Monday, December 27, 2004

the grinch who stole my luggage

i had great fun visiting connie in san francisco for xmas. we had some great meals, went to union square and chinatown on xmas eve (it was a madhouse), & had chinese food delivered on xmas day. nothing too eventful: just pleasant memories with a special lady. i gave connie some old magazines from the 40s-60s & an art piece i made for her, where i did a google image search for "connie" & printed the most interesting results, then made a collage with them. connie's main present for me apparently didn't arrive in time, so i'll have to wait for that.

things not arriving in time & waiting... unfortunately, those were major themes of the trip. the actual visiting with connie stuff was good, but traveling there & back was awful.

i was worried about being stuck in the plane for hours during de-icing, but that didn't happen. no, the dread winter storm didn't even hit until i was in the air (then it dropped nine inches of snow), as i'd hoped. but that didn't mean my flight worries were over.

i was supposed to depart at 3:45pm. at 4pm, us airways staff finally came over the PA to acknowledge that our plane hadn't even showed up yet. anyone who had a connection in charlotte earlier than 6:30 should come up to the desk to be re-routed, they said. so i stood in line for 15 minutes or so, only to be told that they couldn't do anything for me at the desk by the gate, so i should go back to the ticket counter... on the other side of the security checkpoint.

after a bit more waiting in line, the ticket counter sets me up with a whole new flight plan on their sister airline, united, that took me through o'hare instead of charlotte. i took the opportunity to smoke a couple cigarettes before going back through security & left a message for connie to call me back so i could give her the new info. then, since my new flight wasn't scheduled to leave until after 6, i stopped for dinner & a drink at the dick clark's american bandstand. connie called me back, i gave her the new info, & i had some tasty southwestern eggrolls. everything seemed to be going fine.

so i was waiting at the gate when my cellphone rang. it was connie telling me that my flight was delayed. sure enough, i looked up & the screen now said my flight was delayed until (i think) 7:20. this only gave me 15-20 minutes to change over in o'hare, but i stuck with the new plan.

sure enough, i arrived in o'hare only 15mins before my next flight was scheduled to leave, so i powerwalked, then sprinted my way to my new gate, in a different terminal (of course; this was o'hare, after all). i reached the gate in time & while boarding asked the attendant what were the chances of my checked bag getting on the plane? he told me they were still loading baggage, & indeed the plane left a good 10-15min late because, they told us, of baggage. so i was appeased. the onflight movie was shark tale. capsule review: don't waste your money. i could elaborate for paragraphs on why this movie was mediocre, but i won't here. if you really want to know, ask.

finally i got to SFO where connie was waiting... but my suitcase was not. once the conveyor stopped moving & it was clear my suitcase was not going to appear, we got in the long-ass line for united baggage claim customer service. eventually i got to file a claim & was told that if the delivery service hadn't called by 10am the next morning, i should call the united baggage claim hotline, an 800 number. so we grabbed a taxi & went back to connie's house. i had no clean clothes, & no presents for connie.

over the course of the next day, i got to know simon (the voice recongition united baggage claim hotline) pretty intimately. but my bag didn't show up the next day. we ended up sticking around the house in until dinnertime, in case it showed up. we finally did go out that night to meet one of connie's coworkers for a tasty indian dinner, but if i hadn't been worrying about my delayed bag, we might've gone out earlier & i might've been able to do some record shopping while i was out there.

in united's version of a christmas miracle, they delivered my bag to me at about 2:40pm on xmas eve (simon had said it would be there between 10:30 and 2:30). i was finally able to relax the rest of the way & we had a good night tromping through chinatown, shopping & trying to locate the building where my grandfather once lived. then we had a nice sushi dinner & went home to relax.

we spent most of xmas day relaxing at home, watching dvds & live tv, eating chinese food. it was fun, though not particularly interesting to read about.

the next day we got up early, showered, & made our way to SFO. we ate breakfast at subway then said our painful goodbyes before i entered the line to go through security.

i boarded on schedule, though our plane sat on the runway for a good 45mins awaiting clearance to turn around & take off. but the pilot assured us that thanks to good winds and sky conditions, we would still arrive on time. the onflight movie was supposed to be first daughter, which i was not remotely interested in watching, but something funky was going on: vertical hold problems and bad image quality. so before long an attendant came over the PA to announce that something was wrong with the tape, & she was going to put in elf instead. it was funny. so here's a reminder: shark tale: not worth it. elf: funny.

the plane was a 747 divided into three columns of seats. i was in the middle column. to my right was an attactive young couple. to my left was a youngish mother: her husband and two young kids were in the left column. her young son was very well-behaved & slept most of the flight. but her daughter, no more than 4-5 years old, spent the bulk of the flight whining, bitching, & truly capturing the essence of the annoying bratty child. in contrast, in front of me was a very young child, no more than 2, who made virtually no noise the whole time, & peered at me through the seats with big cute eyes.

anyway, we did indeed arrive at o'hare within 5 minutes of schedule. but when i got off the plane i discovered that my connecting flight to indy had been delayed, from 7:45pm to 8:32pm. now that i had a layover of more than 2 hours, i searched valiantly for a smoking lounge, then simply for a way outside so i could smoke. finding a way out was not easy. my father had been supposed to pick me up from the airport, but now i had a cellphone that barry (my brother in law) was going to do it instead, because now dad was sick. so i called home & gave the news that my flight was delayed a bit. then i finally made it outside & smoked.

once i was inside & through security again, i noticed on the boards that now my flight wasn't scheuled to leave until 9:27. so i searched for an atm, then a bar in my terminal where i could have dinner & a drink.

once i was done there, i discovered that the boards said my flight would now leave at 10:20. i called home again, & my sister suggested i take a taxi home. barry was already asleep, & i wouldn't be arriving at home until after midnight. so taxi it was.

i sat down somewhat near the gate (it was very crowded), occasionally glancing up at the board. suddenly, i looked up & my flight had vanished from the board entirely. i panicked & jumped in a line for several minutes until it became clear that the woman running that line didn't know anything helpful. i darted off to the united customer service desk, but the line was ridiculous so i went back to the gates & got in a different line. the board now claimed that my flight had departed. eventually someone comes on the PA & announces that my flight is now scheduled to depart at 10:40. then it was bumped back up to 10:20. there was another indy flight after ours that was delayed even further.

as the time neared, i got up & stood semi-impatiently near the gate. but we never started boarding. the rumor started to circulate that our plane was there (indeed it was right at the gate) but there was no crew to operate it. the boards still said our flight had departed, but someone announced that our flight was now pushed back until 1:25am, & they would put us up in a hotel if we wanted. i wasn't sure i wanted to go to a hotel, but i got in line to reserve the option. that is, after calling in to work to say there was no chance i would make it in.

some time later, a crew arrived, but they thought they were headed to buffalo. indy passengers pleaded with them to fly us to indy. i got out of line. but no, it was announced that the plane we'd thought was ours was in fact going to buffalo, & our plane was due to land at 12:50.

foiled, i sat back down & waited for the new 1:25 flight time. the buffalo crew came out into the concourse with their drink cart, passing out sodas & party mix to those of us who had been waiting so many hours.

surprisingly, our plane actually did land sometime before 1 & we got to board. first class was virtually empty, so an attendant asked a few of us in the back to come up front, for counterbalance purposes. but then we sat there in the plane until after 2am before finally taking off.

we finally arrived in indy after 4am. i had a cigarette & a bathroom break before going to the baggage claim. the airport was dead except for us & a small number of employees. the baggage claim carousel started up... & soon it became clear that most of our bags were not there. a bunch of us got in line at the baggage claim service desk & filed our complaints. we were told that another flight would be arriving in an hour or so, & our bags might be on it, but i wasn't going to wait for that after being stuck in o'hare for more than 7 hours. so i caught a taxi & went home. i got home at about 5:30am. no real reason was ever given for the delays, other than the butterfly effect: someone somewhere slipped on a banana peel, delaying one flight, which caused more flights to be delayed, which eventually caused a couple hundred united passengers to be stuck in o'hare for hours waiting for our planes to show up.

fortunately, this time around united was able to return my bag the next day: it was delivered here shortly before 4pm. my ordeal is over (except for the call to customer service that i feel almost obligated to make... maybe filing a complaint online would suffice).

now it's late & i am still jetlagged. tomorrow i return to work, after getting an extra day off thanks to united's ineptitude. i don't think i'll ever fly united or us airways again... unless they give me some serious vouchers to make up for their terrible service.

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