My Aruba Mileage Run Begins: Delta LGA-CVG Trip Report and the Doubletree Cincinnati Airport Review, or One Night in Kentucky

Delta Flt. 995 New York-LaGuardia to Cincinnati, MD-88, Domestic First
Sched. Dep. LGA 4:55pm, Actual Dep. 4:48pm
Sched. Arr. CVG 7:21pm, Actual Arr. 7:10pm

As discussed here, I decided to spend the last weekend of the year requalifying for Delta Gold Medallion status.  The difference between Silver and Gold Medallion is huge, and I found a quite reasonably priced flight to Aruba – with 2 stops each way – leaving Friday after work, and coming back early Monday morning.

Of my 6 legs, upgrades on 4 cleared at or before the Gold Medallion upgrade window.  The only ones that didn’t were my flights from Cincinnati to Atlanta – unsurprising on a hub to hub flight that feeds into the morning bank out of Atlanta – and Atlanta to Aruba, which was a little more surprising given what I’d read and my own experience on flights from New York to the Caribbean.

I was scheduled to depart LGA at 7:30pm on Friday after work, landing in Cincinnati at around 10pm.  The plus was that I wouldn’t need to leave work early at all, but the negative was that I would get to the hotel pretty late – with a 7am flight the next morning.

Around 3pm, I received a phone call and an email from Delta, informing me of a schedule change on my flight – a 40 minute delay (surprisingly, I didn’t get a FlightStats alert for nearly two hours).

I knew what I wanted.  It was a slow day at work, and there was a 4:55 out of LaGuardia.  There was plenty of availability in the First Class cabin, and I still had nearly two hours to make it.  Not only would I get into Cincinnati early enough to have a workout at the hotel before bed, but I would be flying on a mainline jet instead of a RJ. I called Delta, and, without any problem, a helpful representative rebooked me onto the new flight.

My original intent had been to take the subway to the bus to get to LaGuardia, which should take about an hour.  A cab, on the other hand, would only take about 30 minutes if traffic wasn’t bad.  Given that the flight time was approaching and I had a fear that the flight change may have gone poorly, I decided to take an intermediate route – taking the subway to Queens, and then a taxi from the subway stop.  Alas, there were no taxis available and the livery cabs wanted $15 for what is a very short ride.  I ended up taking the second livery cab and off I was.

My new boarding pass printed out at the kiosk with no problem.  I was placed in an aisle seat in a completely empty row, but not in one of the available economy comfort seats.  The kiosk wouldn’t let me change seats, but I figured it wasn’t a big deal and I’d probably get the upgrade anyway.   From there it was to security, where a scan of my boarding pass yielded the beep-beep which means you are eligible for the TSA’s PreCheck program.   For those not familiar, PreCheck is a program for “trusted travelers” (most often, those already in the Global Entry program) which allows you to go to a special line, keep your shoes and light jackets on, and leave your liquids and electronics in your carryon.   It is a super easy experience, although the man in front of me didn’t understand PreCheck and spent time taking his shoes off and laptop out although the agent was telling him not to.  Less than five minutes after I arrived at LaGuardia, I was through security.

It’s actually been quite a while since I’d flown out of LaGuardia on Delta.  Even though Delta is my primary airline, most of my flights are transcontinentals or international, so I find myself mostly flying out of JFK.  Delta has really done an awesome job with Terminal D, putting in a lot of great food options and a really nice, large SkyClub.  There are tons of outlets and comfortable seating in the terminal area, and a lot of Ipads for use by waiting passengers.

I only had about 20 minutes to my scheduled boarding time, but I figured I’d stop in the new SkyClub and see what the seating situation was, as the Delta App was not showing my new flight.   The helpful agent didn’t see my name on the Upgrade List, but then realized it was because I had already been upgraded in the 3 minutes since I had printed out my boarding pass.   The seat assignment was 1D, the bulkhead—not my favorite in First Class due to the lack of under seat storage and the New boarding pass in hand, I grabbed a Diet Coke and some yogurt pretzels, made a few phone calls, and then headed out to the gate.

A few minutes later, boarding began. The flight was very empty-  a total of 60 people on an MD88– and there were a number of nonrevs in both First and Coach.  Even with the nonrevs, the seat next to me and five others in First stayed empty.  There’s no inflight entertainment – a rarity for a Delta mainline jet – though there is wifi.  I had brought more than enough work to entertain myself for the short flight, though.

Despite the dinner hours, there was no meal service on the flight, just the “premium” snack basket.  I’m trying to stay low on my carbs, so resisted the temptation of Sun Chips, Snickers, and shortbread, and took the relatively healthy craisins, which I noshed along with a Turkey Sandwich I had brought from home.

Two hours later, we were descending into Cincinnati.   And after a quick disembarkation, the night took a turn.

I had chosen the Doubletree Cincinnati Airport not only because had a great rate, but because it is the only hotel on the airport property.  Nonetheless, you have to take a shuttle from the terminal, as there are no walkways at the airport.  The day before I left, I called the hotel to confirm the shuttle would be operating and ask the procedure.  I was told to call when I landed, so I did.  A brusque desk clerk told me to wait outside by the hotel shuttle sign and hung up. Time: 7:11pm.

I waited outside.  It was cold.  A sea of other shuttles came and went, and I thought something was off, given how close the hotel was.  So I called again at 7:48pm, and the hotel phone rang for 2 minutes and 24 seconds with no answer.  I hung up and tried again, another 1 minute 32 seconds – no answer.  Finally on my third try, at 7:54, someone answered.  “Hi, I called about 45 minutes ago about a shuttle from the airport, and was wondering how much longer it would be?” “You need to go outside and wait by Door 5.” “Yes, I’ve been doing that for 45 minutes.”  “Well, he left here 15 minutes ago, so you must have missed him.” “No, I’m very sure, I’ve seen every hotel shuttle but the Doubletree.” “Oh wait, he’s right here, I’ll send him right over.”  The word “sorry” was not uttered.” Finally, at 8:03pm, the bright yellow shuttle van pulled up, for the whopping 3 minute drive to the property. (Still glad I took the earlier flight, as the original flight ended up not landing until 10:40.)

The property was a nondescript 2-level, old property on the outside, but perfectly fine on the inside, and had clearly been renovated relatively recently.  There was only one desk clerk, though, so there was a bit of a wait.  What proceeded was one of the most transactional, unfriendly check in processes ever.

“Checking in?”

“Yes, last name is Pulver.”

“Photo ID and credit card?”

<hands>

“Here’s a cookie.” (The famous doubletree cookie.)  <goes to a box and pulls out a folio with keys and a letter>.

“Your room is 254, go down the hall, to the left, and up the elevator.”

FIN.

No “How are you?”, no “Welcome”, no “I see you’re a Hilton Honors Gold member, thank you for your loyalty.” No reflection of my rate anywhere.  I actually would’ve complained about the shuttle service (it was not the same person as the one I spoke to on the phone), and wanted to ask about the morning shuttle, but I didn’t even have the chance to.

The folio had a little information about the property– notably that the restaurant was only open til 10pm – and had hand-written on the bottom “My way – 1000 Hilton HHonors Points”, likely reflecting that my online account settings had been set for extra points instead of breakfast (since I knew breakfast wouldn’t be served by the time I had to leave).   But nothing about the shuttle – a kind of important issue at the airport Doubletree.

I went quickly to the room, because I wanted to have a chance to squeeze in a quick workout before the restaurant closed.  The room itself was actually quite modern, large and lovely, with a large sitting area, spacious bathroom, and lots of outlets.  The gym was newly furnished, but basically just cardio machines with a small rack of free weights.

Perfectly pleasant room

Perfectly pleasant room

After a short workout and shower, I headed down to the nearly empty restaurant, which was comical on its own.  The staff was a bunch of middle-aged Kentucky women, none of whom were in a particular rush to serve customers.  I waited about 15 minutes as a waitress wandered from table to table (of the 3 with customers).  She then moved on to setting another table (30 mins before the restaurant closed), so I actually audibly said “Excuse me” to get her attention.  My $13 Chicken Caesar salad was fine.

After dinner, it was up to bed for a 5am wakeup.  Checkout was easy (although I was not asked how my stay was) and I joined a group waiting for a shuttle, which arrived in about five minutes, and off I was for the quick ride to the terminal.

Overall, the property was disappointing.  An airport hotel that sells itself on the fact that it is a full-service airport hotel should be designed  for quick and easy experience at arrival, check-in and dining.  The hotel failed at all 3. Did I somehow miss the shuttle? Unlikely, but possible.  But the fact that no one answered the phone, and no one apologized was inexcusable.

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