Monday, September 14, 2009

Flight fiasco

Saturday morning we left at 7:30 am ET for the 2 hour drive to the airport in Philly. We arrived in plenty of time and made our way to the self-check in kiosk and then to the security entrance. As expected, we had to remove nearly 1/2 our clothing before being allowed to walk through the scanner.

I heard a TSA agent asking no one specific if there were any large electronics like a computer in their suitcase. I said "Yes", to which he replied "Take it out." No "please", no "if you don't mind", just "Take it out." I quickly unzipped my bag and pulled out my laptop. An agent who looked to be about 55 years old handed me a plastic bin into which I was supposed to place the laptop. I said to him "Oh, that's okay. I'm just going to put this into the same bin with my shoes and belt." This seemed perfectly logical to me. One bin, one person. There was plenty of room in the bin with my shoes. However the agent said "Computers don't go in the same bin with shoes" in such a tone as if EVERYONE should know this. "That's why I handing you this bin!" I mean, how STUPID of me to think that I could place my laptop in the same bin as my shoes! Surely this is the first chapter in the "TSA for Dummies" manual I've never heard of but he read in order to get that job.

I sent the suitcase, bin of shoes and belt, and bin of laptop through the scanner, then I walk through the personal scanner. It beeps accusingly. "You've still got metal on you" the TSA agent states. I start patting my front and back pockets but they are empty. Then I realize I'm wearing cargo shortly and that I'd left my cell phone in the lower side pocket. Feeling like an idiot at this point, I go back through the scanner, drop the cell phone into a plastic dog food bowl, send it through the scanner, and walk back through the personal scanner. Finally, success but I felt so dirty and cheap. I was allowed to collect and put on my shoes and belt, put my cell phone back in my pocket, collect my computer and place it back into my suitcase. I felt violated and exhausted and it was only 9:30 in the morning!

We proceeded to the gate, took a seat and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally the gate agent announced that we would not be boarding at the scheduled time because the aircraft had not arrived yet. They estimated it would arrive 20 minutes after its scheduled arrival, and that those with connections elsewhere would be fine. However, our plane arrived 30 minutes after it was scheduled to depart, and had to be unloaded, cleaned, and then loaded back up. We finally left almost an hour later than scheduled. We had the sick feeling we were not going to make our connecting flight in Minneapolis.

The pilot announced that we would make up some of the time due to tail winds, and suggested we may still be able to make our connections. However, when we got close to Minneapolis the pilot was told to circle for a while due to other outgoing and incoming air traffic. We finally landed but were not permitted to taxi to our gate. The pilot announced that from the left side of the plane we could see Air Force One on the tarmac. All airport traffic was ordered to stop in its tracks as we awaited the Presidential Motorcade's approach. Sure enough we saw the motorcade proceed to Air Force One where the President (assumedly) and others boarded the plane and took off.

We were hopeful that the temporary air traffic stoppage might be enough for us to scramble to our connecting flight. But a few minutes later we began to taxi toward our gate when the pilot stopped the plane and announced that the previous aircraft had not yet vacated our gate, and that we would have to wait until it did. Our hearts sunk along with our hopes for a smooth trip to Portland.

Once we got to the gate and off the plane we learned the gate location for our connecting flight was on the other side of the airport. (Why do they schedule them that way?) So with bags in tow we raced to the other end of the airport and to our designated gate. However, when we approached the check-in gate, the destination on the monitor was not Portland anymore. Our plane had left and the gate was now assigned to another flight.

We explained our situation to the very nice gate agent who placed a quick call on our behalf. When he hung up he said "We're going to put you on a flight to Seattle that leaves in 15 minutes, and then its just another short shuttle from Seattle down to Portland." As he tore off our boarding passes and handed them to us he said "You need to hurry. This flight is at gate C1." We had arrived at gate C4, run to the other side of the airport, only to be sent right back to the same place we'd arrived! Again with bags in tow we raced back to the C concourse and found our gate. I thrust our boarding passes into the gate agent's hand between heaves of breath. "Oh here you are!" she exclaimed. "John (the first gate agent) called us about you. We announced your names several times over the speaker." As she stamped our boarding passes and handed them back to us she said "Enjoy your flight!"

Fortunately we had no trouble stowing our carry-ons even though the plane was almost at capacity, and settled into our seats. The couple in front of us had a 21-month old child who was badly behaved and screamed and shrieked frequently. His parents seemed rather old for having a child that age so we figured he was a 'later in life' baby whom they were obviously spoiling. About 1/2 way through the flight they called the flight attendant over and worriedly explained that while walking through the plane their son had picked up a peanut and eaten it. Of course, he has a peanut allergy! So there was all kind of drama in front of us with the doting parents and the suspected/anticipated allergic reaction. The flight attendant called ahead and requested paramedics to be on the tarmac when we touched down in Seattle. The child didn't appear to be any worse for wear and continued his bad behavior, much to the dismay of the other passengers.

Our arrival in Seattle at 4:30 PT (7:30 ET) was smooth and we finally had an opportunity to get something to eat and use the restroom. It had been 12 hours since we'd left our house and we were both hungry and eager to relieve ourselves. The restroom on the planes always had a constant waiting line so neither of us used them. I noticed several people who used the restroom more than once, which I found curious.

We boarded the shuttle in Seattle and were delighted with the short duration of the flight and the darling flight attendant. I don't know why, but she and I just bonded instantly. She seemed to be in a giddy mood and I was practically spent so I was nearly giddy too. As the senior flight attendant gave the oral safety message, our flight attendant demonstrated the message with those canned gestures. At one point she made me laugh out loud when demonstrating the 'no smoking' part of the message by waving a single finger back and forth and then simulating removing a cigarette from her mouth. She winked at me when she saw me laugh. That 25 minute flight was the one and only positive experience.

We got into Portland at 6:45 PT (9:45 ET), which meant we'd been in transit for over 14 hours. But our weariness soon changed to smiles when we were greeted by the Newlyweds. Possibly noting our weariness they grabbed our bags from us and carried them to the car. In a flash we were back at their house enjoying cocktails and grilled chicken, eggplant, corn on the cob, and tomato basil salad on their patio.

It was quite a trek, but we survived.

Crush du Jour: Pedro Veral


Java said...

I haven't flown in a while, and I'm not eager to do so.
Enjoy your Portland vacation!

Anonymous said...

Flying is an adventure in more ways than one now.

Yes, the President was in Minneapolis on Saturday. A lot was shut down while he was here.

Come visit me in Minneapolis one of these days!

BlogMarkBlog said...

Did you have a chance to visit the Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig Restroom while in Minneapolis? I remember having a run through Minneapolis a few years ago with a connection from DC to Aspen. I barely made it and my luggage didn't make it. I assume you had no checked bags, because there is no way they would have made it. Enjoy Portland. I love that place!

A Lewis said...

But, wait, you said sounds perfectly normal and routine to me. I'm glad you're here....relaxing and hopefully enjoying. Hope we can have coffee or something tomorrow (I do have today/daytime free as well....). And that little commuter carrier from SEA-PDX...that's who I worked for for 4- years.

behrmark said...

What an ordeal! I'm impressed with your positive attitude and outlook; that really helps in those situations. I don't understand why air travel has to be so complicated and taxing. Beats driving though.

LOVE LOVE LOVE the crush du jour. Grrr, woof, and other assorted animal noises.

Enjoy yourselves in Portland! Behr Hugs!

Stephen said...

This account makes me want to give up traveling... yikes!
I hope you have a great Monday in Portland. I hear the people are nice there.

David Dust said...

I glad you (eventually) made it there in one piece!!


Larry Ohio said...

I've run across so many TSA folks, especially women, who are jerks just because they have the power to be so without fear of repercussion. Sad but true.

I got down to the Crush du Jour and popped a major one. Thank you for that!

Unknown said...

Flying hasn't been fun for many years. I prefer to drive when I can.

And I will join the chorus of people who adore the Crush Du Jour!

Anonymous said...

Flying simply sucks. We need high speed rail to criss-cross this country. Do 4 or so horizontal lines (E/W), same number of vertical lines (N/S).

But look at it this way, it took 14 hours to go cross country. It took us 14 hours to just jump 700 miles up the east coast.

cb said...

You obviously don't fly very much. What you described is pretty much every flight experience I've had since 9/11.

anne marie in philly said...

OMFG...the crush du jour...pant pant pant

and your description of air travel is why I have not flown since 1990 and never will's amtrak or drive or stay home!

Bugsy said...

Glad you all made it! Whew!

Angel said...

what a fiasco MArk! whenever I fly, I'm al wasy afraid this will happen to me. UGH.

But I'm glad you finally made it there!


tornwordo said...

Yeah, that sounds pretty normal to me. I've learned to choose flights with additional connection times, it makes the journey longer but you have less chance of missing your connection. Have fun in Portland!

Victor said...

Well, I'm glad you made it there safely!