Sunday, October 7, 2012

You'd Better Hope They Make It, Ain't Nothing I Can Do for You

600am wake up, shower, get dressed, check everything is packed and flight itinerary: 955am take off, 915am boarding. good to go.

700am out the door, on the way to Burlington

745am check in, go through security. security is empty, hang out with parents and sister awhile longer before going in. Checking flight updates every five minutes on the phone. Slight delay noted, due to a late flight crew. 15 minutes, should be fine. Flight path shows the aircraft hasn't left its origin yet, probably not updating properly.

820am pass through security, say final good-byes through the glass. Continuet to check flight status, no new updates. Monitor at the gate says a 10:06 takeoff time. Outside it is gray, drizzly, foggy.

930am the gate monitor has gone blank. No new phone updates

955am original departure time comes and goes. Still no plane.

1000am United staff announces the flight has only just left its origin, i.e. at least a 1.5 hour delay till we take off, meaning we will miss our flight from Newark to Beijing. She says she will begin making new flight plans for passengers in the order of their connecting flight departure time. This puts us in the second group

1100am United puts us on a new flight plan that takes us from Burlington to Newark, Newark to Chicago, and on to American Airlines from Chicago to Beijing. The woman prints our boarding passes all the way through to Beijing, except for Alexander's. "We've put the ticket transfer in, but American will have to print his ticket for you separately." Then she calls down to the ground crew to recheck our bags. "I'll get you your new baggage tags in a bit."

about 12pm the flight has arrived and its passengers have deplaned. a UVM professor strikes up a conversation when she sees Alexander. we talk for five, ten minutes. the United staff interrupts, announcing that all passengers need to board in the next 10 minutes so the plane can reach Newark before its ground stop goes into effect. The professor says to me, "oh, you should probably get going first, since you have a child." "Oh, they put us on another flight, we don't leave until later," I reply.

1215pm I call my dad to tell him of our new plans. we're talking when Lynn rushes over and says they're calling us to board now! I rip out the freshly printed itinerary and see my mistake--what I thought was a new flight that took us from Burlington to Chicago was instead from Newark to Chicago--we still had to take the flight to Newark. I shout something at my dad, hang up, grab the boarding passes and passports, eyes darting everywhere to see if we'd forgotten anything.

1220pm we're on the plane, somehow, stroller and changing table gate checked, and apparently with all of our belongings. I am breathing hard. What about the new baggage tags?

1230pm partly taxied. The captain's muffled voice crackles on the PA. "Folks, we've got a weather delay, 20-305 minutes. We'll wait it out and see if we can still make Newark before the ground stop."

1240pm "well folks," the captain's voice crackled again, "Newark's in ground stop. It'll be at least an hour before we can leave. Waiting now for flight control to tell us whether we can take you back to the gate." "The gate!" someone shouts.

100pm we're back to the gate, deplaned and waiting for further updates. our Newark - Chicago flight doesn't leave until 4pm.

130pm still waiting for updates. Alexander is, and has been, utterly peaceful.

145pm "All passengers for Newark, we are finally ready to depart. Boarding will begin in 5 minutes." As we're boarding, I ask the staff: "can we get our new baggage tags in Newark?" She nods.

200pm we're in the air.

300pm we arrive in Terminal A. Connecting flight is in Terminal C. we need to catch the shuttle.

340pm we reach our gate. I ask the staff there about our baggage. An older woman with lots of makeup named Lavona. She sighs, perhaps realizing she now has to do some actual work, listens to my story and says the baggage tags should be the same. I show them to her, she taps on some keys and looks blankly at a hidden screen. "I see it made it to Newark, but from here it's supposed to go to Beijing," she says, as if that were still possible. She taps a few more keys. "Well you'd better hope they make it, ain't nothing I can do for you." I rein in my fury at her well coiffed air of inutility because we have a flight to catch.

540pm central time now, we land in O'Hare. Our next flight doesn't leave until 750pm, so we take our time to walk the distance from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3.

610pm we stop at the United customer service desk to ask about our bags. no one's in line. I walk up to the lady there, a deeply obese woman lost in a catalog of some kind. she slowly looks up when I say excuse me. I explain the bag situation, and she says they have reached Chicago and she will pass on a note to AA to double check they've received them. fine, thank you. we leave.

630pm we reach our gate, where that 55-gallon drum of shit teetering on the ledge above a giant ceiling fan finally meets its demise. I go up to the counter to verify our tickets and baggage is in order. there's an Indian gentleman and a black woman working it, again not too busy. the gentleman calls me up and I hand him the boarding passes printed by United, and explain that I need my son's boarding pass as United could not issue that. he types a bit, and furrows his brow. turns to the woman. "I can't find any infant ticket in the system." she looks at what I handed him and says, "you see this is says ticket required. you need to have a ticket for your son." "I do, for United" I say. "You need the transfer printed otherwise we don't get our money. Otherwise you'll have to buy him a ticket, and that is gonna be probably much more than you even paid for your own ticket at this point." "Call United," I say. "This is not at all what they told me." "We can't do it over the phone" she said, "that's our procedure." "Jesus Christ," I say.

I don't have fucking time for this. My phone is dead, I twirl in a daze of exhaustion looking for a clock but all
I see is that 715 boarding time. Once again I grab our ever growoing number of boarding passes and passports, shout at Lynn I'm just going to run for it and see what happens.

So I run. With bad knees, chest pains, sandpaper mouth, I run. It couldn't have been more than a mile, but the last time I ran a mile was probably in 5th grade.

650pm I reach United customer service, gasping. I am not sure, but I swear a twitch of sympathy crosses that obese woman's face. I explain. She waddles down the counter and waddles back. A young man working with her takes my boarding passes and says everything should be fine, doesn't know what's wrong with AA. "But here are the receipts for the ticket transfers," he says, handing me six more boarding pass-shaped papers with the details on them. I also ask about the baggage--AA said they would have issued a new baggage tag number, but couldn't tell me anything about whether they'd received the baggage from United. The man hands me a brochure on calling about lost baggage and says, "tell them to call this number." Whatever. I take it and begin to head back.

I turn on my phone. 8% battery. 700pm. At least i don't have to run.

710pm I hand over the transfer receipts to the Indian guy and this time he says, "now we've got something to work with." Wonderful. Good news. Bad news--our original seats are taken, and he can't get us anything together that includes an aisle seat. But nice Indian guy sneaks us a free third seat by booking us the 2nd and 4th seat of the 5-seat middle section of a row, giving us the middle seat for some extra space. He wisely leaves the counter at that point to begin checking people in, as I then let loose my rage on the woman who had so flatly denied me any assistance earlier. I expounded on how poorly AA and United communicate on ticket transfers, and how narrow her attitude was that she only saw fit to blame United for its incompetence, and not instead find a way to solve the stupid problem. She herself admitted this happened all the time. This is not about me, I said. It's about your business. It's nonsense like this that is killing the airline industry. Don't blame your competitor when you're going bankrupt too!

I was drained, sweaty, stinking to hell probably and just needed to release it. I'd say that woman was a bitch and the woman at United was the stereotype of a welfare queen, but I've come to realize it is pointless to single them out when O'Hare is dominated by this kind of workforce. If someone asked me to compare airports to inanimate objects, O'Hare would be a frozen brick of shit.

At least I can say that the trip ended much better than it started. Once our AA flight took off, a flight attendant offered the guy sitting next to us a seat with more legroom, giving us four seats to ourselves. The food was surprisingly good and plentiful. Our baggage arrived. And best of all was Alexander, who did not cry once the entire trip and slept for most of the long flight back to Beijing. We could not have done it without him.

Lessons learned from this trip?

United is staffed by unpleasant flight attendants (based on previous experience) and mildly helpful yet very incompetent staff.

Passing through O'Hare is like this every time

AA was slightly better; slightly less incompetent, far more rude and unhelpful. (Flight attendants were great, however.)

And of course, don't book a connecting flight with anything less than a two-hour stopover.

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