My mother in law passed recently and the funeral was in Boston. We live in Tucson. Thus the stage is set for a journey through the disaster that is airline travel in the United States.
Our story starts with the price of buying last minute tickets. Many a word has been written on the price of last minute travel so I will not delve too far into this other than to say ouch.
Because the tickets were purchased so late and the airlines have troubles with basic concepts like counting I was placed on standby. My ticket stated that I volunteered. No I didn’t. I was conscripted; there’s a difference. Never mind the fact that when the tickets were bought my wife and I had seat assignments and her brother did not. I guess the computer decided later that because I had the different last name I was the odd man out.
After sweating it out for a bit I get a ticket and get on the plane only to find another person in the seat that is supposedly mine. I hold up my ticket and state the obvious, “You’re in my seat.” She produces her ticket that states 14B, the seat next to her. Confusion ensues as her traveling partner produces his ticket that also states 14B. After much investigation by the cracked United crew it is discovered that she managed to get through the top notch TSA checkpoint and get on the plane without a boarding pass. Inconvenience creates the illusion of security. They get off the plane to try to reset their travel planes and I am whisked off to Boston with my knees up by my ears.
Interlude: A few days in Boston for the funeral and meeting of people and being able to walk around outside without bursting into flames.
We pick up our story at 10 AM Boston time on Tuesday as we leave for Logan airport to travel home. After a few missed turns we make it to the airport with plenty of time to grab an early lunch and then get on the plane.
While in route to Huston International (excuse me, INTERCONTINENTAL! Can you say fat head?) Airport we get the this is your captain message. Huston is shut down due to thunderstorms so we get to spend the next 45 minutes touring the skies of Mississippi. With my knees up by my ears. In the middle seat. Have I mentioned that my 6 foot frame doesn’t quite match with the airline vision of average which is midget?
We finally land in Huston with a faint glimmer of hope as we were scheduled for an hour and a half layover. As we are getting off the plane a United rep is standing there with a piece of paper with connecting flights on it and we ask her about the flight to Tucson.
She doesn’t have that flight on her list. She tells us this means it is either “severely” delayed or canceled. Off to find an arrival board only to find that the flight is indeed canceled.
While in line at the customer service desk my wife’s phone dings. It’s a series of text messages from United stating that our flight to Tucson is delayed a few times ending with a message that it has been canceled. Great. Thanks for the update. After about 20 minutes in line listening to the grumblings of other passengers that does nothing but raise blood pressure we get to the desk and talk to a nice lady doing the best she can with hundreds of grumpy travelers. All flights to Tucson are booked solid until Thursday. What if we go through Phoenix? Back to the computer. She finds a flight from Phoenix to Tucson on US Airways and books it for us. She then puts us on standby for a flight to Phoenix. She tells us that it has about ten seats that are waiting on connecting flights that are late so we have a good chance of getting on the plane. If it doesn’t work out come straight back to her (no line!) and we’ll try something else. Oh, by the way, it boards in about half an hour so there is no time to get our luggage re-routed but it will get on the first available flight to Tucson.
Off to the gate only to find it is a magic terminal that the computers think has room for two airplanes. Keeping in mind we last ate around 11 AM Boston time the wife asks if we should go find something to eat. I’m thinking we need to be ready to bolt if needed and am proven right when, despite the reassurances that the flight to Phoenix will be boarding at this gate, the announcement is made that there has been a change and we are now at the wrong terminal. Like a heard of gazelles about 40 people start hauling ass across the crowded airport to get to the gate that is god knows where.
We get to the proper gate to find that the plane is late. Of course. So we forlornly take a seat with the thought in the back of our minds that the longer we wait for this plane the more likely it is that we will end up spending the night in Huston. I don’t want to spend the night in Huston. I can’t remember a time in my life when I hoped so much for the misery of my fellow man. The plane finally arrives and as it is boarding my wife and her brother are called up to get tickets. My wife has a moment of panic as she realizes that I have keys to the car and the house and manages to calmly explain to the person at the counter that her husband, that tall man sitting over there, needs to be on the plane also. Not a problem, three tickets it is and they are actually next to each other. At the gate while boarding my ticket makes a horrible noise and I am stopped. I’m thinking the jig is up and they’ll boot my ass. “Your seat is next to an emergency exit, are you willing to sit there?”
I get to my seat next to the emergency exit to find an unexpected bonus – leg room! With angles singing in time to the grumbling of my stomach I blissfully sit down and contemplate sleeping in my own bed. On to Phoenix!
Upon landing In Phoenix our plane is directed to the hind ass end of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Seriously. At only 8 PM this place is a ghost town. Nobody there but wobbly legged travelers trying to remember how to walk after being stuffed into a tin can. Any hints at getting something to eat are walled up behind steal shutters. Even worse, there are no signs of those electronic boards that tell you where your connecting flight might be. We stumble around and manage to find an old school directory that shows US Airways is in terminal 4. We are in terminal 2. How the hell do we get to terminal 4? We wander some more and after finding no instructions or anything remotely helpful we stop at the line that indicates we have left the airport. As we stand there hungry and out of ideas the TSA guard, panic button in hand, asks us if we need help.
“How do we get to terminal 4?”
“Out those doors and catch the airport bus. It will take you to terminal 4.”
Great. We cross the line out of the airport and head outside. Where it is still around 100 degrees; welcome back to Arizona. As we stand there sweating we contemplate having to go through airport security again with travel plans that have been changed several times in the last 12 hours. Hope they have lube.
Pause for a rant within a rant – What brain dead ignoramus designs an airport where you have to leave the airport to get to another terminal? Has this jackass never heard of connecting flights?
At terminal 4 we go to the check in for US Airways where the only option is self check in with touch screens that were last calibrated never. You would get better results with these damn things just randomly hitting them. We tried several and they all sucked. At this point my wife, who is the yin to my quick tempered and somewhat violent yang, is ready to punch her hand through the box and drag somebody back through it. You don’t know fear until you see my wife about to lose it, she may be small but she is mighty. We finally manage to beat three boarding passes out of the self check in computers and head off to the security check point which only has four people ahead of us. Yay, things are looking up! Nope. None of these four people had apparently been to an airport in about 15 years. We stand there barefooted waiting as each and every one of them is sent back several times to unload something else into the x-ray machine. A 30 second per person process stretches into about 5 minutes. It felt like an hour.
We get through security to find not only is our flight on time but this terminal has food! We get our first meal since 11 AM Boston time. I ate my burger and fries in about 36 seconds. On to the puddle jumper (watch your head!) for a 20 minute flight to Tucson arriving at 10:30 Tucson time at which we decide to get home and worry about finding our luggage tomorrow. Mainly because nobody is there.
While eating breakfast Wednesday morning my wife gets a text from the brain trust at United telling us that we can now check in for our flight from Huston to Tucson that leaves Thursday. Being as my wife has been getting all the updates from United on her phone and I have the day off the plan is made that when she gets the notice on our luggage she will call me and I’ll go out to the airport and get it. Around 4 in the afternoon with no communication from United I decide to go on line and see what I can find. I mange to find a luggage tracker on the United web page and enter the claim numbers. According to the web page our luggage does not exist, please call this 800 number. I dial it up and get some surly jerk in Texas that mumbles. I tell him I’m looking for three bags.
“TELL ME THE NUMBERS ONE AT A TIME!”
So I tell him the numbers thinking to myself gee, I’m sorry asshole. Maybe if you didn’t have marbles in your mouth I could understand what the fuck you were saying. He does some work on his computer and tells me the bags got to Tucson late last night.
“So I have to drive out to the airport to pick them up?”
“Yes. Drive safe.” Click.
So out to the airport I drive, find a parking spot, and go in to the United luggage claim office. Only nobody is there. Upstairs to the United check in desk to see if they can help me and they call a guy to come and open the office. Back down stairs to wait for the guy. He shows up, I find my bag and my wife’s bag but can’t find her brothers bag. At this point I’m thinking I’ve got mine and my wife’s, the brother-in-law can drive out to the airport and find his own damn bag. The United guy wants to check one last thing. Apparently it has been decided that your luggage goes to whatever the last airline you flew on, so we tromp over to the US Airways luggage office which is closed of course. Through the window I see the missing luggage so back upstairs to the US Airways check-in desk to find somebody that can let me in to the US Airways office. Back down stairs to wait for the US Airways person with a key, get the last bag, and head on back home. Don’t forget to pay for parking on your way out!
I get the bags home happy with the thought that this trip is finally done. The wife gets home and we both agree that we want someone to bring us food for dinner so out we go. We get home from dinner and go to unpack. I’m in the other room and I hear, “This isn’t my bag.”
I go into our bedroom and sure enough, it isn’t her bag. Why the hell did I grab that bag? It is obviously not her bag. I’m a moron. Back in the car. Only this time I have to bring her and her picture I.D. with me because I no longer have the claim ticket as I gave it up in order to get this poor person’s bag. On the way out to the airport we hit a traffic jam on a bridge that is full stop. You gotta be kidding me. Turn around and find an alternate route to the airport.
Once back at the airport again and a paranoia induced by sleep deprivation hits my wife. My fingerprints are on this bag. They’ll know I touched it. They’ll think we’re bringing it back with a bomb in it… We make it to the United luggage office un-accosted by security. It’s locked. Upstairs to find a person with a key. Downstairs to wait for the person with the key. They show up and I tell them I grabbed the wrong bag, they say OK and throw it back on the shelf. It is now the only bag in the United luggage office. Best guess is that it is in the US Airways office. It’s locked. Upstairs to find someone with a key. Downstairs to wait for the person with the key. Get the last bag and head on out to the parking lot.
On the way out of the airport lot there is a sign that says stop here and wait for the next available toll booth. So I stop at the sign. The jackass behind me nearly hits me and then does an end run around me and dashes to the obviously closed booth. This brainiack then backs up and cuts me off in line. A second banana peel does an end run around me so I figure that’s how the game is being played tonight and I pull up behind them. They then realize that they didn’t really want to leave the parking lot and now need to back out of the toll booth and go park again. How the hell does this happen? You got in your car and drove to the exit, were you surprised that you had to actually exit? So now I have to back up so the brain spawn that was in such a hurry to cut me off can go back and park again. After he is gone I get up to the booth and the attendant tells me that actually happens a lot. The sign that everybody ignored makes good sense now. We pay for parking for a third time and get the hell out of Dodge.
Finally at 9 PM Tucson time we arrive home, unpack and collapse. 26 hours after starting our adventure is finally done.
I think next time we should take the bus.
Step inside the mind of me.
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