Saturday, January 22, 2022

The 3rd year

A seagull facing the Atlantic in Boston
We are reaching the end of January in 2022. The third year into the pandemic. The year seems to go pretty much like 2021. Old pre-pandemic memories are replaced by the lone memories of the pandemic. Let's see how long this goes.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Frozen Arctic

Looking back, standing on frozen winter Arctic

I went for an early morning walk on the frozen Arctic Ocean with a headlight. It felt even colder than on the land. Also, more walks on the frozen middle lagoon lake in Utqiagvik. I was well-prepared for -50 F (-45 C) temperatures with proper layers of winter clothes and a good pair of long snow boots. Notably, this -34 C was the coldest weather I have ever been to. But I did not feel much cold except in my fingers as I removed the outer glove at times to focus the camera better.

This was the most volatile and dynamic trip I have ever had. My initial trip plan was one night in Anchorage, four nights in Fairbanks (College), three nights in Utqiagvik, and two nights again in Anchorage - making a total of 10 nights in Alaskan hotels. However, the plan started to break as the blizzards strongly hit Fairbanks. The flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks was delayed on the day I was supposed to go to Utqiagvik. Eventually, the flight was canceled, and I was given a flight that departed two days later. Alaskan Airlines also told me there is no flight to Utqiagvik from Anchorage until January 2nd. That means the Utqiagvik segment of my trip was removed entirely—such an anti-climax.

I first had to cancel the non-refundable hotel booking of Utqiagvik. It was refundable until 72 hours. But now it is just a few hours, so it became non-refundable. But thankfully, King Eider Inn asked for my flight information and let me cancel it free of charge. Now, I must stay somewhere for two additional nights. My previous hotel was fully booked, although I tried to rebook it as I liked it. I also do not want to stay far from Fairbanks as there was a risk of road closures, and I cannot miss the flight to a road closure due to the ice and snow in the road.

I opened the app on my mobile. The app was timing out every time I came to the last booking step due to the slow Internet. These apps should cater to places with slow Internet better. There is no reason to time out within a minute when the request is sent. I also used the mobile browser and desktop browser options. They were timing out too. Finally, I booked a hotel directly using their website for two nights and went ahead to stay there.

Then, I called Alaska Airlines to get a refund for the unused ANC <-> BRW segment. They told me that there is a flight to BRW on the 1st and a return to ANC on the 2nd. I accepted it. That means one night in Anchorage. I booked for one night in Anchorage (unfortunately, too soon). Since it is a booking that comes too soon, it is also non-refundable. On the 31st morning, I arrived at Fairbanks airport. Found a flight that is leaving earlier. I waitlisted myself. And they let me fly the earlier flight. I arrived in Anchorage early enough to catch the fight going right now to Utqiagvik. I quickly asked them to waitlist me, and they instantly let me fly. That means two days in Utqiagvik. December 31st and January 1st nights. I happily boarded the flight. I asked the hotel in Anchorage to change the non-refundable hotel booking to Jan 2nd night. They rejected my request, although they could have offered to help, as it was all bad weather (acts of God. Even Alaskan Airlines did not compensate for these changes and subsequent losses, citing this as an act of God) and dynamic planning. I lost 110$ for that stupid booking. Anyway, not a huge deal.

I landed in Utqiagvik, headed to King Eider Inn without a booking. I asked for a two-night stay, explaining the whole ordeal of canceled flights. As I was expecting (unlikely to have many tourists to the Arctic in midwinter), they had a room for me. They even offered me a free upgrade with a kitchenette for both nights (20$ per night extra usually). I had a great time for both days/nights in Utqiavik. I even cooked my meals in the kitchenette as the restaurants were closed due to COVID19 and the new year.

On January 2nd night, I arrive at Anchorage airport. My flight to Atlanta was on January 3rd morning. But since the hotel did not accept my request for a change of dates, I had to book another room. It is already the end of my trip. I was already tired and just going to Anchorage to sleep for the night with another booking; unpacking and repacking the backpack and suitcase filled with dirty clothes is not fun. I went to the Delta counter again. Waitlisted myself to the earlier flight to Seattle. I got myself to Seattle, and eventually to Atlanta in an earlier flight and arrived in Atlanta on the 3rd evening, rather than the 4th morning.

Overall, this was my most dynamic trip with unexpected changes. Thankfully, I lost only 110$, or rather, a value of a hotel for a night in Anchorage. Anyway, I shortened my trip by one night, making it a 9-night trip (1 night in Anchorage, four nights in Fairbanks/College, two nights in Fairbanks, and two nights in Utqiagvik), rather than the initial plan of 10-nights. So it was more of a lost night, rather than a 110$. This also made me rethink how and when to book a hotel when traveling locally.