Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Saga Of The Return Flight

In the course of my trip home a lot of blog-worthy things happened, and over the next few entries I’ll get to them, but before that I need to get the sorrowful tale of Jon’s return to Virginia out of the way.
To do so effectively, though, I need to start with the tale of Jon’s departure from Virginia.
In booking my trip – via Orbitz – I was looking primarily at two factors: cost and the ability to sync up with my brother Brad, who was travelling to Michigan from Austin, Texas.
I was able to find a flight that would allow me to meet up with Brad in Minneapolis for the last leg of the trip, but I wasn’t able to find a return flight that would allow me to leave Michigan at the same time. Or rather, I wasn’t able to find one that would allow me to arrive in Virginia on that same day, as any flight leaving from Michigan at the same time would necessitate an overnight stay in Minneapolis.
As mentioned, the trip I booked involved two carriers – United and Northwest – and added a layover in Indianapolis instead of the more typical route which is Dulles to Minneapolis to Hancock.
In addition to allowing me to sync up my arrival with Brad’s, this particular trip was the cheapest I could find, by hundreds of dollars.
While I noted that the total duration was excessive, I assumed that my layover time was fairly equally divided between the airports.
Such was not the case. On the way to Michigan, for example, I was stuck in Indianapolis for over five hours, compared to the hour or so that I was in Minneapolis.
I can tell you that my stay in Indianapolis was really, really boring, as it’s a relatively small airport and offers far fewer distractions and diversions than, for example, Minneapolis.
(As an aside, while at the airport a question occurred to me: why don’t airports have movie theaters?)
The real horror, though, was on the return trip, where I found that I had a two and a half hour layover in Minneapolis, and a nearly seven hour layover in Indianapolis.
I tried to change my flight to see if I could eliminate this stay, but found that to do so I’d have to go on standby status, and I didn’t really feel like gambling in that manner.
I should have gambled.
In hour two of my stay in Indianapolis, my cell phone rang and I was informed that my checked bag was at the claims office for Northwest, and asked did I know that, or was I operating on the incorrect assumption that my bag had been checked all the way through to Dulles?
In fact, that was the assumption that I was incorrectly operating on.
Turns out that if there is more than a six hour delay between flights, the computer does not consider it to be a connecting flight, and so baggage must be claimed and re-checked.
For the record, at Dulles and Minneapolis, once you’re on a concourse, you’re free to roam about all of the concourses, as you’re in the secured area.
Not so at Indianapolis, where you have to actually leave the secured area in order to move from one concourse to the next, and so must go through security again if you need to get to a different concourse.
I suppose that’s because it’s something of a hub, where most people arriving for connecting flights generally have to check in with another carrier to get to their destination.
In any case, I decided not to check my bag right away, as I was able to strap my carry-on bag to it and use its wheels to move about a little more freely than I could with my carry-on bag hanging from my shoulder.
After getting lousy service at a Fridays – which I can’t complain about too much, as the slowness of my server helped eat up a lot of the ample time – I found that I was so bored, and so annoyed with the hangnails I had and could do nothing about, that I actually got a manicure.
(“It wouldn’t even occur to most guys to do this,” the manicurist said, in a nice passive-aggressive assault on my masculinity. Still, she was friendlier than the waitress at Fridays, who could barely spare me a word, until after I’d paid the check when, as an afterthought, she said, “Oh, and there’s one other thing; you have a good day.”)
Eventually it was getting close enough to boarding time that I decided to check my bag.
That’s when the horror really began.
The flight to Dulles, I was informed, had been delayed by an hour and a half, so I had even more time to kill.
(I’d originally thought about taking a cab into Indianapolis and finding a mall or a movie theater or something to pass the time, but had eventually decided that, even with nearly seven hours to kill, I didn’t feel up to wandering around a strange city by myself.)
So, I sat myself down and did some more reading of *Sigh* Praline’s book (which is excellent, by the way), and eventually decided that I should check to make sure there hadn’t been any additional delays.
There had been. The flight was delayed by another hour.
This meant that, at best, I wouldn’t be arriving at Dulles until close to midnight.
Bear in mind that my original arrival time had been scheduled for 8:39 PM, and that I’d left Michigan at 7:10 AM.
I asked the guy at the counter what was going on and he said that the plane had been delayed from leaving LaGuardia due to a mechanical issue. That problem had been fixed, but in the interim bad weather had moved in. At that time, the plane had yet to leave New York for Washington, and, in his opinion, probably wouldn’t make it to Indianapolis at all.
He asked me where I was going from Dulles, and I told him that Dulles was home, so he said, “Let me see what I can do,” and made a call.
(There was a group of young people behind me who were in the same boat and asked if they could eavesdrop on our conversation. This will be an important detail later on in the saga.)
He informed me that there was a flight leaving for Chicago that made a connection with a flight to Dulles, and that it was set to depart right now, but they were holding it for people like me. He got my bag moved, printed me up a boarding pass, and I was on my way, and soon found myself in a really shitty seat at the back of the plane on a flight to O’Hare.
Shitty as the seat was, I was glad to finally be on a plane.
Naturally there was a fifteen minute delay on take-off, so by the time I got to Chicago I would have about a half an hour to get to my gate, even though it was a very short flight.
I hadn’t been very hungry in the time immediately before I left, and had been assuming that I’d have plenty of time in Indianapolis to eat, but now that I had no time, I found that I was starving, naturally.
However, upon landing in Chicago and finding my flight on the board, I found that this flight, too, had been delayed by an hour.
After finding my gate, I headed to a food court to make use of the time I’d gained.
The place was packed, and if I’d gotten in line I’d probably still be there waiting.
Finally, at about 10:00 PM Eastern, my ass was finally in a seat on a plane flying to Dulles. It bears repeating that my flight had left Michigan at 7:10 AM Eastern.
While getting on the plane in Chicago, there was some weird feud, consisting of a lot of angry words and swearing, going on between some guy and some random pregnant chick. I think it had been a dispute about him cutting in front of a her, even though she was, as she pointed out, “seven fucking months pregnant,” and, based on some random statement she made to the person she was talking to on her cell phone while having the feud, the wife of a veteran (Update: Or was herself a veteran. Bad Jon! Sexist Jon!), and him apologizing poorly for it and not believing that he’d done anything wrong, and it was all pretty uncomfortable, especially with his wife/girlfriend being amused and giggling about it all the whole time.
Anyway, I had another shitty seat – this time a center seat – and by the time I landed, got my bag – one of the first five or so to appear on the carousel, marking the one purely good lucky break* of the night – and getting picked up by Kathleen, I didn’t actually set foot inside my house until nearly 12:45 AM.
Again, this is after having left Michigan at 7:10 AM on what was now the previous day. This is a trip that, barring any incident, usually takes, at most, six hours, with the majority of that being time spent in airports, as the total flying time is just under three hours.
Here’s where that detail about the young people who were behind me in Indianapolis comes into play. Like me, they’d transferred to the Chicago flight.
As we were standing outside waiting for our respective rides at Dulles, I said, “We finally made it.”
One of the girls said that she’d looked at the arrivals board and that it showed that the flight we were originally on, the one that was so seriously delayed, and on which I had a very good seat at the front of the plane, had supposedly arrived at Dulles at 8:50 PM, a scant eleven minutes late.
I don’t see how that can possibly be true, and I don’t see how I can hold on to what little sanity I have left if I allow myself to believe that, so I’m going to say that it never happened and that transferring to the Chicago flight was the right thing to do.
If there’s a moral in that story anywhere, I suppose it would be that it’s a damn good thing I also asked for today off. Alternatively, it’s that next time I have to take a much closer look at my itinerary.
As a contrast to my story, I should mention the story of my brother’s trip to Michigan. He got on a plane at Austin that flew directly to Minneapolis, and we boarded the plane to Hancock about twenty minutes after he arrived at the gate. I don’t know how his trip out of Michigan went, but given the blatant favoritism the Universe showed him, I can’t help but think that it went just as smoothly.

Random Travel Anecdotes Department:
Anecdote One
On the flight from Minneapolis to Hancock, I overheard the people sitting across from me talking about friends and acquaintances they had in common back in the UP. One such person was someone who’d gone to my high school and whose older sister I graduated with. I believe he was in 7th grade when I was a senior. The girl participating in the conversation, who is currently working towards getting a PhD, mentioned that the person they were talking about was quite a few years older than she is. So, to summarize, someone who is much younger than someone else who is several years younger than I am, is old enough to be working on her PhD. *Sigh*

Anecdote Two
While wandering around the Indianapolis airport, I noticed an attractive young woman out of the corner of my eye who was talking to someone on a cell phone.
I took note of the fact that she was attractive and thought no more about it as I shuffled along, until I heard her saying, “…fucked me SO hard!”
That got my attention.
However, she went on to say, “They didn’t have any of my fucking flight information, and now I missed my fucking plane!” She then started crying.
So rather than loudly sharing salacious details about her sexual exploits, she was loudly sharing details of her lousy travel – or lack thereof – experience.
I immediately – particularly when the tears started – went from being mildly titillated to feeling bad for her. A tale of hard luck is much less exciting than a tale of a hard fuck.

*Sure, if you’re one of those “count your blessings” types, you could say that getting someone helpful at the counter who booked me on the Indianapolis to Chicago to Dulles flight was a lucky break – at least if we ignore that complete fabrication about my original flight arriving in Dulles nearly on time – but that’s only lucky in context, and in comparison to what might have happened. It’s like saying that, despite all of the waiting and the delays and the running around, I should feel lucky that I arrived at each of my destinations safely, rather than dying in a fiery crash or something. And of course I’m luckier than the girl who got “fucked SO hard.” Even so, I say screw that. Those are boring blessings. Not having something bad happen to you is not the same as having a good thing happen to you. However, not having to wait forever for my bag at baggage claim is a stroke of luck even when shorn of context. It was, as I said, a purely good stroke of luck.


Merlin T Wizard said...

I think your travel luck tops Stacy's and her dad's. They seem to always have problems. I'm not sure if any of their 6 hour trips have taken 17, though.

Heimdall said...

Yeah, this one even beats my 6 hour trip that took 24 hours, simply because on that one I at least got put up in a motel.

lbugsh2 said...

Not sure who tops it the last flight I took to utah a 7 hour trip took 13 hours of being in a plane, with four of the sitting on a run way with three extremely tired kids. We got put up in a hotel for five hours. That sucked almost as bad. All told the trip took almost 24 hours.