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August 14, 2007

European Camp Daddy - Day 16: On The Wings Of An Albatross


We catch the 5:00 a.m. shuttle from our hotel in New Jersey to the Philadelphia airport for our 7:55 a.m. flight. We get to the airport with plenty of time and United funnels us into their self check-in line but the kiosk deflects our attempts to check in so we turn to the "Rudest Agent of the Week" for assistance. She has a plaque hanging on steel chain around her neck proudly proclaiming her status and she wears a leather muzzle like an Army dog in training.

She will not help us, of course, but points us to another queue, and then reprimands us for standing in line the wrong way. Probably the last little henpeck was just to maintain her status in the gate agent pecking order.

When it was finally our time to meet the lone gate agent face to face, I knew in an instance we were in trouble. She had no clue how to issue our boarding tickets. This, in spite of the fact that we both had itineraries, with reservation numbers, ticket numbers, names, passports, you name it. Everything was in the system. All she had to do was punch out some boarding passes, but it was not to be.

So, we just sat down on the floor before the lone "Most Incompetent Agent" and she fiddled with the machine for some time while we waited, in great angst and trepidation below the ticket counter.

Finally, she announced she had printed no less than four boarding passes for us. I glanced at them, and handed them back promptly.

"Would it be too much for you to seat us together?" I asked. "She's only nine."

"Well, if she's only nine, then you have to be seated together." She sniffed. As if if were somehow my fault that she'd assigned us seats on opposite ends of the jet.

"I'll never fly United Airlines again. So, it won't be a problem in the future." I assured her.

She took back our boarding cards and I sat back down on the floor beneath the ticket counter with Jennifer. After an unreasonable amount of time had passed, she did eventually coerce the machine to spit out some new boarding cards for us, and we went upstairs to do battle with the TSA.

Philadelphia is a miserable little city, and should be avoided at all costs. I have raised it on my list of most despised cities to just one level below Detroit. Nothing in the United States compares to Detroit. That urban nightmare is in a league all of it's own. But there is much to despise in Philadelphia as well, so I've elevated Philadelphia to 2nd place on my list of cities to avoid at all costs.

The line to clear security stretched beyond belief. I even considered taking a picture of it, to capture a moment of Kafkaesque glory of the final triumph of bureaucracy over logic. The final trump card in the grand illusion of security at the expense of expediency and efficiency. Exhibit A in the decline of air travel in the United States.

No matter. We'd arrived with plenty of time to spare in case of such stupendous incompetence. For today, one must plan to encounter such nonsense. When one lives in the kingdom controlled by a cartel of deeply stupid spivs, one plans to encounter breakdowns such as these. They are expected. Welcome even.

We stood in line with all the other traveling peasants, proud that we'd planned on such a horrendous implosion of reason. Others cried and bleated and laughed. We just stood in the queue, quietly shuffling our meager belongings along the floor toward the busy security apparatus that doubtlessly lay in wait to molest us.

We'd waiting in line for over half an hour when a TSA organ barked for our boarding passes. I've showed our passports to so many people, that it's now second nature. You just wave it around to anyone in a pressed shirt.

She smeared it all up with a child's green marker, which got all over my fingers when I touched it. Only then did I realize that she'd booked us on the wrong flight. Only then did I realize what that horrible little maggot had done. She'd ticketed us on the earlier flight to Chicago. Not on the flight we were supposed to be on. We were supposed to be on the 7:55 a.m. flight. All of my paperwork clearly showed that. For some reason, the evil little termite had booked me on the 6:55 a.m. flight, which meant that I had 9 minutes to clear security and get on the plane. And it wasn't going to happen. That meant that, I'd miss my flight, and have to go back outside of security to get a new ticket and boarding pass for the later flight, then get back in line, which meant I'd miss that flight as well.

I hate United with a passion. I've hated them for years. I've seen them bring their most loyal customers to tears. The so-called "Million Milers". They don't care. They laughed at us last night when they canceled our flight. I know flights get canceled, but a little empathy goes a long way, and they had none. Like walking, talking, bobble-heads. Laughing and joking back there behind the counter, digging their fingers through their cornrows and laughing at us.

One of the termites behind the counter used to work at a furniture store. I'm not making this up. I heard her say it. She said "I used to work at that furniture store [indecipherable]. They went out of business and I sued them and after we got out of court, I came here [to United Airlines]."

I will never fly United Airlines again. I don't want anything from them. I'm not going to write and complain. It doesn't matter. They are not going to change. You can't deny a leopard his spots. What I did do is this. I turned to Jennifer and programmed her like an organic computer.

"Baby, will you do me a favor?"

"What daddy?"

"Remind me that we can never fly on United again. You know I asked you to remind me never to get on I-10 in New Orleans again?"

"Yes, daddy."

"If I ever attempt to buy another ticket on United Airlines, I want you to take a ball-peen hammer and smash each one of my fingers with it against a marble counter top."

"OK. Daddy. I will. I promise."

There was no way we would make the flight without drastic measures. We had like seven minutes before our plane left because that insect booked us on the wrong flight. And just then a woman came racing past the line. Just a smart blur with a child in tow like she owned the place.

Jennifer shouted "Follow Them!"

And we followed them. Followed them right down to the very precipice of the Security Machine, with TSA organs blocking our passage. We shoved our stuff on the conveyor belt and blasted through the metal detector and grabbed our things on the other side and did an O.J. Simpson through terminal D to gate D7, which is, of course, all the way at the end of the terminal. Where else?

Somehow, we got on the flight. I dunno how. They let us on. Who knows why?

We pushed back from the gate and rolled out onto the tarmac and then the plane stopped and the pilot made an announcement.

"There's a line of thunderstorms moving through Chicago right now. So, there's a ground stop in Chicago. Everyone just get comfortable. We're not going anywhere any time soon. I'm going to turn off the fasten seatbelt sign..."

And I'm thinking....Christ. Will we ever make it home?

Update. We were late getting into Chicago. We did an OJ across Ohare and arrived at our gate just in time to see our plane pulling away.

They put us on a different plane through Springfield, Missouri. So, we did another OJ back across O'hare to catch a teeny little little CRJ-200 plane. Got there in time, but it's so small that they asked people to move to the back of the plane to balance the load better so they could take off. Sitting on tarmac now waiting to take off for Springfield, Missouri. Schedule to arrive in Denver 12:40 p.m. if we make our connection.

So, we did an OJ across the airport and arrived at our gate in O'Hare just in time to see our plane pulling away from the gate. We went to customer service and they said everything was booked up. I begged them to get us into Denver, so he put us on a tiny little CRJ-200 through Springfield to Denver.

The plane was so small, they told everyone to move to the back of the plane so it would take off. Then, we pushed back and they announced there was a "minor glitch".

"What's a glitch?" Jennifer asked.

"It means we're not going anywhere." I replied.

So, we're sitting on the ground in Chicago waiting to take off for a city we'll be stuck in another night.

Update 2: As luck would have it, the computers were down, and they couldn't do our paperwork, so we just sat there on the tarmac.

We sat there long enough that I finally asked to deboard, but they wouldn't let us. I had my hand on the handle to the emergency exit when they finally started us on a long, slow taxi around O'Hare. It was an hour before we took off.

The flight to Jefferson City was freezing. My legs were so cold I was sure I'd lose them. I begged them to turn up the heat, but they wouldn't, so finally we moved to the front of the plane.

When we landed in Jefferson City, they made us deboard and then turn around and reboard. When we tried to reboard, I pointed out that we didn't have any boarding passes.

"How'd you get through security without boarding passes?" he asked me.

"We came in on this plane. We just got off of it."

He apparently wasn't suspecting that. So, he printed us two boarding passes for 13A & 13B on the CRJ200. The last row of the plane, right next to the bathroom. So, our seats won't recline, and we get to smell everyone's business all the way back to Denver. Thanks, United. Thanks for ruining our return trip from Europe.

Remember: Friends don't let friends fly United.

Posted by Rob Kiser on August 14, 2007 at 8:41 AM


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