"Let's go to NYC," he said. "You'll love it," he said.
Frankly, I wanted to stay home and play World of Warcraft. It was Hallows End, my favourite non-existent holiday in the the world, and I wanted to trick or treat with my avatars.
Well, we went...and then Sandy nuked the city.
This is how we got out on October 31st, 2012 (we were scheduled to fly out of LeGuardia, which is now a water park).
I'm not telling you to do what I did - I'm simply trying to help give you ideas to help other visitors get out of this disaster zone and get home. I'm not a professional, so don't come back and sue me if you get screwed around (I don't have any money anyway) - RESULTS MAY VARY, and you have to exercise reasonable caution with whatever method you choose to get out of the city. This is simply the story of how we got out, and hopefully it will help you generate ideas and help you get home as well. I've heard there's a gas shortage in some areas of NYC and that people are getting desperate, but we got out with no problems once we accepted that the airports, trains, buses and car rental agencies were crippled because employees were either dealing with their own problems and/or couldn't get to work. Here's how we got out:
- We looked at cities close to NYC with working airports and settled on Philadelphia, a city that was relatively unscathed and was only a 1 hour drive away. Flights weren't yet full out of Philly and they had flights to Canada, and since it was relatively close (and wasn't that busy when we got there, though this may have changed) we booked a flight out of Philly.
- We talked to the bellman at your hotel - the guy who deals with cabbies a lot and helps people with their luggage. We asked him if he knew a cab/limo drivers who they trust who would be willing to drive us to Philadelphia. We tried this on out own at first, but decided against it. We found a cabbie who was willing to take us to Philly, but he was rude, his English skills were sketchy and we didn't get a good feeling from him. I'm not being racist or language-ist, but you need someone you can communicate with. Bellmen tend to deal with cab drivers every day and I think they tend to know who is reliable. You don't want to get halfway to Philly and have some shady driver pull over to the side and say, "I want $1000 more or I'm dropping you off here." I'm NOT saying cab drivers in NYC are like this - I'm just a writer who thinks about the worst case scenarios. My boyfriend's experience in the past is that the guys who drive the yellow cabs are pretty much lost once they leave Manhattan, so you want someone you can communicate easily with and who is a SAFE driver who knows how to use a GPS outside of the city. Our driver had never been to Philly before, but he was a courteous driver and got us to the Philadelphia airport safely and with no problems.
- Be willing to pay at least $400-$500 or more to get to Philly. We negotiated a price of $440 (and he was so nice we tipped him $40) with one of the cab drivers (a fantastic driver named Darwin) who drive the black SUVs (it was a taxi.limo service). It seemed like a lot at the time, but looking back, it was worth every penny.
So that's how we got out, and we are now in Canada. We were relatively insulated where we were staying - we were north of 34th (where the power went out) and south of the crane-related hotel evacuations, so we were very lucky.
1. We made the mistake of booking a train to Philly with Amtrak after being reassured by the customer service agent that they would be running trains out of Penn Station on October 31st. THEY AREN'T, and they are STILL selling tickets. Luckily it was exceedingly easy to cancel our ticket with Amtrak, which we booked online (just Google "cancel reservations Amtrak"). Air Canada and several airlines are still selling tickets for flights out of Newark (which was a ghost town when we rove past it). The airport websites and company websites for airlines, car rentals, buses and other modes of transportation are NO HELP and many are still allowing you to make online reservations..
2. After encountering a police barricade when trying to catch our train, we went to the bus depot. No one was there, either, which is why we chose the cab option (our plane ticket was non-refundable, so it was our only option for leaving).
3. If you DO book a flight out of NYC when the airports finally open, get there at LEAST 5 to 6 hours early. My boyfriend works in the airlines in Canada and I worked for the same airline as a flight attendant for 6 years, and we've both seen firsthand how backlogs after a typical Canadian snow storm can wreak havok at airports. Hurricane Sandy is no typical storm and If you choose to wait and fly out of NYC, the airports are going to be a SHIT SHOW, and in a disaster-type situation, it's going to be even worse. Airline employees are going to be stressed out, other passengers are going to be freaked out, and you just have to accept that there are going to be long lineups at the ticket counter, long lineups going through security and that it's most likely NOT going to be a pleasant experience. If you have liquids and gels, put them in a clear plastic bag in an accessible area of your luggage (like the outside pocket) so you can take it out quickly. Take every bit of change out of your pockets and JUST PUT YOUR SHOES IN THE BIN - people seem to think that THEIR shoes won't set off the alarm, but they probably will, so save yourself the time and wrath of the TSA and just put 'em in there.
4. $500 sounds like a lot for a cab ride, but we did the math and figured that the cost of accommodations and food were going to be more, so getting a cab out of NYC was worth every penny to us.
5. Be nice to the hotel staff, restaurant staff and airline staff in NYC. Many of them work around the clock to keep you safe and comfortable, and they can't get home to their families. The staff at our hotel (The Candlewood) were actually sleeping at the hotel and haven't seen their families for days. There was a deli shop around the corner from us called the Gourmet Kitchen where the counter staff seemed to be working 15-20 hour shifts. Be patient with employees in the service industry - they're working in unprecedented circumstances.
So that's our story. We waited two days before we wrote off getting a flight out of NYC (we were tempted by the "One more day it will get better" mantra, but after seeing the news, we realized it wasn't).
Good luck, and stay safe.