphia in blistering summer heat, and unbearable 40%+ humidity. I'm a spoiled Southern California gal and, needless to say, was not prepared for the weather we hit shortly after landing.

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. You see, I've decided to tell the story of my vacation in manageable installments. I get quite winded, for better or worse, and find it will be fun to share a glimpse here and there over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, like most stories, this has to begin with the tale of us leaving CA, and the day of travel that consumed (what was to be) the first day of our vacation. Sadly, for us, this turned out to be a Lemmony Snicket of a day, which, while it may make for decent reading, could come off as venting- I apologize for that in advance.

First, I should say that I am not the sort who goes into travel willy-nilly. While I love the unpredictability of my day-to-day life at home; I do not leave things to chance when I am thousands of miles away from said home. No, this trip was arranged and paid for well over a month in advance. I did my due diligence on local hotels, sightseeing, and even lined up Groupons we'd be able to use during our period in town. But you know what they say about best laid plans; especially when it comes to travel!

For the most part, our departure began without a hitch. I child (cat) proofed our home, had our suitcases neatly packed and waiting the afternoon before, and our ride to the airport deposited us at LAX precisely 2 hours before scheduled take off. We even moved through airport security at a reasonable pace, only stopping to unpack each of our electronics, and step through the giant metal detectors. My designated clothing of choice had been a t-shirt and comfy pair of Old Navy pajama pants- no pockets to upturn, no belts to remove; an appropriate choice considering we would be arriving at our destination after midnight. Little did I know just how grateful I would be for this decision come 3:30 AM.

So we checked our bags, and settled in, grabbing the single most expensive McDonalds meal I have ever purchased ($5.49 for 2 double cheeseburgers, alone). We took a seat near our gate and proceeded to dine, whilst killing time on various tech devices. About 30 minutes prior to our scheduled lift off, I took my place in line, at the boarding markers. There was some concern in my head about the lack of plane at our terminal, as of yet, but I dismissed this as someone behind me remarked 'the plane' is 'on the other side. He was certainly correct, there indeed was a plane on the opposite end of the gate, but it was not ours. There we stood, among restless passengers, until our given lift off time had passed 10 minutes prior, and the first announcement of a delay could be heard in the airport. In fact, I was quite displeased with the lack of information, explanation, or apology on behalf of the airline. For the most part, we relied on the giant window to our left to tell us when the plane had at last landed. Thankfully, they were quick to clean and board the vessel, once on the ground, just over an hour past initial lift off time.

Once on the plane it was clear we were not the only passengers with motives to fly non-stop. Several overwhelmed parents, with quite young children, frantically tried to calm the already anxious little ones. Again, almost no explanation, or address of the circumstances, as we began to take off for our 1 hour journey to Phoenix, AZ (where we were scheduled to stay on the plane and continue to Philadelphia. About 5 minutes prior to touch down, the captain came on the speakers and announced that those continuing would be changing planes. We could hardly catch the gate we were to head towards, as we were pushed out into the 110F Arizona heat. Then it was a trip, by foot, directly to the farthest corner of the airport, to wait in line on an already boarded aircraft. Not only were we severely delayed from our initial schedule, and giving up our pre-boarded seats, but the children who had at last stopped fussing from LAX, where now forced to be woken up in blistering heat. We packed into the 747 like sardines, a full flight, only to sit on the tarmac for 30 minutes with no air circulation in the cabin.

By the time we hit altitude there were some very unhappy toddlers, the raw odor of cooked dirty diapers, and enough sweat on each passenger to rival a Britney Spears video. It was sheer misery, that continued for 2.5 more hours of no air circulation, turned poor air circulation. Touchdown found us little relief, as we unbuckled out seats I could hear the father in front of us exclaiming 'She vomited on me twice during landing!' At that point I was nearly running off the plane, into.....fresh....98F air with a reported 38% humidity, still better than the plane we had just endured for 4.5 hours! Baggage claim was just a much a mess as the rest of our journey had been thus far. There were 2 returns, with no labeling, and no bags. We waited 30 minutes for an announcement that simply informed our flight that they had checked a record 170pcs of luggage (on an 84 capacity plane), and there would be further delay. By the time the bags began spitting out (3:05 AM, 2.5 hours later than scheduled), people were running frantically back and forth hunting for their bags. To make matters worse, the other half had to jump onto a return to clear a jam that had our bag smashed between a pile up of several others, clogging the machine.

When we exited the airport, waiting for the complimentary shuttle, I was exhausted and delighted by the prospect of checking into my hotel room. I wanted to treat my mother, so I had booked a modern style (Sheraton brand) hotel that was known for it's ample amenities (42" flat screen, luxury down beds, indoor pool, bar/lounge, etc). Momma is a stickler for cleanliness, above all, when traveling, so finding something that promised to meet both our criteria had been quite the challenge. To sum it up, I was not going to put my mother in a Best Western, and this was the single most expensive hotel/night stay I had ever booked. Over $1500 had been pulled from my bank account 34 days prior to our check in. Why is this information pertinent? No, I'm not trying to throw money around- I simply want to have the fact straight for what is to follow.

You see, I arrived at the Aloft in Philadelphia, having already paid for my entire stay, in addition to my mothers (2 rooms total), to be greeted (I'm using the word 'greet' loosely) by a very rude young woman, who seemed more preoccupied with the phone than us. What follows is the summary submitted to Sheraton, Starwood Suites:

" When the shuttle dropped me off at the Aloft I walked in to a receptionist who seemed quite distracted and lackluster (to say the least). "I don't have a room for you", she said with an annoyed tone. A bit confused, I explained that couldn't be true, after all, I had booked a month back, already paid for my stay, and even called to confirm our arrival 2 days prior. With some rolling of the eyes, and wide hand gestures the young woman (I figure to actually be my equal in age), explained (or more so told me) that she had 5 guests arriving within 24 hours that she did not have rooms for. She told me that 4 were 'dirty' and one was in need of maintenance. I again, asked how this could be so- not yet having received any sort of compassion or apology. Instead, I was told how she was going to transfer me to another hotel.

At this time, I inquired about the style/quality of the hotel I would be being transferred to (as I was given and had no choice). I explained that I had carefully, painstakingly, selected the Aloft for my stay, based on it's amenities. The woman sighed, rolling her eyes quite dramatically, then scrunched her face: "Amenities? We don't have any amenities!" I could clearly see things were going from bad to worse. An employee, who works at the counter, doesn't know what the location's amenities are, or that they even had them? I had never stayed there and I could cite the 42" flat screens and Indoor pool, off the top of my head- or even the modern design, and edgy room layout. I had had a long day, and this was the beginning of my 'vacation', I had paid a large sum of money, verified my ducks, and now I would have to go to a different hotel. This may not seem like a big inconvenience (outside the fact I was (in my mind) downgraded to a lesser room and quality hotel experience), but my disabled mother was being driven up from Ohio, for 10 hours, that morning, and I would have to be awake to explain the changes and guide her through everything. Not to mention it didn't seem right I should be expected to pay to stay in a different hotel room, treated with hostility and annoyance, receive no apology, and no customer service. After all, shouldn't my room have been clean and waiting, and NOT booked to anyone but e, after 3PM on 7/11/12?

To shorten this part of the tale a bit, I stumbled over to the 4 Points, by Sheraton, where I was checked into a, clearly 'reserve' room, on the fourth floor, at 3:30 AM. I was starving, and had not eaten that day (thanks to flight issues). I was determined to wait up for the restaurant to open at 6:30. My boyfriend and I decided to walk the floor and look for a vending or ice machine. There was no ice machine on our floor, and the hallways were quite a mess. I returned to the room that had been assigned to me. There was an ominous panel, by the air conditioning unit, that seemed to be separated from the wall. I could see fiberglass and dirt/grime protruding from all edges- lovely. I contacted my mother, still concerned about the uncertainty of both our reservations. My mom, who was leaving Ohio at 4 am to arrive in the early am, and is disabled, was just as concerned as I was. So far there had been no customer service, understanding, or sign of even the slightest compensation for the inconvenience. She was ready then and there to pull our reservations. I reasoned with her, I would stay up (although exhausted from delayed flights and the heat in traveling, with no sleep in over 24 hours, already), and speak with the manager coming in "between 8:30 and 9 AM). Why I couldn't be given an exact arrival time of the manager, or why the manager, in this circumstance, wouldn't make it a priority to come to me, when they checked in, is beyond me.

At about 10:40 AM, I emerged from my room, having given the manager plenty of time to decide to show up for work (a bit of sarcasm and humor), and went downstairs to speak with her. What followed further boggles my mind. I was told that I would be speaking to the manager (_____) via phone, right there at the front desk, whist customers checked in. Why I should 1.) not have the right to speak to a manger in person, 2.) be expected, or for it to be acceptable for a customer to, air dirty laundry and complaints verbally in front of incoming customers during a busy checkin is beyond me. I tried, very tactfully to tell my story, thus far. Meanwhile, ORKIN, pest control, was directly to my right, in the middle of the lobby discussing bed bug problems in specific rooms (I can give you numbers). When I later addressed this poor business practice to _____, I was told "We cannot control outside vendors, and where they are" No, but you can manage your staff to acknowledge and discuss these events in more private (or at least a hallway) areas. Why I should check into a $150+/night hotel with stars, and a sheraton, and see (let alone hear) bed bug treatment being discussed is outrageous.

Back to my phone conversation with the non present, impersonal resolution attempt. I was told that _____ would comp my first night, due to the events. I was then told the resolution would be to get me into a room at the Aloft today (7/12), but that she did not currently have a room available for my mother. At that point, we have to acknowledge that it now seems there was inf fact a much bigger issue than me not having my paid room for last night (7/11), but it seems I wouldnt not have had the same room, or even a guaranteed room, for Saturday. I was getting frustrated. Not only was this not being smoothly resolved, but I was not liking the lack of remedy, the existence of no compensation whatsover, the impending potential problems, and what I had seen of the properties so far (allowing complaints in the lobby in front of customers, no manager face to face, bed bug discussions in broad daylight, etc). I explained that would simply not do it- My mother was already pushing for us to go elsewhere, and I was beginning to agree, I needed a better solution, and perhaps something to make up for the mess so far (other than a free, miserable, half night in a lower quality hotel than initially booked). The simple truth is, in the end, Sheraton robbed me of a day of my hard earned, paid vacation, and time with my mother I wont get back.

The manager was quick to interrupt, "We have cancellations regularly, we'll have something by Saturday, I just don't right now. Why it should be acceptable that a room I had paid for a month back (2 rooms) would not be reserved, clean, and waiting for me in the first place is not understandable, let alone, why it should be an acceptable solution for me to be relocated again, in the middle of a week long stay, on Saturday- with no sort of compensation. Again, I said that was not a solution for me, I had paid more than the median rate for local hotel rooms, I had hand picked the aloft because it appeared so unique (frankly the magic was lost after the interaction with the rude receptionist). I had been up all morning looking for backups- I had to have something I had taken care of a month ago, solved with a backup option by the time my mom arrived around 2 that afternoon. No longer could I sleep and recuperate from my cross country flight- so I could spend 1 of 3 days a year with my mom.....

I returned to my room, frustrated. Apparently the prospect of ruining the Sheraton's reputation within my circles, more of my vacation, or losing $1400 in pre-paid sales, was not a motive to make things better. Of course where I had saved $20-$30 a night on similar location and quality hotels, in booking a month early online, I was now facing paying MORE to transfer to a new hotel. Even so, it seemed the more logical thing to do, given what I had seen, heard, and (just as importantly not seen and heard) so far.

I informed _____ I wanted a refund, to cut my losses now. At this point, she seemed a little more eager to close up our interactions and cut ties. She kindly contacted Expedia and requested a cancellation. At this time, I verified that I wouldn't not be able to leave until my mother drove into town (with her hubby) around 3pm. I clarified that this would not be a problem. I was told, it would absolutely not. Low and behold, while I was attempting to book my new reservations, frantically, doing new research on ratings and rates, and availability and location (things I so diligently did a month back, to prepare, so I could ENJOY my vacation), we receive a knock on the door from a woman with a clipboard. "Are you aware checkout is 12?" I said yes, and explained I was not leaving until 3. I was given a questioning look, and the woman began to chastise me and tell me how I would be charged for 'late checkout', and that the room was urgently needed.....I explained ____ had given us permission to stay until 3. I was told that this woman, head of housekeeping, had heard no such thing. To which I calmly replied :I am not surprised", thanked the woman, and closed the door. Getting the sense I was not wanted, I quickly gather my things, and hailed a $12 cab to a non air conditioned pizza parlor where I waited 3 hours for my mother to pick me up, in a foreign town, with 4 suitcases.

In the end, I paid $1500, for the remainder of my reservation, at a nearby comparable hotel (Mariott). I told them my sob story (after spending hours searching hotels for something clean and with open rooms- recall I needed an entire week, not easy by the airport last minute in the summer). I paid a significant amount more than my Aloft reservation, and was/am staying one day less than that initial reservation. Another price I have to pay for a clean room, last minute, that could accommodate both my mother and I. The way I am looking at it now, Sheraton and I are not even, even with my refund and the 'free' night in the dirty hotel room. I have lost money over all, let alone lost a day of time with my ill mother. I live in CA, she is in OH, and this was a special splurge to that we could spend just a few days together after 2 years apart. Who knows how many days I will have left- I certainly don't have $$$$ in airfare to do it as often as I would desire- thus me wanting to put her up in a NICE hotel she would not generally afford.

Truly, the impression Sheraton has made has been dramatic, and one I intend on sharing with as many in my circle, as will listen. I am deeply disappointed by, not necessarily the calamity of bad business practices (overbooking a paid room, highlighting bed bug treatment in a lobby, airing complaints in public), but the absolute lack of ability or seemingly the intent or fix the situation and repair a part of my trip that is lost. I couldn't even speak to a manger in person, given the situation, they handed me a phone! Shame on Sheraton!"

It should be noted, that the remainder of Day 1 (with no sleep after the flight from heck), continued with us being asked to leave the hotel, so they could clean the room- after the manager had given me approval (over the phone, as I never did get to see her face) to stay until 3PM, when Momma would pick us up. We took a cab into a less than safe part of Philly and sat in a humble Pizzaria (with no A/C) for 3 hours. I have to say, Nick's Pizzeria turned out to be the best part of our first day (only rivaled by actually reuniting with Momma). I finally got to share the East Coat's famous White Sauce Buffalo Pizza with Jeremy, and munch on a delicious Antipasto Salad while downing a 2 Liter in the heat. If it hadn't been for our wonderful Jammy Pack backup battery, and it's 40+ hours of extended battery life, I'm not sure how Momma would have found us. Honestly, that little battery is a lifesaver, and a must have!

I'd also like to note that I did receive an email from Sheraton (Starwood) customer service, stating my experience was "the exception, not the rule." and that I would be contacted within 5 days regarding the issue, once an investigation was completed. I did not receive a follow up in that time frame. When I inquired again, with customer service I received an almost identical email, followed by yet another email (so much for personal customer care) from the very woman I had been dealing with via phone during my stay. Essentially the only thing in this email was a note that my refund had been processed "Including the night that you stay with us." (Yes, grammar issues included! Mind you that 'night' was from 3:30 AM to 12PM, and included several hours of back and forth with the staff regarding our issue, and calling nearly every hotel in town hunting for a new reservation. Apparently, in Sheraton's eyes, we are square.


  1. WOW! That is all I can say! I just returned from a vacation and if my hotel would have done that to me I would have been MAD!

  2. Sounds like you had a major experience. Why can't things be simple like they use to be. Traveling nowadays is scary, cancelled flights, no room when you know you booked an paid already. You really never know what's going to happen when you travel. Love your phone case, it's super adorable.

  3. Shame on Sheraton for treating you this way! I am sharing and tweeting. I hope you get a satisfactory response.

  4. Wow that's ridiculousness! What a nice welcome you had to my home town! Good thing you found Nick's! Even though it's in a crappy area their pizza is great! I would definitely post a nice link to this blog on the Sheratons Facebook page as well as pass a nice little e-mail message to News 3,6, &10 about Sheraton and their "bed bug problem" Not trying to be callous or spiteful towards them, but as a long time reader I am OUTRAGED that this was your introduction to my home town! I can't say Im surprised by the quality of hospitality from Philadelphians in general because there is None which is why I no longer live there, but I am VERY surprised that the Sheraton allows this to be their quality of service to its customers! SouthWest I am even more surprised by b/c as a long time customer of them usually customer service and informing you of ANY & ALL changes/delays immediately are a big reason why I have traveled with them for so long! SMH

  5. I love traveling! The food looks amazing

  6. Shameful. Hope you are tweeting this. I did for you!

  7. Wow what awful treatment. Thankfully, my last trip went wonderfully well and I had no issues to deal with.

  8. ((hugs)) Yikes! What a nightmare... I'm going on vacation in a few weeks and glad to get the heads up on what might happen.