Planes, Trains & Automobiles

You know that old movie with John Candy and Steve Martin? Yeah, it's like that…


This should have been simple. Fly from San Jose (SJC) to San Diego (SAN), have nearly a four hour layover to connect with the little people at the airport, all fly to St. Louis (STL) together, then drive the last few hours to the family gathering in Podunk, Missouri.



SJC to SAN, a one-hour flight, departs 10 minutes early. En-route the pilot informs us of a weather problem in San Diego—1/4 mile visibility. In San Diego?! Well how long can that last; I was tanning on the beach there just a few weeks ago. So we circle Catalina island until we run low on go-juice, and the pilot says we're diverting to Los Angeles (LAX). Which in my mind makes no sense since Orange County (SNA) is a lot closer to SAN, just a quick drive, but I suppose there are rules and regulations and guidelines to follow.


So we land in LAX. I call the kids' chauffeur (mom), who had just left the house, go home and wait, no telling what's going to happen or when we'll get to San Diego. We sit in the American Eagle commuter terminal at LAX, getting shuffled from 44A to 44J to 44E waiting for decisions to be made. We'll be re-boarding your flight soon, or eventually, whichever comes first, so please sit tight. Obviously I'm on the phone with Executive Platinum services from the moment we touch down, and the only alternative routing is to take a 5:30p flight from LAX to STL. Since it's only 10:30 in the morning, that would be plenty of time to drive from LAX to the kids' house and back to LAX. Except of course the airline won't pay for the rental car. Hmm decisions decisions. We hold the seats to be safe.


So we wait, and wait, and wait a little longer. I'm back on the phone with AA, getting nervous as we're really cutting it close to make the connection in San Diego. Moments from making the decision to rent a car and make the drive, they call boarding for our flight. I'm still on the phone with Executive Platinum services, they can hear the announcement, sounds like you'll make it, run Forest run!, I hang up, hurry up and board so we can hurry up and wait. We sit on the ground for another half-hour, wait-wait-waiting for the OK to go-go-go. Finally we go, we're up and flying and landing before you know it, and we're the first off the plane rushing to the commuter terminal and flagging down the little Red shuttle to take us to the main terminal to check in the kids and board a flight and off to grandmothers house we go. We get to the terminal and run in and there're the kids in line to check in, push past them, bodies flying everywhere, throw their bags at the check-in agent and… we're too late.


So now. The ONLY way to get to STL at this point is to catch the 5:30 flight. The flight. Out. Of. Los Angeles. Naturally there's no flight we can get on from SAN to LAX, so that means… it's time to get in a shuttle-van for a 2+ hour drive back to the airport we were just stranded in barely an hour before!!


The shuttle shuttles us, we arrived to LAX with over an hour to spare, actually have time to dine in the lounge and board the flight to STL.


Now, that should be the end of this adventure, but no… of course… it's not. You see, back in San Diego, I tried arguing with the agent, you may as well let us on the flight because our bags are already on that plane, so either they can put my kids' bags on and let us on, and delay the fight, or they can dig through the hold and find our bags and pull them off, since FAA regulations say that bags can't fly without their owners, and delay the flight. Either way, this flight is going to be delayed. She gave me a look, that look, how do you know your bags are on there, but she calls and verifies and they really are on the plane and we hope hope hope at last… but NO. The supervisor determines that the plane is going to fly with our bags; without us. Damn. Hence the shuttle.


So this meant that our bags were arriving in STL hours before us, which shouldn't be a problem. Bags don't usually get bored or cold or lonely. In baggage claim we get the kids' bags, where do we collect luggage that came in on an earlier flight please sir? and walk into the lost bags room. A room 20º or 30º warmer than the rest of the airport, a room devoid of happiness and joy, a room occupied by a single agent behind a long linoleum desk on a cold quiet night in Missouri who, after several minutes of my heavy breathing a foot away from her, finally acknowledges me, what can I do for you. More of a statement than a question. I explain the situation. That our bags are here waiting for us. Hand her the claim checks. Listen patiently while she never once raises her eyes from her screen and determines your bags are not here sir. Please look at the chart and tell me what your bags look like, and what's inside of them. Where are you staying? Here's a claim form, call this number if your bags aren't delivered in 24 hours. I'm shocked. But I *know* they were on that flight. There's no way they're not here! Tell me their last known location. Where were they last scanned? She tippity-tappity-taps on her screen, scowls, grimaces, and insists she doesn't know where they are. They haven't been scanned, there is no known location in the system. That's not possible ma'am, these bags are scanned at every destination, I know they were in San Diego, I know they were on that flight, and if you don't know where they are, how do you know they're not here? That touches a nerve. Her face tightens. She tries even harder to look unpleasant (spoiler alert: she succeeds). Dottie can you come look at this screen I don't understand this then oh I don't understand that system at all either, y'all were all trained on that but I'm not so I'll look it up in the older system and finally no sir, your bags aren't here but we don't know where they are.


I'm feeling like a beaten man at this point. The travel gods have been good to me this year; I've flown an awful lot of miles, to Europe and Asia and Australia and not had a single missing bag, have had all inconveniences well accommodated for (it's amazing what a first class upgrade will do for your mood to temper the disappointment of a five hour delay on a flight home from Hong Kong), and so perhaps it's just my time. But, one more thing before I'm willing to leave. Do you mind if I go back there and look myself? Well if that'll put your mind at rest sweetie you just go right ahead and look but they're not back there.


I step over the pedestal, walk into the storage room, sidestep a refrigerator of a man, and without breaking stride pick up two of my bags, circle around the human obstacle and slam my bags on the front desk counter. I walk back in, pause to glance around, and spot bag number three a few seconds later.


Now aren't you glad I told you to go back there and look?


The rest of this story involves a lot of yelling between the desk agents and the men in the back. I politely make my exit if there's nothing else, I'll be leaving now.


At 7:30 the following morning, the phone rings and wakes me from a deep sleep, Sir we're calling to see if you've received your bags yet. Sadly, oh-so-very sadly, having been rudely awaken I don't have the foresight to say no they haven't and see what happens next, which would have been fun, but that's OK.


There's always next Thanksgiving.

Ahh, the comments. My favorite part.


I love having my own blog. You know why? Because I meet amazingly wonderful, caring, intelligent people through the comments. Like this chap below. I'd name him by name, but I can't as he signed his comment as "anonymous". I'll just call him "an'us" for short. He responded to my little rage on Southwest the other week. I won't waste your time and ask you to dig for it, oh no dear reader, I won't. No instead, I'll put it right here on the front page, and… maybe, just maybe, I'll comment to a line or two. Yeah. I think I think I might…


an'us wrote:



It never ceases to amaze me how folks such as yourself want everything dummyed down.



It's spelled "dummied", or "dumbed down". But not "dummyed". Dummy.



It is really that hard for you to read the simple signs? Are you kidding?



Hm, yeah actually, it was. Especially the A sign that was half-rotated to B (so was it in the A or B position?). That being my first (and hopefully last) time experiencing this abomination of organization, since I was looking for the 'B' group, I wasn't quite sure if that line was for me or not. Remember, there were two lines side-by-side -- one for San Jose and one for San Francisco, and even this was plainly unclear.



If you have trouble with that how do you drive with stop signs and green, yellow and red lights. You musy be in a state of constant shock!!



Erm, because they're red, yellow and green. If the stoplights were "A1-5 = GO", and "B6-10 = SLOW", and "C11-15 = STOP", then yes, I do think I'd drive right off the road.



It is a system designed to help you and I continue to get a great seat.



No, the only way to get a good seat is to check-in online 24 hours in advance, or turn up to the airport early. Then you used to have to stand at the front of your line while the rest of the passengers lined up behind you. Now the point is that you can wander around the airport instead of waiting in line, however since most passengers seem to spend most of their time trying to figure out this system, I don't think we've progressed too much. They've created an over-complicated version of assigned seating. Why assign in groups of five? Just assign to a "group" of one, and everyone gets a seat.


And the only way to get a GREAT seat is to fly another airline and get upgraded to business/first.



And also help SW make money. Do you think they fly for you? No, they fly to run a business.



Ooh, good question. Let's ask Southwest, shall we? Let's see... their Mission Statement says: The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. That's very nice. I like it. Sounds like they're flying for me.



This way they are being true to you the customer and also to the simple fact that costs are rising and they figured what I feel is an excellent way to see to a win win.



"Win win", did you learn that in business school? I fail to see who's winning here. Certainly not the customer. When you hear customers yelling (and no I'm not making that up) to the boarding staff that "this system sucks", and "we hate this", I fail to see how that's a "win" for the customer. Or for the airline, since they will probably lose customers. I never went to business school, but I think you'd call that a "lose-lose".



In my experience people complain about anything and everything. There is no reason for it.



No reason to complain? You're absolutely right. We should all just be happy with the way things are and never complain. Gosh. I see the light now. Thanks Karl, you've made it all so clear. Now where do I get my fur hat and stand in line for toilet paper?



I also know folks who complain like you do not have a better answer.



Actually I do. It's called "assigned seating". Seems to work just fine for every other airline. Or stick with the simple A/B/C system. No one I know who travels for business likes flying Southwest, but hey for budget travel, I'll stand in line. I don't like it, but you get what you pay for.



Why not try to see the positive side and expect people to have at the very least a 4th grade education with the ability to stand by a number.



Well *I* have a 4th grade education (possibly more!), and I struggled with it (the boarding system, not the 4th grade). Look, clearly this is a complicated system. Case in point... as I flew back into San Jose yesterday returning from Tokyo, I walked by a Southwest counter and overheard the gate agent explaining to everyone over the microphone how to line up. If you have to explain something as simple as "lining up", you've already lost the plot. But don't believe me... believe Southwest. On the front page of their own website, they have a link for "Boarding School", and a sophisticated flash site titled "Boarding 101", which is a five-page explanation (I'm not kidding) of their new boarding system. So I repeat... as soon as you have to explain how to do some thing as simple as line up, you've just lost the plot.



I mean how stupid are you?



Apparently quite. I responded to you, an'us.


SouthWorst



SouthWest has just graduated from a crappy boarding procedure to a super-crappy-shitty boarding procedure. Instead of the ass-numbing (because you had to sit on the floor for half an hour before boarding if you wanted a decent seat) yet understandable A, B or C boarding procedure, you now have a number assignment (not a seat assignment mind you). Mine was Group B Position 30. So I had to locate the 8-square foot staging area for B26-30. No I'm not kidding. But wait, there's more. B1-5, 6-10, 11-15 etc. don't exist until A1-5, 6-10, etc. have boarded. Once A is on the plane, they rotate the sign and A staging area becomes B. And the confusion begins again.


Just to make things more fun, they boarded the flights to SJC and to SFO at the exact same time, at gates 11 and 13, for which the gates are about 6 inches apart. For the first time in my life I nearly got on the wrong plane.


The only levity to the situation was the hysterical mass confusion of two Bay Area bound flights trying to make sense of this madness. People were actually yelling to the attendants that "this system sucks" or that "we hate this!".


Someone's gonna get fired over this one.


Cheap(er) business class flight



In booking my upcoming trip to Amsterdam, I had an interesting discovery in finding cheaper fares. Business class tickets to Europe can easily go from $4,000 and up, and it's not uncommon to find them in the $6k to $8k range; upwards of $10k if you go last minute. Nuts. I started the orbitz.com search early, and had found some great fares on Iberia. Iberia code-shares with American, so happy happy me. The other code-share for Euro travel is British Airways, which has an amazing business class but the tickets were around $8,500. I think the appropriate response is, "fuck that".



Anyway when it came time to book, the Iberia fare was nowhere to be found on Orbitz. Bugger. So I dug and I dug, and without boring you with the details, here's what I found. I ended up with a sub $3,500 fare on Iberia with a 4-day layover in Madrid, but I had to break the ticket apart. One booking has me going SFO-JFK-MAD-AMS (yes that's a lot of stops but it makes sense in the end), and the return ticket is MAD-JFK-SFO. Wait, how do I get from Amsterdam to Madrid? Well by keeping that segment in, the ticket was north of $8k. But as soon as I pulled it… under $3k. So then a one-way AMS-MAD ticket at $800 later, and the total journey is about $3,500, all business or first class, I get the points on American, and I have a nice little stop-over in Madrid. Take that, B.A.

Seriously Slim



Now on Brussels Air flight SN481, and boy is this a small seat! So far no one next to me... Hopefully we're not simply waiting for the Japanese Sumo team before embarking.


Aww, sorry Joe, I just realized I forgot to pack your script to read! Bugger :(


Ok this sick sniffles thing is really getting old. Sure hope it's only a 24 hour bug and will be gone when I land. All my drugs are obviously packed... who gets sick while still on the plane?! Me, apparently. sigh


Signing off. I'll try to post again when I land in Nairobi. From there, who knows what, if any, cell coverage I'll have.