Monday, January 08, 2007

Consider your travel options seriously

Family of four arrives at airport within 'level orange' security alert's allotted time-frame. Plane that was scheduled to leave Pittsburgh at 2:06 is being checked for a 'mechanical difficulty' and we would be notified 'in fifteen minutes' when we might be able to board the plane, as it is already 2:00.
Sure, I had no interest in getting on some tiny commuter plane to Dulles that has 'mechanical difficulties', but I did have an interest in feeding ourselves, as that had been impossible to schedule earlier in the day. Packing after three weeks is hard. With the kids. And all their STUFF. And their determination to bust in on your serious time-frame crunch and being all full of attitude when you have to just get packed and out of there for chrissakes!
But fifteen minutes is not enough time to run back and order, pay for, and receive food and be absolutely sure that you will not miss that plane (when it really should have already boarded).
So we waited. And waited. More of that. And then on to boarding the little tiny plane, but not early. No, there is no pre-boarding for families with young children for those flying on United. Not on little planes or gigundous planes. It is against their policy.
We were hungry, but since our layover itinerary had originally been excruciatingly long, we were comfortable knowing that we would still have time to eat some food while also making our connection - the five+hour flight to SFO. But we got to dulles to find only rows of donuts, flag kiosks, starbucks, fast food, faster food, starbucks, a smoking lounge or two, and one single Gordon Biersh restaurant that had a huge crowd of people waiting to be seated, we realized our options were less than slim. We wound back through two terminals with the hungry children - one in arms and one nearly being dragged by the arm - looking disdainfully at our food options, and in our closer examination we realized that each and every donut shop, starbucks, and mcsupersizeme had a supersized line winding from its cash register into the hallways. Seriously loooong lines. So we managed to nab a subway sammich after a 20 minute wait and just made it in time to (not pre-) board with our children.
So that we could then sit on the tarmac while we waited for twenty more pieces of luggage to clear customs and make it on the plane (wtf? who has ever lost luggage for NO REASON AT ALL? and we waited. for luggage. and waited.) and then we waited for another 3o minutes while they made space for us on the runway, etc. The usual traveling hell. (note to self: I HATE connections! Do NOT book connecting flights unless they involve a tropical ending. Are you listening, self?)
Except United did have more than just a feature film to offer. They also offered an inflight non-optional multi-screened viewing of some wildly popular crime show that involved a slow and graphic scene of a body being dragged across an white carpet, leaving a thick trail of blood. For you and your children, absolutely free! Thank you, friendly skies.
And, while there are some flight attendants that will pass you and your baby and ask if you need some warm milk (yes! really!), there are others that gather in a clan in the galley, sigh when you appear with an empty milk bottle in your hand and ask you what you want. And sigh again while digging out a cold milk carton, thrusting it in your hand and resuming their conversation without really any topic change. Ours involved the latter example.
When we arrived at SFO, we only had to collect our luggage, call the hotel shuttle where we had parked our car three weeks earlier in a sleep-park-fly lot, transfer the lot into our van, and drive the 1.5 hours home.
But we couldn't find the hotel's phone number. And information couldn't even find the hotel. And my phone was dying. So when information gave me the wrong number for the third time, I went a little ballistic. Which really was just a sign of things yet to come.
After we had made a substantial pile with our luggage (it was large enough to qualify as a fire hazard, but I looked so frazzled and the kids were spinning like tops so the security knew when enough to leave a mom alone), dh found the card to call the shuttle company directly. I did, and they informed me that it would be at least an hour until they could send a van. I had chosen this particular hotel because they advertised that their airport shuttle ran 'on demand' rather than the standard hourly offerings, and with the little ones after a long trip, that is more than worth the extra ten bucks they charged for their room (vs the hotel next door). So when I finally got the right number for the wingate inn, a woman answered the phone and said, "Best western coyote point! Can I help you?"
I responded with, "Damn that 411 operator gave me the wrong number again! I am just looking for the wingate inn! Not the holiday inn or the hitching gate inn, not the best western!"
"Oh, well we used to be the wingate in but we changed our name to the best western."
"You what? You changed your name while we were parked there and didn't bother to tell us? When did this happen?"
"Last Saturday."
"You changed your name and didn't bother to tell us?" I repeated, incredulous.
"Yes. I guess so."
I was way out of patience.
"Well shit! I certainly hope you can help me! I have been traveling for over ten hours with two children and we would like your shuttle to our car now, please."

"You have to call the cab company directly. There number is blahblahblah."
"Wow, thanks for your help. I did call that number, and was informed that I would need to wait over an hour for their services. Now I would like you to help by sending a van sooner than that, since that is the service you offer."
"I will call you right back."
She did not, and every time I tried to call the hotel again for an hour, it was busy. Meanwhile, I sent dh off in a cab to just go pick up our car and then return for us, as it seemed easier than waiting for the shuttle and then transferring everything again.
Finally, I reached the woman who did not ever intend to call me back.
"What is going on here? Is this some sort of joke? You change your hotel name and number, you can't send a shuttle, and you haven't even returned my calls."
"'am....the shuttle is right there for you. Right there to pick you up."
Right WHERE? You don't even know where I am! I never told you what airline I was flying!"
"Well they do this all the time."
"So that what? Makes the drivers psychic? They suddenly know where I am? Where are they picking me up? What airline?"
"Where are you?"

I had had more than my share of enough. More than my tolerance of ineptitude, the kids were losing their freaking minds, covered in airport filth, and then my phone died.

So after two and one half HOURS in SFO, two cab rides (the first driver could not find the hotel and dropped dh off back at the airport after collecting his fare, the second driver had never heard of either hotel name and almost gave up as well but dh was firm. very firm.), and another $55 later, the hotel and its new sign were finally located and our car was retrieved. Dh popped his head in the office to inform the young receptionist how lucky she was that I was not there to greet her, and asked the manager to call him the following day.
That was Sunday, I have called said manager twice, and still received no call back.
I will not stop harassing calling them until I do.
And a word to the wise: When you book your sleep-park-fly hotel, ask them to define what 'on demand' means. And maybe if they are planning on selling their hotel.


meno said...

I can't believe those people are still alive.

Traveling sure is fun and full of adventure.

theotherbear said...

Yikes, I would have completely lost it!

sara said...

I'm staying home until my children are old enough to stay with their (local) grandparents. Jeez!

Karianna said...

United told us that they do not serve milk. Of course, this is when we were in the air with six hours to go.

Smiley Riley said...

Oh yes, as an English girl living in Australia - this sounds very familiar!!!

Jackie said...

Okay, this cements it. I am NEVER traveling anywhere again. Ever.