Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why aren't airlines held accountable?

Just because it was so bad, and just incase my rant can bring a little bad press to some airlines, I thought I’d share my experience of getting to and from Little Rock, Arkansas.

I was going to Arkansas to help a company (Riceland Inc) design some software to manage a couple of their business processes - long story. I’d done all my research, had all my documentation to get through immigration, and even packed smart enough that it fit in a carry-on and I wouldn’t have to check anything.

I had an uneventful trip from Kelowna to Calgary with Air Canada.
From Calgary I was to fly to Houston, so this meant it was time to cross the border and deal with immigration.

Nice way to start a long day: with a tiny, little man whose job I truly believe is to shake us up a little, just incase we’re trying to hide something. He was so arrogant and curt he managed to throw me a little, despite the fact that I knew he was trying. By the end of our 40 minute interview my hand was shaking with frustration and the forms I was filling out looked like they’d been completed by a six year old. It also cost me an unexpected $50US to enter the states; nice bonus.

After dealing with the little piss-ant (ps: I actually saw a "piss-ant" in Arkansas) in immigration I had a sprint to my connecting flight. Remember that I was carrying everything and checked nothing? The bags got heavy REAL quick.

I got to my Continental gate about ½hr before boarding. And speaking of sprinting, why is it only the COMMUTERS are the ones that are hurrying in an airport? Shouldn’t the staff be a little more motivated? But I digress…

Of course about 10 minutes before boarding I sensed a bit of a commotion. People were looking out the windows in the direction of our plane at something. Soon there was an announcement that our plane was undergoing minor repairs; “nothing to worry about”.

I spoke with a pert little fellow at the gate about my connecting flight and he assured me, with an annoying little lisp, that I’d make my flight and there was “nothing to worry about”.

I’d missed my connecting flight so I arranged for an insurance (second) flight before boarding.

I was the last to board the plane, literally, and despite the assurances everywhere in the airport that we were allowed to bring two items on board with us, I was told there wasn’t room and one had to be “checked” and could be picked up when we landed.

I was seated in the middle of two giant people. To my left (at the window) was one of the larger women I’ve ever seen; her arms and stomach fully covered my armrest. It should also come as no surprise that the fellow to my right was also a giant and, of course, we later learned he snored. Elbows pinned to ribs for 4.5hrs.

Something else odd happened on that flight: about 10 minutes after the crew had brought around our beverages, I noticed a line-up getting longer and longer for the bathrooms. I swear there were 12 people standing in the isles waiting for the toilets. I’d never seen so many and was starting to worry we were all catching something! The guy beside me – in between asphyxiations – mentioned he was a regular on this flight and one of the toilets was broken and had been for a couple of weeks now. You can imagine how that line-up affected the demeanor of the crew.

After a long departure from the plane, we made our way to the baggage claim. The whole time I’m anxious to get my bags as my “insurance” connecting flight was leaving in 45 min.

I waited for my luggage for 20 minutes before the carousel broke down. Soon it was clear I was risking missing my second Continental flight so I darted around in the area looking for one, just ONE representative to help me figure out what to do. It took another 10 minutes to find someone that worked there.

Through the thick East-Indian accent I was able to make out that my bag was in fact on its way to Little Rock so I was free to make my way to my next flight. He directed me to “the train” downstairs.

I race down an escalator that was in the approximate direction his shaky finger was pointing only to find a full train. There was a tiny space left in one of the cars and the group grudgingly let me board with them.

During the smelly, sweaty commute I overheard someone say something about “leaving security”. See, apparently we would normally have taken a tram upstairs, but for some reason it was shut down, so we had to take this train, which left the secure area. This of course means we all had to go BACK through security. Another delay that clearly meant I was going to miss the second, insurance flight. Ugh.

As I enter the main terminal its jam packed with thousand(s?) of angry passengers. As it turns out, we’ve all been re-routed through security on purpose: they found a suspicious, abandoned parcel in the airport and had to destroy it.

After about 20 minutes of confusion and chaos a representative was running through the crowd explaining the situation and assuring us that our flights were being delayed so we could catch them.

It took about 2.5 hours to clear security and another 30 to get the place going since the crews on the tarmac were now short staffed after this unexpected event.

An hour after THAT I arrive in Little Rock and wander back and forth through the baggage claim area, unable to find a carousel that lists my flight. It was never listed, I just happened to see my bag going round-and-round at one point and picked it up.

My host from Riceland was there waiting so we made the hour long drive into Stuttgart and, eventually, I hit the sack around 2:30am. Welcome to Arkansas.

The three days of work were the saving grace of this trip, it went SO WELL.

So, time to get back home.

December 20, 2005: my 34th birthday. Worst on record.
I’m eager to get home to see Canada play the Czechs in the World Junior Hockey Championships right here in town and I had SWEET tickets. I also have to renew my drivers license before 6pm as it expires today.

Little Rock to Houston – flight with Continental is delayed by an hour without explanation.

A super friendly flight attendant assures me I will not make my connecting flight with Continental. She even goes so far as to advise passengers that since we’re late, could people NOT catching a connecting flight please let the rest deplane first. Finally I have a good experience with this airline. They also advise us that new boarding passes are already being issued for those of us that will be missing our connecting flight.

I’m first off the plane (yeah!) and get to the gate only to find that the old guy has no idea what I’m talking about. He struggles to find me a connecting flight for a few minutes as the line builds. Eventually I hear “get yourself over to C42” so I start to run.

I ran for, no kidding, about 15 minutes. Note to self: get back in shape.

At C42 nobody seems to know what to make of my tickets (there are three conflicting times on the ticket) and send me over to Continental Customer Service.

I was there for 90 minutes, and keep hearing the lady at the counter mumbling to herself “this isn’t good, this isn’t good”, “oh, this is all screwed up” and other one liners designed to relax the weary travellor.

Eventually my new friend Connie gets me a flight to Seattle instead of Calgary. We BARELY remember to re-route my bag.

The Continental flight to Seattle is uneventful, finally. I depart and look for my S-gate. The only sign visible points to stairs/escalators that have been blocked for repairs. Unbelievable. After 5 nearly frantic minutes I finally track a fellow down that directs me to the train that will get me the round-about way to the gate I need.

I eventually find my Horizon Air gate and the flight is “on-time”. Ahh. I’m only an hour’s flight away from home and the hockey game I’ve been looking forward to for months.

Departure time is 5pm which would mean I would even have time to go home, change/shower before the 7pm game. I’m so excited I could pee.

4:45: the folks at the gate issue a warning that there’s a maintenance delay. Stomach sinks.
5:00: we’re notified maintenance won’t complete until 6pm and they are trying to find another Horizon plane.
5:20: still no word so I get up and walk around to the counter. There’s nobody at the Horizon counter. I check the board it the departure time now reads 6:57!!!
5:30: they show up and explain that "We’re delayed until 7pm - please come collect your $6 food vouchers and sorry for the delay".
6:15: return to the gate at the requested time. Now they tell everyone to move to move to a new Horizon gate a short jaunt away. This is feeling like a bad joke.
6:30: they can’t locate the plane, and the crew will still need to get through customs
6:45: they’ve found the plane and the crew is on their way
7:15: board the tiny, tiny plane
7:45: taxi down the run way
9:00: arrive in Kelowna, game is tied 1-1
9:10: carousel breaks and an angry passenger insists the staff pull the bags out one by one which, amazingly, they do!
9:30: luggage is finished being unloaded
9:40: waiting in line for security to process the passengers. I watch some chick interview a 4 year old just to be cute. I'm astonished that I'm waiting for this. I wish that kid would answer the important questions sooner!
10:00: a much anticipated hug from my patient, gorgeous girl friend. We fill out the necessary forms and I’m on my sulky way home for a shower and a stiff drink.

Bonus chapter!
December 21. I need to renew my license today and get my photo taken. I’ve woken with a swollen, discolored right eyelid. I have a sty. This is priceless.

Additional Links:
John C. Dvorak's article: What happened to Alaska (Horizon)?
Shouldn't customer service try as hard as this little guy?

UPDATE, Dec.21:
My luggage has been found. Hooray. Oddly enough I feel reluctant to be happy about them returning my property.

UPDATE #2: this feels so appropriate.

UPDATE #3: A friend of mine sent me this:

Air Canada
An Air Canada plane took off from Torbay Airport in St. John's. After it reached its cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom:
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome aboard Flight
293, non-stop from St. John's to Toronto. The weather ahead is good and we should have a smooth and uneventful flight. Now sit back and relax . . . . OH, MY GOD!"
Silence followed.
After a few minutes, the captain came back on the intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I'm sorry if I scared you earlier. While I was talking to you, a
flight attendant accidentally spilled a cup of hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!"
A Newfoundlander passenger yelled, "That's nothing bye. You should see the back of mine!

1 comment:

Mom said...

Advil, anyone?