Air Fair 3: Return to the Ticket Counter

How was flying again? In a word: AAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!!!!!

That’s not a word? How about this word: motherfucker.

Technically two words, but Merriam Webster says it’s one, defining it as a “generalized term of abuse.”

To give you an idea, I started writing this before most of it happened. The more I typed, it seemed the worse it got.

Due to time constraints, I can’t be so free with the airline or price this time. There’s not a whole lot that doesn’t leave too early the day before (the latest was at 7, I was working until 10) or arrive too late in the day the next day. A lot of those not only left obscenely early – 6-7 am – but had up to 4(!) hour layovers. (Flying due east to Wisconsin? You won’t mind a 3-hour stop in Georgia – because it’s on the way. You can walk around outside, in your winter coat.)

Have you ever flown before? On a plane? Ever watch with irritated bemusement when they start boarding, calling first class and people with special needs (same thing, I know), and some twitchy fuckers with refrigerator dollies for luggage crowd around the gate, like it’s the Wyoming land rush and someone’s suddenly going to yell, “go!” and they can race for the best seat – a seat which was assigned before they go there. They crowd right up to the rope, with postures that scream, “me? me now? now? me?” because they might call the rows in alphabetical instead of numerical order.

This may actually be the case now. See, I figured I’d be smart this time (ha!) and not opt for the middle seat near the front, nor over the wing, next to the engine. No, I grabbed the completely empty (at the time) row at the back of the plane (a little ways from the lavatory, of course). I should be in the first group to board. I print out my boarding passes, which have a big number “4” on them.

Apparently United – whom I’ve now flown for the last time (or at least attempted to, read on) – shuffles everybody around, and boards by these numbers which, as far as I could tell, don’t correspond to anything. People who boarded with the 1’s were sitting near me, and some other 4’s were sitting near the front. If it works for them, so be it. Just bolloxes up my cunning plan.

I can still hear George Carlin voicing over my son’s Thomas the Tank Engine DVD’s: “Then, there was trouble.”

Seems there’s a hydraulic problem with one of the wings. (Don’t hydraulics have to do with water? If we’re flying in the air, why is this a problem?) By 6:30 (6 am departure, been there since 5, up since 3:30) I’m waiting in the (now) long line at the gate, trying to get rebooked so I can make it to Chez Cheese before my press runs, if not my connecting flight.

Verizon is connecting me to United customer (dis)service – or so they say, before hanging up on me. I manage to get through, and button mash my way to an agent. Let’s just say that my company’s java-laiden flight booker in my old browser on my older system works faster than this guy. Turns out there’s not so many flights – at least on United

He tells me the next flight out doesn’t leave until 8:30. The next connecting flight gets me in at 2:30 – which, accounting for time zones is really 3:30. There were other flights, direct or connecting through other cities that would have gotten me there earlier, but they all leave around 6, so they’re gone now. How terribly efficient.

When I tell him to book me a flight on another airline, he tells me, “that’s not possible.” Never mind that I can hear the gate agent booking people on Continental.

The pilot had said he didn’t expect the issue to be solved for at least another 45 minutes at the earliest, and that it didn’t look good. Chucklehead on the phone says, “it looks here like your flight is scheduled to depart at 7:15 (riiiight), so perhaps that’s your best bet.” I wouldn’t make my scheduled connection, but I’m booked on the flight after, which is still early enough.

Are there still seats available on the 8:30? Oh, yes, he says, plenty of seats. “Plenty” of seats? Or “a lot” of seats? “I’m showing a lot of seats still open.” I figure I can rebook if I have to if the plane isn’t fixed presently.

…which, of course, is as soon as I get off the phone. Everyone get your stuff, we’re deplaning now. (and now I have Hervé Villechaize in my head again.)

Oh, and that 8:30? Now sold out.

Don’t feel sorry for me. There were a lot of kids on this plane. The mere ordeal of flying was already causing some of them to melt down. This kind of stuff is torture to them. One child, who couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old, was managing to sleep through it all. Pity her parents, who have to lug around all the stuff that comes with traveling with children. If you think it’s hard to go through this, go through this with children who’re going through it, too.

One thing did manage to brighten my morning. A cute little tyke, jumping up and down and squealing a happy squeal in the carrier her mom wore over her chest. I smiled. I caught her mother’s eye and said, “I love kids.”

Surprised, she said, “you do?”

“Yes,” I said, “they’re delicious.”

Waiting in line again, I get on the phone with my corporate travel office – which is only open during business hours (it’s 7 am on Saturday). Still, I get through to someone. They rebook me on a Midwest flight (official airline of the Milwaukee Brewers, thank you very much, and that cookie they serve during the flight – mmm…), leaving around 11:30, but still getting in just under the wire. I’m told to have the United gate agent print me a ticket. The agent, after waving his hands that he didn’t rebook it so he can’t verify that I have a seat, blah, blah, he prints out what looks like a ticket and a receipt. He then tears up my original boarding passes, so now this is the only proof I have that I’ve paid for any flight at all.

It was not a boarding pass, which I thought, but which the TSA agent kindly informed me. I need to check in at the ticket counter. (This is why I check in online and print my boarding passes.)

Only there’s no one at the ticket counter. First, the Midwest counter is at the complete, opposite end of the terminal – the very last one, in fact. And it’s closed. (Why would it be open? They don’t have any planes leaving for hours yet.) And while even AirTran has dozens of self-serv kiosks, Midwest has one, sad, unattended counter. So I get to start writing this post, for an hour, before it’s staffed again.

“Then, there was trouble.”

Turns out the paper I have isn’t a boarding pass, nor is it a ticket. It’s got a whole bunch of numbers and codes on it that say, “he was ours, he’s your problem now.” The agent tells me I need a ticket to check in. So she sends me over to the United counter – at the other end of the terminal – to get a ticket.

This counter is staffed – though the staff insist I can use the self-serv kiosk. I’m belligerent enough that they take a look at my stuff, and they can’t understand why the gate agent didn’t print the ticket out. Here you go, no problem.

Back to the Midwest counter.

“Then, there was trouble.”

The agent says she can’t give me a boarding pass, because she needs to attach it to a ticket. Now, I just handed her what looked and felt like an airline ticket, and it was stapled to my other paperwork, so I’m befuddled.

See, there’s a ticket number, but at the top it says, “e-ticket.” Apparently this means it ceases to be made of paper. And, being electronic, you can’t actually staple a boarding pass… to the paper… with “e-ticket” written on it.

I consider suggesting writing “put me on a friggin’ plane, you dolt” across the top, but deign to listen to her tell me it’s the system that won’t allow her to do it.

So she sends me back to the United counter.

At the other end of the terminal.

Still carrying my bags.

The United staff share my “are you a freakin’ idiot?” moment and write me a “do this” note to take back.

Now I can has barding pasz. One with “SSSS” written all over it. It apparently stands for “Super Secret Special Screening.” Because, before, when I booked my flight myself, I was OK. But now that they’ve canceled my flight and I’ve been standing around the airport for hours, now I’m a security risk. I’ve been through security once already, and I haven’t left the airport, but now I might be carrying a bomb.

Which, come to think of it, doesn’t seem that far fetched. Though I’d be more inclined to bomb the useless plane I kicked off than the one that might actually take me where I’m going. I just hope they don’t put the toddlers through this.

(I should note that the very polite gentleman who checked all my stuff, explaining that it’s common to be “selected” in cases of canceled flights, who was using his high tech gadgets to detect microscopic traces of explosive components on my laptop, was a bit awestruck at the discovery of my Bluetooth headset. He hadn’t seen anything like it before. Way to keep up with technology.)

It’s OK. I’ve got nothing on me that would warrant a FBCS (figure it out). And I’ve got hours before my plane leaves. Take your time. I should be able to get to the press just in time.

(I’ll point out that I got to the press, went to my hotel, finished writing most of this, watched a movie, went to bed… and then went to approve the color on press, 11 hours later. Again, don’t feel bad for me. I keep thinking about my 2-yr-old son, who woke up looking for daddy. When he told me on the phone, “I want to go to the airport, too,” he still could have.)

The Midwest ticket agent asked me if I would be willing to accept sitting in an exit row (“sorry, that’s all I have available”) – oh, hell yeah. “Willing to accept” extra legroom? Are you kidding?

Except when you’re sitting next to someone who’s booked the exit row because they need the extra room. The shoulders of the linebacker sitting next to me extended into my headrest. I spent the trip leaning out into the aisle.

Still, I managed to sleep. Except for when I kept getting hit by the drink trolly.

That cookie was pretty good.

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Published in: on November 25, 2008 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

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