Friday, June 17, 2005

Service with a Sneer

As much as I fly for business and pleasure, I've gotten used to the concept that something is going to go wrong, so you might as well plan for it and be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't. Blog Ally LabKat recently published an aptly-named post detailing her recent horrific experience; it inspired me to brave flashbacks and nightmares to relate one of my similar stories.

To begin, it was just after 6 PM Central on Sunday evening. I was bumped at check-in from a flight from Chicago to Norfolk, VA because O'Hare had arbitrarily changed their screening deadline for accepting checked baggage and I had missed it by two minutes (bear in mind, I was WAY early for the flight). Of course, this was the last flight of the day to Norfolk and I had to be there the next morning.

Thus did the following events transpire.

1) Asked to board flight and have luggage sent following morning, only to be told that it violates security regulations for my luggage to travel on a different flight than the one on which I am.

2) Asked to be given boarding pass to take checked bag through security for screening and gate-check, only to be told that security would not let bag of that size through x-ray machine (as people walk up to screening line with the Samsonite equivalent of steamer trunks and are waved through). Make note to self to lie on checked baggage in future.

3) Desk agent offers choice of standby departures -- Boston with early morning flight to Norfolk (meaning a wonderful fun-filled night in Logan International Airport) or Reagan National (three hours by car from Norfolk over some of the most heavily-traveled highway in the United States).

4) Elect Reagan National and then, in an orgy of poor judgment akin to Napoleon's attack at Waterloo, gives bag to desk agent to check through to National.

5) Run to gate, confirm with person standing there -- presumably gate agent who knows airline rules, since she has access to the computer -- who issues me boarding pass. Leave satisfied that I will be on said flight.

6) Return to board said flight; find out have been given duplicate seating by previous gate agent who has mysteriously disappeared; bumped from flight.

7) Informed that checked bag is now taxiing out to active runway and preparing for an on-time departure to our nation's capital.

8) Carefully, calmly, and with only a slight bit of look akin to Jack Nicholson breaking through a door with an axe, told gate agent that, had they allowed me and my baggage to fly on different flights in the first place, this would not be a problem with which SHE had to deal. Consider mentioning that nice man in turban with full beard and a kidney problem had given me package to put in my bag for delivery to his cousin in Alexandria, only to realize that resulting deposition would make me late for any morning flight to Norfolk (which would still arrive too late).

9) Agent (wisely) books ticket to DCA for first flight out the following morning.

10) Return to friend's house; spend next two hours informing boss, team lead, client contact, client leader, client consultant, third-party intermediary, and quite possibly His Holiness the Pope, given required cc's to other parties whose names I don't recognize, that morning session needs to be canceled and made up later.

11) Fall into bed at 2 AM.

12) Wake up at 4 AM

13) Take taxi back to O'Hare through darkened streets. Wino's cardboard bed looks better and better and better.

14) Board full flight to DCA; leave half-hour late because waiting for connecting baggage from flight that had arrived two hours earlier.

15) Arrive at DCA, set off "gay conservative" alarm, whisked by airport security into separate van and driven at high speeds to rental area, just in time to avoid protestors arriving in response to alert from Dupont Circle and Adams-Morgan.

( Ed. Portion of previous statement is true)

16) Interminable drive to Norfolk, proving once and for all that I-95 looks pretty much the same no matter where in the Eastern Seaboard you are on it.

Of course, there are others; my six gate changes within twenty minutes for a flight departing Dallas/Fort Worth, my being trapped on the runway at D/FW for an hour at 2 PM in August in an aircraft with a malfunctioning air conditioning unit, my 1600-m dash at Seattle/Tacoma International after being sent to the wrong gate twice....the list is extensive.

With that, I must get ready for my flight to the Bay Area tomorrow. The word for the day is "carry-on".

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