Saturday, January 3, 2009

Holiday Traveler Part 1-B: Goin' To The 'Gettin' There

You were riveted, I know! When last we left, I had great fears about my airline and the trip North for the holidays. I spent the days leading up attempting to harness my chi and prep for the adventures ahead. Lest all my preparation was for not, most of what was ahead...I just never saw it coming.

So came the day it was time to leave. We were armed with our baggage and prepped for the trip. We pulled into an economy parking garage and made our way to the terminal on a shuttle with relative ease...and the terminal was relatively empty and ticket counters seemed quiet but moving quickly. Hey, we're off to a good start. So it seemed.

I knew going into this a few things were non-negotiable - the airports along the way would be busier than normal due to the holidays, people would be traveling with children more so than usual, and it was US Airways so a hiccup would appear at some point. Armed with a higher than usual sense of tolerance, we got our tickets, checked our bags and prepped for the flight North. Except - our first flight from Phoenix to Charlotte, NC...well, it was delayed - AND we didn't have a seat number on our ticket! We were on 'stand-by!' What the...? A delayed flight in the sunny southwest, and the ticket we paid for didn't come complete with a seat? Here we go!

Oh, and - by the by - lest we forget the ticket price that also does not necessarily guarantee a seat also does NOT cover the baggage...or a small morsel or food to much on...or a simple sip or water...or even a clean, clear tray table to rest upon. Yes, you see - in the guise of 'increased fuel prices,' airlines found a new means to add rates to your flight. To cover increased petrol prices, they began charging for baggage - more bags, more cost. Fair enough...but, um, er...the f***ing prices went down - WAY down! But those charges didn't go away. Oh, yeah - that mini bag of 2 gotta pay for that. That cup of water or shot glass of burnt coffee? Yeah, you're paying for that too! And, because 'fuel is expensive,' US Airways is even selling ad space on the fold down tray tables attached to the seatback in front of you. Either that or they picked up a surplus of "Leverage" TV show tables from an auction somewhere. So, our value ticket turned into a pretty expensive ticket after all...and that still didn't eliminate the words 'stand' and 'by' from the conversation. What a raquet!

Upon an uneventful and relatively swift passage through the al Qaeda, 'inspection area,'...we hustled up to our departure gate. Though I must say, for every trip through the scanners and TSA people, it never ceases to amaze me how - every time - someone has to kick and scream about taking off their shoes, or coats, or belts, or take things out of their bags to get through this security zone. Folks, we have been comfortably tucked under the blank of fear for over 7 years now. This is the result of our spoon-fed paranoia, so it should come as no surprise this government-sanctioned scan of you and your person is now old news and mandatory. Suck it up, take your damn laptop out of your bag, and move along!

Anyway, we arrived to our window and were able to glean from passenger chatter and a lucky 8-ball we had to shake - because you'll never get a 'customer service rep' to actually give you, the customer, actual service - that the delay was due to serious east coast weather and the flight we were to board was coming in from the east off a delay. So, the plane would arrive late and therefore leave late. We were also told that our seats were 'stand-by' because this airline ALWAYS oversells planes in case people don't show or miss their connection, then there will be back up people waiting to fill those empty seats. I was able to glean this from Genghis Kahn at Gate 19 who was still on stand-by from a US Airways flight from the year 1225. He is hopeful!

All the while, we knew we had only about 1 hour of layover in Charlotte between this plane landing and the other plane departing. And the flight we MAY be boarding is delayed 2 hours. Hmmmm....Mine Math Skilz Gud - Telz Mee Wee Bee Missun Connexshun! Yet, the 'customer service reps' make no attempt to prep us for this delayed flight and possible missed connection by hooking us up with a flight that will actually be on time. After all, we are only on 'stand-by' and may as well be lepers.

Frik. Frik. Frik!

Also, in the sea of hostile flight-delayed humanity, I demonstrated a marked calm for me...I was prepped for this likelihood from this airline. But, I noticed a trend I was not prepared for - many MORE and younger children flying than I was ready for...and DOGS! Bags upon ventilated, tiny carry-on bags of dogs! What the...? Are there no kennels in this town? No nice neighbor who'll mind "Pooky" while you're away? Does this dog really need to fly cross country with you to spend Christmas with Grandma? My paranoia was starting to fester, because - deep down inside - I knew that sitting somewhere within a seat of me in any direction, the screaming children and the mangy mutts would be parked right there!

Finally - a glint of hope! There were only two seats open on the outbound plane...and they 'gave' them to us. Bless the sweet charity! The seats that we PAID for - they really, really gave them to us! But, they were in opposite ends of the plane so I would not be sitting next to my wife. Dammit! Guess who I would be sitting next to? The TWO screaming kids, and the doggie bag carrying case complete with some whimpering labradoodle! On the bright side, it would only be a little over 3 hours on the plane - not enough time for my throat to close from pet allergies or become clinically insane from sobbing children. I have magazines, movies...enough to pass the time. At least we're on the plane and moving!

But, what about that connecting flight in Charlotte that is supposed to bring us to Syracuse? Oh, we'll never know until we hit the ground! But, math skills still keenly alert, our flight did leave over two hours late - and there's no way we'd get to Charlotte in time for the flight out to Syracuse! BUT WAIT! This airplane we just boarded came in from the east - where the flights were all, doesn't that mean ALL of the planes in the east are suffering from this same 2-hour delay?! But of course - why wouldn't they? Or, knowing that a plane wasn't full because a connecting flight was delayed and would be late...they'd hold that plane until we got there, right?! Oh -wait - I'll bet that there are people on 'stand-by' in Charlotte for the Syracuse flight....

Frik. Frik. Frik!

Surprisingly enough, we survived the dog-hair, child-spittle infused flight to the east. Low and behold, that Syracuse flight did - in fact - leave without us. A glimmer of hope in my own throbbing mind was that Charlotte's version of Genghis Khan may have finally been able to get his seat on stand-by and arrive in Syracuse to conquer and pillage and whatever else he may have planned for the holidays. I smiled.

We, the poor dopes who's end destination was to be Syracuse (and there were others on our plane) were dealt the cold, hard truth that NO more flights were leaving for Syracuse on this night...and the next flights were later the next day...and we'd likely be on 'stand-by!' Ha ha!

When we got to the 'Customer Service Desk' - we did get some service in Charlotte - we we told that we would be guaranteed a seat on the 8PM flight, but could go stand-by on an earlier flight the next day. Also, because the delays were "weather related, sir" and no fault of the airlines, they would not toss us the perks of the useless free ticket or a free hotel room for the night. Only some flights - not all - were delayed by the weather, so they must have 'rounded up' when they formulated how Mother Nature affected the travel day and not the company itself. They did give us a 50% off voucher at the flee bag of our choosing, but we had to call and make our own reservations - and then get there ourselves. Harrumph!

So, we left with our tickets - a real 8PM flight and a fake 4:35PM flight (yep, 'stand-by')- and made the call for some pillows. A discount broker booked us at the Cheep-N-Sleep somewhere and gave us the address. We proceeded to the exit to hail a cab. Our baggage remained at the airport to be redirected to the next Syracuse flight. No matter what, it would arrive before us. I asked if we could pack ourselves in it, that would assure we'd make it. Alas, the Customer Service lady was not amused at my observation and perhaps would have eaten me had we not shuffled off. So, I did think to pack a spare set of clothes in my carry-on bag (because, this was US Airways after all and odds of us being stuck somewhere were favorable) with miscellaneous smell-good so I could at least be fresh for the next trip - whenever it may be. But Trina did not, so she'd be clean and fresh, but clad in day-old airport-funk-covered clothes. Oh, well...

So, we leaped into the next available cab and told the cabbie where we were headed - the hotel's name and the address we were given by the broker who surely lived somewhere else and never knew Charlotte was an actual city and not just a common female name. Our driver, let's call him "Bob" lest I be tagged a profiler, looked at us with a glint of confusion and just a smattering of self doubt - as if we gave him directions to the Temple of Lost Souls. Dude, this is your city - and you're a cab driver - and we're staying at a hotel know, 'near' the airport. I am speaking English, I know it! But, "Bob" may not be well versed in English as I suspect it isn't Bob's native tongue. Yikes!

So, away we a destination we have never been to and one, we'd find out later, he hadn't either! After bringing us to the hotel section near the airport and seeing that the hotel we had booked was, in fact, NOT here - he mentioned to us that we gave him a wrong address and he was going no further. Oh, did I mention that he had a GPS mounted on his dash that he wasn't using? Whatever - he pulled into an Econo Lodge where Trina scurried in to see if they had rooms available. We asked the driver to stay while we checked on rooms - his limited grasp of the local language left him befuddled, so i decided to pay the man and send him away - hopefully to study the local landscape on Google maps when he gets a little down time from taking vistors on a wild goose chase. Thankfully, there was a room available.

So, we settled in, ordered some fine cuisine and hunkered down for the night. At least the weather was nice in Charlotte! Rest up kiddies - Tomorrow, it is Round II with US Airways and the last portion of the voyage to Syracuse and then back home. Dashed are the dreams of making what is usually a one day trip in one actual day.

I wasn't prepared for this!

TO BE CONTINUED (gee, the first part of this trilogy is really taking long to tell - see what I mean?!)

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