Monday, December 31, 2012

Travel Woes Saga Part II

Of course United lost my suitcase. Or, to be more precise, they failed to put it on the plane. When I arrived at my final destination of Colorado Springs, and went to retrieve my suitcase from the carousel, 't'weren't there. There was another, exactly like mine -- I even pulled it off the carousel, thinking it was mine -- but the name on the tag was not Normancamp (airlines can't do hyphens). Later, when there was no sign of another big, dark blue bag, and no one had yet claimed this big blue bag -- and all the waiting passengers had faded away -- in desperation I unzipped the case and took a peek inside. But no, those thick, nicely folded sweaters were definitely not mine. And yes, it was time to get in the Lost Baggage line. Anyone who has had this happen will know how my heart sank.

This was at about 2 p.m. on Sunday. The woman said the earliest the suitcase would be in was 8 that night, but by the way she said it, I knew the bag would not be in until the following day, if then. (At the time she wasn't even sure where the case was; all she could say for sure was that there "was no record of its having left Portland.")

In the event, I didn't get my suitcase until 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve, but which time I'd missed the church service my sister, brother and I were supposed to attend together (I'm not a religious person at all, but my two siblings are, and attending a Christmas Eve service with them was something I had actually been rather looking forward to, especially as Ellen's church goes in in a big way for beautiful music -- but they went while I waited for the suitcase to be delivered), and had to go to the lovely Christmas Eve dinner at the very nice Broadmoor Hotel -- something we'd all been looking forward to -- in an outfit cobbled together from odds and ends from my sister's closet and jewelry box.

This latter development was especially upsetting for me. My life pretty much fits into the Never-Goes-Anywhere-or-Does-Anything category -- certainly I never go anywhere where I get to Dress Up, which is actually something I enjoy doing -- and here was my big chance, and the outfit I'd carefully put together...which included a new pair of black velvet pants I had painstakingly hemmed the day before leaving, and a red glittery top that I love but never have occasion to was lying in my suitcase, on some delivery truck that had supposedly left the airport at 1 p.m., but as of 5:30 p.m. when we had to leave to make our dinner reservation, had still not put in an appearance.

I made numerous irate phone calls during the course of the afternoon/evening -- a very pleasant aspect of Christmas Eve, needless to say -- to the inevitable 800 number with people with heavy East Indian accents assuring me that they would be glad to check on that for me. Finally, when we returned from our dinner at almost 9 p.m., and the bag had still not been delivered, I called and told the fellow, "In a town this size they could have delivered 200 suitcases in the 8 hours that have expired since I was first told my bag had left the airport and was on its way to the address I had indicated." The fellow went away to "contact the baggage delivery service," came back and said someone from that company would "personally deliver the bag to me within 10 minutes." I went outside in the freezing cold and walked up and down in front of Ellen's garage to keep the motion-activated light coming on so that no one could miss the big address numbers on her garage. When this fellow in a private automobile showed up I was astounded, expecting a delivery truck. He told me he'd personally "rescued" my bag from the delivery truck (no doubt because of all the calls I kept making), and seemed to think I should be mighty grateful. "I've been waiting 8 hours for this bag to be delivered!" I exclaimed. "Well, I'm sorry, ma'm, but we had over 700 parcels to deliver. And some people have been waiting weeks for their bags."

WHAT?! I had assumed that what was being delivered were however few (one would hope) suitcases United had managed to lose in the past, say, 24 hours. I had figured maybe 50 or 60 bags, tops. But was delivering bags that had been shipped, rather than just bags that weren't on the baggage carousel when they were supposed to be. 700 of them! God only knows when I would have received my bag, if I hadn't been the proverbial squeaky wheel.

Since these two recent trips of mine, with all their various problems and frustrations, I have discovered that United has a terrible reputation for baggage handling, flights not being on-time, and customer service in general. Now I find out! Well, now I've seen it all up close and personal, and the disgusted letter is on its way to United CEO Jeff Smisek.

And we haven't even gotten to my homeward connecting flight being cancelled, and my having to "overnight in Chicago."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas travel woes

My Christmas travel plans were laid waste in the way I'm sure many of you out there have experienced at some point, but I never had. Obviously I've been lucky, but my luck ended in such a way that I've sworn never to travel at Christmastime again, at least by air, and never to travel by United Airlines, if I can possibly help it. That latter promise to myself may be harder to keep, since United is practically the only airlines that services the Portland Jetport (as it pretentiously calls itself). Continental used to fly in and out of Portland, but has now been eaten up by United. U.S. Airways supposedly services Portland, but my flights, which were all originally listed as U.S. Airways flights, were in fact United Airlines flights; U.S. Airways would seem to be just a front for United. (The industry has become incredibly complex and confusing, as to who owns whom.) Delta does service Portland, but its tickets are always considerably more expensive than United's. Caught between a rock and a hard place here.

At first I thought things were going to go better than they did for my trip to Colorado Springs at the beginning of December (when I went for a week to look after my sister who was about to have hip replacement surgery). On that trip, on the way down to Portland, I was driving through rain that was, as a matter of fact, ice. I kept screaming, "I can't fucking SEE!" Twice I had to pull over -- barely being able to see to pull over -- and scrape ice off the windshield. It was scary as hell.

But after that unpropitious start, the trip went o.k. Well, until the return trip, when the plane from Colorado Springs was two hours late leaving (we were informed first, after quite a wait, that "your plane is now leaving the hanger," then that it "has had to return to the hanger for servicing," and finally that another plane "will be replacing your original plane."), resulting in my having to run like hell to catch my connecting flight in Chicago, sure that I was going to miss it, and then being treated very rudely by two of the crew, who didn't seem to think that an obviously no-longer-young woman gasping for breath while trying to learn if her plane had already left, called for any kind of courtesy or concern. But other than that...

This time I had a beautifully clear, if extremely cold, night to drive through. I left in plenty of time, was not feeling rushed or tense in the least. But then...

First, there wasn't an indoor parking place to be found at the "jetport." I drove 'round and 'round that parking garage, to no avail; I was stuck with outside parking. And since I knew it would snow sometime between then and my return, I could just see me, at 11:30 at night, after my long trip home, shoveling out my car (which is exactly what happened).

But for now I accepted the unavoidable, and trundled my suitcase inside. Where there was a line at the United counter, but not too formidable a line. However. That line did not move one iota -- or by one single person -- for twenty-five minutes. There were two groups of people at the counter -- a group of young men traveling together, and a family with a child in a wheelchair -- and they both obviously had problems, which took forever to be resolved. And as a matter of fact the problems for the family were not resolved, since they finally moved away from the counter looking grim-faced, while the father yelled at the agent behind the counter "You're stranding a whole family! And you don't even care!' He was a moment later threatening loudly that what they were going to do was call the newspapers, which led me to suspect the problem had to do with the child in the wheelchair. It was very unpleasant for every-body, and unfortunate for the family.

During all this time I couldn't fathom why no agent had been assigned to take care of everybody else, while the two problem groups were dealt with. There was one fellow up there doing absolutely nothing but watching. Was he in training? Was this the right time to have someone just standing and watching? When the problem groups had at last been dispatched, and we were inching forward, one of the agents came out from behind the counter, undid the guide cord next to the woman behind me, and indicated she should move to one of the free kiosks. I looked at him in astonishment and said, "Excuse me, but I'm in front of her. And there are people in front of me!" Why on earth hadn't he gone to the person at the front of the line? He looked at me blankly, replaced the cord, went back behind the counter and spent the next 10 minutes typing away at his keyboard, helping absolutely nobody.

In a nutshell what I saw that early morning was the biggest display of disorganization and incompetence I've ever seen at an airlines counter. By the time I reached the only agent who seemed to be doing anything, he spent an astounding amount of time plying his keyboard, without any apparent result. He finally told me he was not going to charge me for my bag (I was paying cash, so could not do it through the kiosk), because he'd "tried twice, and it wouldn't take." He then, finally, handed me my boarding pass, after writing a big S on it, and saying he was having to place me on Standby basis. "What?!" I all but yelled. "I have a confirmed reservation!" "Yes, but it's a matter of time; you are now in danger of missing the flight." "I've been standing in this line for 40 minutes waiting for the line to move," I sputtered. "Yes, well I'm sorry, you're going to have to run."

So once again this no-longer-young woman had to run, down to the escalators, up the escalators, through Security (where, fortunately for me, there was no line at all), back down the stairs to the gate area, and then the whole length of said area, to the farthest gate, making one breathless stop at a shop to buy a water, because I must have water to drink, and of course Security makes you throw away your bottled water so you can't use it to bomb the plane. I was beyond pissed.

And the worst was yet to come, Had I But Known.