Monday, June 11, 2012
I Used to Enjoy Air Travel
I don't fly all that often. Maybe two or three times a year at most. This past weekend, I had to fly to Pittsburgh for a couple of meetings. I booked (well in advance) the only direct flight I could find between Memphis and Pittsburgh--departing at 2:20 p.m. and arriving in Pittsburgh at 5:28 p.m. I arrived at the Memphis airport at 12:30--well in advance of my flight. I had already checked in and printed my boarding pass. I was good to go. As the boarding time approached, more and more people gathered in the boarding area. It was a perfect day for flying with sunny skies in both Memphis and Pittsburgh. No rough weather along the way.
It must have been about 1:15 when I noticed some of my fellow travelers gathering around the check-in desk. And they didn't look very happy. I got up and dragged my small suitcase and computer bag behind me to join them at the desk. Then I looked up at the departure screen. My flight was no longer listed. Whoosh--gone. Evaporated.
We were told the flight was canceled--no further explanation given. It was a full flight so you can imagine the chaos. We were instructed to follow one of the attendants to the far end of the corridor for rebooking. I expected them to make us line up, two by two, and hold hands like we did in kindergarten. So seventy-five people fall into line behind our leader and drag our luggage (because who checks a bag anymore at $25 a pop?) down the crowded corridor, swimming upstream against travelers heading toward their departure gates. I wanted to warn them, "Check the board. My flight just disappeared." But I can't walk and chew gum at the same time and, if I lost my place in line and get separated from my group, I might never get to Pittsburgh.
We were led to a bank of scanners and instructed to sweep our boarding pass under the magic light and we would be rebooked. Uh, excuse me? Wait. I have no way of discussing the options for my rebooking? No, I'm told. The machine rebooks you automatically on the next available flight which--I am also told--might be in half an hour or tomorrow. What?!
And so the seventy-five of us (at this point probably seventy, because I'm sure we've lost a few people along the way) are herded to the machine that spits out a new ticket that we then have to take to whichever gate we are assigned and "be sure to check in so your seat isn't given away." What?!!
I am then rebooked onto a flight departing at 4:10 for Atlanta. But I paid for a direct flight to Pittsburgh. And I hate the Atlanta airport. Not the people--they're wonderful. Just the airport. And I am now going to be stuck there from 6:22 p.m. until 10:52 p.m. And, no, they don't offer free wifi (unless you want to log on to see what you can do in Atlanta.) I guess they offer this because a lot of travelers find themselves with hours of free time on their hands in the Atlanta airport. But they don't offer a free shuttle or tour bus, so...
Giving up the notion that I have ANY control in this matter, I settle at my gate and await my 4:10 flight after notifying my friend in Pittsburgh that she would have to have dinner without me--and would probably want to take a nap. We board this flight almost on time. We back away from the gate--about fifteen feet. Then the captain welcomes us with "good news and bad news." The good news--the weather all the way to Atlanta is beautiful. The bad news--flights are backed up in Atlanta and we've been instructed to shut down the engines and sit for half an hour. Ah, but it's all good because, technically, the flight left on time. And the machine that rebooked me clearly got confused because it was in row 1--First Class. Woohoo.
By the time I reached Atlanta, I had talked myself into taking this all in stride and enjoying a nice dinner. And I did. I found a little French bakery/sandwich shop back in a not-so-crowded corner and had a quiet dinner. Then I re-entered the fray to sit across from my gate and wait. While I waited, I observed a man making several trips in and out of a bar across the corridor. With each exit, he became louder and more unsteady on his feet. When it was finally time to board my 10:52 flight--at 11:05 (of course), he lined up to get on the plane. After the gate attendant had a brief conversation during which he, the pilot, co-pilot and two flight attendants all stared pointedly at the man, it was apparently determined safe to let him board the flight. I didn't think this was a prudent decision and could only hope we didn't end up making an emergency landing in Paducah because a passenger was out of control.
I give the flight attendants credit. I overheard their onboard discussion before we took off about notifying the gentleman he would not be served any alcohol on the flight. He was seated somewhere in the back and, since I didn't hear a complaint or scuffle, assume he took the news well. That, or he was already passed out. Now, for the First Class seating. I've always wanted to fly First Class. Just once. I think it's probably a different experience, however, on a plane that's a little bigger than a breadbox. Yes, I had a nice leather seat and more leg room (probably because of being in row 1). Yes, I got my choice of snacks from a basket the attendant brought around instead of just a miniscule bag of peanuts. Yes, the Coke I requested was served in a real glass instead of plastic. (People pay more money for this?) It made me wonder, though. Shouldn't these perks be offered to the folks in coach? I mean, if you can afford a First Class ticket, you can probably afford a bag of chips. It's the poor schmucks in coach that are counting their pennies to purchase Cheetos. I still hope someday I get to fly First Class, though.
When I finally reached my destination, I was too tired to do anything but crawl into bed. The following morning I logged into my friend's computer (couldn't get on her wifi) to check my email. I had two notices from the airline from the previous day at 1:00 p.m. telling me my flight was canceled and I was rebooked. Really? You know, not all of us have iphones and check email on our phones. I did give the airline my phone number.
On Saturday, I went back in to check my email only to find a message from the airline--asking me to complete a survey evaluating my experience with my canceled and rebooked flight. Well, now you're talking. After completing each question with a number rating (a low number rating), I had a little box asking for comments. Believe me, the comments flew faster than I had.
I used to love to fly. Now I have to walk barefoot into a body scanner so some stranger can see all the nasty hidden truths beneath my slightly oversized shirt, then grab my stuff and tiptoe to a bench to put my shoes back on and return my laptop to its case. But not before I had to wait for a female security office to check my watch for explosives. She should have checked me further. I was about ready to explode. Especially after being rebooked.
I think if the airlines want to make all of this worth my time, they could at least offer a few other perks--maybe a free mammogram for those of us who are due. How hard could it be to add that to their equipment? I'm already half undressed.