Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Story In Which I Swear To Never Fly United Airlines Again But I Probably Actually Will If They Have the Cheapest Ticket at the Time I'm Buying

On Thursday night I'm taking the red-eye from here to Newark, and then getting on a flight to good ol' Hancock airport in Syracuse, NY. It's a pretty regular journey for me, as it's the way to get home and see my parents. But I always feel anxious about it because I hate having connecting flights. Oh, oh, how I hate them. And I never seem to be able to avoid taking them because, apparently, I don't travel anywhere large enough to have a major airport.

And that was exactly the case when Devin and I flew to South Dakota last month. I may have mentioned that we kind of sort of got ourselves in a bunch of trouble. I did not tell you why. But it goes down as the worst flying experience yet (which says a lot, considering I once spent the night sitting on the floor of Cincinnati airport, watching the luggage of 12 friends while they all went to sing karaoke at the bar of the airport Hilton...).

Our trip started off well enough (a sign I've taken to interpret as indicative of certain doom). We flew from LAX to Denver and made it in early, which was a relief because we only had a very short layover. We exited the gate from our first flight and made our way down the insanely long terminal, alternating between brisk walking and riding that human-conveyor belt thing. We passed 3 food courts and about 60 gates before finding ours, gate 86. Except our sign said GATES 65-86. I guess when you are taking a plane to a rather small city like Sioux Falls, they mush you into one stadium of a gate area with the people flying to places like Bismark and Boise.

The gate was chaos. Announcements were being made for 5 flights at once. There was some commotion about a delay to Louisville. Weird look people milled about everywhere. You know that scene in Men In Black when Will Smith's character is first introduced to the alien refugee area and there are life forms from other planets blobbing and bouncing around? It was like that.

Devin and I found some seats and commenced snacking while waiting for our boarding call. We waited and waited. Every time I looked up at the board there were about 8 different flights scrolling across and I couldn't really make any sense of it, especially after waking up at 4 that morning and getting no sleep on the first flight.

At one point, we very faintly heard Devin's name being called.
"Did you just hear my name?"
"Maybe? It sounded like it was coming from a speaker down the hall."

I got up and walked over to the desk to investigate. "Excuse me," I asked a flight attendant standing at the roped-off boarding area. "Are you boarding yet for Sioux Falls?"
"Oh that flight's closed," she said. It was her casualness that really irked me. "Closed" was like a sigh. Like she was a bank teller escorting me to the next window.
Immediately I felt a thud in my chest.
"N-n-n-n-no," I blurted out. "How is it closed already it didn't even board yet?"
"Yes it did. It's been boarding for a while and it just closed."
"But we've been right here the whole time. Right here." I pointed to our seats. Devin, who was standing a small distance away, sensed a problem and walked over with our bags. "Devin! The flight is closed! Do something!"
"N-n-n-no. We were right here. Just let us on."

At this point, another employee perked up at the sounds of an argument and was just thrilled to butt in. For the purposes of this story we'll call him Horace. He reminded me of Ken Jeong's character of the bitchy delivery room doctor in Knocked Up. The original flight attended just sort of glided out of the conversation. I didn't think it was fair she got to just dismiss herself. In a way, I blamed her for this entire event.

Devin and I were moments away from making a scene, so Horace moved us over toward the desk. We continued to plead our case. The speakers must be broken! We couldn't hear a thing! Horace assured us that they had paged us several times and that paging was just a courtesy (oh how courteous of them!) and that it was our responsibility to get on the flight.
"That may be," I tried buttering up to him, "But there is a lot going on at this gate and we were relying on the announcements. And when we thought we heard our names we walked right over and already the flight was closed."
"There were 40 people on this flight. Everyone else managed to get on." It was like a verbal bitch slap.
"The plane hasn't even taken off yet," Devin gestured to the plane sitting right outside of the window. "Just open up the door and let us on."
"We have procedures. The door is locked, we can't unlock it."
"Yes you can!"
"No we can't."
"Yes you can!"
At this point, a young guy came up to the counter and asked if Sioux Falls was boarding.
"Ah-ha!" I shouted, while pointing directly at the guy and smacking my other hand on the desk. I was like an over-excited prosecutor in a courtroom drama. Ah-ha! So you see this man didn't make it on his flight either. Ipso facto...quid pro quo... uhh...let me on the goddamn plane!

Before Horace could intervene I began talking to the new guy. "You didn't hear it either! They won't let us on! We're screwed." I'm helpful like that.

The argument continued for a few minutes and then I realized I was never going to win.
"Okay," I surrendered. "What can we do now? We still need to get to Sioux Falls."
"Well I can put you on the next flight. There are available seats. It leaves in 3 hours."
"What!" Devin was not pleased. "No that won't fucking work. I have to be in a wedding. I can't wait. I need to get on this fucking flight." My memory isn't perfect, so I don't remember where the fucks were, but they were liberally sprinkled throughout his sentences.

This is where things took a bad turn.

"Sir, don't insult me."
"I didn't insult you. I swore at you."
"I will call the police. I'm warning you."
"Call them."
At this point Horace picked up the phone and mashed away aimlessly at the keys.
"Please... don't," I said with no emotion. I know he just wanted me to stop him.

Then there was a bit more arguing between Horace, Devin and the other guy. We were now officially causing a scene and were, I'm convinced, mere moments away from hurling "Yo mama" insults at one another.

I had to intervene. "Horace, it's not personal, we just really needed that flight and we're frustrated. Devin, it's not personal, he is just doing his job and he can't bend the rules. Now please can we have the boarding passes for the next flight?"

Horace printed them out, mumbling something under his breath. As he was handing them over, Devin said "This is fucking unacceptable" as his final verdict on the situation.

"Alright, that's it!" Horace snapped, yanking the boarding passes back and tearing them up in front of us. "I tried to be nice. But if you won't do as I ask and stop it with the language..."

"Horace, please..." I begged. But I think we both knew he couldn't just rip up boarding passes. Still, he'd made his point. He collected himself and printed out new ones. We left quietly, searched around for a customer service desk, and then realized the whole thing was pointless and sat down at a bar to busy ourselves for 3 hours.

When it finally came time to board our flight, we waited right at the desk so as not to make the same mistake twice.

As we boarded, Devin was pulled aside for "random" searching. I can't help but wonder if Horace had something to do with it.


A Lover and a Fighter said...

That is my gee-dee nightmare. I absolutely detest airports and all airlines and air travel in general. If only I could be content in one spot for more than a few months...

I'm so impressed with you two for your restraint. I would have punched Horace in the hoo ha. Probably not. But I definitely would have keyed the hell out of his Vespa.

Katelin said...

ohmygosh that's awful. i think i have a layover in denver in a two weeks so i will definitely be on the lookout and make sure i know where my flight is. ugh, that just sucks. but at least you guys were together and you weren't going through that by yourself.

JenBun said...

I would have kicked Horace. And then I would have had to speak to his supervisor. And THEN I would have done something else drastic...

But you got to drink for 3 hours, so that's good too!

Hope your trip home goes more smoothly!! :)

Anonymous said...

Asking for employee identification number(s) and full name, can work wonders at times like this. Just about anyone with a job they even half enjoy, know's that when the consumer wants to track that specific person down again.. its either for a commendation.. or to raise all manner of hell.

At the very least, you could go to the front desk and ask for a feedback form.

Or if you've a good enough horror story.. Well, Google "EA Spouse Scandal" sometime.

peterdewolf said...

I'm generally pretty easy to get along with. (I might be. You don't know.)

But the fucks would have been flying from me too in that situation.

Hollywood Sucker said...

lover/fighter- I wouldn't have thought he had a Vespa, but now that you mention it, it all makes so much sense.

Katelin- Good luck in Denver. If you get trapped there too, there's a french restaurant with a bar that makes great (very overpriced) bloody marys.

Jenbun- I hope so too. I'm flying alone so I will have no one to amuse me.

Anonymous- If only I could think of clever things like that. Sadly, I'm also much too sympathetic and would actually feel bad about getting Horace fired... even if he was a buttface.

Peter- Letting the fucks fly seems like a way to say "party"...dont you think?