Sunday, July 01, 2007

The glamorous life of a road warrior

Everybody is always telling me how lucky I am to have this job that allows me to travel the world. For the most part I totally agree. I love to travel, see new places, and meet new people. But it isn't all limousines, fancy dinners, and hot chicks. I never ride in limos, I do get fancy dinners every once in a while, and of course the hot chicks are everywhere. And every once in a while you get to experience the sheer hell of dealing with the airline industry when things aren't working correctly. There may be pretty stiff competition between domestic carriers in the US, but there is very little competition over international legs because the big companies have all the international routes locked down.

Let me tell you about my travel experience on this trip. I am on a triangle trip, because I had meetings in San Francisco at the beginning of the week and meetings in Paris at the end of the week. The ticket is a regular coach ticket on United. Something literally goes wrong on every segment of this trip, and the problems get progressively worse each time.

Denver, Friday night, June 22. The 7:30pm flight to SFO is delayed. When the plane finally arrives, there is no cleaning crew available to service the plane, so we wait. Finally we depart, although it would have been faster to get onto the 8:30pm flight which left on time. I have only carry on, so I have no trouble with checked luggage or anything.

San Francisco, Wednesday morning, June 27. I wake up at my SFO airport hotel at 5am and check the site to look at my itinerary. Instead of going through Washington DC to Paris and landing in time for my Monday morning meetings it says I am going from SFO to Chicago, then on to Frankfurt and then Paris and landing at 1:20pm and missing my meetings. Our company travel agents are completely useless at getting onto something better, as apparently all classes of travel are full on every other flight. Ever the optimist, I begin the trip in hopes that I can work out something better along the way. When I arrive at SFO to checkin I ask why the flight we canceled. She looks it up and gets this really confused look on her face when she says, "It was canceled yesterday because of 'no crew'". Fairly certain that I heard her incorrectly I ask, "They canceled a flight 24 hours in advance because there was no crew available to fly from SFO to DC?" "Yes." Absolutely stunned, I get my tickets for my now 2-connection flight and head out.

Seriously. With world travel you can do just about anything in 24 hours. United could fly a damn flight crew in from China in time to make this flight if they wanted to. I have no idea what happened here, because I know it was a full flight when I booked it, so it wasn't like they were making an excuse to cancel an empty flight.

The flight leaves in time, but en route to Chicago a lightning storm starts up and the entire O'hare airport is closed for over an hour to both departures and arrivals. Luckily it opened back up before we got there, otherwise we would have been diverted somewhere else. So we land, and then sit on the taxiway for over an hour because there were no gates for us to disembark from as none of the departing flights could pull away. Finally we get off the plane at 6:15pm, and I go to check the status of the Frankfurt flight which was supposed to depart at 6:30pm. Due to the weather issues, that flight will now be leaving several hours later and I'll get to France at 4pm, almost a full business day later than what I purchased.

This is where the great irony happens. Because all the flights leaving Chicago were delayed, there was now a direct from Chicago to Paris leaving at 7:30pm which I would originally not have had access to because it would leave before I land in Chicago. I go talk to the agent and there are seats available, so she stands me by. I end up getting a seat, which makes me very happy. Did you catch the irony? Because of weather problems which closed down O'hare airport, I was actually going to get to France at 10am instead of 4pm. You can probably count the number of people who can make a statement like that on one hand. They even give me an economy plus aisle seat on the side section, which is my first choice. Of course, since no segment can be perfect, I was the one seat where the personal TV didn't work so I couldn't watch any movies. There were open seats in regular Economy I could go to, but I opted to have the extra leg room.

I finally get to Paris, and have a great time. I will post my Paris writeup later. I don't want to confuse anybody by inserting good stuff into a bitch-fest.

Paris, Sunday morning, July 1. I am happy about this trip because I am flying back through Washington DC and my leg from DC to Denver has been confirmed upgraded to business class. I will get to DEN at 7pm, which means that I have time to get some groceries and still get to bed at a decent hour. Of course I have no idea yet that today will become the worst travel experience of my life.

I get checked in at the United counter, go through passport control and head to the United red carpet club. Around noon they inform us that a catering truck has driven into our plane and damaged it, so we should stick around the lounge until they have more info. At 1pm they say over the loudspeaker "The Air France mechanical crew will not come to work on Sunday. At this point the flight is not yet officially canceled but we are authorized to rebook you onto an Air France flight to New York City, which will get in very late and you will have to stay overnight in NYC. Or, you can stay overnight in Paris and try to fly out tomorrow on United." Since the flight wasn't officially canceled, I'm pretty sure we in the lounge are getting privileged information. I decide to rebook onto the Air France flight before all the people waiting down at the gate find out and mad rush to the ticket counter.

It turns out that the Red Carpet Club in Paris does not have a ticket counter. This is the first such RCC I've ever seen. And there is no ticket counter on our side of passport control, so to get back to the ticket counter I wait in line for 45 minutes at passport control. I did get to chat with a scout master from Ireland who was traveling with all his troops for a camping trip and that seemed to make things move along a bit more. Finally I get back to the United counter, and after waiting in line there for roughly 2 hours I get the approval paperwork to take the Air France flight, which gets me into JFK at 11pm. I have absolutely no confidence that the bags I checked with United will get transferred to Air France, so I will probably have to deal with that in New York. Not only that, the only Denver flight available on Monday is out of La Guardia, so I get to change airports tonight too once I land in NYC.

Paperwork in hand, I take the train over to Terminal 2 where I wait for about an hour to check in and get a seat assignment on Air France. I am so tired of standing in lines it is ridiculous. And I get to do it all over again tomorrow as a fresh passenger from LGA to DEN.

Let's not forget the golden rule that United isn't happy until you're not happy. Given the trend that the problems get worse every segment, I have no idea what is in store for me when I check in at LGA tomorrow morning. Maybe the toilets will backup, sending a river of fecal matter down the aisle. Luckily I am in a window seat on that flight.


At 8:00 AM, Anonymous --mb said...

Business traveling is a game for the young. Us older folks appreciate your efforts and we feel your pain! - he says, while sipping a margarita from his back patio on a warm summer day.


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