This is a story I wish I didn’t have to tell, not because it’s particularly tragic or sad, but because I’m sure it is the same story that thousands of travelers have been telling this year. I also don’t want to tell it because the misery associated with it is so fresh in my mind, and though now I am through it and safely on the other side, reminiscing about it is such a viscerally painful thought, that I’d rather do anything but recount it.
What I wish I could write instead of what story I’m about to tell is that we flew to Colorado Springs for my husband’s business trip, had a wonderful, uneventful journey and returned home in the exact condition in which we left. But I can’t. Not even close. With all the preparations we had made leading up to the trip, you would have believed the previous few sentences without question. We had done everything that we normally do. We packed thoughtfully, checked in online the night before to ensure our reservations were correct, even picked out seat assignments. We went to bed that evening assured that we had done all we could to be ready, and we were so excited to go on this adventure to a place I had never been.
The nightmare began at the check-in counter at the airport. We normally fly U.S. Airways, but this trip was booked through my husband’s corporate travel agency, and they didn’t have many options with our preferred carrier. I’ve never flown United, but had hoped that they would be equivalent to the experience we’d always had with U.S. Airways. The trouble started when we entered the confirmation number for our flight and only one passenger showed up: me.
According to the ticketing agent, my husband’s ticket had been “refunded weeks ago.” This sounded impossible since we were able to view his ticket and even see his seating assignment online as recently as the night before. The agent offered to sell us an additional ticket for him for $800, but all his purchases had to go through his corporate travel agency, and there was no way his company could authorize such a hefty purchase.
It took forever to get through to someone on the phone at his travel agent’s office, but once we did, we were able to get his reservation squared away. The agency indicated that they had no knowledge of this refund or cancellation, and that the error was on United’s side things. Of course, the agent who had all the empathy of a brick wall offered no reaction at all to our situation, not even apologizing for the error that her employer had made. This would be an omen of things to come down the road.
Foolishly thinking that our troubles were behind us, we left our checked bags with the agent and headed through security. For the first time since the policies were put in place, I was subjected to an enhanced pat down, which wasn’t uncomfortable in the least, considering the discomfort we had already experienced at the ticket counter. After that, we grabbed breakfast and headed to the terminal to await our flight.
The gate for our departure was in the wing of the Philadelphia International Airport that included a play area for children. The sounds of screaming, unsupervised children were a bit grating at that hour of the day. Beyond that, the televisions in the gate area were tuned loudly into a political news channel which made it very difficult to hear the announcement that our flight was boarding. By the time we had lined up, half the plane had boarded, but there was some sort of delay.
As we stood waiting with the remainder of the passengers to board, the crowd began to grow ever more impatient. The minutes ticked by as it became less and less likely that we would be able to make our connecting flight in Chicago. Considering we only had about an hour to do so if the flight would leave on time, our stress level and blood pressure began to rise. It was obvious there were many others on this flight connecting as well, and the worried looks, loud sighs and frequent watch checking was making for a ticking time bomb of air rage.
Finally, with the flight delayed almost 40 minutes, I approached the counter to find out what our options were. The airline employees demonstrated the same level of complete apathy to our situation, but checked the computer to see what the options were. Our flight was supposed to leave at 11:00 and connect with the Colorado Springs flight at 11:45 (accounting for the time change). The next available flight wasn’t until 6:00. It was pretty obvious that we were definitely going to miss our connection and wouldn’t be getting in until very late. Beyond that, the day we had planned to spend in Colorado Springs was now lost and we would have to kill the next six hours in an airport.
The airline employee who informed me of this seemed less than sympathetic, and I began to wonder if they simply employed individuals with a genetic mental defect that prevents empathy or if they removed that part of their brains during employee orientation. During the delay, not one of the employees demonstrated a simple human response to any of the goings-on, which was more infuriating than the delay. A worried look or a frustrated shake of the head every once in a while would have gone a long way to getting us through this situation, but the fact that they seemed to 1) not give a crap about what was going on and 2) the inability for them to have any kind of fire under their ass about helping the inevitably screwed among us made the DMV feel like a “free hugs” love in.
Eventually the rest of the passengers were permitted to board, but by then it was far too late. We took our seats, which were the very last row of the plane and strapped in for the fruitless journey. By the time the plane touched down, our connection was already in the air. The gentlemen sitting next to me, who intermittently gave off rank foot and pure garlic aromas noted that his connection was also missed, like half the people on the plane. What he did say, was that the delay wasn’t for something mechanical like engine repair or landing gear, but for a faulty armrest. An armrest delayed 60 people from their connection, and it wasn’t even fixed when we got on the plane. As we deplaned, I noticed it sitting halfway up in one of the window seats like a giant extended middle finger in my direction. I was speechless.