Sunday, January 06, 2008

More Travels in Airline Hell

We got to the airport at 7 am, after driving 90 minutes through 70 mph winds to get there. It was painfully obvious that no flight would be taking off, but once you have that ticket, you had better show up to the airport.
Our flight was to leave SFO at 8:30 am. Surprisingly, I heard the gate attendant receive a call from officials saying "SFO IS NOT CLOSED. PROCEED BOARDING AS NORMAL."
As I looked out to the tarmac and saw sheets of rain rolling over the pavement and docked planes shuddering in the wind, I was quite shocked that they were actually beginning to board the plane. Since I was traveling alone with a small child, I hopped into the pre-boarding line and took my seat, repeating pleading mantras in my head to please please keep the seat next to me empty. Approximately 20 minutes after everyone was boarded, the pilot announced that we would need to deplane, as the rocking and rolling plane was separating from the jetway, and since we were not taking off anytime soon, the plane was 'unsafe' for us to remain on board. So we then got off the plane, being told that we may take off in 2 hours, but not to leave the gate area. Oh yes, and if you were one of those passengers that gate-checked a stroller....umm...tough shit for you! Because we are not going to give you your strollers.
They changed the take-off time to 10:30, and we began what was to become a long day of milling and chasing a toddler around the airport.
There is a playground at SFO, but it was not in our gate area, and we were not allowed to leave the area, even though we could all clearly see the weather was preventing anyone from flying. Nobody wanted to get on a plane and fly in this insanity, so plenty of people asked if they could go home and come back the next day. The answer was: No, not without losing your ticket. So the flights continued to back up, and the people in the gate area continued to pile up. The frustration level was high. Those of us with children were finding one another - over there was a thomas train group, over here was the dinosaur and cars group, nearby was a wiggles dvd showing...we managed to keep our children in better spirits than most of the rude adults that shoved past us in their hurry to go nowhere.
Every 1/2 hour or so, the gate agent would announce that we may be leaving soon, although the winds were more than twice the safe knot speed for taking off, and we should not leave the gate area. Mixed messages to be sure.
11:00 came and went, with the same persistent announcements cackling over the speaker; the agent at this point looking somewhat embarrassed by even having to deliver this message again (think: Tony Snow). I knew I had missed my original connection to Pittsburgh, but was hoping that there was another flight I could catch; even if I was going to miss the dinner with in-laws and cousins, I was hoping to get to the east coast anyway, after sticking it out for so many hours already. I got all nice-nice with the gate agent, whose name was Colleen. She was sympathetic to my plight, apologizing about the stroller and the delays over and over. She assured me that she had already booked me on the last flight from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh, and I should arrive around 11 pm. The last flight to leave Minneapolos wasn't until 7:40, so I was pretty confident that if I left SFO by 2:00, I would make the connection.
We continued our rounds of the gate area. Bubbles, running here and there and everywhere, stopped to down a bottle, then leaned over into my lap and proceeded to barf the entire thing up. Onto my shoes, my pants, the floor. The only saving grace was that it was soy milk and it was barfed immediately, so it didn't stink. However, there I was in a busy, angry airport, jumping out of a puddle of milk barf. Luckily, Colleen's look of sympathetic horror made up for the other agents' looks of just plain horror and abhorrence. She called housekeeping immediately and I threw some paper towels on the mess and slunk away.
During this time, I approached Colleen and, as with about a dozen other people that I heard, asked her if I should perhaps stay in the Bay Area that night, since I did know people in the area, but once I got to Minneapolis, I would be stuck. And since they were being very vocal about not putting anyone up in hotels because of weather conditions, I was a bit concerned that I would be stuck or sleeping in an airport overnight. We were told to stay in the area, which got a bit frustrating as they postponed the departure each hour and would not cancel the flight.
Finally, at 1:00 pm, we were told to board the plane again. Although, this time it looked like half the people on the flight were new. I wearily boarded the plane again, by this time finally beginning to dry off. The empty seat next to me was no longer; after 5 hours of planes being grounded, there was not a flight taking off that was less than full. Luckily it was filled by an eleven year old boy, who had not yet perfected the 'toddler disdain' expression. I managed to change a diaper while he was on my lap, and prepared for take-off. The $10 toy plane I had caved on in the airport gift shop was paying off, as it makes really cool take-off noises and red lights. Our excitement was completely unfounded though, as we sat at the gate for yet another hour with no sign of moving. I did some quick math, added in the time change, and realized with horror that there was no possible way I would make my connection in Minneapolis.
I asked the flight attendant to come over, and when I asked him if he could help me (did he know if I would make any connection to Pittsburgh, did he know if there was another way to get there, could he let me out of the plane right now?).
Now here is the part where I tell you not to fly NWA if you are expecting a family-friendly environment. With the sole exception of Colleen, I was to find that nearly every other flight attendant basically hated children and the idea of children flying.
Because, instead of just answering me, the pinched-faced Smarmy Flight Attendant took this as an opportunity to make some sort of 'example' out of me. He puffed out his chest, and very loudly said to me (and the surrounding 6 rows), "Do I look like I have a computer on me? I don't know if you are going to Pittsburgh because I don't have my crystal ball with me either?"
At this point, all I could picture was sleeping on the floor of the airport with a 2 year old. I got a bit teary. I said, "Look, I could do without the attitude, I just want to know if you can help me!"
He replied, "I'm not giving you attitude, you need to just calm down and deal with this situation." Then the full-blown tears started.
A woman behind me said, "Yes, you are giving her attitude. She has been here since 7 am with her baby, who has been very well-behaved, and everyone here is stressed out, so you should just back off of her." I wanted to kiss her. I said, "Please let me off the plane. We haven't gone anywhere yet."
He (again, loudly) said that if he let me off the plane, everyone else would miss their connections. This, I thought was rich, since we were already 6 hours late, with still no sign of leaving, but somehow all these missed connections were going to be my fault. I sighed heavily and the dam broke; the tears raced down my face. A few moments later, he came back to my row with the head flight attendant, saying that if anyone could help me, it would be her. I choked out my story to her; I told her that Colleen had advised me to stay on this plane, that I would make it to Pittsburgh, but since boarding the plane and sitting at the gate for so long, now I would not make it. I begged to get off the plane, and just then, the plane started moving away from the gate. She shrugged her shoulders at me, apologized, and I realized that I was quite doomed. About one hour into the (very turbulent) flight, the head flight attendant came back to my row and asked me to please come to the galley so they could have a word with me. I had no idea what was about to go down. I was just hoping that Smarmy Guy wouldn't have anything to do with it. I schlepped Bubbles out of the row and up to the galley, where head flight attendant was waiting for me. She told me that they had called SFO and reached Colleen, who confirmed my story and then said she 'felt terrible' because she could have re-routed me through Detroit to catch a later connection to Pittsburgh, but she was distracted and didn't realize that I was still sticking it out. She had authorized a hotel room for me, but would I please not tell anyone, as there were hundreds of displaced passengers today, and their policy for weather was to not make any accomodations. She instructed me to go only to gate G-19 when I arrived in Minneapolis - they would handle it. I thanked her profusely, I actually hugged her, stopped sniffling, and went back to my seat.
We arrived in Minneapolis just 15 minutes after the last flight to Pittsburgh, and the pilot told everyone to go to the gate and find their connection or finally receive some overdue food vouchers. So by the time I got to the gate to ask for my hotel voucher, there was a very long and very slow line. Since waiting was the word of the day, I just went with it and got in line. What choice did I have? After an hour of waiting in line, I was the next one to be seen. But some guy came up to me and told me to go the next gate, where there was an available agent. I said ,"No, thank you. I was told to come only to this gate to receive my vouchers, and I have waited long enough - I can wait 5 more minutes." He insisted. So much that he actually pushed my shoulders in the direction he wanted me to go. I 'obliged'. But the person at that gate said she had no idea what I was talking about, and here was a $10 food voucher. I got upset. She told me to go see her supervisor. So I went over to the supervisor and started to tell her my story. She cut me off. "We are not paying for a hotel room for you. We don' t provide accomodations for inclement weather."
I tried to explain to her. "But there was another issue - I was supposed to be re-routed. Colleen talked to the crew. The head flight attendant took me OUT OF MY ROW to tell me this. Why would she have done that if it wasn't true? PLEASE JUST LOOK UP MY NAME!"
She put on her bitch face. "Are you going to stop talking? I am trying to tell you our policy. I don't know why she told you that. All I can do it report the person who told you that. She was wrong. Look, we are not giving you a room. GIVE IT UP."
It was a standoff.
I snatched my boarding pass out of her hand and ran off - everyone in the area was watching closely. There were many tears in that terminal.
I ran to the gate I had exited an hour earlier. I asked where the crew was, and how I could find the woman who now appeared to be previously lying to me.
This woman took my boarding pass from my quivering hand and entered my name into her computer. She said, "It looks fine. But I can't do anything for you. If you go to the ticket counter in the main terminal, they can issue you the vouchers."
More tears. I was at the end of my rope. I asked her if she was lying just to get me to go away. She assured me she was not, then directed me to the main terminal, about 1/2 mile away.
I made it to the ticket counter just as everyone was getting ready to leave. I ran up and, quite out of breath, handed the woman my boarding pass and began to explain, haltingly and probably not very understandably, what had happened. I begged her to please please please look up my name in the computer. Please help me.
She had already entered my name in the computer. She looked at my face, she looked at a very tired and screamy Bubbles, and she said, "Honey, you are going to be fine. It says right here that we have provided you with a room. I'm not sure why, because we don't do that for weather, but it's all taken care of. It's okay - I wouldn't want to spend the night in the airport with my baby either. Just calm down, it's okay."
I couldn't believe it. Finally. And all she did was enter my name in her computer to find all that out. She asked me if I needed some food or milk for the baby. Why yes, I certainly did. She told me that the hotel restaurant would be closed, so she was going to give me some food vouchers and a pass to get back through security so I could get food and milk before I went to the hotel. She closed her terminal and walked me back through security, helping me with the laptop and the baby stroller. Once I was back through security, I realized that I could go find that bitch supervisor and tell her off. But it was at least another 1/2 mile back to that gate. I thought about it for about 30 seconds, then determined it would be more than worth the walk if I actually found her.
So I pushed that stroller with the purpose of a nascar driver all the way back to her gate. She saw me coming and ducked for cover behind her desk. As I approached her, waving my hotel voucher at her she began barking at me, "I TRIED TO PAGE YOU! I DID! I tried to page you but you ran off in a huff (!). I tried! I did! I paged you!"
I went right up to her, showed her the voucher and said (loudly), "YOU WERE WRONG! You were so very wrong! You are a mean mean person! Why would you not even look up my name?"
She was stammering, "You said it was a flight attendant. They have no authority. I didn't know the rest of your story."
I said, "No, I said that the head flight attendant had called the gate supervisor - just like you - in San Francisco. You just didn't listen. Because you are a mean person. A mean and angry person."
She kept barking at me, "I TRIED! I tried to page you! YOU RAN OFF IN A HUFF!"
I just looked at her, shook my head slowly and silently, and gestured at Bubbles in the stroller, "WHY would you do that to me?" I finished.
As I walked away, at least 4 people who had witnessed both scenes (and who knows how many more in between) pumped their fists in the air and gave me a quiet cheer.
I went to get milk and food, then walked the 1/2 mile back out of the terminal to find the hotel shuttle. It was 10:50 pm by the time we were checked in. We had left our house at 5 am, and were still only halfway across the country.
Oh well. We had cable, an airline sized bottle of wine, fresh milk bottles, and a soft bed.
And a 10:30 flight to Pittsburgh. Which we did make. Even though it was also delayed by an hour. Once on the puddle-jumper (2 hour flight), Bubbles handled it miraculously well, considering the travel ordeal he had been through.
Literally five minutes before we landed, Bubbles fell asleep. This was not as welcomed as you might think, as I had to somehow then figure out how to open my stroller and put on my backpack, all with a large sleeping toddler in my arms. I was in the front row, so I asked the flight attendant if there would be a jetway or we would have to walk outside. She replied that she didn't know, but why? I answered because I wasn't sure just how I was going to manage the logistics of deplaning. She said, "Oh."
When the plane landed, I ended up letting everyone else off first, then leaving Bubbles on the seat while I went to the jetway and opened my stroller. Then I went back on the plane to get Bubbles and put him in the stroller. Then back on the plane again to get my backpack/diaper bag. All the while, the flight attendant stood at the front of the plane and watched this ballet with her hands down at her sides. I was incredulous, but had no energy left to even be pissed about it.
Now? We are finally in PA. I have a root canal scheduled for tomorrow, Bubbles is having a blast with his cousins, and we have a funeral to go to on Saturday. Next Sunday, we attempt to cross the country by air again. Wish us luck.
And take my advice. Fly Virgin. Or JetBlue. They don't hate kids.


theotherbear said...

Wow. What a dreadful trip. I was shaking my head the whole way through as it got worse and worse. What dreadful customer service!

nailgirl said...

DREadful service indeed! That seriously sucks ass! Here's wishing you good karma on the way home. Hugs.

sarafoop said...

Dude. THAT IS SO NOT COOL. I can't believe what assholes work for the airlines, and good for you for giving that rude lady what for. You deserve a massage and a giant margarita.

Loretta said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mrs. Who said...

That is the worst travel story I have ever heard. I just can't believe how you managed with a baby for that whole, terrible day with hardly anyone helping you! I think you should write a letter to the airline with all the details from this post. You may never hear anything, but they SHOULD give you some free airline tickets!!

Tricia said...

mamadaisy said...

gah! i am sitting here at work, almost crying with anger for your ordeal and so happy that you are finally there ok.

GOOD for you for going back and condemning that woman. there is no feeling i hate more than knowing i should have stood up for myself and didn't. you got balls, chica.

Jenijen said...

omg. honey! that made ME cry just reading it.


Blaize said...

Shit! Now I want to fly on NWA and bitch-slap every single person (except the nice ones).

minnie said...

this just gave me hives.