It’s no vacation traveling home for the holidays

Every year it’s the same story: you study, take tests and write papers with one light on the horizon: the upcoming winter break. You start an official countdown to the end of finals and, when the day finally arrives, you stand before the departures board in the airport only to read the word “Delayed.”

The typical travel problem that Williams students face is flight delays. “It’s always an adventure,” said Nicholas Reynolds ’08. In order to get home to Kentucky, Reynolds has to fly from New York to Atlanta to Louisville, which creates a long day of travel and plenty of opportunities for delays. As Reynolds was trying to get back home last spring break, he had a flight scheduled for midday and didn’t end up leaving until 7 p.m.

Reynolds has seen it the other way around as well. He had a 9 a.m. flight that was pushed forward 10 minutes. He arrived at the airport 40 minutes ahead of time, got to the gate too late and wasn’t allowed onto the plane. Instead he was put onto a 6 p.m. flight, which was delayed until 10 p.m. Given that it is a 12-hour drive to Kentucky, Reynolds finds that his airport time sometimes end up being longer than the drive would have been, but “there’s no point [in getting angry],” Reynolds said. “There’s nothing they can do about it.”

Similarly, Neecia Shaw ’10 from Washington state knows all about traveling setbacks. “I always have delays,” Shaw said. “I’ve just come to expect them.” She usually has to make one or two stops, and a short layover combined with a delayed flight almost ensures that she misses the connecting flight. She was once on a flight when a passenger started having trouble breathing so the plane had to land 20 minutes before their actual stop, causing Shaw to be late and miss her connection. “My parents always try to get the cheapest flights,” Shaw said, “which means more connections and longer flight times.” The trip back to Albany can sometimes be the worst. “If my flight is delayed,” Shaw said, “I miss my ride and have to pay for a taxi, which is much more expensive.”

“I used to like flying,” Shaw said, “but it seems like it gets more uncomfortable the more you fly.”

This Thanksgiving, Eric Ballon-Landa ’08 became a true expert on delays and just how bad they can get. Coming back to Williamstown from San Diego, Calif., his 8 a.m. flight got cancelled after he had already been delayed for six hours. Ballon-Landa and his sister, Nicole Ballon-Landa ’11, managed to get a flight to Denver. “We then spent five hours there waiting for the red-eye to Washington,” Ballon-Landa said, “which was two and a half hours, the total amount of sleep we got the whole trip.” They then made it on an 8 a.m. flight from Washington, D.C., to Albany. “That was the 27-hour debacle,” Ballon-Landa finished.

For many international students, passport difficulties often cause traveling woes. “I was really excited to go home,” James Kim ’10 said. “I was counting down the days.” However, at the end of spring semester, after unsuccessfully searching for his passport for six hours, Kim missed his flight home to Hong Kong. He scheduled one for a week later but still had to get a new passport. He went to New York to do so but was told he had to make an appointment to even get in the building, which ensued in a heated argument. After waiting outside for about an hour and a half, James ran into the secretary as she was coming out and convinced her to let him in. Luckily, things worked out, and he was able to make his second flight.

Hailing from Toronto, Sarah Tory ’11 faced similar problems over Thanksgiving weekend this year. After being told at customs that her I-94 had expired, she was quickly escorted into an overcrowded room and put into a long line. When she tried to get the necessary paperwork, “The customs worker screamed, ‘Ma’am, you just have to sit down!’” Tory said. She managed to make her flight, but didn’t reflect fondly on the experience. “The customs people are . . . really mean,” Tory said. “They are all out to get you and stop you from coming into the country.”

Going through security, with its ever-changing lists of forbidden carry-on items, often eats up time on travel days. Petra Szilagyi ’09 once wore a gun-shaped necklace and was stopped by security while they searched her luggage for 15 minutes. Plus, “I have to carry on a lot of luggage and sometimes I forget what’s in everything,” Szilagyi said. “The TSA workers were actually really nice, but the police officers yelled at me.” It got down to the wire for her flight time, but she was just able to make it.

For others, the problems exist not in the airport but on the road home. “I only live 14 miles out of town,” Adam Carman ’10 said, “but it once took me a couple hours to get home in a snow storm.” Carman’s hometown of Jackson Hole, Wyo., is small and remote, making it difficult to get to if the weather is bad. “I’ve definitely had my share of bad experiences,” Carman said.

It’s a common story for many students around campus. Almost everyone that lives farther than a bus ride away has had their holiday traveling woes. Whether it’s due to bad weather, a delayed flight or security issues, the journey home can be a long one.