Dave Bakke: Flying to Springfield? Double-check your ticket

Dave Bakke

With her father about to undergo angioplasty in Arkansas, Sandy Sopin bought a ticket to fly from Seattle to Springfield, Mo., where she was to rent a car and drive to her parents’ home.

Unfortunately for her, she fell victim to the old “wrong Springfield” trick. She bought a ticket to come to Springfield, Ill., instead of Springfield, Mo. And that was her entry into GWOT — the Global War on Travelers.

Sandy was at O’Hare in Chicago waiting for her connecting flight to Missouri when she realized what she had done. She ran to a United Airline ticket counter to explain. Sure, we can help you, they said, but it will cost much, much more. Oh, and your luggage is going to Springfield, Ill., anyway.

Sandy decided to follow her luggage and then drive a rental car to Springfield, Mo., from here. But her flight from Chicago to Springfield, Ill., was delayed for two hours. When she finally touched down at poor, old Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, things got worse. Her luggage was locked away. People working the ticket counter had the key.

“I go to the ticket counter, where no one is working,” she says, “and 10 other people are standing in line. ... We wait. We wait. Nobody. I ask a security guard where the ticket counter people are. He says they do double duty and also have to unload the planes as they come in. What?

“Where am I? Is this the smallest place on the face of the earth? The ticket people also have to unload the planes?”

Eventually the employees returned, Sandy got her luggage and a rental car. She drove to Springfield, Mo., where she had arranged for her nephew to come from Mountain Home, Ark., to pick her up. It’s 10:30 p.m., and Sandy hadn’t eaten anything since 8 a.m.

Her nephew got lost, but they reached Sandy’s parents’ in Mountain Home at 3:30 a.m., 25 ½ hours after Sandy left home for the airport in Seattle.

The next day the thought occurred to Sandy, “How am I going to get home?” Her return airline ticket still had her flying out of Springfield, Ill. She checked with United to see how much it would be to fly from Springfield, Mo. to Springfield, Ill. That would be, she was told, $825. She was shocked.

“I didn’t ask for a flight to Italy,” she says. “I just want to fly the one hour from one Springfield to the other.”

In Mountain Home over the next few days, Sandy was on and off the telephone, trying to find an easier way back to Seattle. She was on hold for so long that she once ate dinner while waiting for a human voice.

“They play that stupid little clip of the United theme song over and over and over while you are on hold. Again, another little Chinese water torture tactic that I have learned all airlines try on you to see if they can break you down to a quivering ball of mush.”

Sandy had her hopes raised a couple of times, only to have them dashed. For example, she had her flight changed from Illinois to Missouri with no extra charge … until the United clerk learned she had originally booked her flight through Expedia. That meant an extra $925 to change her departure airport from Springfield, Ill. to Springfield, Mo. No, thanks.

She contacted Expedia and was told that her flight home had been changed anyway. She was still leaving from Springfield, Ill., on Saturday, but the next leg from Chicago to Seattle was postponed until Sunday. That was bad news, but it gave her an opening.

She asked for another flight. The Expedia clerk said OK, but she might have to fly out of another city. Sandy jumped on that. How about, say, Springfield, Mo.? The clerk said that would be fine. Booked. Done. No extra charge.

“This did not just happen, right?” Sandy says. “It was the strangest thing. I had just spent three days trying to do something, and they call me and say we have to fix this. It was bizarre.”

Her family drove her to Springfield, Mo., where she boarded a plane to Denver. She missed her flight to Seattle because of bad weather, but after what she had already been through, that was a minor inconvenience. She got a later flight and finally reached home on Sunday.

Sandy spoke to me on Wednesday from home, sweet home in Seattle. Her father is doing fine, and I found her a sadder but wiser traveler. She vows never again to mistake Springfield, Ill. for Springfield, Mo.

“Thank God,” she says, “I didn’t end up in Springfield, Mass.”

Dave Bakke can be reached at (217) 788-1541 ordave.bakke@sj-r.com.