Yes, you read that right. I recently enjoyed a brief vacation to Scotland. One nearly derailed by the ice storm that hit the DFW area the tail end of January. Running out of options and time, I had little choice but to take a chance on the nation’s primary low-cost carriers. And amazingly, my vacation was saved by Spirit and Frontier.
Weather Woes Threaten My Short Vacation
Many months ago, I planned a review trip centered around Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class on the A330-900neo. The catch? This required getting to Tampa by Wednesday, February 1 at 8:50 pm. Granted, booking separate tickets in winter always poses a risk in case of winter weather mischief. But starting in Dallas and catching the long-haul in Tampa seemed as low risk as just about anything. The other option involved catching the A330-900neo in Boston instead. No way I’m willing to take that chance in winter.
Anyway, about a week and a half before my trip, I became concerned about winter mischief. The official forecast for February 1 said 40s and maybe some rain in Dallas. But some of the weather models suggested trouble, and I’ve seen enough of these patterns to recognize it as one likely to overperform. Sure enough, by the weekend, it looked like an extended Texas ice storm headed our way. Cancellations started piling up on Monday. By Tuesday morning, I found this outside my door. (Yes, those of you from up north are probably laughing your a**es off. But this amount of sleet shuts the DFW area down.)
My son certainly enjoyed the unscheduled school holiday, though.
About a week before my trip, icy conditions looked increasingly likely the first half of Wednesday. With that in mind, I booked an “insurance policy”, a refundable ticket on the last flight from Dallas to Tampa on Southwest for Tuesday night. During the night Monday, Southwest already canceled my originally scheduled Wednesday flight. For most of the day, though, it looked certain that the 9:25 pm departure to Tampa would actually operate. By 4 pm, with the flight still on and the incoming flight only 20 minutes delayed, I started making final plans to head to the airport. Then I got the dreaded text message from Southwest – flight canceled. Nothing available for Wednesday, either, with significant freezing rain expected on top of the sleet.
Ultra Low-Cost Carriers to the Rescue
The trip seemed doomed, but I stubbornly refused to give up. I scoured the Flighty app for alternatives. Spirit had a flight to Atlanta out of DFW, delayed to 11 pm but still scheduled to go. Now, Atlanta isn’t Tampa, but there are something like 16 flights a day between the two cities. So I decided to book it – but nothing else in case the flight canceled. A same-day booking, even on Spirit, wasn’t cheap at $223, plus $51 for a Big Front Seat. But if it saves the trip, it’s worth it, I thought.
Amazingly, I managed to find a Lyft driver willing to take me to the airport. Even more amazingly, said driver got us there in one piece. (Relax, he received a very generous tip for his trouble.) Even more super amazingly, as we headed to the airport, the inbound aircraft took off for Dallas. This might actually work! So as I sat at Terminal E waiting, I looked for options to get to Tampa the next day. The only flight that wouldn’t set me back $500+? A one-way on Frontier. Frontier is notoriously unreliable, but the flight timing provided a 7-hour connection in Tampa. Surely even Frontier could get that right. And so, I booked the one way plus a bag for $137, and crossed my fingers. (As an aside, I found this flight earlier, but decided not to book until I was certain the Spirit flight would operate.)
Boarding time came at 10:25, and we actually did start boarding the plane. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to settle in to a Big Front Seat.
I left home in kind of a hurry, and so I ordered a cheese tray. Yes, it’s the same cheese tray that’s been on the Spirit menu since at least 2018.
After this crazy day, I seriously considered treating myself to a BuzzBall. Then I thought better of it, given my plans to enjoy myself on the plane the next night…
Anyway, an expiring Bonvoy free night certificate got me a free room at the Renaissance Concourse Atlanta Airport. The next morning, bag drop at the Frontier counter took only a couple of minutes. (Interestingly, nobody asked to see ID.) With Pre-Check pretty quiet at 10:30 am, it took only a few minutes more to reach the gate. Sonny the Lemon Shark even arrived early to take us to Tampa.
Boarding began on time. Legroom is tight, but with a half empty plane, I ended up with an entire row to myself.
All’s Well that Ends Well
Sonny even got us to Tampa a full 23 minutes early. This meant a 3-hour wait until the Virgin ticket counters opened to drop off my bag. But seriously, I didn’t care at all. I made it onboard Virgin’s swanky new Upper Class on the brand spanking new A330-900neo.
The rest of the trip went off without a hitch, and I thoroughly enjoyed my glimpse of the Scottish Highlands two days later.
Exceptionally good fortune smiling down on me? Perhaps. But on this one day at least, my trip ended up salvaged from a pair of much-maligned ULCCs. That just goes to show you, when trouble strikes, don’t just give up on your long-awaited trip. Look for options even from nontraditional sources. Sometimes they could just bail you out when you least expect it.