Feb 022007

I guess I outsmarted myself. I was on an evening flight from Boston to Dulles that allowed me just under an hour to make the connection. So, I wisely arrived early and got on an earlier flight. This woukd give me a two and one half hour window in case of delays.

Well, this flight is now so delayed, I probably won’t make the connection, and my original flight left on time. They were moving people over, but then quit just as I got up there, as they decided they had this plane repaired. Now they are replacing something else.

It’s 7:30, they are still working on it. It’s 90 minutes to Dulles, and my outbound leaves at 8:55. I’m stuck in D.C. For the night, I can just feel it.

UPDATE: Well, as expected I did not make it on the connection last night due to the extra work that had to be done to the plane in Boston. But of course, it couldn’t be just that. The people at United (as with most airlines) have a great way of piling on insult to injury.

They were moving people with connections to the plane I was originally on. When it was my turn at the ticket counter, the gate agent announced he’d been told they had a good plane, and everyone should get ready to board and depart on that plane. So of course, then there were the additional repairs that too so long they even reopened the cabin door.

At just after 7pm I called the travel agent’s number expecting to roll to their after hours call center. Of course Debbie answered, and insisted on helping out. (That’s why you book with a travel agent rather than an on-line agent.) She saw in my record they had already booked me on a 10:40 our of Dulles the next morning, so they knew at the gate I would not make my connection. Of course 10:40 wasn’t the earliest flight out. There was an 8:00am. flight.

Debbie noted there was a Delta flight leaving at 8:05pm going direct to Tampa. So I started ringing the flight attendant call button. I had to ring it four times, and finally 11 minutes later the flight attendant decided to stop by (despite the fact that I was in First Class). She went out to talk to the gate agents, and returned to tell me they’d be down to speak with me, but it was too late to get me on the Delta flight. Supposed the paper work would take too long, but of course they just didn’t want to pay Delta for the flight.

The gate agent started up on me about why I didn’t get on the other flight. I reminded him that I was standing in front of him to do just that when he announced I should board the flight I was now stuck on. I asked them for the hotel, meal, and ground transportation vouchers for Dulles. Of course they couldn’t be bothered with that, and advised me to check with the gate agent when I got to Dulles.

I explained that I was tired of being inconvenienced and the female gate agent advised me it was inconvenience for them too. (Oh yeah, that really settled me down.)

I returned to my seat on the plane, and while in route I explained to the flight attendant I expected a big problem with the checked bag, and asked her to call ahead and be sure the bag was either made available gate-side or taken to baggage claim. She took the claim number, and returned a bit later to advise me the captain had radioed ahead, and the bag would be taken to baggage claim. I then double checked with her that it was going to baggage claim.

We finally get to Dulles about 9:40pm (we were supposed to be there are 7:30). I get off the plane and go up to the United person at the gate, and ask Lars Victorn if he’s the gate agent. He says yes. I start explaining I was supposed to talk with him I arrived in Washington. He immediately got smart and vocal with me telling me was not going to help me as he had another flight to board (even though mine was still unloading), and I needed to go to the other end of the concourse to “customer service.” Well, I get down the concourse, and there are literally 78 people in line at “customer service” and two, (count �em, two “customer service“) agents working.

I finally found another gate agent named Ruth at a gate a little ways back up the concourse. I just pointed and said that was not acceptable. She said if I’d wait a second while she closed out her flight, she’d help me. By then I was not the most pleasant person in the world, but Ruth kept up the friendly banter, a great smile, and was clearly actually helping me out. I got all the required vouchers and paperwork from her.

Then I head to the main terminal to get the bag and find the shuttle to the Hilton. As you might guess, the bag wasn’t there. By now it’s like 10:45, and of course there’s a big line at the baggage office with only three people working the counter there. I draw “Java.” (Do they intentionally hire people that can’t speak English hoping you’ll get frustrated and just go away.) Java had an attitude from the get go, and refused to answer a single question I put to him. He quickly determined that someone out on the field actually had the bag, and it was tagged to bring in. Java simply refused to explain why it wasn’t brought in with the others, and said it would take 20 minutes to two hours. When I asked why so long, he literally insinuated if I didn’t like it, he’d call them back and have it NOT brought in. when I asked for the spelling of his full name he got up and walked out of the room.

I found Sherry. She was supposed to be the baggage manager. She was no more helpful than Java, but agreed to call out to the field again. Then she explained the delays were the result of not having enough people working. After some discussion, I finally asked Sherry which carrousel it would arrive on. Number 1 was running, but she said it would come in on number 2. I sat for a while at number, but twice walked over to the number 1 carrousel, where the bag eventually came about40 minutes later.

By now, it’s nearly midnight. I’d previously called the Hilton and learned that their bar/restaurant closed at 1am. With bag finally in hand, I called back to the Hilton to request the shuttle. I was told by the operator at the Hilton (another person for whom English was obviously a second language), “I have two drivers there at 2H (a pickup designation at Dulles), just go there.” I explained I was walking out, to please be sure one of them waited.

I get to the curb at 2H, and while a number of the hotel shuttles were there, there wasn’t a single Hilton shuttle, let alone two. I wait 25 minutes in the freezing cold, and watch two visits by the Marriot and Holiday Inn shuttles. I call directory assistance which can’t seem to provide me a direct number for the Dulles Airport Hilton, so I’m directed to the Hilton 800 number. The person there can’t connect me, but gives me the phone number. I felt it was an odd number, but dialed it. I began asking about the shuttle, and after some discussion with that operator, we realized I’d been given the number for the Hilton near the Baltimore airport.

She kindly transferred me to the Hilton at Dulles, where the operator there told me I had misunderstood, that she never said she had two drivers there. Sorry, I was quite certain, as she said it twice. She put the manager on who said the shuttle driver may have stopped for a soda or something. He seemed to think that it should make it all right.

Finally the shuttle arrives, and I’m off to hotel with about eight other people. Of course they have one person doing the check ins at the hotel. I get in the room about 12:40. With no chance to really stop, I have to head back to the bar to get some food. I haven’t had anything except a chicken salad wrap since about noon. The items on one page of the menu (about eight things) are available after midnight. I wind up with a $15 hamburger and fries on a bun that may have been there since the hotel was built.

Back in the room just after 1am, I finally get a change of clothes out of the suitcase and get settled in for a few hours of sleep until 7am the next morning. I plan to be at the airport with enough lead time to get my $25 back, and have a calm discussion with the manager in charge.

Of course the “manager of operations” doesn’t have time to speak to me, but Supervisor Gus takes a crack at it. He begs me to write a letter. His explanation all comes down to the fact that the D.C. area has a 1.5% unemployment rate, so they can’t hire enough people, but he’s filled about 30% of empty slots recently (I guess by going to non-English speaking parts of town), so things are getting better. And of course he can’t refund my $25 either. He invites me to go to their website. I just explain I’m no longer playing the game using their rules, and that I will file in small claims court, and when I win the judgment, I’ll just place a lean on one of their planes. He says, “but Mr. Masters, won’t that take even longer than going to website to fill out the form?” I assure him I believe it will, but that I will get significantly more satisfaction.

I did take the opportunity to specifically offer praise for Ruth as the ONLY United employee willing to take ownership of situation and actually try to do something about it.

We departed D.C that morning close to on-time (10:40am), but of course something else had to slow us down. The jet stream had dipped far south and flowing pretty much due north along the east coast, so the pilot explained we’d need an additional 25 minutes to get to Tampa, as we’d be flying into 200mph headwinds.

I finally got my bag at Tampa and was headed home about 2:10pm….only about 14 hours later than planned.

  One Response to “Oh To Be Home”

Comments (1)
  1. I hear you John–due to the book this year, I’ve probably made fifty different trips, many of them flying–including a trip to Laos, which is remote no matter how one gets there. The standard by which I judge ‘bad’ is still a 30 hour Greyhound bus trip I took in college though, at the end of which I promised myself I’d walk across the US before I did that again. Just before I left on this year’s adventures, though, I read one of the great travel books, Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie.” He has one great line that has stayed with me through all–“You do not take a trip. A trip takes you.” Paul Shepherd

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