On Sunday 17 October 2010, my family and I needed to get from a family reunion in Champaign, IL (after the wedding of my nephew the day before near Danville, IL) to O’Hare airport to catch a plane. On a recommendation from my father, we booked three seats on the Lincolnland Express bus from Champaign to O’Hare. He had had good service taking the bus between Bloomington and the Chicago suburbs.
We did the right thing, booking our seats a week ahead of time on the Internet, as the bus company told us to do on the web site. The website also suggested that we call to confirm that the bus we were taking was running, so we called the night before and were assured that the bus was running.
When we got to the Illinois Terminal in Champaign, we waited around for the bus. We were pleased to see that Illinois is still building train stations, as California seems to be more in the mode of tearing down old ones and replacing them with useless bus-stop-style places to wait in the cold and the wind.
When the bus did not come at the scheduled time, we waited some more. When it was 15 minutes late, we called the bus company and again inquired about the bus. They assured us it would be there shortly. It finally came over half an hour late, but we had left enough time at O’Hare that if the bus ran just half an hour late we would be fine, so we boarded the bus.
Illinois Terminal in Champaign. Image via Wikipedia.
Unknown to us, despite 3 calls to the bus company specifically asking them, the company had canceled our bus and merged it with the next run which had more stops and took much longer to get to O’Hare. The company did knowingly cancel and merge the bus runs, since the driver had one list of passengers combining the ticket sales for both runs.
That bus stopped at every shopping mall between Champaign and O’Hare (and several that were far out of the way). The bus ended up 45 minutes late for the next bus after ours, which was an hour and 30 minutes late for when we had planned to arrive at O’Hare. Our plane had started boarding before we got to the security line (which was quite slow at O’Hare), so we missed our flight by a lot. We were not the only bus riders to miss our planes—there were at least 4 others on the bus who got to the airport an hour and a half after the scheduled time, and probably missed their planes also.
This all was irritating enough, but what made it worse for us was that we had had an alternative, if the bus company had just been honest with us on any of the times we had called them. We could have begged a favor of my sister, who would have driven us from Champaign to the airport. We would have owed her a favor, but we would have made our plane with hours to spare.
As it turned out, we had to rebook our American Airlines flight, taking a less convenient flight that changed planes in Dallas and got the last plane into San Jose the next day (there were no more that night, and all the reasonably convenient flights were overbooked). This cost us $165 plus 75,000 frequent flier miles (which I estimate as worth about 1 cent each, so about $750 worth of miles). We only got $165 back on the unused tickets, which could not be applied to the rebooked flight, but only as a credit for some mythical future travel.
We also had to pay about $155 for a hotel room near the airport, and about $60 extra for airport food the next day. Luckily, we were able to change our ground transportation in California, and we did not have to pay double for that. So we’re out of pocket about $1000 for the delay (in addition to the $45 each for our tickets), making this the most expensive bus ride I’ve ever taken. Given the 2-page disclaimer they make you sign when you buy a ticket from them, I doubt that it would be worth the effort to try to get any recompense from them. It is probably more useful to go to various travel advisory services and post warning messages not to believe them when they say that their buses are running on schedule.
I was also able to contact colleagues and could get coverage for the two classes I missed by the unexpected delay. Unfortunately, the delay also meant I missed the field trip to MBARI, which I’d been hoping to join this year.
Bottom line: Linconland Express is not a trustworthy bus company—take them only if you don’t care when you arrive. The next time I have occasion to go to University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana or Illinois State University in Bloomington, you can be sure that I will not be giving my business to Lincolnland Express.