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Sunday, January 12, 2014

But Aside From That, Mrs. Lincoln…

 


[Update]

I note a large number of folks arriving on this article from various airline industry forums. 

 

Dear Airline People, as noted down in the comments section below this post, in conversation with an industry First Officer, I’m a writer – not a travel critic.  This article is intended as biting humor, opinion, a travelogue of my recent experience through the bowels of your industry.  It was not intended as a personal attack on any particular individual, with the specific exception of those in the ivory towers who set policy. I would point out that I intentionally did not name the airline in question so as not to make it a personal attack.  I do understand that many of you are just as frustrated with your industry as are the flying public. I do actually understand that you have to follow the rules, that you can’t just slap a hunk of duct tape over the problem and take off anyway. I get that, I really, really do. I’ve had command of a Navy Cruiser’s bridge during flight operations under extremely hazardous conditions. I’m not a pilot but I do indeed understand the rules. That said, some portion of the text below is deliberate hyperbole, because again it was intended as humor. I’ve laughed at the ridiculousness of my chosen profession, surely you can do the same. I understand that many of you, from the folks in the cockpit to those who have to face the public in the back of the aircraft, love your jobs – or at least got into the business because you loved the job once upon a time, before the mergers and the bankruptcies and the chiseling away of your benefits and the erosion of all the things that make your profession a joy. I get that, maybe more than you know. And I loved flying too. For me, once upon a time it was an adventure, a voyage to far distant shores. The following article reflects to some extent my bitterness that it should no longer be so.  //Jim

 


 

If you’re going through hell, keep going.
      - Winston Churchill

 

There’s this scene in the movie Catch Me If You Can that always makes me laugh.

Catch Me is set against the fabulous backdrop of the late 1960’s Jet Age.

It was the glorious gilded heyday of commercial air travel, a time of Juan Trippe and his fabled Pan American World Airways, of tall handsome pilots with steel in their eyes and silver in their hair and golden wings upon the breasts of their spotlessly pressed crisp blue uniforms, of young winsome stewardesses in high heels and pillbox hats, of shining chrome-steel jets built by the very pinnacle of American industry, machines that would take you across the oceans and the continents in wide comfortable seats with impeccable service to Rome and Paris and Rio de Janeiro flying from fantastic jetports like New York’s JFK Worldport and Washington’s art deco National in the very shadow of America’s capitol – places that were works of art and destinations in and of themselves.

Leonardo DiCaprio portrays legendary confidence man, Frank Abagnale Jr. – who, as an 18 year old teenager, was pretending to be a pilot and cashing millions of dollars worth of fake Pan Am checks and traveling all over the world solely on the unquestionable reputation and fabulous mystique of the commercial airline pilot. 

One day while dressed in a Pan Am uniform, in the lobby of some swank 5-Star hotel, Abagnale is approached by a young boy who goggles wide-eyed at the tall handsome figure.

In a voice full of youthful hero worship the child asks, “Gee, Mister, are you a pilot?”

“Co-pilot,” replies DiCaprio in a confident yet humble aw shucks voice. “Would you like an autograph?”

Star-struck the kid nods and holds out his Pan Am travel book as his well-heeled parents look on in grateful appreciation…

That’s when I start laughing.

Right there.

Say, would you like an autograph?

Fast forward a five decades, an autograph? No, Jackass, I’d like you to get on the goddamned plane and get us out of the gate approximately on time, and by approximately I mean, oh, heck, let’s be generous and say within three or four hours of our scheduled departure.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The missing co-pilot comes at the end of the story, not the beginning.

The Trip Through Hell started like all other travel adventures in this shabby and over-booked age. We intended to fly from our home in South Central Alaska down to Michigan and spend Christmas with my family.  A week later we’d fly to Florida’s Panhandle to visit my wife’s family over the New Year. Finally we’d head back to Alaska and, after a relaxing weekend to settle in, a return to school for my son and back to work for my wife and myself.

Now, like all military families and nearly all Alaskans, we are extremely experienced travelers.  Car, bus, boat, ship, train, plane, you name it, we’ve traveled on it, tens of thousands of miles around the world.  So, of course, we knew the flying part would be miserable, because, really, when isn’t it nowadays? I haven’t been on a flight that wasn’t miserable since, hell, Pan Am went under. And over the Christmas holiday? Right. So, we planned accordingly. We spent significantly more than we normally would for upgraded seats and direct flights on a reputable airline – one that wasn’t currently in the midst of a bankruptcy, a hostile takeover, or a labor dispute (and trust me, that doesn’t leave much). We made sure our itinerary included several hours of layover at each stop in order to allow for reasonable delays or problems. We made our reservations far in advance and checked on them regularly – including reading all the fine print on the airline and the Transportation Security Administration’s websites and we made sure to carefully comply with all the regulations and guidelines for a “safe and delay-free” trip.

And we resigned ourselves to the over-crowded chaotic flatulent sticky horror of holiday travel through America’s major airports – and in particular O’Hare International, or as we call it: The Inner Circle of Hell.

We were prepared, dammit, we were.

But the fickle and vindictive Gods of Travel are not so easily placated and they, like Lucy of Peanuts fame, delight in building up your hopes (what? No, no, this time it’ll be different. Trust us) only to yank away the football at the very last second (Sucker!). Then they cackle in gleeful mockery as you somersault into the air while screaming “Rats!” yet again.

Things began going pear-shaped several hours before we were scheduled to fly out of Anchorage.  Snow and lots of it.  Now, there’s nothing particularly unusual about snow in Anchorage in December. Truth be told, Alaska is somewhat known for that sort of thing. It’s not like it’s a big surprise.  And Ted Stevens International Airport normally keeps the planes flying despite blizzard conditions.

We weren’t worried.

Because, like Charlie Brown, we are stupidly optimistic that this time it will be different, Blockhead.

We were scheduled to catch the redeye into Chicago. Throughout the day we checked and rechecked and checked again, the airline’s online app said the flight was on time and ready to go.  But of course we should have known better. Of course we should have.

We loaded up the luggage and just as we prepared to leave the driveway for the airport, sure enough, our phones started beeping.

The flight was delayed. 

Nothing major, just a slight delay.

 

But as the wizard said, that’s how it always begins. Very small.

 

Nothing to worry about, it’s just a slight delay.

We were talking about whether or not we should just go ahead and leave, since it was only a minor delay…

… when we got another alert via phone.

The slight delay was going to be slightly longer than expected.

They never tell you why.  Weather, crew, terrorists, fire, plague, exploding engines, terrifying space monkeys, rampaging Nazis, don’t worry about it we’ll have you on your way in no time.

There’s just going to be a slight a delay.

Just long enough for us to miss our connection in Chicago. By about twenty minutes.

Funny how it always works out that way, isn’t it? It’s almost like they do it on purpose (Sucker!).

Again, we’re experienced travelers. My wife got on the phone immediately and called the airline.  Being a professional service that specializes in moving large groups of people around the world, they were ready for us and had our new itinerary all ready to go … oh, wait, no, sorry that’s not what happened, I’m thinking of the 1960’s.  No, what happened is my wife got to talk to a nice young chap from India who was still learning English and who, for some reason, Praise be to Shiva, kept trying to change our flight between Grand Rapids and Pensacola scheduled for a week later.  After twenty minutes of shouting “NO NO NO! We need you to fix today’s flight. Today. Not next week. Please don’t… no, stop, don’t change next week. No, wait, stop, listen…” my wife gave me the eye, thanked the nice man for his time, and we headed to the airport in order to square it away in person.

But seriously, if we ever need to fly to Bangladesh, we’ll be sure to give that kid a call.

By the time we got to the airport the snow was falling thick and heavy and our phones were flashing “you’re screwed” over and over. 

We got in line like good little Bolsheviks hoping for shoes or cabbages and shuffled along until we reached the counter. Curious, I asked what the problem was, why the delay?  Headwinds, says the agent. Headwinds? Like four hours of headwinds? Like it’s 1914 and we don’t have satellite weather predication and realtime on the ground sensors along the route headwinds? Like that? Yep. The plane had to divert to Seattle and take on fuel.  But don’t worry, it’s the same plane, it’ll just be a little late. 

And there was nothing for it, the plane was going to be late, there wasn’t another one, and that was that. We would miss our connection in Chicago.  And the next flight from Chicago to Grand Rapids wasn’t for 12 hours after our projected arrival, meaning despite careful planning we were going to lose an entire day of our short vacation stuck in the 9th Circle of Hell.  Awesome.

The agent shrugged, too bad, take it or leave it.

Right. Seriously, what are you gonna do?

The agent handed us new boarding passes.

And I noticed something right away.

A small blank space.

Where there should have been a seat assignment.

“Um, excuse me,” says I…

… and that’s when the Travel Gods yanked away the football (Sucker!).

You’ll need to see the agent at the gate for a seat assignment, you’re on standby…

“Now just hold the hell on.  We’ve got seats.  We’ve had seats for two months.”

Okay, here’s the problem …

“No, stop right there. You said the plane was just diverted to Seattle for fuel. It’s the same plane you said.  So what’s this nonsense?”

The plane is oversold…

Oversold? How is that possible? The plane wasn’t oversold when we left the house an hour ago. We had seats then. In fact we paid for upgraded seats, so we could all sit together as a family. The guy wasn’t making any sense – probably because the son of a bitch was lying through his artificially whitened teeth.

Oversold. 

Overbooked.

You know, over the last ten years, I’ve been on more flights that were oversold than weren’t

Overbooking every flight is now standard practice.

When I stated on social media my opinion that if ever there was an industry that needed iron-fisted regulation it’s this one, some wit asked me how “regulation” would fix anything.

Well, for starters, we can put an end to the routine practice of overselling and overbooking airplanes. 

Look, it’s simple, you’ve got 300 seats, you sell 300 tickets and not one more. Period. If you’ve got more than 300 passengers, you need another airplane, go get one out of the hanger. Frankly, it concerns me that airlines can’t seem to do basic math – maybe that’s why the plane had to unexpectedly divert to Seattle for gas … saaaaay, wait, how much fuel did we put in the tank? 

Look, I realize that it’s more complicated than that, but let’s be frank here: in no other industry is it legal to sell more product than you have.  Honestly, where else would you put up with this bullshit?  Hi, I’d like two cheeseburgers and a large order of fries.  Okay, that’ll be $12.50 … here’s your order.  Wait, there’s only one burger in here and a small order of cold fries, this isn’t what I paid for!  Oopsy, looks like we oversold the burgers.  But I paid for two burgers and a large order of hot fries, I’m hungry, dammit!  Okay, stand over there and if somebody else doesn’t want their burger, you can have it.  But I paid for two burgers and an order of fries!  Sorry, we sold the same burger to two people, but only one gets it, so either you take one burger or you get out of line and pray that somebody else gives up their order, those are your only two options, because screw you.  That’s bullshit! Give me my money back!  Nope, sorry, take it or leave, Sucker…

So, the plane was overbooked.

Sorry, can’t help you. See the gate agent. Take it or leave it.

We got through security in short order, a quick scan, a cheerful “Merry Christmas and have a good trip!” from the TSA agent, and we headed for the gate. 

Naturally there was no agent at the desk.

A couple of hundred people desperate for seats, all told to see the agent … and there’s no agent.

Because screw you, that’s why.

So, as long as we’re on the subject of regulation: enough of this “see the agent at the gate” crap.  Assign me a seat, assign me a seat at the ticket counter. You know how many people bought tickets. You know how many seats are on the airplane. Assign me a goddamned seat right now. And if for some bizarre reason seat assignment can only be done by the guy at the gate, then require that guy to be at the gate. Period. At the gate and nowhere else.  If you don’t have enough people to man the gate, then either hire more people or stop sending people to the gate and take care of it at the ticket counter.

There is no reason, repeat no damned reason, why people who paid good money in advance and followed the rules laid down by the airline industry should have to stand in yet another line and beg for seats like Oliver Twist asking for another helping of gruel.

Please, Sir, may I have some more?

It’s ridiculous and yet it happens all the time – as you shall see.

We bought our tickets months in advance. We got to the airport early. We followed all of the rules.  We did what the airlines required us to do. They’re already wasting hours of my time without any type of compensation, but that’s not enough, instead of at least being able to eat dinner in the airport restaurant with my family, I’ve got to stand in line with 300 other desperate people waiting for a seat assignment – and then I’m made to feel exactly like the aforementioned urchin because, please sir, I’d like my family to be seated together and I’d like it to be in the upgraded seats we actually paid for. 

So, the counter was unmanned.

However, the screen behind the empty counter helpfully informed us that our departure time had slipped yet another hour.

And then another hour after that.

Fully three hours later, an agent came ambling along and mooched up to the counter.  Naturally people jumped up expectantly.  The agent assumed a pained look. Please, let me get logged in and get set up, just be patient. Seriously? Lady, we’ve been patient. More than patient, where the hell do you get off looking like you’re being put upon?  Honestly, if this was any  venue rather than air travel, people would have started lighting the chairs on fire and eating each other hours ago. So, snap to it.

The woman looks at me and says, just have a seat, I’ll call you.  I look behind me, there are 300 hundred frustrated and angry Christmas travelers waiting on a seat assignment, if you think I’m getting out of line, you’re insane.

Eventually she quits fooling with her keyboard and looks up, “so, what can I do for you?”

Seriously? What the hell do you think I’ve been standing in line for for the last five hours?

She looks at my tickets and says, “I can route you through Denver instead of Chicago. You’ll only have a two hour layover that way.”

Really? Why didn’t the guy at the ticket counter tell me about that option? I mean they all have access to the same information don’t they? Back there behind the counter, they’re all looking at the same computer system. I mean they have to be, by definition, right? The guy at the ticket counter already changed my flight, that’s why I’ve been standing here for five hours, so why didn’t he put me on the Denver flight and just issue us the appropriate seat assignments then so I could go eat dinner with my family instead of standing here waiting for you? The agent shrugged, beats me, you want Denver or not? 

So I opted for Denver. It was supposed to take off in the next hour. She handed me the boarding passes.

And I noticed something right away.

A small blank space.

Where there should have been a seat assignment.

“Um, excuse me,” says I…

Yeah, she says like a cat licking up cream, you’ll need to see the gate agent for a seat assignment.

And now you know why they have armed guards in airports.

For the third time that night, I changed lines.

Eventually the agent for our new flight showed up.  I eventually got two economy seats together and one elsewhere.  Best they could do, take it or leave it. Because, screw you, that’s why.

Fully six hours after we should have left, we boarded the plane.

I Skyped my mom, who was supposed to meet us at the Grand Rapids airport and gave her the new arrival time. Instead of going to breakfast together, we figured we’d get dinner.

We sat on the plane, waiting, the pilot came on and announced they had some kind of issue, somebody had to bring them a clipboard of some kind, but we’d be on our way “real soon now.”

Because, apparently, six hours wasn’t enough time to find the goddamned clipboard and have it ready. Right?

By the time we pushed back from the ramp more than six inches of snow had accumulated on the wing outside my window.  It took nearly 45 minutes to de-ice the plane. Eventually it was done and the de-icing crews pulled away and disappeared into the blizzard. We waited for the engines to start…

…and waited…

…and waited some more.

The pilot came on the intercom and announced that we had to return to the gate.

Medical emergency. A guy up front had started vomiting uncontrollably.

While they were dealing with him, suddenly the smell of burning marijuana permeated the air. That’s right, somebody, somewhere, was smoking weed.  I thought it might in the cockpit.

Somewhere, through the blinding snow, you could hear the faint giggling laughter of the Travel Gods yucking it up.

Despite the fact that it was now 1AM in the middle of an Alaskan blizzard and there were no other planes in evidence, we couldn’t return to the gate we’d just left. So we waited for a plane-tractor to tow us around the airport like OJ fleeing the LA cops at two miles per hour.  Forty-five minutes later we tied up, and they unloaded the sicko and poked around for the phantom toker and I sat there and watched another six inches of snow accumulate on the wing.

Eventually we pushed back again, and de-iced again, and finally, eight hours after we should have left we were finally airborne.

But the Travel Gods hadn’t gotten to the punchline just yet.

Somewhere over the dark and uninhabited Northwest territory, the guy in the seat directly behind me turned pale and clammy and started clutching his chest. Classic heart attack symptoms.  It was just like the movies, the head flight attendant got on the PA and asked if there was a doctor onboard. There wasn’t, but fortunately we did have two nurses – and one was an emergency room RN.  The plane had a very well equipped medical kit complete with IV bags and heart meds.  The nurses took over while the pilots contacted a doctor on the ground and the flight attendants prepared the cabin for an emergency landing.  So much for Denver.  The pilot announced that he was looking for a place to land, and he’d let us know.  But by that time, the nearest field we could divert to, an airport with full cardiac emergency facilities nearby, was … Denver.  The traffic controllers cleared the air-lanes and the pilots firewalled the throttles and we bounced down the runway at Denver International 45 minutes later and made record time getting to a gate.  The paramedics were waiting, they were onboard as soon as the door opened and pulled the victim off in a special wheelchair designed to fit down the cramped aisle. 

Once the medical emergency was cleared, we were in no particular rush to get off the plane, we figured we’d missed our connecting flight already, so why hurry?  We should have missed it by a full hour, but with the expedited emergency landing we’d come in nearly 50 minutes early.  Our connection should have been just taking off.

As we got off the plane, I confirmed with the gate agent, yep, we missed our connection. But hey, guess what? We rebooked you, for tomorrow. What? You don’t want to waste another day of your vacation in Denver International? Geez. Fine, go see customer service, down the terminal and thataway. But there’s no plane to Grand Rapids today. So sorry.

Somewhere in this mess I mentioned our situation on social media. A number of folks helpfully suggested we just rent a car and drive to Grand Rapids, after all it’s only about four hours.

Well, four hours from Chicago, which is where we were originally supposed to be – some folks hadn’t seen the update and didn’t realize I was in Denver.  And even if we actually were in Chicago as originally scheduled, it’s a four hour drive to Grand Rapids if you don’t happen to be in the middle of a terrible winter storm. Trust me on this, folks, I grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan, you don’t want to be driving I-94 around the lake in the middle of a howling blizzard roaring in off the frozen Great Lakes. And you especially don’t want to do it in some crappy 2-wheel drive rental car without snow tires.

That said, even if we were stranded in Chicago and not Denver, and even if the weather was clear and warm and there wasn’t a storm, we still wouldn’t have driven because see, here’s the thing: the airlines have you coming and going.

First, if we chose to give up our flight and drive, we don’t get our money back. Even though the airline can then sell our seat to somebody else (or, in actual point of fact, already had, since the flight was overbooked) and would still make money on the flight, you don’t get a refund. If you bail out, they just pocket the profit and smile. And we pay not only for three airline tickets we won’t use, but we then also get to fork over for a rental car too.  I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t have that kind of money laying around and I don’t see any reason why the airline should get free dough.

Second, and here’s that part where the Travel Gods slip a whoopie cushion under your seat, we were on a multi-legged trip.  If you miss any of the segments, for any reason, your confirmation is cancelled for all remaining legs of the trip and you’re put on standby and they give your seats to somebody else.

They’ve got you, and not only are you going to put up with it, you’re going to pay them for screwing you.

So, again, speaking of regulation: Why should the airlines have it all their own way? Why should I be forced to pay for their inability to manage their schedule and assets?

What’s that?

It was weather, you say, can’t be helped.

Yeah, I call Shenanigans.

This isn’t 1968. We’ve got weather predication now. The storm was forecast a full week in advance, and it took another week to build, and let’s be honest here, shall we? You put a major transportation hub at the top of Tornado Alley, at the edge of one of the largest Great Lakes, in the middle of a Midwest winter? And you didn’t see it coming? Seriously?

Folks, I grew up in the Midwest, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Bad weather isn’t exactly a surprise, it’s normal.

Anchorage deals with far, far, far worse weather on a daily basis.  Buy the equipment, hire the people, and get the runways cleared.

The airline industry, and the city of Chicago, have had plenty of time, decades in fact, to do something about it. They don’t, because O’Hare is a massive, massive, massive money making machine for the city and the state. And actually having the equipment and the personnel in reserve to deal with a winter storm cuts into their profit, so they keep the bare minimum necessary and the travelling public gets to suffer for it.

Meanwhile and more to the point, in a nation that daily pisses itself blind over individual rights and liberty, why should I be held hostage to a goddamned airline? Why should I be held hostage to business practices designed solely to gild the CEO’s pocket? Why should I have have to pay for the world’s most idiotic location of a major transportation hub?

Why?

Why should I have to give away my vacation time and my time with my family just because it might impact some corporate bottom line? Show me where it says in the Constitution that stockholders get to keep my money for services their company failed to deliver on time and in accordance with the contract specified. Go on, show me, I’ll wait while you look it up.

Again, in no other industry would any American put up with this nonsense.

I should be able to demand my money back at any point (excluding any service that I’ve actually used). I should be able to cancel or modify the transaction to at least the same degree as the airline.  Why does the law benefit them and not me? I’m paying them, they’re not paying me so why is the deal stacked in their favor? If you can’t get me where I want to go when you said you would, then it should be my right, my goddamned right, to seek alternate transportation without penalty. You’re the one who failed to live up the deal, not me, why do I have to pay for it?

But, yeah, I’m pissing into the wind here and all the raging Americans who hate their government queue right up like good little comrades and sing the praises of unfettered capitalism. Hallelujah!

I Skyped my mom, don’t worry about picking us up. We’ll rent a car when we get to Grand Rapids. No idea when we’ll get there.

Tired, hungry, and defeated we wandered in the direction of customer service intending to stop at a restroom along the way, maybe find something to eat … when we heard our names being paged!

Wright, family of three, report to gate B-19. Last call.

B-19, completely in the opposite direction of the way we’d been sent. 

We sprinted through the terminal, full bladders be damned and arrived at the specified gate just as they were closing the door. The agent literally threw new boarding passes at us and shoved us through the hatch without even confirming that we were indeed Wright, Family of Three. For once, a delayed plane worked in our favor.

I Skyped my mom again, Change 5a to Plan B, meet us at the airport…

We made sure to thank the flight attendant for holding the plane and did our best to hold our bladders until we were airborne and the captain had turned off the fasten seatbelt sign. It was a near thing.

A few hours later we were landing at Gerald Ford Airport in Grand Rapids … in the middle of the worst ice-storm to hit Michigan in 30 years.

We made the most of our short stay. We had hoped it would be longer, but we were already strapped for time. Because of the storm, we didn’t get to do half the things we’d hoped, or see many of the people we’d hoped to see (Sorry Debbie and Dr. Phil, Jeff and June, Steve and Nancy, next time, I swear). We did risk driving halfway across the state, jingle all the way, to Frankenmuth and the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronners, on Christmas Eve.  Why? Well, because we love Christmas and Christmas decorations and because Frankenmuth is a beautiful little ersatz Austrian Christmas town. We don’t care if it’s “too commercial,” we think it’s fun. Also, as a child my wife was bitten by a rabid Yuletide elf and infected with incurable Christmas Cooties – so we had to do it, for medical reasons. And it was fun, the store, contrary to expectations wasn’t particularly crowded and the drive through the icy Michigan countryside was like travelling through a beautiful crystalline fairyland. We enjoyed it immensely and came away with a whole bunch of Christmas loot.

After a too short week in rural Michigan, iced in with only intermittent connectivity, amidst falling trees and power-lines, we returned to GRR at 4AM for the trip to Pensacola.

4AM. 

Look, I can function at 4AM, after 20 years in the military I’ve had lots of practice, but if you’re expecting pleasant joviality, you’ve got the wrong guy.

Much of my attitude at that hour depends on one thing and one thing only: coffee and lots of it.

Gerry Ford Airport is a dinky little affair right out of 1979.  There’s not a lot of options, food and coffee-wise at 4AM. We figured we’d check in and hope that would give them time to open up.

We arrived at the ticket counter, again without seat assignments (Goddammit), expecting the worst.  The reports from Chicago were turning ominous. The huge storm that had pounded Michigan for the last week was just reaching full force there.  The agent checked us in and even managed to assign us to actual seats, but cautioned us to get through security promptly because GRR has limited screening capability and the lines, even at 4:30AM were going to be long.

And the lines were long, but again the TSA folks were cheerful and efficient and we got through with 30 minutes to spare.

Naturally the only place to get coffee in B-Terminal was closed.

It was supposed to be open, but it wasn’t.

My son – who is almost as much a coffee addict as I am – and I shook the security gate in front of the little café, hello? Nothing. Lights on, nobody home.

As we were about to walk away, a girl stuck her head out. Sorry, she informed us, the egg guy didn’t show up.

Hey, that’s Okay, we said, we just want coffee.

Sorry, boss says we can’t serve coffee if the egg guy doesn’t arrive.

What? What was that? A muffled chortle from the Travel Gods? Or maybe it was just somebody’s ringtone.

We got on the plane and for the next hour the hyperactive hellion behind me attempted to punt my seat though the forward bulkhead.  No coffee (no service on commuter flights), splitting headache, and a kid using the back of my skull as a punching bag? Terrific. I suppose it could be argued that it’s not very Christian of me to visualize opening the door at 20,000 feet and chucking a child through the turbines over Lake Michigan while rubbing my hands together and making the evil MuWahahahahaHAH! laugh – fortunately for me I’m not a Christian, so I spent the flight thinking up increasingly horrible fates for that miserable brat.

We had an hour layover in Chicago, and it was barely enough time to make our way across five terminals through crowds of desperate and stranded holiday passengers.  It was early in the storm, so the crowd was restive but hadn’t yet turned to murderous cannibalism, it reminded me of that scene from World War Z were the refugees in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport are calmly going about their business while outside the zombie horde is pouring unnoticed over the wall like ravenous army ants. It was only a matter of time before they turned on each other, we’d seen the approaching storm, we knew what was coming.

We met our connection, boarded the dinky commuter jet in good order, and for a moment it looked like we were going to make it off the ground on schedule.

The departure time came and went and went and went and went some more.

Eventually the pilot informed us that they had a “loose screw” on an equipment cover in the cockpit. Nothing to worry about, the cover didn’t even actually do anything. But they couldn’t take off with a loose screw, and the rules specified that only the proper technician come and tighten it up. They were waiting for him now. 

Shouldn’t be long.

Real soon now. 

After a while a shady looking character in a dirty orange vest mooched through the hatch and meandered into the cockpit.

Time passed.

The shady looking guy exited the cockpit. He closed the door firmly behind him, smiled at the flight attendant, and exited the same way he’d come.

The pilot informed us that the technician guy had over-tightened the screw … and had broken the bracket. 

So now the little door widget, you know the one that “doesn’t actually do anything,” wouldn’t close at all. 

The Travel Gods laughed uproariously in malign mirth at their little joke and slapped their thighs in glee.

That pilot guy? The tall steely-eyed silver haired test pilot hero from 1968’s Golden Jet Age of Pan Am Clippers? The one who handed out autographs? That guy? That guy would have reached into the technician’s mouth and pulled out a wad of Beemans Pepsin Gum (official chew of hero test pilots like Chuck Yeager) and stuck that damned door shut with a wink at the stewardess and we’d have been on our way to Rio in a jiffy.

But me? I don’t live in the age of hero test pilots, I live in the Ludicrous Age of Air Travel were they’ve never heard of duct tape.

And so we found ourselves shuffling back into the terminal like damned souls in Dante’s Divine Comedy who’d almost, but not quite, managed to climb up the walls of The Inferno and escape to Purgatorio.

Almost.

But not quite.

An hour passed. The airline informed us that they were going to swap planes.

After a while they informed us that they didn’t have a plane to swap us to.

Some time after that they announced that they’d fixed the first plane.

Somehow, they’d repaired the little door – despite the fact that I sat in front of the gate, next to the window, watching the plane and never saw any maintenance technician come or go the entire time.  Must have been magic fairies … or maybe it was a wad of Beemans after all.

Eventually they allowed us back onboard and we were off to Pensacola, Florida.

Now, at this point the Travel Gods have had their little joke.

Right?

I mean you have to figure that even if, if,  in a previous life I’d bludgeoned a school full of nuns and orphans to death with a pillowcase stuffed with tiny helpless kittens, by now I must have atoned for my sins and used up all my bad karma. Right?

I mean, come on, nuns and kittens, folks, it’s not like I invented Disco and fat-free sour cream.

Surely the Travel Gods must be satisfied by now. Surely.

If you thought that, you’d be wrong.

And don’t call me Shirley.

We spend a week among the rednecked camo-clad denizens of Florida’s Panhandle – which, if you’ve never been there, is exactly how I picture the back-lot of Duck Dynasty (Oh relax, I’m kidding.  Sort of. I’ve been married to a Southern Girl for more than twenty years, I love grits and fried okra and ‘gator on a stick. Though I admit that I will never understand the attraction of boiled peanuts, NASCAR, or Lite Beer – or Duck Dynasty for that matter).

As the time to return home neared, we watched the news out of Chicago with growing trepidation. 

We kept checking our reservations, but the airlines assured us that we were confirmed and our flights were on-schedule.

Repeat, the airlines assured us that we were confirmed and on schedule.

They assured us of this because they are lying bastards one and all.

When the morning of our scheduled return arrived, we once again checked the reservation. Confirmed. And on time.

We kissed our relatives goodbye and headed for the airport.

Before we turned in the rental car, we checked yet again. Confirmed. And on time.

The first hint that we were once again being toyed with by the Travel Gods was the little pixelated snow flakes drifting down the electronic departure screen inside the terminal door of Pensacola Regional Airport.

It took less than five minutes to return the rental car and reach the check-in counter. 

In that time the flight went from being “on time” to “delayed.”

Nothing to worry about, it was just a slight delay.

We’d still have time to make our connection in Chicago back to Alaska – but there wouldn’t be time to get a decent breakfast in a regular sit down restaurant in Chicago as we’d planned.

We checked our luggage, and – since we now had some extra time – decided to get breakfast.  I should have recognized the malevolent machinations of the Travel Gods when my omelet arrived complete with onions and green peppers despite my very specific request that it should be devoid of both ingredients (in the South, it’s a matter of faith that tea should come sweetened and eggs should be served with onions and peppers, no matter what the diner wants.  The diner is obviously either confused as to his wants or a heretic.  I have no proof that this delusion is linked to the large number of Baptist churches, but I have seen no proof that it isn’t either).

We finished breakfast – me cursing and picking around the peppers and onions – and submitted ourselves to the tender mercies of the TSA.

Again, the security screening was painless. The TSA agents were polite and professional and we were through the process in under a minute.

We ambled down to our gate (ok, my wife and son ambled, I limped. I’m not really an ambler), we found a seat, and while I pulled out my tablet and checked to see if Pensacola had improved on their crappy free WiFi since the last time I was here my wife went off to find us some coffee…

…and my phone beeped.

 

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

 

The flight was now significantly delayed, hours, and, of course, we would miss our connection in Chicago. Of course we would. Of course.

I checked the airline’s app on my phone, hoping to reschedule online, but ominously it offered us no options. I texted my wife, told her to forget the coffee and get back to the gate, we were screwed yet again and we’d probably have to go back to the ticket counter.  We were just gathering up our carry-on luggage to do exactly that when an agent arrived at the gate desk.

He told us that the flight crew was stuck in Chicago and couldn’t get to Pensacola in order to fly our plane. The plane which was sitting outside, at the gate, at that very moment. I resisted the temptation to sarcastically ask happened to the people who’d flown it to Pensacola in the first place. Look, I understand the concept of crew rest, but the plane was covered in frost, it had obviously been sitting there overnight. The crew must have flown it in at least the day before, where the hell where they now? What did they do, just jump out the door and run away? But I digress.

We handed over our boarding passes, explained the situation, and watched while the agent frowned at his computer.

It went on for a long time, the frowning.

A long time.

Eventually the frowning was accompanied by tsking and grimacing.

Uh oh.

After a while he said, “I can’t get you on a flight to Anchorage. All the Alaska flights are overbooked. They’re all full, way over full. There’s dozens of people on standby for every plane.”

So, what does that mean, I asked.

“Thursday,” he said.

Thursday?  Next Thursday?  That’s a week from now, I responded incredulously (it was Saturday at that point). What is it? 1914? We could board a steam ship in San Francisco and get to Alaska quicker! Route us through Houston or Seattle or Mexico City. Screw Chicago.

Sorry, he said frowning at his computer, the snowstorm in Chicago caused thousands of cancelled flights. Dozens of flights to Alaska were cancelled, the overflow was shifted to every other airport. All the flights to Alaska, from any origin, are massively overbooked.  I can get you to Chicago or Seattle or Houston, but you’ll be on standby at the back of the queue and you’ll probably be stranded there for a week. So, your choice, you can be stranded here in Pensacola or somewhere else. I can get you on a flight out of Phoenix next Thursday for sure. Take it or leave it.

What are you gonna do, right?

Of course we took it.

We’d rather be stranded in Pensacola where we had family and a place to stay than end up sleeping on the floor in Chicago locked in with the zombie cannibal horde in the middle of a snowstorm.

A extra week away from our jobs, my kid out of school, another rental car (at the standard rate, not the cheaper rate you get by reserving in advance, Goddammit). You may, if you like, imagine what this was costing us.

We checked the reservation all week, we were up at 4AM Thursday morning and reported into the airport early like the agent told us.

And so, we arrived on Thursday morning just in time to see the status board update our flight with a flashing “delayed” where the departure time should have been.

What the hell is it this time, I asked the agent behind the ticket counter. 

Well, see, the crew is going to be late…

Déjà vu all over again.

Seriously, these people had a week to square this nonsense away.  Knowing that Chicago is in the grip of a raging goat-rope, they still continue to route their crews through Chicago and still fail to allow enough leeway in their scheduling. Honestly, why was the crew for this flight not flown down the day before and put up in the airport hotel? Because it would cost the airline money? So what? It was costing me money, great giant gobs of it.

So, we handed over our tickets and watched while the agent frowned at her computer.

It went on for a long time, the frowning.

Eventually the frowning was accompanied by tsking and grimacing.

All the flights to Alaska are full, the agent said, it could be a we…

Just stop right there, I said. It’s been a week. It’s been a long damned week. We’ve been more than patient. We’ve been more than understanding. We’ve been more than accommodating.

Well, see, a lot of people are in the same boat…

I. Don’t. Care, I said.  You should have had a plan in place to deal with this. Snow in Chicago isn’t anything new. This has gone from an inconvenience, to aggravating, to idiotic, to ridiculous, to absolutely ludicrous. The storm in Chicago has been over for a week. Your flight crew should be here and ready to go, no excuses. You get us on an airplane to Anchorage and you goddamned well do it right now.  And we want the upgraded seats we paid for and we want them all together.

My wife was kicking me in the shin: don’t piss them off, they’ll screw us even worse.

I know, and she was right, and I hate people who make a scene and think their problems are special, but Goddammit, enough is enough.

This is why I snort in derision when people write me about how “if government would just get out of the way, the free market and competition would fix everything.”  Bullshit. Obvious bullshit. Provable bullshit. History shows over and over and over and over that if business is allowed to operate unregulated it dumps toxic waste in the rivers, kills its employees or reduces them to indentured serfs, markets deadly products, and robs its customers blind at every opportunity. And you don’t have to look any further than the modern airline industry to see it. It’s no great mystery to me why airlines go out of business or go bankrupt on a regular basis, it for damned sure isn’t for lack of paying travelers, it’s not for lack of revenue, it’s not because of high fuel prices or the unions or retirement funds, it’s not because of competition or lack of it, it’s because they suck at basic asset management, it’s because they can’t do basic math – unless they’re adding up the CEO’s bonus or computing stock dividends that is.

It’s not the guy behind the ticket counter, it’s the airline’s business model.

And they’ve got no incentive to change anything. They lost nothing. The airports lost nothing, and in fact profited from the mass of stranded travelers. But their customers, people like me, we lost – in my case it cost me more than a thousand dollars. Multiply that times the number of people stranded for a week, you do the math.

This entire mess, hundreds of thousands of stranded travelers, this wasn’t caused by a storm.

This was a direct result of overbooking and overselling flights.  The storm was just weather, the airlines’ business model and complete lack of contingency planning turned it into a disaster.

And again, in no other industry would Americans put up with this nonsense.

And so the ticket agent, after it became apparent that I wasn’t going to wait another week, managed to find us a flight to Anchorage the very next day. Surprise surprise. She could get us from Chicago to Anchorage on her own airline – in the upgraded seats we paid for and all together, despite the fact that ten minutes before no such accommodation was available – but she had to book us on a different airline and route us through Charlotte to get us to Chicago. Fine, whatever, we’ll take it but I made her build in a five hour layover in Chicago so that we’d have plenty of leeway for the inevitable delay.

The kicker was we had to be at the airport at 4:30AM in order to check in for the flight, so at my insistence, she also coughed up a room for the night at the Hyatt.

The next morning we checked in as directed. Both airlines printed us out their respective boarding passes. We went through security screening again, and again it was quick and painless and easy, and eventually we flew from Pensacola to Charlotte and then to Chicago with only an hour’s delay.

We got to O’Hare and found our gate.

On time, the status board said. 

We now had four hours to kill and so we went off to find some lunch. And coffee.

An hour later we were at the gate, ready to go.  Now, this tale has gone on long enough, so I’ll spare you a rant about the lack of decent restaurants in O’Hare or the bizarre dearth of seats in the gate waiting area (and outlets, Jesus Haploid Christ, it’s 2014 for crying out loud, put some goddamned outlets in the waiting area).

We thought we were home free, but the Travel Gods had one last trick up their sleeve.

First, a last minute gate change. The flight to Whocutthecheese, Wisconsin was late getting into Chicago, which meant that our departure gate shifted down the terminal at the last minute (or what we thought was the last minute, because Sucker!).

When we got to the new gate, suddenly the flight was delayed.

No worries though, it was just a slight delay.

Then a slightly longer delay.

Strangely, despite the announced delay, the plane arrived right on time. The passengers unloaded. The cleaning crew went onboard. The new flight crew started to show up.

Things were looking good. Just a slight delay and we’d start the boarding process. Any minute now.

Any minute…

Except we didn’t start the boarding process.

The flight crew was milling around, talking to the gate agent, there was a lot of shrugging and frowning.

The agent announced that there was going to be another delay in the boarding process.

Then a longer delay.

Then…

What?

Oh, you think you know where this is going, do you? Did you remember that missing co-pilot I mentioned earlier? Yeah, him? Seems they couldn’t find him.

That’s right, the First Officer had gone missing.

He was supposed to have already arrived on a flight from somewhere else.

But he didn’t.

They assured us that he was on an incoming flight. He’d be in Chicago in an hour or so. Then he’d be rushed to our gate and we could take off.  Thanks for your patience, Folks.

Except the new flight arrived … and the expected First Officer didn’t. In fact, it eventually emerged that they weren’t even sure if he’d gotten on the plane he was supposed to have arrived on. He wasn’t answering his phone. And they had no idea where he might be or when he might arrive, if ever. For all their assurances, he could have been dead in a ditch somewhere … or signing autographs in the lobby of some swank hotel. The important thing was that he wasn’t at our gate.

And that’s when they told us they might have to cancel the flight.

You know, there comes a point…

We’d been stranded in Pensacola for a week because the airline couldn’t get their flight crews out of Chicago.  Now we were in Chicago and they were telling us that they couldn’t find enough of their employees to man the airplane because they were all somewhere else.

Eventually they managed to dig up a replacement First Officer.  Called the guy in from home I guess. From the looks of him he could have been just some bum they found outside in the snow and handed a jacket. And, honestly, at that point, none of us cared, a hobo at the controls couldn’t have made the trip any more ridiculous – and it’s not like the co-pilot does anything anyway, just ask Leonardo DiCaprio.

So, they started boarding the plane.

My wife went through the gate, the agent scanned her boarding pass, bip, no problem.

My son went through the gate, the agent scanned his boarding pass, boop, no problem.

I went through the gate, the agent scanned my boarding pass, BLEEP! Buzzzz! There was a problem.

Um, you’re not checked in, said the agent.

Yes. I. Am. I replied.

No, sorry, you don’t have a seat.

You may, if you like, imagine the two word response I was contemplating at that very moment.

Look, pal, I said instead, I’ve got a boarding pass. I’m checked in. Your airline checked me in. In person. And printed me out this boarding pass. This morning. At your airline’s desk in Pensacola. My wife and son who just went through were checked at the same exact time and place. 

The agent fiddled with his computer, he frowned.

It went on for a long time, the frowning.

The long line behind me grew ever more restive.

Are there two James Wrights? The agent finally asked.  Yes, me and my son. We’ve been through this bullshit before with the names. We have different middle names. Just exactly as it says on the boarding passes, we made sure to use the middle names, so you’d know. Two Jim Wrights, different seats, side by side, next to Becky Wright. As in a family.

Oh, well, uh, two James Wrights, yeah, that’s a problem. The computer doesn’t like two James Wrights.

Right, because I’m the only father in the entire world who’s ever flown on your airline with a son who has a similar name. Right? I’m the only one. Ever. Either that or you people are morons, so which one is it?

Uh, well, see, we gave your seat away by accident.

Morons it is.

You may, if you like, imagine the two word response I was contemplating at that very moment.

Look, Buddy, I said instead, you can just ungive it away. 

The guy fiddled with his computer and the machine spit out another boarding pass, middle seat, in the back of economy class.

Nothing doing, Pal, this is your mistake. Fix it.

If you’d care to step over to the desk, so we can board the rest of the passengers …

I don’t think so. I’m not getting out of line. If you gave my seat to somebody else you can just move that guy. It’s your mistake, you go explain it to him. You go right ahead and put him in the middle seat in the back of economy. He gets screwed or I get screwed. I vote him and he doesn’t get a vote. I want the seat I’m confirmed in, that I paid for, next to my family. Period. Or nobody is getting on the plane. Figure it out.

And eventually that’s exactly what happened. I ended up in the seat I paid for, next to my family.

Seven hours later we were in Anchorage.

We were supposed to arrive at 7PM on Friday night, instead we walked out of the Ted Stevens International Airport at 1AM on Saturday morning.

Naturally, after three and a half weeks sitting in the parking lot in Alaska in winter, my truck battery was stone dead and the vehicle was buried under two feet of snow and surrounded by a wall of ice pushed into place by the plow trucks.  I was prepared for that however, I had a spare battery in the back and jumper cables and brooms and shovels and it wasn’t long before I had the truck running and dug out – unlike the airlines, I plan ahead for winter.

Gratefully we started for home – the Trip Through Hell was over at long last.

 

An hour down the dark Glenn Highway headed towards our house in Palmer, I realized something.

 

The easiest part of our trip? The absolute most hassle free, painless, efficient, and pleasant part of our trip …

… was the TSA security screening.

Make of that what you will.

197 comments:

  1. I understand that you don't have the option, but your trials are why I would rather drive from the west coast to the east coast than take a plane anymore.

    Glad you're back safely.

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    1. I'm in the car ahead of you!!!!

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    2. And I'm in the car behind.

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    3. I live in Madison, WI. My sister lives in Lincolnville, ME. I've gone out there four times, never once by air.

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  2. Glad you're back, sorry the screwups made your vacation a nightmare. We've all missed you, Shirley.

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  3. I remember regulated air travel. It was Christmas (1970 or 1971) and I had flown from Chicago (ORD) to New York (LGA) on student half-fare standby. After the new year it was time to go back to Chicago but it was snowing in New York and there was an Air Traffic Controller strike so I got to the airport around 10 am, bought my standby ticket (good on any of the 3 or 4 different airlines that had flights to Chicago about every 90 minutes) and went to the gate area to hang out. Around 5 pm, they had a flight with empty seats and I got on it. But due to the strike, they were not allowing anything to take off unless it was pre-cleared to its destination, so we sat on the taxiway (which was made of concrete and no I don't know why they always call it tarmac when it's made of concrete although by now they've probably covered it with macadam) for about 2 hours drinking little bottles of airline bourbon (yes you could buy it on the ground!!!) and finally took off (in a snow storm) and got to Chicago in plenty of time to get the bus. But now we're de-regulated and everyone is F.U.B.A.R. and if I can't drive there, I ain't going.

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  4. Y'know, when you think about it, Yog-Sothoth IS a Travel God...

    Bruce

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    1. To quote Lovecraft: "Yog-Sothoth is the Key. Yog-Sothoth is the Gate. Yog-Sothoth Assigns the Seats."

      OK, maybe that was just the first draft.

      Bruce

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    2. It is so much fun and enlightening to look up the references and read the books that are mentioned in SS's comments.

      "Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth."

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  5. I feel like i've just read the Odyssey.

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    1. No kidding!!!
      M from MD

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  6. Damn, I miss PanAm, too. And I may never fly again, at least not a domestic flight.

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    1. My mother, bless her little heart, worked for Pan Am after National (Now there was an airline!) went defunct. She regaled us with tales of deadheading from Miami (where we lived) to places like Chicago for LUNCH! I flew many many times because of her position, and it was always an event. Now it's as bad as Nazi cattle cars. (Hyperbole, but you get the point.)

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  7. Next time travel in Summer. There will be tornadoes of course.

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  8. My comment to the Delta drone, "We've been flying commercial airlines since 1936. Why haven't you caught up with the rest of the world?" His response: "We can't forecast the weather, sir." From behind me: "Right, this is the first snowstorm in Albany's history."

    I had my million-mile pin before I was 30. I'm a licensed pilot. I hate flying.

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    1. My Dad was a pilot. I grew up in flying in an Aero Commander and Beech Bonanzas. To this day, I much prefer flying in small prop jobs over Commercial jets.

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  9. You are submitting this to the airline to get credit/reimbursement for the upgrades you paid for and didn't get, right?

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    1. When I complain about things like this I always CC the state Attorney General. Works like a charm.

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    2. Dude, you should have had enough vouchers to take a free trip to the MOON by the end of this.

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    3. You should send your writing to all the airlines in which you were involved - along w/the various airports and restaurants! My stress level was high after reading your tale of the airline business in our world today.

      Another area showing where American corporations could care less for the people they serve! It's truly all about the 'unearned' bucks they receive from all of us. I feel sorry for the folks that work the airline counters and I'll bet they are not paid enough to compensate for what they hear on a daily basis.

      Regulations are needed for their business, but good luck on that! It's all politically based! And, to think so many corporations are given tax relief by the U.S. Congress! Makes me sick!


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  10. I will never complain about my flights again :)

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  11. I *giggle* prostrate myself *snrrrk* and offer my sincerest *hahahmmm* apologies for the trou....BWAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!

    I'm sorry but that is the. most. hilarious. tale I have ever read. I feel really bad for you, I really do. Dear I feel for you

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  12. Unless it was tornados, my father never, EVER was delayed by weather. But he quit flying for TWA (retired in 1984), and then that airline got sucked up by American. Their business model is to give the senior executives major money and screw everyone else down the line, from the employees to the pax.

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    1. Yeah. My uncle was a navigator and copilot for them, and it isn't the same as it was back in the '60s.

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  13. Good grief! Congratulations on your survival. (Whether survival is "mere" depends on where you're coming from ...)

    I have some of my own horror stories, but never so much in one big steaming pile.

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  14. Sounds like my trip to Nashville last February - multiplied by itself. Fortunately, I *did* get refundable tickets, so I got to turn in my ticket, rent a van, and drive from Nashville to Austin with a 4-year-old. Glad you made it home eventually.

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  15. Next year, Jim, when you go, keep Pittsburgh in mind as a possible alternate. I live two hours away (straight shot on the highway and then four miles away max) so if you guys get stranded at least you'll get fed!

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    1. Interesting airport they have there. I had to catch a connecting flight there quite a number of years back. Pittsburgh appears to have built themselves a mall. Then the realized, gee, nobody appears to be coming to the mall. And, we have all these parking lots; I know, let's add on some runways & call it an airport.

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    2. The airport was built pre-9/11, when anyone (not just ticketed passengers) could go to the airport and through to the actual gates. There wasn't anything out that way so people did. And USAir (founded in Pittsburgh) used to have a hub there w/500+ flights a day. Then USAir f*cked Pittsburgh and left. Now they have around 40 flights a day.

      - former Pixburgher

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  16. Whew! I can't wait for the movie ;)

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    1. Oh PLEASE, I hope there is the Movie (Complete with mental fades to the zombies climbing over the airport walls) Great story, sorry.

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  17. "If you’d care to step over to the desk, so we can board the rest of the passengers …

    I don’t think so. I’m not getting out of line. If you gave my seat to somebody else you can just move that guy. It’s your mistake, you go explain it to him. You go right ahead and put him in the middle seat in the back of economy. He gets screwed or I get screwed. I vote him and he doesn’t get a vote. I want the seat I’m confirmed in, that I paid for, next to my family. Period. Or nobody is getting on the plane. Figure it out."

    And this is where I frightened my cats by cheering out loud!

    The computer doesn't like two James Wrights?! BS. Someone thought that someone else had made a mistake and "fixed" it, rather than actually finding out if it really was a mistake.

    The worst airline issue I've ever had was when they overbooked my flight coming back from a business trip in Knoxville, Tennessee. When I tried to check in, I had to wait for the agent, and then was told, sorry you don't have a seat. We'll rebook you on another airline - here, your flight leaves in 10 minutes. Got to the next counter with a bunch of other people that had gotten "overbooked" as well only to find that THAT flight was already full and the agent had no idea why we'd been told we had seats there. Eventually, they got me on a commuter plane to I forget where, and then home. My husband at the time was incommunicado for some reason (probably out with his girlfriend - which is why we are divorced), and I couldn't get him to come to the airport to pick me up. I think my sister did. That was a simple one compared to your trip, and I thank my lucky stars that I don't have to resort to air travel often.

    Glad you're home. Hope your luggage found you, too!

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  18. I truly think that is about the WORST travel story I have ever heard. You have some SERIOUSLY bad travel karma! I can't even imagine who you must've been in a previous life! ;)

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  19. Absolutely epic rant, sir. It needs to be shared all over the Internet.

    Thank Universe I didn't need to go anywhere over the holidays. I will never again fly in winter, in any kind of bad weather, or anywhere close to the holidays.

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  20. Christmas cooties! That's what it is! Must be more intense in Southern women (I'm from Texas).

    Eventually you'll get to your Friend Request list. I'm there, playing my red guitar.

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    1. Somehow, I believe Christmas Cooties manifests itself more often among those of the female persuasion (I'm from Texas and my wife is from Mass.)

      Put it this way, just this past weekend we finally de-ornamented our Christmas branch and mantlepiece, but the Christmas branch itself stays out because it has the integrated lights and it's one of her sure-fire antidepressants.

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  21. Try crying next time. That makes them look bad. They'll do almost anything to stop a passenger from crying. Perhaps Mrs. Stonekettle can help you out there.
    Sincerely,
    A Professional Weeper

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    1. Mrs Stonekettle is more likely to rip the arms off of a ticket agent and use them to beat the poor bastard to death than to burst into tears.

      True story.

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    2. Sorry I missed it.

      Some of the ticket agents and gate clerks can be real snots, but they have very little control over the airline's crappy policies. I try not to blow up at them. I try.

      One thing that's worked for me a few times (in person or on the phone) is to start blowing up, then take a deep breath, dial it back, and say "I'm sorry, I know it's not your fault, but this is just so frustrating...." Sometimes this rouses what sympathy they still possess and they'll say, "Let me see what I can do...."

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  22. 1. "zombie hoard is pouring unnoticed over the wall" should be "horde"
    2. I think this was a lifetime's worth of bad travel karma, all at once. Sympathies.

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  23. Add sirens and lotus eaters, and your story could have been related by Homer. Glad you and your family are finally home safely.

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  24. Mega bummer. I still can't understand why pittsburgh isn't a bigger hub. It's mostly central, has a big airport, and has never in my memory been screwed over by the weather gods like chicago or even philly. And yet, airlines move OUT… Fuckers.

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    1. Probably because they can't use the weather as an excuse to con their passengers out of their hard-earned cash?

      Delete
    2. As a citizen of Canuck-istan, what I don't understand is why, in this age of long-range jets and turbo-props you can't seem to fly direct between any two points in the US unless one of them is NY, Chicago, Phoenix, Atlanta or LA? I can fly between most major points direct, and if there is a connection, it's USUALLY the same plane stopping to pick up other passengers. I guess that's the benefit of higher ticket prices...

      Delete
    3. US Air took all the incentives Pittsburgh offered and then turned around and screwed us. We have a beautiful airport that you can shoot a cannon through.

      Delete
    4. Sir Anonymous - you forgot San Francisco, Seattle, and Oakland. Those all get direct flights too. Portland? Not so much.

      Delete
    5. @Ciejai: Now, that's tempting...

      Delete
    6. I loved going through Pittsburgh to the northeast. The whole freaking eastern seaboard could be tits-up with weather and Pitt would be fine.

      Delete
    7. @ciejai, the airport is definitely nice, I've been there a number of times now when my friend's son came to spend the summer. Much less confusing than Logan.

      Delete
    8. I met an airport exec about six years ago who told me his main responsibility was shutting down terminals at PIT. We've lived here 12 years and there has been only one blizzard that really screwed things up- a double whammy that dumped 24 inches of warm wet snow on us in two days. That's it. One nasty paralyzing storm in 12 years. If you shop at the Air Mall rest assured you are getting regular mall prices. A friend audits the stores to make sure the guarantee is adhered to. Nice talking with you, Rob, USAF wench, and Zola.

      Delete
  25. Just one thing to say,,,,OMG

    Scorpie

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  26. Nick formerly from the O.C.January 14, 2014 at 4:44 PM

    Jim,

    I hope you feel better after typing this screed. You've vented like a Saturn V booster at launch.

    ReplyDelete
  27. One flight to FL I booked seats, two, two and two, adult and child...nice and neat. When we boarded the plane had come form Albany and a stranger was sitting in my seat. He explained his assigned seat was all the way at the back OT the plane and his wife and son were right across the aisle for. Him now, would I mind using his seat? I p,inked the 3 year old in the empty seat, gave the man his little backpack and told him my son would need help with his juice boxes but he was potty trained but would need help with his overalls. Never saw someone jump up so fast!

    ReplyDelete
  28. Holy Guacamole! That is some seriously epic bad luck there, all along the way. I think the only other story that comes close is when my mom and her husband got stranded in Europe after 9/11. They had been scheduled to fly back on the 12th but all flights were grounded for three days leaving thousands of passengers scrambling for hotels and flights. Every night Mom and Bill had to find a new place to stay and every day they had to schlep all their stuff to the airport to sit standby. Every night they washed their underthings in the sink and every day used up that much more of their medications. After almost two weeks of that, Mom snapped. Standing at the ticket counter in the middle of the very crowded airport, after once again missing out on a flight, she pulled up her husband's shirt to show the scar from his heart valve replacement surgery and started shouting "You are killing this man! Killing him! He's going to die and it will be your fault." then burst into big noisy tears. They were first to board the next plane.

    ReplyDelete
  29. "guild the CEO’s pocket?" -> gild

    Oh, and peppers and onions *belong* in an omelette. :-)

    Thanks, Chief Warrant Wright. I've gotten to the point of fighting with my managers rather than dealing with the airlines. The manager can fire me (if he can find someone to replace me), but the airlines can trigger me into a state that makes sitting in prison for a lifetime look attractive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry to disagree, but, at least in my home, peppers and onions are not permitted to be in the same room with an omelette. The mere prospect of such an occurrence is enough to induce psychotic episodes.

      Mild cheeses, yes; bacon, certainly but nothing so gastronomically noisy as to cause one to miss the nuances of the dish.

      Delete
    2. "gastronomically noisy"

      I'm stealing that phrase and using it forever.

      Delete
    3. Thank you. Glad you liked it.

      Delete
    4. Right on, Doc! Although I WILL tolerate them if the peppers and onions have been cooked to get the noisy out of them first.

      Delete
    5. MMmm...Peppers & onions = Food of the Gods!
      Of course, those Gods who cannot tolerate them gastrointestinally become the Travel Gods.
      It's true, and it explains so much.

      Bruce

      Delete
  30. I started out cringing and chuckling. Then it was just cringing. By the end, I was horrified and digging my (mental) heels in along with you at that final gate. I have a couple of icky airline travel stories myself, but nothing like this absolute clusterfuck. I applaud you for keeping your cool as long as you did.

    ReplyDelete
  31. A couple of years ago, I bought direct-flight tickets from Washington DC (National Airport) to San Francisco, and San Francisco - DC for the return. I patted myself on the back for my excellent planning. Got to the airport...they no longer had a direct flight (and nobody bothered to mention this WHY?). Gotta layover in Dallas. There were thunderstorms in Dallas so my flight was sent to another airline to Chicago to Denver to San Francisco. Denver had thunderstorms, so from Chicago we were routed to Boston, then to Charlotte, then to DC again, then Dallas, then San Francisco. Got there 70-some hours after I was supposed to, the airline didn't feed any of us or put us up in a hotel. I almost could have driven from DC to San Francisco in that time, and it would have been a whole lot less stressful. The only bright spot was that everything I had was crammed into a backpack so I didn't have to deal with luggage. I smelled terrible by the time I arrived, but I had no suitcase to worry about.

    Coming back was supposed to be San Francisco to Denver to DC; ended up being San Francisco to San Diego (no idea why) to Dallas to pick up the flight crew to Denver. Plane had some unexplained issue in Dallas so it was off on another airplane to Pittsburgh to DC.

    Your story trumps mine.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Pan Am was nothing to brag about. I was in Germany in 1982 when my sister was getting married in small town Michigan. Pan Am would not allow me to put my dress blues in the front where they stored those sort of things and said it had to be checked as luggage. Of course I didn't argue and naturally had to buy an awful brown suit at the only store close enough to the wedding location to make it on time. My dress blues were delivered a couple of days later and Pan Am "graciously" paid for half the cost of the suit I never wore again. And I have to listen once or twice a year as my mom complains that she didn't get to see me in my blues. Boy did I cheer when I heard Pan Am went bankrupt some years later!

    But I guess at least the seats on the plane were designed for humans back then.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dying Pan Am in the 80's was nothing to brag about. Prior to that, however, they were pretty goddamned awesome.

      Delete
    2. As I said earlier on, my mother worked for PA until they went under. Up until the point the execs started screwing EVERYONE, not just the passengers, it was the shit to fly on. Even coach felt like first class.

      Delete
  33. Hat is off to your composure during periods of extreme duress that would have broke a lesser man. I couldn't a done it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I couldn't have done it without breaking some people, lesser or otherwise.

      Delete
  34. Our airline industry is an unregulated mess, but what the hell can we do about it?

    BTW, I've flown China Airlines and ANA (Japan) and they are awesome...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Re-regulate, of course.

      "what the hell can we do about it?" What, we should lie down and keep taking it so the CEO can get more bonuses and options? Screw that. Corporations are above the law to you? It's not like regulating business is impossible, just because it's against the GOP's pro-bidness religion. Many pro-consumer airline bills have been proposed over the years, most lately an airline consumer bill of rights. The airlines bribed legislators to kill it, of course, promising they'll be good this time they mean it.

      Delete
    2. Every time I hear stories like this I get a little more convinced that American business is run by people who are trying to cause a communist revolution.

      Delete
    3. Couldn't agree more.

      Delete
    4. China Airlines, JAL, and Thai Airways are all fantastic.

      Air China, on the other hand, is terrifying and I hope I never have to fly them again.

      Guess which one American air travel increasingly reminds me of?

      Delete
    5. I had to get from Seattle to Portland, Maine last week. Due to overbooking and a missing flight crew, I wound up driving the six hours from Newark to Portland in the middle of the night. Thank god the weather had cleared or I'd have missed two days of a ten-day graduate school residency.

      For my final residency I'm thinking of taking the train. Sure, it'll take three days to get across the country, but it's bound to be more pleasant than this shit.

      Delete
    6. What you can do about it is tell everyone you know and everyone they know to stop voting in a do-nothing Congress. Become an informed voter to where you actually know the profile and record of the political candidates. And every time you are unfortunate enough to fly the airlines (whether mainline or 'regional') be sure to tell every one of those flight crew to stop voting yes on any concession that comes even if it is in deference to the union/management agreements.

      Delete
  35. If you ever travel again, let us know. I sure don't want to be on any of the same flights. You, hopefully, used up all the bad karma because I'm flying back East on Friday. Thanks for using up all the bad luck.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You'll have no problem spotting me, the laughter of the Travel Gods trails me wherever I go...

      Delete
  36. Oh, Chief!!!! My God!!!! I used to fly for the guvmint 45 years ago on planes that were like floating palaces and then I dropped out of the rat race to marry and have kids. Have flown less than half a dozen times since then and as recently as last Easter Monday. It was a Delta from Atlanta to Reagan National. I was the last person to get a ticket and I still don't believe it to this day but there was no space left in the cheap seats so I got the last seat left in First Class. It was 1-A. I've never been so close to a cockpit in my life. It was a great flight, great weather, a flight crew who couldn't do enough for me which I appreciated as I was flying home after interring my husbands cremains in the family cemetary down south. Have no plans to ever fly again. I know I have my streak of good airline luck.

    ReplyDelete
  37. A few comments, most of them sympathetic:

    - 1968? Man, I missed a flight in 1998 due to nothing but my own fault - oversleeping after one hour (and one drink) too many at the Dead Dog party of a comics/SF convention - and was rebooked on a competing airline immediately at no extra cost. (Different airport 30+ miles out, but I was more than happy to take the delay and pay for the SuperShuttle.)

    - Less than a year later, though, my Dad and I wound up stranded in Las Vegas on 30 Jan, thanks to heavy fog over every Bay Area airport. One agent to deal with 6+ flights' worth of connecting passengers at 0100, and "sorry, it's an Act of God and we're not required to pay for hotels or anything else. Happy New Year...and oh, by the way, your luggage is on the way to Phoenix until we get this figured out." (I managed to grab my one suitcase - being ex-military, I travel light - and Dad's computer/briefcase off the cart on the way to the gate, but I was loaning him socks and underwear until 2 days after we got home via rental car, which was a story in itself.)

    And now we're up to the modern day, and my apologies if I've ground this axe before, but...add all of the messed-up crap with the airlines (and I agree it's past time for some serious re-regulation) up, and then add the following:

    I'm an officer with the US Merchant Marine, which requires US citizenship and a background check approximately equal to Top Secret clearance in the military. I carry my credential when I travel.

    In the back of that credential is a little clear plastic pocket for the Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC) that I now also have to carry as part of my credential, which grants me (theoretically) unescorted access to port facilities. Every airport employee - including TSA agents - with business beyond the security checkpoint carries that same card.

    And in over 5 years, not one TSA agent could recognize either one. "Can I see your driver's license, please?"

    "Oh, the same driver's license that several hundred thousand college students are currently illegally buying beer, rum&Coke and Jager shots with? Well, why not..."

    (I don't even bother showing the credential or the TWIC any more. Not worth holding uo the people behind me.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. For "30 Jan" read "30 Dec." Oops.

      Delete
  38. Your clusterfuck of an odyssey has left my jaw scraping the floor and my outrage newly stirred. The only flights I've been on in years were international; I have no far-flung family here to visit for the holidays. I count myself lucky that I don't have to deal with these assholes. Our representatives in D.C. should be forced to experience this kind of travel on a daily basis. Maybe then something would change (because unless it affects them, nothing ever does). I salute your grace under pressure because I know I would've lost my temper almost immediately had I been facing the continuing onslaught of obstacles put in your path. Oh, and ugliness would have ensued, believe me. Welcome home.

    Pam in PA
    To the commentor who suggested Pittsburgh: don't they get the lake effect snows from Erie?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great suggestion Pam. I agree that Congress will act when it affects them. Remember how quickly Air Traffic Control was restored after the sequester.

      Delete
    2. Sure, they can get lake effect snow, but conditions have to be just right. We've gotten lake effect snow here in WV, it's not unheard of.

      I'm thinking more in terms of him getting stuck in an airport. If they are in Pittsburgh, it's not hard to get here, and if they wanted to drive to Chicago, it's also a straight shot on the highway (about 8 hours). And we have coffee.

      Delete
    3. Our representatives in DC are allowed to book multiple flights just in case official business keeps them from making the first or even second flight they have booked. They consider it a perk of their office and don't give a damn that they could inconvenience even one constituent trying to get home. Here is the link...
      http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-04-30/the-pampered-world-of-congressional-air-travel

      Mike

      Delete
    4. Aaaaannnnnd that is why airlines overbook flights.
      Chandra in MO

      Delete
  39. I went to Puerto Rico in March 2012 with my best friend. Against her gut feeling she booked us on American because it wasn't a redeye (United, her preferred, was a redeye). Getting there was fine. For the trip back my friend had carry-on only but I had to check my bag because I'd won a bottle of rum. We checked in without a problem, the lady checked/took my bags, and cheerfully handed us our boarding passes (we thought). It wasn't until going through security that I realized I didn't have a boarding pass but my friend did. Turns out the lady (I use the term loosely) put my friend on the flight but put me on standby (but checked my bags) and didn't tell us. It was early so we were one of the first to check in, so no excuse not to put me on the flight. No one at the gate, of course. When the agent showed up she said she would try to get me on the flight. It wasn't until 5 minutes before departure that I found out I was going to get on the plane. I'll never fly American again. I know airlines are mostly the same, but American should truly go bankrupt and stay that way. They're horrible.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I flew through the 80's and into the 90's. It was generally pleasant. Except for that 15 minute connection from an international flight in DFW, which I had not connected through before. I flew once since 9/11. About a year after. My planes were on time, but what a cluster@#%&. I will never fly again EVER. They need desperately to return to decent service. And if we must endure enhanced security measures, at least they can have enough personell to prevent long lines like they do in Isreal.
    Chandra in MO

    ReplyDelete
  41. If you haven't already forwarded this to your Congressman/woman, please do so. This kind of horror story is the only thing that will ever make the idiots in Congress change the rules back to what they were before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I admire your optimism. And by "admire" I mean pity.

      Delete
  42. Aside from airline woes and the prominent subculture of the South - which from your previous isn't too far off the prominent subculture of Alaska, though the dipshits are further away just based on geography - i do hope you had a good time with the relatives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So, aside from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?

      Is that what you're asking?

      Delete
    2. Asking nothing (and yeah, I got the reference) - just hoping that you got some fun out of the bit inbetween shitty travel.

      (I actually enjoyed the previously-mentioned bollixed Christmas trip with Dad, bar the airline fuckups, and the four-lane freeway spinout on black ice two days before Christmas - which I now regard as Best Christmas Present Ever, since none of us were hurt, and at the worst Dad would have lost his wife, his kids and his grandkids in two months - and coming down with a miserable cold, having spent three hours out on my sister's back porch in a Maryland winter trapping her runaway cat. Not to mention manholing through the crawlspace finding out why the heater wasn't working.

      (That Christmas visit beat the shit out of me, on multiple levels, and I can still look back on it, and the photos I have of it, and grin my fool head off...because it was spent with people I loved then and love now, and despite all the crap before, during, and after, we had a great time. Hoping you had the same.)

      Delete
    3. Don, that's a great definition of "Family". Going through hell with them and for them, because they love you and you love them. It's the "because of them" that stretches the definition some.

      Delete
  43. Jim, I wish I could say I hated your guts so reading that travel horror story of yours would be a pleasant experience, but unfortunately I don't, so it really sucked reading about what you guys went through. I wouldn't wish an experience like that on anyone, except maybe Darryl Issa. Glad you all made it home, finally and without needing psychiatric intervention. I'd probably be serving time if I had to go through that myself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Darrell Issa, Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz (especially Ted Cruz) John Boehner, oh, and John McCain (for letting that Palin genie out of the bottle). Put each of them in a center seat surrounded by a Chris Christie on the aisle and window seats. Then be "delayed" and have to sit on the tarmac for 8 hours. Maybe, they'd think about regulations then. No, probably not. Sigh.

      Delete
    2. Everytime I see some of those names I cringe. Even without the missed connections and unhelpful agents, there is so much that is bad about air travel in economy or coach. Lack of leg room and the new fees. Food at airports. The experience can't seem to get worse and then, whoops, it gets worse. They say it is because people want to fly as cheaply as possible. But is the end cost, as in Jim's story worth the so called savings. Issa and corporate heads fly Learjets and corporate jets. Issa could own his own fleet. I see the trend where one day there will be one big corporation, mega airline. Heck, I think the government could take it over and do a better job. Call it the US Air Force....I got an idea, put all passengers into cryo sleep or anaesthesia for a week and pack them in little cylinders and ship via UPS ......

      Delete
    3. "...and ship via UPS." Heh. When I flew to my first permanent assignment (northern Japan), the plane was a 747 (or bigger) with "Federal Express" on the sides and tail, and every single seat filled. (The boarding passes were marked "People Express" and the stewards' uniforms were embroidered "Flying Tigers". Your deregulated airlines in action...)

      Delete
  44. Glad you're all back home safe and sound. I don't comment often, but I have been reading your blog regularly for about two years now. During your hiatus, I discovered Deep Thunder via some of your earliest posts. Just when I was ready to move from embracing to ear-licking...NOTHING. (Sigh!) What's a lurker to do? :)

    ReplyDelete
  45. I am glad you made it through all that. I still remember the mad dash through LAX trying to make a connection to Phoenix when my dad died. The stupid airline couldn't be bothered to contact the connecting plane, knowing that the delay would only be the time it would take to get from one terminal to the other. They shut the door just as all the passengers from our flight were running into the terminal. My poor husband nearly had a heart attack because he was leading the pack so I could lag behind pushing the stroller with our year old baby (who by the way is a trooper, that kid). The Airline refused to just open the door and let us board. The stupid plane sat there for another five minutes and they couldn't just open the door... Luckily, they had to pay for our hotel, but I nearly missed seeing what remained of my dad because of it. But it wasn't nearly as bad as your trip. Glad you are safe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This. Delta. Christmas Eve. Christmas freaking Eve and they don't have the heart to let a dozen passengers board the plane instead of stranding us in Minneapolis with McDonald's for Christmas Eve dinner. The hotel they put us up in was a joke that was far from the airport. At least I had the good sense to browbeat the telephone representative (they had nobody on hand to deal with us in person) into booking us onto a flight with a competing airline Christmas morning. Otherwise, we'd have arrived in Denver on the 26th AFTER our return flight had left to bring us back to Chicago.

      Delete
  46. Is it time to break out the torches and pitchforks and storm the castle on Capitol Hill?

    ReplyDelete
  47. So, good trip, eh?

    ReplyDelete
  48. And I thought it was shitty that the airline I used closes their ticket counter 45 minutes before the plane's scheduled to depart-- presumably so they don't have to pay another employee to remain at the ticket counter &instead making them all move over to the gate. Three people on my plane missed our flight because of that stupidity-- *and* they charged me $100 as a "no show". To which I yelled into the phone, "How can I be a no show when I'm standing in front of your damn ticket counter? I'm here; *you're* not. You people are the no-shows, not me." Next available flight was three days later. (Fortunately, the boarding house still had my room free. Unfortunately, half of my housemates went insane that night & started fighting. Things got so bad that three people got kicked out the next day. Cra. Zee.). The whole time I was dealing with the airline, all I could think about was the train I was on last year. Between weather, technical difficulties & accidents, we ended up getting to Union Station in Chicago over 12 hours late. They'd known early on that some people were going to miss their connections, so an Amtrak agent had boarded the train to give those people vouchers for hotel rooms, meals, etc. That turned out to be extremely fortuitous because a couple hours out from Chicago, we hit the seriously long delay. At first, all we knew was that the freight train in front of us was stopped. Turned out that someone had decided to commit suicide-by-train-- which, as it happens, is a guaranteed 4 hour delay at minimum, what with having to get a new driver & the police & all. As a result, *everyone* on the train missed our connections & had to stay overnight, so the poor voucher guy was extremely busy. But we all got hotel rooms paid for, along with cab fare to get us there & money for food. And through all of it, the entire staff was still as friendly & as helpful as could be. They even managed to scrounge up some dinner for us! Amtrak has their issues but they certainly treated all of us right. It takes longer but I think I'm going to stick with the train next year. If nothing else, the seats are more comfortable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amen Sharon! Love the train. Amtrak treats its customers as if they were...CUSTOMERS. What a novel idea.

      Delete
  49. I think I need to contact Amazon.com about rushing that drone program I read about in the news... do you think they'd haul large boxes, with a few airholes poked in the sides?

    So happy to hear that you and your family made it home - finally. What a mess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My worry on this thought is how many tea party rednecks are going to make a game of trying to bring these drones down with gunfire?

      Delete
  50. I suffered a mini version of this during the storm: 29 hours from Windsor to North Bay, Ontario, which even with a layover usually takes 3. I knew I was one of the lucky ones. Everybody was blaming the Toronto airport admin -- with some reason -- but they ought to read this.

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  51. TSA, even when they were on alert for a suspected terrorist that looked like me, where never anything but polite to me. Airline security, airline baggage handlers, airline...fuck all..even ten years ago. Seems getting up in their face is the only way to get things done. I'm glad I don't fly any longer.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Want to pay down some national debt? Let the Air Force & Navy get into the airline business. I mean, when they're not busy doing other stuff (tongue firmly planted in cheek). Strapped into the cargo hold of a C2 with a connection on the Car Vinson in 20-foot seas sounds pretty good, after the narrative you painted up there. At least the crews show up on time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carl Vinson. Insert "l". Dammit, I hate typos...

      Delete
    2. Best, most comfortable flight I ever took was space-a on a military cargo plane. The cargomaster strapped down my bag, gave me earplugs, a granola bar and coffee, and let me fall asleep on the mesh netting they used as seats.
      I didn't mention earlier- sorry you and your family had to go through all of that garbage, Jim. This is because the airlines have paid bribes and paid former-Congress-critter lobbyists and written their own laws so that no matter whose fault, the customer pays the price.

      Delete
    3. Hell, if they bring along a case of MREs to hand out, they'd have the best food service in the industry on top of it.

      Delete
    4. @JerryA - Been there, and also took $20 at gin rummy off the Army major sitting across from me during the flight.

      Delete
  53. Jim, I know you going to kick yourself in the butt for not thinking of thus but, I'm ex-military like you and have access to military standby. Would have been easier just to book your flight plans that way and then just have the whole family HALO dive when you got over Michigan?

    Might have avoided an immense bit of trouble, and it you could have steered the landing close to Dunkin' Doughnuts... well, maybe next year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MAC flights to and from Alaska are usually booked solid with long waiting lists. Retirees have the lowest priority.

      Also, you have to be where the planes are flying to Alaska from, that's usually Travis AFB in California for the C-17s.

      Believe me, we thought about it, but it just wasn't possible.

      Delete
  54. You're a better man than I, Jim. I would have killed somebody.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Jim, you have been a gentleman to not mention which airline perpetrated this insanity on you and your family.

    I personally would copy the entire text into an email, and send it to every contact address on the airline's website.

    I'd also include the link to your blog, and tell them that thousands of people are going to read *which* airline did this to you.

    I'd also call their customer service dept and talk to a manager, and see if you could at least get a few vouchers.

    If they refuse all your requests, then tell them you are going to post it all over the internet, and make youtube videos describing it on camera unless you get comped

    It might not come to much, but they owe you big time!

    ReplyDelete
  56. Dear Jim, you sweet, innocent soul. Don't you know the true root of your traveling issues? It isn't, primarily, due to the lack of industry regulations (although the lackeys of unfettered capitalism should be publicly tortured and eaten by weasels for that). No no, my dear. It's cellphones. Every delay of your trip was perpetrated by people on cell phones. Every airport worker, including that suspicious screw tightener, couldn't focus on their jobs because they just got a text or call telling them that some large or minor event had occurred or was about to. Bananas are on sale at Kroger! You gave me herpes! I'm thinking of using a different toilet bowl cleaner! You'll never guess who's screwing the babysitter! How are you? I'm fine. How are you? I'm fine.

    Don't laugh. I know it's true with the certainty of Moses when he identified the voice of God (or somebody).

    I learned this truth while partying in the parking lot of Pine Knob amphitheater before a concert, which started late, (no doubt because the musicians and stage crew were on their cell phones.) I was tossing down a beer when I noticed a strange, ambient noise. Not quite the chirping of birds, the humming of bees, the chortle of dolphins or all of these combined. I looked around for the source and the hair rose up on my body in atavistic response to the sight of hundreds of people...on cellphones.

    I knew immediately that any device that could stop music lovers from drinking beer and let their tail gate burgers burn meant the imminent demise of civilization. My fears have come to pass. No function of any person or system is not impeded by the cumulative loss of seconds, minutes and hours spent on cell phones. Already, we can note that cellphone use has reached the mathematical pinnacle which, physics tells us, causes time to reverse, as evidenced by the policies of the GOP.

    The final effects are chaos, cannibalism, the atom bomb and Darwinism in reverse...a slow crawl back into the ooze.

    Have a nice day!

    ReplyDelete
  57. Laughing and laughing- but oh so true! My last experience- not as bad as yours- was when my son and I travelled from Charlottesville to Saint Louis -connecting through Washigton DC out and Detroit back- for my daughter's college graduation. In May. No bad weather. No tornadoes, snow, ice, nothing. Weather as clear as a sunny spring day. Everywhere in the USA. It was my son's first time flying. Poor kid. Trip out was delayed x4 (due to mechanical issues that I found on the airline web site but not the agent desk). Trip back was overbooked, oversold, and delayed x4. We did manage to finally board.... taxi out to the runway.... when - a voice came over the intercom stating that we had been delayed so long the flight crew was over their "fly time" limit. Back to the gate where we waited 6 more hours to find out there was no replacement crew- (I am sure your TravelGods were laughing Bwhahahaha !) Waited in line over 2 hours to get a hotel room (in Detroit- yee hah!). Came back the next day- hungry- rumpled in our day old clothes- to be delayed another 5 hours- because the plane's heater was not working well. The heater. In May. We finally left anyway because the pilot was sick of waiting and wanted to get to CHO because he lived there. He said- "It may be a little cool but it is a full flight and the passengers will be fine." It is a 1.5 hour flight. It WAS fine. Thank goodness the pilot lived in Charlottesville or my son and I might still be waiting. My son now wants to continue NOT to fly anywhere. He had a chance to fly to California recently and declined. I don't blame him. Cheers!

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  58. Jim:
    My wife and I left our idyllic life in the Caribbean and moved back stateside three years ago primarily because she insisted on visiting her family (in Alabama & Florida) at least twice a year - and the only option was flying. We decided that we'd just have to live where we could drive to anywhere we had to go. To be fair, flying locally in the Caribbean (whether seaplane or the wonderful LIAT airlines) was no problem but the minute we had to go to the states - via American - it was instant trouble. The only upside is that returning home the overbooking worked to our advantage. We were just going home and were ALWAYS willing to give up our seats to somebody going on a vacation. We managed to fly free for three years on airline comp tickets!!
    Still, I don't think the tradeoff is worth it. We should have stayed in the Caribbean and let the family visit us. If somebody would just build a bridge over 1200 miles of water we could drive back and forth. Maybe Greyhound for a week? I can dream, can't I?
    Glad you got home safely.

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  59. I spent a year or so in the mid-80s flying every week for work. Out of Logan Monday morning, back Friday afternoon. Never had to deal with anything this epic though. Worst I ever had to cope with was when they broke the landing gear upon arrival in Providence (stop on the way), and told us all to stay on the plane while they got someone to fix it.

    I laughed and tried to get off. The steward said if I left I couldn't get my luggage. I laughed again and told them they could just deliver it to me. I knew the plane was going nowhere.

    Found out later the poor saps who stayed on the plane wound up being bussed, 5 hours later, from Providence to Boston.

    Me? I got on another plane and was home asleep before the other saps even got off the plane. My luggage arrived the next day.

    I hate air travel. My sympathies. And I love the way you write, just btw...

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  61. Funny, but as I said on your Facebook page, this nonsense all started after "Ronnie- beloved- of the- Right Raygun" fired the Air Traffic Controllers back in August 1981. This broke the back of transportation unions, rendered any regulations to the industry null and void, and created the morass we have today. Deregulation is obviously here to stay, as the corporate consciousness wants it to be. The consumer will forever pay the price for taking the spokespersons (working people) out of the equation, and handing over the system to a greedy "free market."

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  62. I think this is one of your best columns, Jim. It tells a story that summarizes the BS that this generation has learned to put up with all the time. High speed rail still has my support but it won't help as much as more government oversight and sanctions to make bottom line a factor. Yes, I remember when flights were something to look forward to. And we are stuck so to speak on an island. And my wife just will not fly. I am looking in to Space A to Anchorage. I think I prefer taking my chances with Hickam Mac. I will report next Summer how it works out. Glad you are back with us, and we have missed your delightful and sometimes ribald commentaries...

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  63. Ouch. I thought my adventures on United were bad -- you win (though I'm not certain that's a race anyone wants to win).

    Anyhoo. As I've discovered (via flying United), you CAN actually get a refund. You paid for A, and didn't get it. Contact your bank. Ask them to do a chargeback. I usually just ask for a refund of the portion I didn't use -- my bank typically does a chargeback for the full amount.

    Three times I've done this, and three times I've gotten my money back. I guess the airlines just don't bother fighting these.

    You'll need some documentation, but it sounds like you have that in spades.

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  64. Out of curiosity, Jim, why no name to go with the shame? I'm pretty sure there are a few hundred people out here that would avoid that particular airline given its treatment of you.

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    1. It amuses me, Daniel, that the airline in question isn't obvious. And in point of fact, this article could fit any US airline, couldn't it?

      What's that tell you?

      I sent a copy of this article to the airline's customer service department. I'll allow them to a chance to decide what they'd like to do about it. I reserve the right to publish their name depending on what their response it - and I'll likely include that response in an addendum if they give me incentive to do so, good or bad.

      Delete
    2. naming names is always useful when experiencing the type of "service" you received from the airline. i've also found mentioning the experience on a company's book of faces page is also useful and does seem to get the upper level's attention due to all the focus on social media these days.

      good luck on getting anything out of them and, by all means, let us know...

      Delete
    3. I would guess Untied - original flight was through Chicago, re-routed through Denver - Untied has hubs in both.

      The last time I flew it was with my then-4-year-old autistic son. We got stuck in Denver for about 6 hours (for a scheduled 1,5 hr. plane change). That was Christmas time 2010 and I have not flown since.

      Delete
    4. oops - that was in Dec 2000, not 2010.

      Delete
  65. seriously? unregulated airlines? this is such a terribly written article rofl. yes they are so unregulated ;| with their FAAs and TSAs, lets not forget the FCC in regards to cell phones on airlines. rofl "unregulated" and the sad shit is believe it

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    1. I was wondering when one of you warty little trolls was going to screw up your courage and comment here instead of just teabagging each other over on Reddit.

      this is such a terribly written article rofl.

      ROFL indeed. Your obvious command of the written word humbles me, Sir, you truly can turn a phrase. Your eloquent ability and impeccable logic dazzle me with their brilliance and my poor ability is but a pale shadow in comparison. LULZ to you, Anonymous, well done.

      Delete
  66. Beeman's, disco, low-fat sour cream-- sometimes it's scary how accurate your laser-guided missile is in hitting my funny-bone. Your wife and I are soul-sisters. It's a good thing- no a great thing- that I wasn't born with a load testosterone coursing through my veins.

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  67. As the spouse of a Transportation Safety Officer, I thank you for your kind report of their professionalism. Almost no one ever writes about the (majority of the) times they do things right. And I totally agree that the airlines need a ton more regulation, because while I haven't had that heinous an experience, I've had my share of delays and missed connections, and the costs that go with them.

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    1. It's like the Post Office -- no one ever notices the excellent job they do nearly all the time; it's taken for granted. It's only the occasional horror story that gets any attention.

      Aside: Thanks, Jim, for selecting (I'm assuming it's your choice) the numbers rather than letters form of Capcha; aging eyes find them much easier to make out.

      Delete
    2. I'm an infrequent flier (Thank the Gods!) and therefore no expert but I must offer up sincere admiration for the TSA folks I've encountered. Almost all of them were helpful, most were friendly, some had (Fortunately for me. Long story, not worth your time.) a lively sense of humor.

      The few times that I've interacted with gate personnel or the check-in people (They aren't the same, are they?) I've been treated well. On my most recent flight, on a real cheap-ass airline, (I won't mention Spirit Airlines because that would be wrong) just as I arrived to check in, I was informed by a young woman at the counter that the departure would be delayed by three hours. Since I'd flown this airline before, I was unsurprised to learn that the plane that I was supposed to get on was half a continent away. I asked her if it was her idea to delay the flight and, of course she said no. I said I knew that, but also told her she was sure gonna get a lot of grief from people who probably DID think it was her fault. Result? A broad smile from her and a choice aisle seat for me, no small thing as I had just had hip replacement surgery.

      And yeah, the Post Office Rocks! At least here.

      Delete
  68. From my experience, it helps to cross the Atlantic *first*, before taking on domestic flights in the US.

    I never had a problem, but of late (~ 3 years) I tend to evade the North Eastern US when flying to the half-yearly Fortran (computer language) Standardization Committee meeting in Las Vegas.

    There are efficient flights via Houston or Atlanta (much safer in February).

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  69. Given all the commenters who refuse to fly anywhere, who are all the people flying? ( Besides Alaskans with understandably fewer transportation options.)

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  70. Some 30-plus years ago, I experienced a faint shadow of your sufferings in trying to fly out of Orly Airport in August. Then in September 2001, just days after the towers fell, I had to fly home out of Canada with a kitten in a carrier. Another small taste of such misery.

    A small taste, a tiny taste. A smidgen, a mere freckle on the palsied face of the horror you suffered. And even that was enough to make me forswear air travel henceforth except in direst emergency. Nothing I've heard of the industry since then has made me change my mind, and your magnificent tirade seals the deal.

    After reading this, I plan NEVER to fly again.

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  71. Holy FrankenFuck! That took almost as long to read as it did for you to experience. :)

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  72. Pre TSA days in 2000, after flying from Houston to Portland OR, after I arrived in Portland, I still wonder why.

    The Why? After arriving in Portland, remember gate areas weren't passenger only then, at the exit to the gate area a employee of whatever preceded the TSA asked if she could test my carry on bag. I said sure, I'm where I'm going anyway.

    So she patted it down with the sticky pads and ran the pads thru a scanner then said ok, you can go.

    This was after I had flown for 5 hours and got to where I was going, it still puzzles me.

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  73. "Rule 240" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_240 ). This probably wouldn't have worked in your case, but it is worth knowing and trying. I've got a story about how I got home an hour early *because* of fog by asking the gate agent if he could "use rule 240." I also avoided getting stuck in Dallas after missing the last flight to SFO on AA but they connected me through LAX on Delta because I asked about rule 240.

    Also, by the way, a "direct flight" in airline-ese means "the flight number doesn't change." There certainly can be stops... and there may even be a plane change on a "direct" flight.

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  74. Having been flying domestic and international flights since the 1960s, I'll just say that there is no question -- at all -- that one of the worst ideas ever extruded through Congress was deregulation. Actually, deregulation of nearly anything was an idea that should have been met with an angry mob intent on fatal bodily harm to those involved (in and out of office).

    Followed by lining up to piss on the graves.

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  75. Hilarious...as long as you're not living it. Made me remember an amusing article from a few years ago, "If airlines sold paint". Here's a link. http://www.travelweekly.com/Agent-Life/If-airlines-sold-paint/
    I wish you better luck on your next vacation.

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  76. Had a lousy experience with my flights being canceled while living in Dallas in the 90's. We had booked well in advance for a Christmas vacation to visit family in ski country outside of Denver. Had seat assignments and everything (ha ha ha). Got to the airport and the seat assignments were a thing of the past so we three ended up flying standby..and luckily got seats on the same plane although I don't think they were all together. Would have been traveling with an elementary school aged daughter at the time. There was a family near us...mom, dad and about a 5 year old daughter. They were flying to Big Sky country in Montana. They were offered a pair of seats on one flight for mom and dad and A SEPARATE FLIGHT FOR THE FIVE YEAR OLD!! Talk about unclear on the concept. Needless to say they didn't take that arrangement. American...what a nightmare.

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  77. What does the co-pilot do? Do you have an idea? Or is that just dramatic license for the article?

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    1. Seriously? That's your takeaway?

      To answer your question, yes, I know what the First Officer does. It was a smart alec comment, the crack about Leonardo DiCaprio should have given it away.

      Delete
    2. It's hard to take your complaint seriously with so much artistic license thrown in. What the flight crew is supposed to do with broken planes, why the weather is 1914 tech, etc. you have some legit complaints in there, but they are diluted. I can't imagine anything more insulting, for example, than people clapping and sarcastically telling a swapped or reserve, or delayed flight crew "about time you showed up."

      Delete
    3. I can't imagine anything more insulting..."

      Really? Try being repeatedly stranded, delayed, victimized by bait and switch tactics and piss poor customer service, try being put on standby for seats you bought and paid for, try being lied to over and over by your industry and treated with utter contempt, Rex. Try getting cornholed over and over and over by you people, Rex, as an institutionalized business practice, that's pretty fucking insulting.

      Respect is a two way street. You've got no right to expect it if you don't give it and your industry stopped respecting their customers a long time ago. Your outsourced customer service is a case in point.

      I looked at your profile, I see what you do and who you work for, your industry needs a swift kick in the pants. You'll note that I didn't name the airline in question, that's for good reason, because it could be any one of you.

      This is the worst trip I've ever had, and that includes military flights into active combat zones, but it's only the bottom end of a declining slope of increasingly lousy service and it's the norm not the exception.

      As to my "diluted" writing, in case you haven't noticed this isn't your airline's complaint department. This also isn't a travel site. I'm a writer, a raconteur, a storyteller. This is my blog. My intention here is opinion and conversation, it says so right on the label. I'd think a guy in your industry would be able to recognize the difference. Trust me, the formal letter to the airline's CEO was clear, concise, included footnotes and references and detailed specifics, and was completely devoid of any type of "artistic license."

      Delete
    4. Well, well, well. An airlines industry member responds to you, Jim -- with contemptuous dismissal of all that has happened. Whoever could have seen THAT coming?

      Delete
    5. He didn't dismiss everything I said, he just complained about the way I said it and that I wasn't affording him his due respect. The actual contemptuous dismissal was by a self-proclaimed commercial pilot on Reddit who linked to this post and called me, and I quote, "an entitled bitch" for actually expecting to get what I paid for.

      Likely both of these airline guys are the kind of people who first check to see what the victim was wearing before deciding whether or not to side with the rapist.

      Delete
    6. There are many things that are in my control, and there are many things that are out of my control. Many of the things that fall onto our laps happen to fall in that second category. It is truly unfortunate that "the airlines" have done this to the traveler, as they have done to us (the front line service folks).

      I can't speak for every experience you have, obviously, but because our mainline partner decides to outsource every nook and cranny (hey, I'm outsourced, yay!), it makes a complicated web of communication and accountability for the the individual parts failing.

      I know all too well the tactics employed by the airlines, and again, my voice is lost at sea when it comes to change. My company flies airplanes, and that's all that our mainline partner asks of us. There is a separate company for customer service (and it of course depends on whether you are trying to get on a mainline or feeder aircraft). The crews who fly the planes never stopped respecting their customers (as a whole), what you see is that we have been beaten down, and we are the "face" of the company, and that it truly sucks to be hit from both sides - our company, and irate customers who take it out on the folks who can least assist them in the "complaint" department.

      I just wonder why travelers think that we have been hanging out behind the scenes partying and wasting time when we show up late to an aircraft. There are many factors involved, not the least of which is proper nourishment, which I'm sure, as you know, is often not found at airports (yay Wendy's!). I do my best to pack 8 meals in a cold box for my standard 4-day trip, and make sure some of them can be eaten cold while I'm working).

      I don't discount the terrible experience you endured. The only "tool" which I can offer as a front line crew member is "fill out a comment survey" on the airline's website. Publish articles, etc.

      I appreciate that this is a travel site and that you are taking creative license. However, inexperienced travelers who read this miss the nuances of some of the license and may take things as gospel, such as the duct tape comment.

      Your biggest ally in the mess is the folks up front as well as those who are tasked with preparing the cabin for flight. We do all we can to ensure the aircraft is safe, legal, and loaded up to accomplish each leg we do on any given day. Unfortunately, sometimes the puzzle pieces don't line up and aircraft have to divert for fuel, await maintenance, crews, or even ATC delays. Snarky comments never benefit anyone (as you have noted by your comment about the other pilot).

      4096 char limit

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    7. I appreciate that this is a travel site ...

      The irony, Rex, is that even when you're trying to school me, you just don't listen.

      Stonekettle Station is primarily a political blog, I write primarily about politics - or whatever else happens to strike my fancy. However the one thing that Stonekettle Station is not, either now, nor ever, is a travel site.

      It amuses me that you would take such pains to explain how your company's business is just as shitty as I've described it ... and then you spend the next paragraph making excuses for them.

      Unfortunately, sometimes the puzzle pieces don't line up and aircraft have to divert for fuel, await maintenance, crews, or even ATC delays.

      Even more unfortunately, Rex, increasingly that seems to be business as usual, not just just "sometimes."

      Snarky comments never benefit anyone

      Interestingly enough, snarky comments got your attention, didn't they? Along with all the folks on the forum that you surfed in here from. Not to mention the 80,000 or so people who've now read this. Don't like the snark? Stop giving me a reason to engage in it.

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    8. Jim, congrats on the launch of your new, first class travel site. I'll be an avid reader as I want to know your travel plans, well in advance if possible, so I can avoid your travel itinerary like the plague.

      As someone who travels often due to a long distance child custody arrangement, I sympathize with your plight and experiences. Seems to me the airlines have realized that we have no choice where travel is concerned and, therefore, will operate sans a care for customer service unless told to change.

      Delete
    9. My bad, I misread your comment that this ISN'T a travel site.


      "The irony, Rex, is that even when you're trying to school me, you just don't listen."

      I'm not trying to "school you". I apologize again for misreading your comment.

      "It amuses me that you would take such pains to explain how your company's business is just as shitty as I've described it ... and then you spend the next paragraph making excuses for them."

      Well, let me start with, it's not "my" company. I'm just a peon in the whole operation. To use your particular situation and compare it to my place of business, United Airlines has the following "regional carriers" off the top of my head: CommutAir (operates Q200s), ExpressJet (operates E135/E145s), Skywest (operates CRJ200s), Republic/Chatauqua/Shuttle America (unsure of aircraft they operate for United).

      As far as I know, when you are on a mainline route, the following positions are filled by United Airlines employees: ticket agent, gate agent, ramp personnel, pilots, flight attendants. When you are operating on an "outsourced" route, there are probably 3-5 different companies working to make that flight happen. That would include the aforementioned regional carriers, the ground service personnel, the gate agent, etc.

      I am at a loss as to what you might suggest that I do when given this dynamic. For example, if you are on my flight, and we land early, and sit at a gate waiting to park, I call several times to a frequency which is manned by a 4th party, who doesn't have a direct line to the front line folks. They have a "direct" line to the management personnel of the ground crew. When we wait ridiculous amounts of time, I can submit what we call a "CrewComm" which is meant for those sorts of irregularities. If my company sees it, they will submit it to United, who will submit it to the 3rd party who does the aircraft parking. That's about all I can do. You can complain to United as well, and hopefully get some compensation?

      "Even more unfortunately, Rex, increasingly that seems to be business as usual, not just just "sometimes."

      As a frequent traveler, your experience, which is unfortunate, isn't considered business as usual. Any time something happens, it creates a cascade effect on the rest of the operation.

      "Interestingly enough, snarky comments got your attention, didn't they? Along with all the folks on the forum that you surfed in here from. Not to mention the 80,000 or so people who've now read this. Don't like the snark? Stop giving me a reason to engage in it."

      I have been incredibly respectful of your viewpoint on the process, and I have tried to give you, an experienced traveler, a bit of an insight as to what I deal with on a daily basis. I have probably failed in that regard, but it didn't hurt to try. Again, how can I, Mr. Co-Pilot, "stop giving you a reason to engage in it?" I am truly at a loss as to how the guys who get the plane from point A to point B can enhance your customer service experience from ticket purchase to boarding.

      For the record, I don't work for any United Express carrier. The only possible suggestion I might have is to "take [your] business to a competing resort" as Milton says. If that means the ticket is more expensive, so be it perhaps.

      Delete
    10. Rex, you seem like a decent fellow, and I mean that sincerely, and I do in fact appreciate your attempt to explain the difficulties of your job in more detail. I also appreciate that the majority of airline employees are trying to do the best they can in a difficult and demanding job - especially when dealing with large numbers of irritated customers. I get that, I do, I really do, maybe more so than you think considering that I spent my entire life in an extremely demanding and difficult profession. In point of fact I publicly lauded the flight crews, particularly those on the flight with medical emergencies, and the members of customer service who were actively helpful, and I did so in no uncertain terms on social media while this endless crapfest was unfolding – and, just to so I’m clear here, I named the airline on social media when pointing out the good things they did, and deliberately left out the carrier here where I was more critical.

      You're taking my comments personally, when they are directed at your employer and your industry. If I wasn’t clear enough about that in my previous comments and it appeared I that was attacking you personally instead of the business practices of your industry, then I apologize. That was not my intent.

      (continued)

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    11. I've re-read my original essay and I think it’s pretty clear in the article that I'm aiming my criticism at the industry, at the airlines' business practices, and not at individuals (other than perhaps the CEO). You'll note that in the text of this article I specifically pointed out that it wasn't the guy behind the counter, but the business practices of his employer. I generally don't take shitty business practices out on (to use your word) peons. And I did not this time either, I was polite and restrained, however, again as noted in the text, there comes a point where I've been pushed far enough and will not go any further. When that happens, I push back. Then I write about it, complete with snark. Nothing here is an exaggeration and in fact I’ve left things out. I write with descriptive license because that's what I do and that's what my readers expect - that's why they come here in the first place. Again, I’m a storyteller, that’s what I do.

      I’d like to point out that I demanded no, repeat no compensation of any kind. I didn't threaten to sue, or join a class action lawsuit, nor did I even ask for so much as a meal voucher. I only asked for what I paid for and not one cent more. And as to taking my business elsewhere, oh come on. If you really are a pilot, then you know just how limited a traveler's choice is nowadays, especially for an Alaskan like me, who is utterly at your industry's mercy unless I want to spend four weeks per trip crossing the frozen Yukon on the ground. As to the ticket being more expensive, again, Rex (and I'm honestly not trying to be insulting here, but you just don't just seem to read very well), as noted in the text I did pay more. I did buy the more expensive seats. I did go with the more expensive carrier. I noted that repeatedly in the text. I didn't use frequent flier miles. I didn't try for any discounts or bargains. I followed all of the rules your industry laid down. I entered into a contract with your industry in good faith and to repeat myself, I only demanded what I'd paid for and nothing more.

      This essay was intended as an entertaining travelogue of my experience at the hands of your industry. That's what I do, I write about life, about the world around me and my experience in it. I make no apologies because your industry was reflected in an unflattering light - you'll note from the comments here and on the accompanying facebook page that I'm hardly alone in my opinion. In fact, there are dozens, hundreds, of travel sites dedicated to the misery of modern air travel, and damned few of the millions of comments there are flattering. You might want to give that some thought - or not. Rex, I spent my entire life in the US Military, whatever bad things people say about you and your chosen profession? Well, I’m sincerely sorry about that but you should try mine.

      Frankly I think I was more than reasonable in this article. Yes, I'm aggravated, yes I was snarky, you bet I was. If you’ve read anything else by me, you might be surprised at how restrained I was from my normal bombastic style. Your industry cost me several thousand dollars and more than a week of my professional time, and my wife’s, without so much as an apology or a reach around. Your employer on the other hand made a profit and got a little snarked upon. I think that’s a fair trade. If I cost your industry even a fraction of cent on the bottom line in any way whatsoever due to this article, well frankly, Rex, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.

      Delete
    12. Rex is being loyal, and he has the same problem that many people participating in large organizations now have: the people at the top are corrupt, and the system is corrupt as well.

      It seems to me that your blog is in some ways one long reaction to that corruption. I can only applaud.

      Delete
    13. "You're taking my comments personally, when they are directed at your employer and your industry. If I wasn’t clear enough about that in my previous comments and it appeared I that was attacking you personally instead of the business practices of your industry, then I apologize. That was not my intent."

      Only the part where you write "it's not like the co-pilot does anything anyway" :)

      That was really my jumping off point to just write a line or 10,000.

      "I've re-read my original essay and I think it’s pretty clear in the article that I'm aiming my criticism at the industry, at the airlines' business practices, and not at individuals (other than perhaps the CEO). You'll note that in the text of this article I specifically pointed out that it wasn't the guy behind the counter, but the business practices of his employer. I generally don't take shitty business practices out on (to use your word) peons. And I did not this time either, I was polite and restrained, however, again as noted in the text, there comes a point where I've been pushed far enough and will not go any further. When that happens, I push back. Then I write about it, complete with snark. Nothing here is an exaggeration and in fact I’ve left things out. I write with descriptive license because that's what I do and that's what my readers expect - that's why they come here in the first place. Again, I’m a storyteller, that’s what I do."

      It's a pretty entertaining article, all in all. I think it sucks to do any business in the U.S.A. these days, because the customer isn't you or I, it's the shareholder. Apparently Wall Street works just fine while complaints of business fly left and right yet go unacknowledged...

      "I’d like to point out that I demanded no, repeat no compensation of any kind. I didn't threaten to sue, or join a class action lawsuit, nor did I even ask for so much as a meal voucher. I only asked for what I paid for and not one cent more. And as to taking my business elsewhere, oh come on. If you really are a pilot, then you know just how limited a traveler's choice is nowadays, especially for an Alaskan like me, who is utterly at your industry's mercy unless I want to spend four weeks per trip crossing the frozen Yukon on the ground. As to the ticket being more expensive, again, Rex (and I'm honestly not trying to be insulting here, but you just don't just seem to read very well), as noted in the text I did pay more. I did buy the more expensive seats. I did go with the more expensive carrier. I noted that repeatedly in the text. I didn't use frequent flier miles. I didn't try for any discounts or bargains. I followed all of the rules your industry laid down. I entered into a contract with your industry in good faith and to repeat myself, I only demanded what I'd paid for and nothing more."

      Sorry for the reading comprehension "fails" if you will. I couldn't quite keep all of the article in mind when writing my replies (and heck, they're jumbled anyway). I wouldn't know what your choices actually are, and I realize you did pay a higher price for your ticket, which gives them less excuse to goat-rope you around, but I would say that you are definitely due some compensation for the whole exercise. The only issue that I know of is, once you are displaced from your original flights (where you have seats, right? I thought that's what I read), you are now considered a "standby" passenger, because others like you have paid full price for seats on this other airplane. So, based on your fare class, you fall into a queue for the remaining (if there are any) seats.

      For fare classes, I found this: http://www.cwsi.net/united.htm

      For bumping/overbooking, I found this: http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/air-travel/bumping-and-overbooking

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    14. Rex, I'm coming a little late to this, but as a 100-150,000 mile/year traveller, your comment:"
      As a frequent traveler, your experience, which is unfortunate, isn't considered business as usual."
      is simply not true. This is the at least 3rd time in the last 5 years where we have had a weather-related clusterfuck of mammoth proportions. It is, in fact, exactly business as usual: no attempt to mitigate the problems by having extra equipment, extra staff, extra phones, extra planning, extra ANYTHING except excuse after bullshit after lie. I could relate stories like Jim's that are happening every week; I have had it happen to me more than twice last year, and again this year. Compensation is a joke: the last time this happened in 2013, my "compensation" was 25,000 miles or a voucher for $25.00. For 3 days stuck in NYC.

      There are solutions and mitigations available to the airlines: they choose not to employ them because it cuts into the bottom line and therefore directly impacts the C-Suite pay.

      Delete
  78. Yeah, as I was reading your travelogue, I noticed that the security checks were quick and painless and the TSA staff were courteous and professional. That's been my experience, too, flying out of both Dulles and National after visiting my brother in D.C.

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  79. Great post, Ground Hog Day meets the airline industry. That makes my airline screwups look pretty mild, does that mean I'm going to have to raise my tolerance bar? or just stop flying. the train has been fun, at least you know in advance that you will be late. After the mountain of subsidies we have given the airline industry one would like to think we got something in return, other than the right to purchase tickets to our own victimization party

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  80. Don't we have Ronnie Raygun to thank for deregulating the airlines? There is no place on earth I want to go where I have to take a plane. Fortunately my sister and Brother in Law (my only family) LOVE to travel so they come to Oregon from Ohio. I am perfectly happy living in the middle of nowhere with no place to go.

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    1. Actually, it was Jimmy Carter. Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union, thereby insuring that the people who keep planes from flying into each other and falling out of the sky are sleep-deprived and relying on stimulants to maintain their concentration.

      Have a nice flight.

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  81. The 5th anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson was this week. Sully should have been a PanAm pilot!! His training and experience had a lot to do with it being a miracle and not a disaster. He had flown for US Air for about 30 years, yet his pay had been cut by 40% and his pension was nearly worthless. If his pay has been cut, can you imagine the salaries of the rest of the employees??? scary

    Glad you finally made it home.

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  82. Jim, just sent your essay to Senator Mark Kirk, and copied you. Not expecting a great deal of movement on regulation..as this senator voted NOT to extend unemployment checks for long term unemployed...suggested to HIS minion that the senator actually needed to talk to an unemployed constituent to see how he or she was not going to be able to pay his bills...tried to publish this info before..not sure what happened to it. Glad you are home...We are traveling to Orange Beach next week..hope travel gods are more amenable. Marilyn C

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  83. The recent weather caused a problem for us, but fortunately we were not traveling. However my mother-in-law was staying with us and could not fly home because of the weather. After hours listening to busy signals or an unanswered phone at the airlines I posted on the airlines FB page. A couple hours later I had her booked on a flight via FB private messages.

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  84. And I thought I had stories. You and your family have shown remarkable restraint. Glad to have you back on line
    Mike morrow

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  85. I haven't flown since 2010. Before that I was in uniform when I traveled all over the country for the 88th Regional Readiness Command out of Minneapolis, 192,000 miles. I was very lucky - treated with deference I guess. I never thought about it. Now I feel really bad that I was getting over all those civilians who were treated like crap.

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  86. As a 20 year veteran of this screwed up industry, as well as a seasoned regular Joe passenger (my company buys me tickets to where my plane is) I feel for you.
    It reminds me of a flight where we were sitting at the gate many hours delayed. We had a plane full of distressed, rerouted, delayed, hungry, tired passengers. Our cockpit door was open and my captain and I were just waiting for boarding to complete. I all our preflight duties were done. The captain was sitting with his fingers clasped together, rest G on his sizable belly and his eyes closed, relaxing before we got busy again. A late middle aged women poked her head into the cockpit and let us have it. After her rant was over, the captain, never even having pened his eyes say:''Ma'am, flying is the absolute safest form of travel there is, it's just completely unreliable. "
    I don't even know what her reaction was because I was trying not to do a spit take with my coffee.

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    1. This!

      After her rant was over, the captain, never even having pened his eyes say:''Ma'am, flying is the absolute safest form of travel there is, it's just completely unreliable."

      As a LONG time airline employee, I often comment, "I'm sure glad I don't have to rely on the commercial transportation system for my livelihood." I usually get a befuddled response of something to the effect of, "But don't you work for an airline?" Yes, I do. But I get paid whether I get to my intended destination or not. You, on the other hand, it is a BIG deal if you don't make it, be it bid'ness or pleasure.

      No denying it, it's an F'd up industry. SO looking forward to retirement.

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  87. With all due respect, people such as yourself should be required to work in the airline industry for a week before they are allowed to post such ignorant garbage. Crying because an experienced captain of a jetliner called maintenance to fix an issue on an airplane? He/she did it because it is required by federal air regulations. The same rules that have made air travel the safest mode of transportation over the last half century. Regulation woudl be nice, but then fares would skyrocket and people would be screaming for their $69 one-way fares across the country. You can't have your cake and eat it too. Fares are as cheap as they are now because of overbooking flights, that's just a cold hard fact.

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    1. Fair enough.

      As long as we're on the subject, people like you should have to spend two weeks trying to get home while your industry repeatedly fails to live up to its obligations, while they repeatedly cancel your flights, while they repeatedly put you on standby, while they repeatedly move your seating assignment around, while they cost you thousands in lost time and lost wages and cancelled plans.

      Oh, and by the way? With all due respect, Jackass, you'll note that I paid extra for my seats. I wasn't asking for free cake, just what I paid for and nothing more.

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    2. Fares are cheap because the airlines are squeezing in seats where ever they can and over selling them. Read where one airline is removing one of the bathrooms to put in 3 seats. If these airline thought they could get by without aisles, they would put in seat there - and sell them twice.
      If any other industry regularly treated its customers the way most US airlines do, they would go out of business. If a car dealer sold each of his car twice - he would end up in jail.

      True air travel is safe ---- but for how long.

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    3. Air safety is the goto excuse for people like anonymous. Sure your experience was miserable, but, hey, safest mode of travel - so you have no right to expect any better service. Because that's the reason for the airlines' shitty service, safety, right? That's that the number one item on the agenda at each and every shareholders' meeting. Sure.

      This is essentially the same mindset behind the "sure, there's 48 million Americans without access to healthcare, but, hey, America has the best healthcare system in the world for people who can afford it so poor people have no right to expect anything else. Shut up."

      Besides bullshit rationalization and making excuses, Anonymous tries for martyrdom, "Oh, woe, you should have to do MY job for two weeks, then you'd understand why we fucked you over. Again." Really? Why? So I'll learn to accept shitty service? So, I can be a good little Soviet Bolshevik standing in line hoping maybe I'll be able to get a roll of lousy toilet paper? Is that the logic? By anonymous' reasoning, shouldn't two week minimum then be a requirement for everything? You have to be a cook in a restaurant for two weeks so you'll know why the meal you paid for was inedible. You have to be a mechanic for two weeks so you know why the guy at the shop took your money but your car still doesn't run right. You have to be a Senator for two weeks before you're allowed to bitch about the government shutdown. Hey, I know, maybe every American should be covered in a hundred pounds of gear and dropped into Afghanistan's Swat Valley for a couple of weeks before they vote to send people like me into the meat grinder and then run their fucking mouths about how we do our job. Yeah, there's an idea, we can start with Anonymous, followed by Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the Wall Street Chickenhawks.

      But I digress.

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    4. The air safety "rules" are federal laws and regulations. The same laws and regulations that the anonymous commenter complains about, and suggests will increase fares if the industry is better regulated. Anonymous, you can't hypocritically take credit for the laws & regs with regards to safety, then bitch about them in the same breath. Besides, the airline industry is doing everything it can to circumvent those safety laws by doing maintenance overseas for cheaper, cutting corners and avoiding FAA inspection. That cost cutting makes the news when planes crash after critical maintenance is ignored or bungled, just so the shareholders get a few pennies more per share this quarter and the CEO gets a bonus for a "leaner" operation. Airlines and indeed all businesses need regulation, Anonymous, and the consensus is that the pendulum went too far towards deregulation. Your industry stinks at customer service and performance. Fixing that doesn't mean higher fares, if the CEO and Board members will delay their newest yacht redecorations for a little while. (Yeah, I laughed when I wrote that last line.)

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  88. Jeez. I've heard some Travel Gods-on -a- rampage horror stories that set my hair on fire and experienced some limited flaps myself ( just part of living in Southeast Alaska where you take the ferry for 3 days or fly for a few hours to get out of here-period ) but I have never run across a tale of such a total cluster from beginning to end.
    Pretty much all of us in Alaska have been weathered in or out at various points, all of us have had to deal with mechanicals at some point or other, etc, ad infinitum, so I'm finding the remarks by industry folks , especially the Anon @7:55 to be particularly beside the points Mr Wright is making here. Safest mode of transportation ? All well and good, but that has nothing to do with making and meeting a contract with your customer as per the actual service.If air transportation has devolved to merely a promise you'll arrive alive somewhere at some time, it is time to change the business model- or regulate the hell out of the current one.
    Sure hope you get some useful response from the airline honchos Jim.
    Alaska Pi

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    1. ".If air transportation has devolved to merely a promise you'll arrive alive somewhere at some time, it is time to change the business model- or regulate the hell out of the current one.:"

      Thankyou - that about covers the current business plan of most airlines.

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  89. I have not read through all of the comments but if this isn't "Trains, Planes and Automobiles...The Sequel" Someone please call a casting agent.....and I agree for most of my travels (limited as they may be) TSA staff have always been awesome.
    I hope for all of your frustrations you had a nice visit with your loved ones.

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  90. Well Jim, from the get-go I thought "That Poor Bastard", pretty soon into your trip it became, "Better the Poor Bastard than me." Later I thought,"That Poor Bastards WIFE!", followed by another "That. Poor. Bastard," and "Sooo, glad its The Bastard not me." Then, there's "The Poor Bastard's son (whom will never see New York)", followed by another "Poor Bastards wife, AND Poor Bastard's MOM!" As you can probably guess, I'll summarize your adventures in the south as, "Poor Bastard goes to store run by Poor Bastards, has trouble speaking "Poor Bastard speak" to Poor Bastards, stands in line with Poor Bastards, listening to Poor Bastards speak." To make matters worse, you're on your way home and some poor bastard tries to pawn off someone's "Poor Bastard" status! POOR BASTARD!. Finally you're home, scratch Shopkat's chin with a sigh of homey satisfaction, and she gazes into you coal black eyes thinking, "That. Poor. Bastard." J. Collier AR

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  91. So, I've heard that United Breaks Guitars... ;-)

    I noted the comments about several Asian airlines, which seem to get it right. My wife has had incredible service from JAL, for one...why is it they can do this, but North American airllines can't?

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  92. You are absolutely right, the airline industry in the US has been harmed more than helped by deregulation. I have relatives who are employed by 4 different airlines in the US, their working conditions and pay are just embarrassing. The perks they used to get as airline employees are virtually nonexistent now, their benefits have eroded, while a few guys at the top are walking away with millions per year. Understaffing and underpaying and overworking people doesn't make for any kind of positive customer relation scenario, and I find it unbelievable that there are people who think that this represents healthy business strategy, or that deregulation results in a healthier or more robust economic environment.

    My husband and I moved to Germany from the US 4 years ago, and they are currently pretty much the strongest economy in the EU. They haven't achieved that by deregulating everything and working their people to death for a pittance, their highly regulated transportation industry manages to get the planes (and trains) out on time, in good repair, for affordable fares and at the same time providing friendly and polite service. Contrast that with the UK in the wake of Thatcher's deregulation and privatization of the train networks, which has resulted in the highest fares and the poorest service in the EU.

    As far as I know, European airlines don't rely on overselling flights to get full planes. Unless they are budget carriers like Ryan Air, they provide snacks and drinks and free booze on many flights (especially transatlantic ones), their seats are inches bigger than airlines based in the US, their planes are frankly nicer. They are more generous with their luggage allowances, both carryon and checked, and people are actually there at the counters when they are needed.

    We don't fly any US-based airline when taking transatlantic flights anymore. Even with gold status as frequent flyers, we got tired of being treated like the airline was doing us a favor by letting us board their tired, dirty planes with tiny seats and meager food and beverage offerings. If I cough up a couple thousand dollars for a ticket, then yes I do expect a plastic 4 ounce complimentary bottle of wine with my shitty chicken and pasta entree. And I don't expect a plane to leave the terminal when 4 of the 8 coach section lavatories are broken down on a 9 hour flight. When the plane is full up with military families going home for a visit. At the very least, the crew should service the functioning lavatories which are getting heavy use. They shouldn't let them overflow and then remedy the situation by discontinuing beverage service 4 hours into the flight. That happened to us on the last US Airways flight we took from Germany to the US. Of course on the return trip, they screwed up my husband's flight plan so badly he was stranded in France for over a day and his luggage sat on the tarmac in Charlotte for 2 days before they found it. They actually told us they found it outside. On the tarmac, in the middle of summer. Sheesh. When we sent in a customer complaint, the airline didn't even apologize. An apology costs nothing, their lack of it cost them two gold mileage customers.
    We fly Air Canada now, and they are awesome. The plane has maintenance issues? Here's vouchers for the Marriot and 75 bucks for meals, here's a phone card so you can call home folks. We will have an identical plane here as soon as we can bring it in, you all get your same seat assignments, sorry for the inconvenience. Crap, we lost your luggage? Here's a 300.00 voucher good for any future flight, sir. We are so sorry that this happened. You missed your train because the flight was late? Send us the receipt for the cost of the replacement ticket and we will reimburse you. It's good business, and they have our loyalty. Too bad that US-based airlines seemed to have lost their way, it would make flying so much more pleasant if they hadn't.

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  93. Hi, Jim - I don't comment much, though I read every post, mainly trying only to add something that should be said that hasn't (a tough posit, with the crowd here at Stonekettle).

    That said, let me say this: you're dead right to complain about what you went through, and it's kind of you to be as considerate as you have been to others - especially airline personnel - that dispute or try and downplay your experience.

    If complaints aren't made, then it'll just get worse (it'll probably get worse even if complaints are made, but that's another line of acclimation to ponder).

    Best of, and Be well.

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  94. I very much enjoyed this post. I barely fly anymore because I just don't like the problems. But those of you talking of the glory days when airlines were much more regulated are forgetting what else changed since deregulation.

    Many, many, many more people are flying now. Prices came down which made airfare more affordable so more people could fly. So instead of a plane half full of business travelers, you now have a plane completely full of all sorts of people who would never have been able to get in the air in 1970.

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  95. I spent a long time reading this account and most of the comments. Seems we all have airline stories and those of us who are old enough can contrast the "Good Ol' Days" with the present. I've traveled internationally with and without family, babies, cats, and luggage. It has deteriorated steadily in the US. Younger people don't remember a time when meals were served (!) and there were plenty of airline employees to help. Now, it reminds me of some of the bus rides when passengers brought out their salami sandwiches and had live chickens caged under the seat.

    Out of all my experiences, I have one ironclad admonition: Do not travel on today's airlines in the US with a person who has Alzheimer's Disease. Not even if it's the last opportunity for her to see her siblings. She won't remember it, but you most assuredly will.

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  96. Oh Jim, you silly silly boy. Simply cut off all your limbs, fedex your various parts to your destination and reassemble. It's cheaper, safer and more painless than commercial air travel.

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  97. My comment is a little late, but if you all have never seen a show called Little Britain, you'll enjoy watching a you-tube segment of the show called "Computer says no." (About a customer trying to book a flight.)
    That segment goes through my head whenever I'm confronted by this kind of incompetence, especially when they blame it on the computer.
    I won't post a link, but do look it up. It goes perfectly with this story.
    BTW, Jim, you are my god.

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  98. I'm so glad your trip finally ended on a good note, all of you got home safe. I was traveling at the same time; every Facebook update on your disaster made me thankful I was going by train. While it took longer, I had a much more positive experience with Amtrak than I've ever had with airlines. It may be because everyone is aware and prepared for a long trip. You don't take the train if you're in a hurry; you take it for the experience and because your ears don't fly well.

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  99. Hats off to the bull. Love your stories. I hope you keep up the excellent writing.

    Cheers.

    Anthony

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  100. I love flying! I have a passion for flying! It's the next best thing to sex: and you can do it in public!
    Keep in mind thatI have not flown since May of 2011.
    I had flown in the RCAF between 1960 and 1965, Mostly in DC-3's.
    I have flown from Edmonton Alberta, Canada departing around 12 AM, to Vancouver, B.C.in a DC-3, on a beautiful clear day in May, below 10,000 feet and 160 MPH or whatever a DC-3 flies at. There was a stupendous view of the Rockies from South horizon to North Horizon like gigantic plough furrows. We were a few hundred feet above the peaks, one could almost reach down and touch them as you passed over them the mountain fell away down to the valleys thousands of feet below then swooping back up the side of a new mountain furrow.
    Then there was the July flight from Toronto, Ontario to Halifax in a C-119 Flying Boxcar; remember Johnny Hazard in the weekend comics? He flew C-119's! Noisy? Boy! I'll say! Two 3360 Horse Power Pratt and Whitney Radial engines bellowing away 15 feet away and the rear "barn doors" had a 2 or 3 inch gap where the slipstream blew in and you could look out with watering eyes and see the ground waaay below!
    But the flight that I remember most vividly is the flight from Chicago to New Orleans in a Douglas DC-8, July 1962. We were flying above a solid layer of pillow-clouds of the most dazzling White that I have ever seen. This was my first jet flight and the G forces as the aircraft was gently tugged in various directions gave a hint of the enormous invisible forces just outside the windows. Now I was a bit of a sentimental, (young), fool to paraphrase Groucho Marx, and I was blown away and became inspired to write on the back of a "Barf Bag", the poem that the RCAF has adopted as theirs. Doesn't that sound sissy? It was John Gillespie McGee's: "High Flight". Even as I write this I am getting chills up my back just thinking of it. Read it! You'll see! Anyway when the Stewardess happened by, I handed her the Bag. She took it with a distracted, Thank You, and disappeared up the isle. I was satisfied to just have passed on my sense of wonder of that flight.
    We soon arrived at New Orleans where I proceeded to depart via the Boarding Stairs, remember those? Am I dating myself or what! Just as I passed the stewardesses with their "Thank you, I hope fly with Delta again's", my poem recipient spotted me and joyfully exclaimed; that poem! It's beautiful! Did you write it? I agreed, pleased and a little embarrassed at the public attention, that it was beautiful! But alas, it was not mine, but John Gillespie McGee's.
    I like to think that over the years, that poem has given voice to countless travelers whose passion and love is flying.

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  101. For a number of years, I flew free, courtesy of overbooking. I booked on a busy day, first flight, got to the airport early, offered to be bumped. My sister only lived 20 minutes from the airport at the other end. Once or twice, I arrived in CA (from Kansas City) before I was originally scheduled to arrive. I collected free flights all the time. Not possible for most people, but it sure worked for me and allowed me to see my aging mother regularly.
    That said, it is nuts. I always book for plenty of margin to change planes. Once, I had booked to Montreal through Chicago with 3 hours in Chicago. Two days before the flight, I was informed that they had changed me to go through DC with 30 minutes between the flight. What? I was complaining at the gate about it when the pilot stepped over - same thing happened to the whole flight crew. He asked my seat number and assured me that he wouldn't take off for Montreal unless I was in my seat. Still, had I been planning to have a short meeting in Chicago, I would have been out of luck. It is a one way extortion, not a contract. They get to screw you anyway they want.

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  102. Mr. Jim Wright,
    During the time I was in training with the Royal Canadian Air Force I became friends with a women trainee. We parted, each transferring to other Stations. I lost track of her. I wish to send her a letter in the hope that like a note in the proverbial bottle it will somehow come to her attention.
    Would it be proper to place the letter in the comments section or would I be taking unfair advantage of your website and your good nature?
    Here is the letter:

    Gladys,
    Recently in a reflective mood, leafing through my family photographic album, painstakingly assembled by my mother before her death in 1985, I came across the photograph of you mounted on my blue Harley, goggles on your forehead, and a look of mischievous glee on you face. My heart lurched and I was instantly overwhelmed with sadness by memories of the past.
    We, both of us giddy with our youth then, were so confident of the heart-stirring prospects ahead of us! The whole world waited! Life could only get better! We had only to act to make our dreams come true!
    Most of my dreams did in fact, come to pass. To my wonder, I found myself working and living in lands, that as a young boy, poring over the maps of the world had then seemed as exotic and beyond my abilities as living on the moon.
    But I soon realized that to live this kind of life meant enduring time and again the sadness of parting with many friends and lovers. Memory is a poor substitute for the touch, the smell, the voice and the mind of a loved one. I, who had been content with my own company for most of my growing years found the unexpected sense of loss difficult to bear. Exchanging letters with some friends helped to ease the pain. Some of my friends lived in countries where to receive a letter from the outside could mean prison time or worse Then there were the friends who just disappeared without a trace.
    Many times over the years, I had entertained thoughts of searching for you, just to see how you were doing; if your life had turned out as well as I thought you deserved. Just as many times I had second thoughts, realizing that your life and your marriage was a private matter and my attempts to find you, if successful, would undoubtedly be an intrusion. It is a melancholy fact that friendships between men and women even today, must cease after their respective marriages.
    The shock of seeing your photograph in my album hit me hard, as so many years have gone by and to my utter surprise I am still alive and about to retire! Our time on earth shortens. I am 72 years old. That would make you 78. I remember you were 23 years old when I was seventeen. What a vast gulf of age seemed to separate us then, how small that gap seems to be now!
    Now I am determined to search for you. I cannot help but hope that any unpleasantness I might cause you and your family by my intrusion and any subsequent humiliation I might experience as a result of finding you would be far easier to bear than the pain of dying, without hearing from you, however briefly, after 53 years.

    David Chisholm
    8219 Madison Avenue,
    St. Louis, Missouri, 63114
    Last known facts about: Gladys Boisso n eault or Boisso nn eault or Boisso n ault or Boisso nn ault
    Age in June 1961: 23 years old

    Place of Birth: Unknown

    Occupation: Teletype Operator

    Place of Training: R.C.A.F. Station Clinton, Clinton Ontario

    Approximate date of graduation: May or June 1961

    First permanent place of work: R.C.A.F. Station Trenton, Ontario

    Approximate date of Marriage: June, July or August, (or later), 1961

    Place of Marriage: R.C.A.F. Station Trenton or City of Trenton or
    Unknown Location in New Brunswick

    Name of Groom: Unknown

    Occupation of Groom: Loadmaster

    Bride and Groom may have resigned from the R.C.A.F. about the time of their marriage and moved to an unknown location in New Brunswick


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