Flying Purgatory Vignettes

November 11, 2018

in Odds & Ends Stories

Here are a few vignettes I’ve been saving up. Not flights from hell, perhaps, but certainly purgatory.

On my first business trip from SFO to Houston, Continental changed equipment for my return flight. The new plane had fewer seats than the original, but rather than reassigning passengers to seats or a different flight, they just had open seating on first through the door basis. I got on but it was not a pleasant experience.

On my second business trip, Continental cancelled the return flight and this time put us all on a later plane. They did give us meal vouchers, but on our return to the gate I found that they decided to change our plane’s destination from SFO to McAllen, TX, a shorter (and presumably more profitable) flight. We had to stand in line for another 45 minutes, then were rushed into an IAH-LAX flight with a connection to SFO. I got home over six hours later than I should have, with at least 5 of those hours unnecessary. And to make matters worse, in those days before the ubiquity of cell phones, the gate agent promised to call my spouse and let her know – and then didn’t, causing a great deal of anxiety.

Fast forward 20 years. We’re living in Houston and my daughter is flying back to LA for college. Cell phones are now a thing, and she called us from the plane to tell us there was an equipment problem and her plane was being taken out of the queue. The delay was going to be quite long, and I called Continental (post-bankruptcy now) to ask if arrangements were being made for ground transportation since she’d missed her scheduled ride. “No sir, we don’t do that for weather delays.” Nothing I could say would convince her that her information was wrong, and we had to pay for a shuttle.

On a flight from the east coast to Bakersfield, CA, nature called and I went to the back. There was a line of eight people, all men, waiting for one lavatory as the other was out of order. The others had obviously been there a while. I had to wait at least seven minutes for the door to open and a woman came out. With flawless hair. And makeup. She’d been hogging the only toilet to do her face for probably 30+ minutes while the rest of us shuffled from one leg to the other. And, of course, by the time it was my turn, the pilot announced it was time to return to our seats and I was denied relief for another 45 minutes!

In 2002 I was living in Calgary, AB, and had a yearlong work visa stapled to my passport. For those who don’t know, several Canadian airports have US customs personnel on site to check individuals flying to the states, and I was being interviewed by a woman in her fifties who acted experienced. Until, that is, she was about to clear me but started ripping my visa out of my passport. I screamed at her and a supervisor came over. I almost got in trouble for creating a disturbance, but cooler heads prevailed and I got to keep the visa and get on my flight.

In mid-December, 2008, my wife and I were flying to LAX from Calgary. For several reasons, most notably that the person who drove us to the airport had to get on to work, we were at the airport three hours before our flight, and at the gate with over two hours to spare. When we got to LAX, two of our three bags didn’t show up and the airline took our info for delivery. This was a Monday, and Christmas was Thursday.

I was elected to wait at my daughter’s house for the bags while the rest of the family did various fun things. And I waited all day Tuesday. And then Wednesday. Occasional calls to the airline produced various contradictory claims (“They deliver 24-7.” “They should be there by 5 PM”), none of which were true.

Wednesday night, Christmas Eve, at 7 PM I called the airline VERY angry, and was told, “The delivery men tried to call you but there was no answer.” This was a blatant lie on their part and I was beyond angry, but there was nothing I could do. When we finally got the bags at 2 PM Christmas Day, the delivery man admitted that his colleagues made the statement to get home early. He sort of hinted for a tip, but um, no.

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