Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fear and Loathing - Montpelier - 6

My worst travel day was fairly early on during my treks back and forth to Montpelier, Vermont.  One Thursday, getaway day, I had an email from US Airways about a flight cancellation.  To their credit, the email was postmarked 5:24 AM, which was nearly 12 hours prior to the time of the flight.  The cancelled flight was from Burlington to Washington Reagan (DCA).  The email said to call their 800 number.   As it happened, some executives from the Dallas office were in the guest house that week, and I alerted them to what was going on.  But I think they went on United through Chicago, because I didn't see them later.

What I learned was that US Airways had a mechanical cancellation, and did not have another aircraft available to fill in, and they knew it well ahead of time.  They rebooked me on another US Airways flight to Philadelphia, and from there I was booked on an Airbus to Dallas/Fort Worth.  Okay, fine.  The departure was a little earlier than what I had planned.  I had an hour to connect at Philadelphia.

I got on the flight to PHL, and it was a tiny plane, a CRJ, operated by Air Wisconsin.  I have had nothing but bad experiences with Air Wisconsin dating back to a couple of trips to Battle Creek back in the 80's, and this was no exception.  They boarded on time, and pushed back, but then parked over to the side somewhere awaiting sequencing into Philadelphia.  By the time the plane took off, nearly all of my hour was gone.  But, I figured, flight times are always less than what the timetable says, so I still have a chance.

The plane, unfortunately, went to the USAirways satellite terminal at PHL, the dreaded terminal F.  F as in ‘First Circle of Hell’, although other people choose a different word beginning with F.  From there you have to take a bus over to the regular terminal.  With my flight being late, and with crowding in the terminal itself, I arrived at my gate with only ten minutes to spare.

They had shut the door and were boarding no more passengers.  Technically, if you aren’t there fifteen minutes prior to departure, they can give away your seat, even if it’s their fault you were late.  They would do nothing for me.  I was stuck.

I called the 800 number I had called earlier, and they said I was booked on a flight the next morning.  It was only around 5 PM so I couldn’t believe they could not get me home, and I planned to work the next day.  I was just starting on this contract and wanted to show that I could work from home one day a week.

After some back and forth, US Airways pushed me over to a Delta flight that was going to Atlanta.  At Atlanta, I would have a 90 minute connection to a flight to DFW.  I felt pretty good about that.  I went to the gate, and they were boarding on time.  I have no status on Delta, and it was obvious my roller bag would need to be checked, so I checked it.  My seat on the B-737 was in the next to the last row, in the window.  I hate the window, but fine.

As the plane filled up, a man the size of Larry Allen took the middle seat, next to me.  He was supposed to be one row back, but that seat had been claimed by a child whose parent would otherwise have been separated.  My guy went along with it.  He was huge, and he was not fat, just very, very big.  I was being squeezed against the window as soon as he sat down.

The plane pushed back, went about a hundred yards from the gate, and sat there.  No announcement came from the crew.  The flight attendants paced around but had no information.  Finally, the captain came on and said they were having a problem with the computer.  They were trying to enter the fuel information, and the system was telling them they had to fill out some form and have it approved, and they didn’t have the form.  The irony was, according to the captain, Delta had been paperless for six months.  So we went back to the gate, and they took care of the paperwork.  By this time my back was in need of a transplant from the Larry Allen sized guy sitting next to me.  I am not small, but this guy was twice my size.

The plane left for Atlanta an hour and a half late.  Remember I had 90 minutes to connect. They lost some more time due to ATC in Atlanta, and I missed my second connection of the day.  Plus, I couldn’t stand up straight. 

The next task was to find a place to stay.  A bunch of us went to the Delta service counter, and they were taking the position that the delay was on account of ATC.  I was very happy that another guy got to set them straight.  He was forceful, but if it had been me, I probably would have ended up on the no-fly list for the rest of my life, or they would have reopened Andersonville.  At any rate, we got hotel vouchers.

Delta has a rebooking computer thing, and I got my new itinerary for the next day.  They were sending me on a tour of the old Northwest route system (Delta and Northwest merged a few years back).  They were sending me from Atlanta to La Guardia, then Detroit, then to Minneapolis, then to DFW.  I might have missed one.  It was a mileage runner’s dream.  I went to the service desk and basically said this is what the computer gave me.  The woman checked, just shook her head in amazement, and said all the nonstops the next day were open and I could have any of them.  I chose 8:30.

Off to the hotel.  We had a jam packed van, and I had to stand.  We got to the hotel, and had a very long wait in line while two clerks had a contest as to who could go slower.  Both won.  (All the customers were white men; the clerks were black women.)  I finally got to my room one-ish.

I set my travel alarm, and the alarm in the room, and asked for a wake-up call.  But I still slept poorly and woke up in the dark much too early.  I saw on my phone that they had wi-fi, and got out my laptop to play with it.  I looked up the hotel I was in (Comfort Inn North) and read up on it.  The hotel was given extremely bad ratings on account of bedbugs.

I saw no evidence of bedbugs, and I didn’t bring any home.

That morning I got to the airport in plenty of time for my flight, and used my meal voucher for a nice breakfast.  Atlanta TSA were nice.  My flight was on an MD-80, and I got the two side to myself.  My wife was gracious enough to pick me up at around 9:30 AM Central.  Delta paged me, while I was waiting for my bag, because I had left my book in the seat pouch in front of me. 

I met some former co-workers for lunch that day.  The first guy that saw me asked if there was something wrong with my back.