Friday, February 19, 2016

2016 Blogger to Blogger Tour - But just not now

I got to Trudeau Airport at 10h45 for an 11h30 boarding and 12h12 departure.


That didn't happen.

My e-boarding pass said I needed to go to Gate C82. The departure screen directed me to Gate C84, where the screen on the podium confirmed it was my United Airlines flight to Chicago. I sat in the lounge and tried to clear up my e-mail thanks to Trudeau's free WiFi.

I then heard an announcement that the flight was delayed. OK, no problem, because I had a three hour buffer at O'Hare for the flight to Tampa. Lucky, right?

Twenty minutes later, I glance at the podium, and my flight is no longer there. No announcement, zippo. I check with the crew at the desk, and they direct me to Gate C82. OK. I stroll over, and sure enough my flight is on the screen.

Time passes. I indulge in cleaning up a few Rider Profiles. I get a text message, the first, telling me that my flight departs at 12h12 from Gate C80. I decamp and recamp again. I write some more. Too much time passes. I stroll over to the podium. No flight to Chicago, No United flights, all Delta. I hear an announcement that says Chicago, Gate C84. I fairly jog over. United to Chicago O'Hare, check. Flight number... Doesn't match. Huh? I press to the front of the crowd and question the United person. "Oh no..." She says, "your flight is at C-82" as she walkie-talkies her colleague at C82. "Not possible" I say, "those are all Delta flights over there." The walkie-talkie squawks, Marla, or Darla, or Carla says: "Yeah, we're here, C80". I am annoyed. I thought for a sinking moment I had managed to miss the flight.

Now I'm back at C80. The podium screen has the right flight information. It says we're boarding at 13h30. I have lost all confidence. The situation is crystal clear in the body language of the Delta and United personnel. There seems to be a curious mix of confusion and indifference, mixed in with a very, very, very small dose of exasperation. I sense that this is all business as usual. They play this game daily, I think. I am now watching them like a hawk. This does not in any way inspire confidence. I wonder whether Donald Trump is somehow responsible, having found an effective and covert way to keep Canadian riffraff out of God's America.

With time on my hands I ponder this little bit of air travel. Fifteen years ago, Chicago would not have been a way-point on a trip from Montreal to Tampa. From the north, to the midwest, to go south. Nuts. My carbon footprint for this trip is off the charts. I am crossing my fingers that there will be less dysfunction when I get to Chicago. If I get to Chicago.

I chat with, it turns out, Katia, not Marla, or Darla, or Carla, who is the sole United person at the podium, she's a very nice lady. It's now 13h15. "Yes sir, we're on time for our 13h30 boarding. The other plane is pushing back and our flight will be towed in shortly" she says with a confident smile. Very pleasant. I remind her that the flight was supposed to board at 11h30. She kind of smirks in a self-conscious way that one does when caught having said something like "on time" that is well-intentioned, but completely false in the circumstances. I ask her how things are going at O'Hare. "Oh, it's a mess there too" she says. "All the flights are delayed; high winds." "It's the windy city" I say. "Huh?" "Chicago... It's known as the windy city" I say. She smiles but there's that mixed look of confusion and indifference again. I suspect the humour sailed right over her head in much the same way as I hope the flight to Chicago will be doing ever so soon. Chicago, where, apparently, high winds are delaying flights. Go figure. Boarding at 13h30 now seems like a good outcome, but it's now 13h28, and it seems like a lot to ask, right at the moment.

It's now 14h22 and counting. I'm been on the plane since 14h00 so I have been here for a while. We're sitting at the gate. The pilot now thinks that we'll push back in ten minutes. Flying time to the windy city is one hour, fifty-nine minutes. Why bother being so precise, I wonder? One hour, fifty-nine minutes. It's a two hour flight. It seems to me that airlines used to be more, shall we say, military, in their operations. Today, the whole show seems like it was bring-your-grade-schooler-to-work-day, and seven and eight year-olds are now doing their level best to make this whole air travel thing work, as their parents look on and marvel at just how well they are making out. "Gee Billy, look at you, directing all that ground traffic!". 14h26. The motors have been burning jet fuel on idle for about half an hour now. My carbon footprint is looking like Big Foot right about now. 14h32.

Now I get it, this is some kind of a test of my even-tempered character. 14h39. We get a 'fasten seatbelts' departure announcement. We are welcomed aboard "United Express". Clearly they have no sense of irony. None whatsoever. They tell us we're on an Embraer 145. Think Volkswagen van in the universe of aircraft. Actually I think there's more storage and leg room in the Volkswagen. The flight deck door is still open. Not a good sign, is it? 14h42. The cargo bay doors close (or maybe it's the fuel pump sucking on empty). Definitely not the cargo bay doors. The pilot announces departure will now be 16h30. 16h30???????

And now we're deplaning. Words fail me. Really. The trip may be scrubbed. Honestly. It's not looking good. We are told once we get off the plane to check our fate with the United staff at the podium.

As I get back to the gate, I see that there is a very long line of travelers waiting. I assume that they are there waiting to board the flight to Dulles that is now shown on the screen. So I step up and begin inquiring about my fate. The guy at the head of the line gets testy and says "Hey buddy, the line starts back there." "But... " I begin, but soon realize that he is right, this is the line for those waiting to hear their fate on the flight to Chicago. To the end of the line I go, with my fellow travelers.

The line never moved. Not once. At 16h00, the podium staff announce they are re-boarding the plane. I quickly move back to the podium and this time I'm not going to budge. There is no way if I get on that flight that I will make my connection in Chicago. I insist on finding out how they expect to get me to Tampa. They refuse to discuss that. All they want to do is re-board and get the plane off the gate. They say not to worry, that they will take care of me in Chicago. I insist that they take care of me in Montreal, and if they can't do that, which they are miserably failing to do, why in heaven's name would I stupidly offer to have myself stranded in Chicago? I told them I didn't want to end up like Tom Hanks in that airport movie. That last thought was met with vacant stares. Clearly they don't know how to run an airline, and they don't go to the movies either.

I admit that I resorted to some very forceful interventions, loudly insisting that they get a supervisor to the gate immediately. I tell anyone who cares to listen that I am stranded in Montreal, and there is no way I am getting on a flight that is going to strand me in Chicago.

One of the guys behind me sizes up the situation and determines that I am being "a dick". A woman tells me not to be upset with the poor girl at the podium, because "she is doing her best". I tell the guy who thinks that my insistence on getting the staff to acknowledge my problem and deal with it makes me a "dick", that I am a lawyer, and that "being a dick" is what I do for a living. As if I care what the hell he thinks. I have a moto mini vacation circling the drain, the clock is ticking, and unless I can get them to focus on getting me to Tampa, my getaway is sunk. The only result of the drama is that two airport security personnel come to the gate, but no supervisor. The girl (I later find out her name is Sarah) tells me that there is no supervisor on duty. She is "it". And she is not even supposed to me manning that gate. No one even knows where the real gate C82 person is.

In the end only three of us fail to leave for Chicago. The plane pushes back at 16h50. While all this has been going on, on three separate occasions I tell the podium staff to make sure that my carry-on, that they gate-checked, doesn't leave on the plane if I'm not on it. Three times, they tell me, more and more annoyed at my obvious skepticism, that "no sir your luggage is NOT ON THE PLANE".

Finally, they turn their attention to my plight. The only thing they can do is get me into Tampa, via Dulles, at 0h45. I tell them no way, that doesn't work. After all, Ken is doing me a huge favour: picking me up at the airport and putting me up for the night. I can't impose an oh-dark-thirty pickup, and besides, if I am going to ride a motorbike the next day, I don't want to do it on insufficient sleep. Besides, where is my carry-on with all my gear, I ask? Please don't tell me it's on that plane heading to Chicago. "No of course not" Sarah says. So where is it, I ask.

Yup... it was making its way to Chicago!!! So now it didn't matter what they might do, because no gear, no ride, and because it was only gate-checked, it's not going to Tampa, it's going to return to Montreal at some point on Saturday. And that, dear friends, sealed my fate.

Mission scrubbed. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Dead in the water.

The insanity wasn't over. It took another hour to file the claim for the missing carry-on, and find out who I needed to call to get my fare refunded. I had already drained my iPhone's battery down to zero on the phone with the travel agency and United Airlines, so by the time I was done at the airport, I couldn't even call Susan to pick me up.

I spent from 10h00 to 19h00 going nowhere, courtesy of United Airlines. It's a personal record. I am one damn disappointed rider. Sorry folks.

The 2016 Blogger to Blogger Tour isn't cancelled, just postponed, to May it looks like. I have a family affair in Tampa then. I'll tack the tour on then.

POST MORTEM

My wayward carry-on arrived back home safe and sound at about 19h00 on Saturday evening, none the worse for wear.

I blame United Airlines for the following  actions on their part that caused my long-planned moto getaway to fail:

1) There was insufficient personnel manning the departure gate.

2) The personnel that was assigned to the gate did not make any attempt to understand the needs of the passengers on the delayed flight.

3) There was no supervisor or station manager on duty through the day on Friday.

4) No additional staff were assigned to deal with the crisis.

5) Once United Airlines understood the seriousness of the impact on their scheduling caused by the weather issues in Chicago, they failed to inform travelers of their options.

5) United Airlines failed to inform travelers who had connecting flights out of Chicago whether they would still be able to get them onto the same or res-scheduled flights allowing them to continue to their destinations.

6) In my particular case, they refused to consider the impact of the flight delay on my itinirary, until the delayed flight departed, five hours after the scheduled departure, leaving with fewer options for getting to my intended destination.  

7) In my particular case, they failed to retrieve my gate-checked baggage from the delayed flight, leaving me with no options once that flight left the gate, since the luggage held my motorcycle gear without which my vacation could not take place.

I plan to file an official complaint and request for just compensation.

We'll see how that goes.

27 comments:

  1. If ever there is a place that requires the surrendering of body, soul and mind it's an airport. You're writing admirably reflects a bad situation. I can only imaging the subtle humor and accepting tone was tempered by more powerful emotions during the actual situation.

    Sorry you won't get to travel to Florida. More sorry I won't get to read about the trip. The only thing that would be worse is your bags become lost and you get $200 bucks to replace a fortune of gear...

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    1. Apparently United tells me my motorcycle gear enjoyed its trip to Chicago. It should be back home some time this afternoon.

      Good thing you didn't get talked into joining me. You might be there now, and I'd be here, and forever jealous :)

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  2. Bummer. I feel with you, David. Gosh, I am disappointed, too. However, I am glad to hear that you have another journey lined up to make the Blogger Tour happen.

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    1. Thanks Sonja.

      Part of me wishes I had taken the chance and flown to Chicago. If it was a two week vacation it would have been the obvious choice. But for a three day trip it really made no sense to take the risk. I think that the stars will be better aligned in May.

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  3. Wow....Sorry to hear about your troubles. So no putting you to work on my kitchen tiles then. :) We will meet up eventually. Take care David.

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    1. Thanks Rob.

      Well, the good news is that you have ScooterBob now. I think that it is a good luck charm. No need for fancy exploits. Bob was a simple guy with a big heart. He just loved being with people. Show off your neck of the woods in your own way and it will be exactly what Bob would have wanted. Have fun with it.

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  4. Sorry to hear about this David but it seems so familiar with tales those close to me relate all too often. My threshold 'circle' continues to grow; smaller radius than "this", I drive. Larger radius than "this", I fly.

    My personal threshold for all of the downtime involved in flying...being early to wait and then be late has become tighter and tighter.

    Much better luck next time.

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    1. You know what they say Doug, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

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  5. Don't worry, Bill and I had a toast to your plight for most those hours and hours of delay. The good news is my wife checked emails about 10PM while Bill and I were figuring out how two old farts were going to stay awake to 1AM to go get you and she said, "Guys, he sent a email at 8:20 and said he was not coming". WE had another toast and went to bed.

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    1. Ken thanks for those very kind words. The thought of imposing myself in that way was unacceptable to me.

      We'll get another chance.

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  6. David, not to worry there will be other rides. I met up with Bill for lunch at Perk's. We toasted you again! I also headed to bed thinking the trip was on to only find out in the middle of the night that it was scrubbed.
    Hang in there - we've always got warm weather down here when you next travel our way.

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    1. Thanks Jim. So close and yet so very far.

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  7. We all missed seeing you, David, but all was not lost. I got in a fun, fast 500 mile ride to St. Petersburg and back in 28 hours. Had a lovely evening and dinner with Ken and Vicki. Then a perfect Omelette with Ken at Munch's this morning. ScooterBob got moved to Robert in Zephyrhills, then broiled oysters, shrimp and scallops with Jim at Pecks Old Port. The ride was another good test for Vanessa and I had a blast. I will toss a bone to the airline gods and hope they let you come next time.

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    1. Well, considering I have a fair bit of travel experience and that this particular bout of sheer dysfunctional insanity never happened before, I'm optimistic that when I take another run at it in May all will go like clockwork.

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  8. Whatever happened to "Fly the friendly skies"?????? As I expect you did, I spent many of my later work years in and around airports and it never, ever got any better. Granted, planes don't fall out of the sky much any more but the whole process around getting them loaded and up there in the first place is simply a disaster. I rarely fly any more (only a couple times a year) and for that I am immensely grateful. Good luck with your next attempt.

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    1. Thanks David. It's true that flying has lost any of the glamour it may once have had

      When I hear about people who were well traveled in the late nineteenth century, like Mark Twain, for instance, and compare their experience to ours, it blows me away. Now, in the space of twenty four hours you can be literally anywhere on the planet. It's like taking a city bus, and about as much fun.

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  9. "I am a lawyer, and that "being a dick" is what I do for a living."

    Great comeback to someone who was being a .… whatever. Sounds like a dismal trip. I have been using TripIt Pro for a number of years and the information from them by SMS and their app is more accurate than the airport signs and agents. I've known about gate changes, delays and cancellations than before the gate agent did which gives me a head start getting alternate flights.

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    1. Susan is usually my travel agent. She would never have booked this trip through Chicago, and she would have gotten a better fare too. I should have asked her to book it for me. Lesson learned. She will be booking the May trip.

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    2. As for speaking up and doing so in a way that people are made to listen when they are intent on ignoring you, I agree with those who criticised me. It was rude behaviour to be sure. The thing is that it was absolutely necessary. The vast majority suffer in silence and simply accept whatever the situation is that is causing them grief. In this case the airline was treating us like cattle, unworthy of any explanation or consideration.

      Unlike the two guys who criticised me, I did not use disrespectful language, or four letter words, beyond repeating the word 'dick' but applying it to myself not the other guy. In the end my interaction with the gate attendant Sarah was cordial even friendly. I congratulated her sincerely for standing her ground and doing her job under great pressure.

      The fault was squarely United's. They had literally hours to address the situation and failed miserably. All I needed was to be properly informed and they never bothered to do that. Sarah was as abused by United as were the passengers on that flight.

      When the airline has so trimmed the resources it devotes to its operations that neither staff nor customers are treated appropriately, what can be said of the remaining aspects of the operation? What about flight safety?

      I went through security with motorcycle boots on, and a fitbit around my neck. I only realized it after the fact. Not one beep or anything. That was a first. Those boots have large metal buckles. Whenever I forget the fitbit it always triggers the sensors.

      Nobody was on the ball on Friday.

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  10. Wow, what a crap day. Didn't United read that glowing recommendation of them you posted earlier and that you were a VIP?

    Sorry David. Let's hope the next try is easier.

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    1. Law of averages Brandy. We're making up for our good fortune in the move to Toronto ;)

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  11. I've experienced the musical chairs bit with the gates myself....it was with a UAL flight as well....makes one wonder doesn't it? Hate the loss of control of one's destiny when flying these days. Rather ride there....but the time, especially at Ural speed. :)

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    1. It does make you wonder. Ural speed was looking pretty good to me on Friday afternoon.

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  12. You just pointed out the exact reason that I DO NOT FLY...EVER! I enjoy "flying". My brother is a pilot. I take the motorcycle, or maybe the train. Never fly. Not afraid. ..just unwilling to deal with their shit

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    1. I sympathize.

      But... without affordable air travel I would have missed some magical times in faraway places. Those experiences are not a necessity by any means and it is possible to live a full and very happy life without flying anywhere of course.

      I think that the law of averages may be at work on you :)

      It's averaging flights between you and you brother :D

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  13. I quite enjoyed my drive to Montreal.

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The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.