Sunday, March 01, 2009

And Back to Texas

Passport renewed. Vacation over. It's time to go back to work. Back to Texas.

Or maybe not. I'm at the airport. At check-in, the agent told me that the airplane I was going out on was still on the ground at its point of origin, thanks to freezing rain there. Understandable.

"Do you have more flights to Dallas if I miss my connection?" I asked.

"Oh yes, there's a 5 pm and an 11 pm flight," she says.

Charming. I'm supposed to be in Dallas at five. But weather doesn't cause me stress. That's the province of unscrupulous telemarketers. I have a two hour connection, and freezing rain is usually a short-lived phenomenon, a transitional state between snow and rain. It should be fine. I smile, say something polite, and submit my 48.4 lb suitcase for tagging.

In the departure lounge the airline is good about keeping us updated. The aircraft is enroute, thirty minutes out, so we should be departing at 10:05. Then another update. The airplane has called in range a few minutes early, so we will be able to board at ten. Then another announcement, prefaced by the warning that this is not good news. "The aircraft is at the gate, but ..."

What will the but be? Mechanical? Commuting crew stranded somewhere? No, it's fog at the connecting airport. We're now facing an "indefinite delay". She promises more updates and soon gives us one. The weather at destination is deteriorating. "We need to wait until RVR is at 600 level, right now it's at 400."

I don't know if she knows what that means, but I do. The runway visual range transmissiometer registers a visibility of 400 feet in the touchdown zone. Not enough, for safe identification of the runway environment before committing to land. Fog is a phenomenon notorious for its persistence. I could be here for a while.

The next announcement comes at 10:15. We will be boarding at 10:30. She doesn't know when that means we will take off, but suggests maybe 11:00? I've heard lots of horror stories of passengers being loaded onto airplanes and kept captive there for hours and hours. I'd better stock up on food and water. But they've heard the same horror stories and before 10:30 there's another announcement that they won't be boarding after all. It's still an indefinite delay.

This is rough for them. If it were me flying, I could replan my flight to refuel at a different city, but they have to get these passengers there. Except the connecting passengers. And they are already looking at the connecting passengers. Right now they are rebooking passengers who have overseas connections, sending them back through the terminal to other gates and other flights so they can get where they are going. I approve. They'll get to me soon.

It's now 11:35. There's no internet here. I've already transferred all the phone numbers from my old cellphone into my new one, done two sudoku puzzles and read the blogs I downloaded before leaving home. Now what?

Write my own blog entries in Notepad and play minesweeper, I guess.

The flight finally boards around 12:30, but mysteriously leaves half empty, stranding passengers with the same destination who were ticketed on later flights that were simply cancelled. Somehow this makes sense to the airline.

My connecting flight is long gone, but I see from my online itinerary (this airport does have internet) that the airline has already booked another one for me. I can't check in online or at a kiosk, though. (I tried). I have to stand in a customer service line for about 20 minutes to get my boarding pass. As I get to the counter the agent excuses herself for a moment to go over to the queue, to kick people who aren't flying First Class out of the First Class line. One guy has a temper tantrum, claiming he never saw any sign and that he's been waiting there an hour. He's full of it: that line had maybe three people in it when I arrived, and he wasn't one of them. It only grew long in the last five or ten minutes. The agent returns and issues my boarding pass, and after more waiting and another flight, I get to Dallas at 11:15 p.m.

That's not the end of my day, though. I'm typing this while waiting for my baggage to arrive on the carousel. It hasn't, and people are slowly giving up and drifting over to the monstrous lost baggage line. I don't want to give up hope, but my next step is to rent a car and drive three hours, so perhaps I should get in that line before it gets any longer. The rumour is that with the cancelled and bumped flights our luggage has been lost somewhere.

That doesn't make a lot of sense, because there has been plenty of time for the bags to get on the correct plane at each stop. But I suppose airline baggage handling doesn't always make sense. Another customer smiles as the baggage agent can be heard on the phone, "Well you'd better find it! You should see how many people I have waiting here!" In the end the carousel starts up again and the lost luggage arrives.

I rent a car and drive east. Texas has good roads. I think I may have run over an already flattened skunk. It's also possible that the car is just permeated with some kind of air freshener I can't stand. Yes, the smell is so strong I can't distinguish between distant skunk and proximal industrial air freshener. Just kind of burns out my nose, I guess. I have one more complaint about that car. When the ignition is turned off, all the doors automatically unlock. I suppose it is supposed to be a convenience feature? Let me tell you, when you're a woman travelling alone, and you've pulled into a rest area in the middle of nowhere and reclined your seat for a few minutes nap, it is not a sense of convenience you feel when you open your eyes and realize that the door you carefully locked before departure and have never unlocked is now open, as is every other lock in the car. A convenience feature for whom? Parking lot rapists? I originally wrote "Chevrolet engineers losing your jobs in the current economy, I do not weep for you. What were you thinking?" but then I remembered that the last time I made a comment of that sort on the blog, I got a response from an engineer who had worked on the very project I was lamenting and marketing had overruled his protests. So I just weep for everyone. I do that a lot. I cried at the ending of Bee Movie, which I have seen now four times. Just the ending: I have never seen the beginning.

Back on the road and I reach my hotel. The register marks me as a "no-show" as I check in, but they still have the room. Long day. It's the sort of thing that makes me want to copy Dave and say "life on the line continues." Different sort of line, though.


nec Timide said...

Yes, GM cars have ridiculus operating parameters for ancillary controls. For years the place I work at had a standing agreement with a place that rented only GM products. GRRRR.

Glad you made it despite bad weather, luggage handling and uncooperative cars.

Jim Mantle said...

I understand.

Wenesday it took me 16 hours to get from Ottawa to Minneapolis. Mostly my fault when I missed the initial flight.

But coming home was a cluster-f*** of the usual magnitude, taking 11 hours, two routings, a rebooking error to get back. And my suitcase has not yet joined me.

Generally, the System works well. But when it burps the result is generally ugly.

dpierce said...

After checking for scratches and adjusting the mirrors, the first thing I do in a rental is try to navigate the car's (usually obscenely obtuse) menu system to turn off all the nanny features.

I don't want it locking or unlocking doors for me, turning the lights on or off for me, or honking the horn idiotically when I use the remote entry. I'd even prefer a manual transmission, but there's no chance of that in North America.

Anonymous said...

600' RVR minimum = CAT IIIa?

The schedule reliability of connecting itineraries is so awful that I really wonder about the point of publishing estimated arrival times in units more precise than 12 hour blocks.

I've never been less than two hours late when connecting--and this is on WJA, not AC or any of the scummy US-based airlines.

jinksto said...

A few years ago I made 29 flights between ORD and Jackson Ms. That flight only connects through DFW for American Airlines. Of those 29 flights the connecting flight to Jackson left on schedule exactly once.... that one time happened to coincide nicely with the one time that my flight from ORD to DFW was late causing me to miss the last connection of the day. It finally got to the point that when people asked when I'd be arriving I'd just say, "sometime tomorrow". I later switched to a SWA flight that flew direct, was always on time and never lost my stuff... awesome... even if I did have to sit in the "backwards" seats occasionally.

N6349C said...

For those who live in Dallas, DFW is the greatest - easy in, easy out, good choice of flights. I lived elsewhere for 6 years, and saw the other side of DFW when I had to make a connection, as about 85% of all arrivals do, or get checked luggage and rent a car. It stunk then with long walks, unpredictable connections, and a car rental facility in a different county reached by buses that never came.

But we do have good roads! You would have flown almost right over my house - near the COVIE INT on the Bonham 5 STAR, normally assigned to arrivals from the North East.

Anonymous said...

You folks should live in London.

Some of the gates at Gatwick are so far from the check-in or carousel that frequent fliers can enter the London Marathon with no other training.

As for Heathrow, remember the FO who had a religious breakdown when doomed to land there? He mistook it for Purgatory, like many other visitors.

Anonymous said...

Your quote "The aircraft is at the gate, but ...", Is right up there with the following.

At KEWR anytime the Cockpit crew comes on the PA after the door is closed and before takeoff it's never going to be "good" news.