Oh, how I love domestic airlines. (Please read that with a sarcasm-laden inner voice.)
Just about a month ago, as we celebrated Flag Day and our upcoming departure for Chengdu, China, Thad and I decided that since we would be around until April that I may as well go home for a couple of weeks this summer to visit family. Since most of the family works as teachers, summer is an ideal time, as many of them have a bit of free time. I could have waited until later in the fall, but I foresaw the possibility of way too much classroom work headed my way, so I opted for our mutual vacation time!
Thad is delving into his Chinese studies, which consist of about five hours of language classes at FSI each day and then an hour to two hours of homework each evening. His focus right now really needs to be Mandarin, so getting me out of his hair was another bonus of this trip home. (Why is it that as soon as he is immersed in some language activity, I find the most brilliant meme on Stumble that I just MUST share?)
With a trip home in mind, and after some calls and Facebook-ing back and forth, it was decided that the excursion to Idaho would remain a secret to all but a select few. What this really means is that Mom and Dad don’t know I am on the way! Matt carefully checked some dates to make sure they would be around for the few weeks I would be home and then I booked tickets for July 19. The plan was for Matt to invite himself to dinner, which would definitely not stand out at abnormal, and then I would show up with him and surprise them.
Once I was within about a week of that date, I found out that Mom and Dad bought tickets to the Idaho Stampede. Hmm…that put a bit of a kink in our plans, as we would have to figure out where they were going to dinner pre-rodeo and get there are the right time. It would be a bit weird, but we loved the idea that Mom would get to hang out for an hour and then head off to yet another event on her crammed social calendar.
All was planned and ready to go. This morning I got up much too early (who knew there was a 5:00AM in Washington DC?) to get to the airport for my morning flight. The tickets were DC –CHI-BOI, arriving in Idaho just after noon. The schedule was perfect! It even allowed for an afternoon call from Mom (last night I reminded her to call BEFORE the rodeo, since it would be too late afterwards.) Matt and I planned to giggle as I talked to her from his house.
What is it they say about the best laid plans? Yup! I arrived nice and early for my flight out of Reagan International, leaving sufficient time for my required pre-flight McDonald’s pancakes. Once I realized that my terminal was void of Golden Arches establishments, foreboding struck deep in my gut. No pancakes? This was not going to be an optimal travel day.
Sure enough, it was all downhill from the start. My United flight boarded normally, but after sitting on the tarmac for ninety minutes with several promises of “just fifteen more minutes folks,” the entire aircraft was de-boarded. Apparently there was an issue with one of the three on-board navigational computers. Everyone was ushered off the plane and put into lines as the customer service counter to rebook flights. Twenty minutes later, when my line had moved forward by exactly two customers, an announcement came over the loudspeakers that our flight was to reboard the plane and we were headed to Chicago.
At this point, our plane took flight nearly two hours behind schedule. There was no way most of us were going to make our connections in Chicago. Sure enough, upon arrival, as I scurried to yet another customer service terminal, I was informed that my flight to Boise had already departed. No problem, just book me on the next one, right? The problem was, the next flight to Boise left Chicago at 9PM! That’s right…9PM. That would be nearly eleven hours later. So much for my noontime arrival in Boise!
The clerk at the counter obviously had no power to do anything to help me out and I hate it when customers take their frustrations out on the guy at the bottom of the pecking order, so I asked where I could go to speak with a manager. (Heck, I had ten hours to kill, so the fact that the main service desk was in the opposite terminal posed no issue for me.)
Customer service desk number 824 for the day yielded yet another line. After waiting probably forty-five minutes, I was finally able to speak with another representative. While waiting in line, I realized that the couple behind me and the young man behind them were all in the same situation- trying to get to Boise. Once I finally reached the coveted counter, this employee told me that there was nothing she could do in terms of compensation, that there were no other flights to Boise today and that I would just have to wait it out. It was time to step up the ladder a bit. I asked to talk to a manager. As I waited for the manager to arrive, I watched with fascination as the couple was given the same spiel as me, but the young man was quickly handed a $15 food voucher, no questions asked. Hmmm..curious…
The manager finally arrived, charismatic and friendly as is possible. As I explained my situation, I looked behind me to see the other three Boise-bound passengers joining in the discussion. No problem. They were dealing with the same thing I was. The manager did some digging (or he possibly just hid in his office and enjoyed a Snickers bar for a few minutes) and reported back that there were no earlier flights on other airlines and there was little he could do other than offer us food vouchers and allow us into the Red Carpet Club for the day.
While this in my mind is not adequate compensation for an entire day wasted, I understand that it was all this gentleman could offer, so I thanked him for his help and accepted my $15, comfy chair, free internet access and all the cheese and crackers I could consume over the course of the next nine hours.
My high level of frustration has dimmed as the day has progressed, but my disappointment in our ruined surprise for tonight has not. As I sit here, enjoying my cushioned window seat in the lounge of the elite fliers, I would much prefer to be visiting with family and enjoying time in Idaho. I did use some of my waiting time productively- to submit a letter of complaint to United! It makes me just a tad bit too happy that the letter was written in the confines of their exclusive travel room with their internet connection.
It is now 6:30 in Chicago, which means I have two and a half more hours until my flight leaves. I will arrive in Boise at about 11:30PM, which makes my travel day eighteen hours by the time all is said and done. I’ve ignored two incoming calls from my mom, for fear that she would overhear the very airport-ish announcements in the background. I have surfed through a good 82% of all content on the internet and I’ve finished nearly half of an awesome book about Peace Corps in China. (Kosher Chinese by Michael Levy- hilarious! I’ve broken the “quiet” rule in the airport travel mecca several times as I laughed at situations that I relate to all too well. )
A few more hours…cheese and crackers anyone?