While we learned this lesson months before leaving for our RTW trip, we definitely apply what we learned from it every time we're on the move, so we wanted to share it with you! On New Year's Eve Jake and I learned a valuable lesson: always, ALWAYS, check the flight departure time on the boarding pass you receive via email after checking in online. And like most good lessons, we learned the hard way.

We had just spent a few days after Christmas in Wisconsin with the Wysocki clan, celebrating the holiday and watching the Packers (which is also a religious experience with the family). Jake and I had planned to fly back to Los Angeles the morning of New Years Eve, expecting to land in time to take a shower and head over to Cammie's parent's house in San Marino for a New Years Eve party. Our flight was supposed to leave the teeny, tiny Central Wisconsin Airport at 6:45am. Al and Joan woke up bright and early with us that morning to drive us to the airport.  We arrived at 5:40, plenty of time to print our boarding passes, go through security (which literally takes less than one minute there are rarely other travelers there), and relax at one of the six gates. We said our goodbyes at the curb and ran inside - it was -5* outside and I was eager to get out of the cold!

As we approached the ticket desks, we noticed just one other person in the terminal, a guy about our age, looking frantic. No one was behind the desk. It's early, I thought, maybe they haven't gotten to work yet. I walked up to the check in computer to print our boarding passes and typed in our confirmation number. Instead of quickly printing our passes, the screen flashed at me, "It is too late to check in. This flight has departed." What? How is that possible? It doesn't leave for another hour. Something must be wrong. So I tried it again, and got the same message. Then it hit me - the other guy was frantic because he, too, was supposed to be on this flight and was getting the same message. We looked around for assistance, but no there was no one to be found - the desks were empty, security was empty, and we couldn't see into the gates. Jake pulled up the confirmation email to make sure the information was correct. We booked this flight through Orbitz and had received many emails about it, reminding us of the time and date of our departure. We mostly ignored these emails because we had already saved the original confirmation. Well, we should have paid closer attention. It turns out that American Airlines changed the departure time from 6:45 am to 5:45 am, and it had just pulled away from the gate. Days before, when I double checked our departure time, I looked at the original email, not an of the most recent ones. And I did not think to open the Orbitz app to confirm the details in real time. Silly Noelle.

So, we missed our flight, and so did our new buddy. The three of us immediately went into problem solving mode. The first idea - this flight connected through Chicago, and we all had really long layovers there; it would be possible for us to rent a car and make the three hour drive to Chicago to meet up with our connections at O'Hare. We ran across the street to the car rental desks. But of course, it was early and they were closed. We couldn't rent a car until 8am. It would be tight, but we might have been able to make the connection. I called American Airlines to make sure that, even though we missed our first flight, we would still have a valid ticket for the second flight that would allow us to board the plane. And here's where my opinion of American Airlines changed from "Ugh, American Airlines" to "Wow! American Airlines!"

"Good morning and happy new year! Thank you for calling American Airlines. How may I assist you today?" Charlene said cheerfully. I explained what happened, letting her know that we weren't aware of the departure time change and missed our flight, and asked if we could still catch the plane at O'Hare if we got there in time. "Yes, you can still board. But I'm not sure you'll get there in time. Would you like to know what other flights out of O'Hare are available?" Might as well. Charlene read off several different flight times, each of them not due to arrive in Los Angeles until after 11pm. At that point, we might as well have stayed in Wisconsin for one more day. She also told me about the few departures from CWA that were scheduled for the day - same deal. I was feeling defeated. I was sounding defeated. I was resigning myself to the fact that we (well, I) didn't properly check the departure time and now we were going to miss our New Years Eve plans with our friends who we rarely get to see since they live on the East Coast. "Here's what else we can do," Charlene said, "I can cancel this reservation and rebook you with another carrier." Oh geez. I wonder how expensive that will be, how much of a "Stupid Tax" will we have to pay? The fees we incur when we make mistakes is what we like to call "Paying the Stupid Tax". Stupid mistakes cost money. "It's free of charge." Oh wait, that sounded good. "What did you say?" I asked. "Did you say there are no change fees? Ok, how much would the other ticket be?" Charlene explained that we wouldn't have to pay anything, that the difference in ticket price would be paid by American Airlines. "You booked through a third party, and we don't know what kind of information you received from them about this change. We need to take care of you." WOW! I was thinking American Airlines would have said You booked through a third party, so you're screwed. By the end of the call, Charlene had us rebooked on a United flight that landed in Los Angeles at 4pm, an hour earlier than originally planned, at no additional cost to us. I couldn't believe it.

We called Joan and Al, explained what happened, and they came and got us. We got to eat breakfast and sleep for a few more hours in our hotel room (that we hadn't checked out of yet because it was so early), so we basically spent the duration of our O'Hare layover in our comfy Holiday Inn Express room. All around win! We made it back in time to have a glass of champagne with my family and ring in 2015 with Cammie and Kip!

Thankfully, we got to learn this lesson without paying any Stupid Tax fees! And ever since that day,  we've checked, and double checked, and triple checked that we have the most current information regarding our travels. Sure, we've paid some "Stupid Tax" in the five months that we've been traveling, and I'm sure there will be more to pay. But with each payment comes a lesson, and we're learning a lot. I'm glad that we got to learn this one for free.