Monday, September 26, 2005

Kathryn and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
(I think I'll move to Australia.)

NEVER, ever, ever buy tickets that include multiple stops on "Partner Airlines". I won't, anyhow. And I'll avoid American Airlines in the future, if I can at all help it.

  1. I buy a ticket to Montreal from Alaska Airlines. Multiple stops. Partner Airlines.

    --> Seattle to San Francisco: leave 7:00 PM, arrive 9:00PM, on Alaska Airlines.
    --> Transfer in SFO to a 9:30 PM Delta flight to JFK.
    --> Transfer at JFK to an 8:36 AM flight on American Eagle to Montreal.

    Strange and convoluted? Yes. But it's cheap, so I buy it.

  2. Arrive at the Airport with almost 2 hours to spare. Spend 20 minutes in (one of many) lines of approximately 5 people waiting to check in at one of Alaska's e-ticket machines.

  3. Get to the machine, run my name and information, only to find that it only lists and seems to understand the initial flight to SFO.

  4. The machine times out while I am trying to catch the attention of an attendant.

  5. Each subsequent attempt with the machine results in an error stating: Our computer system is experience difficulties. Please speak with an attendant.

  6. Spend another 15 minutes trying to flag one of the attendants down.

  7. Find out from the attendant that the machine believed it had actually checked me in to both of the first two flights, even though it had never listed the second or the third leg, and had printed no passes. She prints me a pass for the first leg, but is unable to print me anything for the second, and can't even check me in for the third. "You'll have to do it with those airlines in those cities, because they are partner flights."

  8. I get through security unexpectedly fast, hardly even 10 minutes. Surprising since checking in alone took nearly an hour.

  9. I get to my gate and wait patiently for the flight. After some time has passed, they board us all.

  10. Everyone seated, we sit at the gate. And wait. And wait. They announce over the loudspeaker that the mechanics heard a noise at the baggage door and need to check it out. Fortunately there is a tail wind, the pilot says, so we'll be able to make up time in the air.

  11. Another announcement over the speakers: the mechanics can't get at the problem, so we have to de-board the plane. It is now 7:30. We don't know when we'll be allowed to re-board. There is no way I'm making the connecting flight in SFO.

  12. I join half the flight in line, waiting to talk to one of the agents.

  13. After waiting 10 minutes, the line has gone nowhere. There are still at least 20 people ahead of me. I abort, and walk over to talk to an agent at a different gate. She advises me that I can either, "Wait in that line over there (the one I just left) or go to the customer service counter." Hmm. I can wait in line to find out when I can next get to San Francisco; not my final destination, and certainly not in time for my connecting flight. . .or. . .not. I opt for not.

  14. The customer service line is rather short. I am talking to an agent within 5 minutes. Unfortunately, as I am flying partner flights, he is not able to help me on his own. He does not have that sort of power. He calls a line for the partner help desk, and sits on hold waiting to speak to someone there.

  15. 15 minutes later, he reaches someone. She and he talk back and forth, she asking questions, he passing them on to me, then passing my answers back to her. . . eventually he just hands the phone to me so that I can talk to her directly.

  16. She's looking for flights, and asks to put me on hold for just a minute while she checks something out.

  17. 15 minutes later, I am still standing at the customer service counter, phone at my ear, on hold.

  18. 30 minutes later, I am still on hold.

  19. 45 minutes later, I am still on hold. This is getting old.

  20. Finally the lady comes back. She asks, "Can you just fly out tomorrow?" I Inform her that I am flying out for an event that happens tomorrow. She asks me to give her back to the agent at the desk.

  21. He nods, listens, nods again, listens, nods again. Hangs up.

  22. Apparently there is a different Delta flight that flies directly from Seattle to JFK, in time for me to make my connecting flight to Montreal. He has been given clearance to switch my ticket over, so he calls the Delta agents to make the change.

  23. The Delta agents don't answer.

  24. He tries to make the change himself. He purchases the new ticket, but isn't able to complete the transaction because he can't off my seat on the original flight out of San Francisco. He tries and tries. Time goes by. He's tired and cranky, as everyone at the counter is getting off their shift and leaving, and he would like to as well.

  25. He tries Delta again and finally gets through. Explains the problem to the girl on the other end, only to have her tell him, "Oh, my shift is over. I'm off. Let me transfer you."

  26. He explains again, to the next agent. I'm not the only one getting the runaround.

  27. Finally, he gets them to off the ticket and gets everything through. I'm now flying directly from Seattle to JFK, arriving at 7:30, in time to make my 8:36 flight out to Montreal. Because the new flight is a partner flight, he can't actually check me in - he gives me a paper ticket, and tells me that I have to go back out through security and check in at the main Delta departures desk.

  28. Thank goodness I didn't check any baggage - otherwise this would be a bigger mess than ever.

  29. The Delta desk is way the hell down there. I make the long trek, still in a reasonably good mood. After all, I will still make my final destination at the originally scheduled time. So what that I just spent over two hours in line. Everything will work out.

  30. "Good news!," the Delta agent tells me. "If you are willing to help out in case of emergency, I can give you a seat in an emergency row with the row all to yourself."

    "I could deal with that!" I say, feeling quite glad at the change of tide.

    . . .

    "Oops. I must have been looking at the wrong plane," the agent mumbles. "There are only middle seats available.

  31. The Delta guy can see my next flight, the leg to Montreal, but guess what? He still cannot check me in for it, "as it is a partner flight." Surprise surprise.
  32. On my way back through security, it turns out that I have been "randomly selected" to be hand searched. They paw through my bags, wand me, pat me down. They are confounded at the concept of body jewelry. What, this is Seattle. Has nobody ever come through security with piercings before?

  33. Security cleared, I make my way to the new gate and wait 2 hours for the flight.

  34. Boarding! On my way!

  35. The moment I sit down, the guy next to me starts talking and talking. Are you married, he asks. Where do you live? What do you do? He tells me all about himself. 26 years old. From Africa. A preacher. Lives in North Carolina. Was in Alaska. Is going to Louisiana to visit a cousin. Maybe he could stop and see me next time he comes to Seattle? I tell him I won't be here, because I am moving to Europe and getting married. The conversation abruptly dies, as I no longer seem a viable target to him.

  36. New York! Here I am! Ready for the next leg of my flight.

  37. If you have the poor luck to have a transfer between different airlines at JFK, you may have to go to a different terminal. And there is no way to travel between terminals without leaving the secure area and having to go through security again at the next terminal. And yes, Delta and American Eagle exist in different terminals. I leave the Delta gate, at terminal 3, and start booking it over to American Eagle in Terminals 8 and 9.

  38. Having arrived at Terminals 8 and 9, I try to check in at one of the automated machines.

  39. The automated machines don't seem to recognize Montreal as a valid destination city. They also do not recognize my flight number.

  40. I hear a boarding call for my flight over the loud speaker. I am still not checked in. No boarding pass, so I can't go through Security.

  41. "Excuse me," I tell a lady at the desk, "they're boarding my flight and I need a boarding pass." She tells me there's no way I'm going through.
    What?? The flight doesn't leave for 25 minutes. I don't even have bags to check. In a normal airport, where you don't have to exit security and travel way the hell somewhere else, I would have been fine.

    "You won't even let me try to make it?"

    She does not look inclined. "Are you checking anything?," she asks.

    "No," I say.

    "Well, that's something," she says, but then still will not give me a pass. She directs me to wait in line and get a spot on the next flight.

    Her peer next spot down wants to give me a pass, but she overrules him.

  42. Turns out the line that the Nazi agent directed me to is actually only for people traveling to Miami. I find this only after having waited for 15 minutes.

  43. I finally find the line I am supposed to be in. It is not marked any differently than the other line. There's nothing to distinguish it. Except that it is in a different part of the room, and it is longer. I wait, and wait, and wait.

  44. The agent I finally get in this line is even more short and curt than the last. She yells at me for the other airlines having had the audacity to think that 85 minutes layover time would be enough to make a connection. I mean, geez! Idiots! It only works like that in a normal airport. (Note: I must remember to never, ever, ever make connections at JFK again.)

  45. The ticket she hands me has no seat assignment. She says I can give my seat preferences at the gate and get my seat assigned there. I am glad to be done with her, so I leave.

  46. Lucky, lucky me - I have again been "randomly selected" for extra security screening.

    Really, though, what is up with their algorithms? This will be my third time in 10 hours going through security. I have never left any of the airports. I still have the same baggage.

    Wouldn't they be better served if their random algorithms more often chose people going through security for the first time, rather than selecting people on a middle leg of their flight? Who's to say that, if I had something I shouldn't have had, I wouldn't have left it IN the secure zone BEFORE coming out, so that it would still be there when I went back in?

  47. The girl with the wand has even more trouble with my piercings. She cannot understand the genital piercing, and is not sure what to do with it. I think she wants to pat me down, but isn't sure if it is appropriate. Instead, she keeps wanding my crotch. Finally asks a peer, who sort of pats down the front of my crotch with the back of her hand, and then they let me be. I ask if I can put my shoes back on, and sit down to wait for my bags.

  48. I wait and wait. Nobody is talking to me. They still have my stuff and my ticket.

  49. One of the other women directs me to take my bags and move down to sit next to her. She opens up a binder and starts writing. Asks for my passport. Writes some more. "You don't have a seat?," she asks, looking at my ticket suspiciously. I shake my head in affirmation, and she continues writing.

    "Do you, uh, fill out this form for everyone you hand-screen?," I ask.

    No, they do not. Apparently my laptop failed the screening, so they have to document me. How did it fail? I have no idea. It turns on when you open it. It is a laptop. It does not do drugs. It passed all the other screenings, including the manual screening at SeaTac. But now I am on record as having a laptop at JFK that failed.

  50. Finally, security allows me to leave, and I start the trek to the gate. I call Jon to let him know what's up and to vent about my experiences so far, and mid-conversation my phone dies. Figures.

  51. There is nobody at the gate. But the flight doesn't leave for another 3 hours, so that is to be expected. I try to get a seat assignment from somebody at a nearby gate, but she says she is not an agent so I should try someone else. I find an agent two gates further down, but, in a grumpy manner, she tells me she will not help me and the people for my flight will be at my gate an hour before the flight. This is the third American agent today who is all curt and rude, as if she's got a stick up her butt. 3 out of 3. What is their problem, all of them? Does American Airlines treat their employees as poorly as they treat their customers?

  52. I camp out at my gate and wait. And wait. And wait.

  53. I open up my computer and write this post to vent steam. But wait! There is no wireless internet! No wireless internet! This is JFK. New York City. An urban hub. What airport in the 21st century does not have wireless in its terminals? Well, apparently JFK. WTF.

  54. They are telling people on the flight ahead of me that they will only be able to fly 25 people due to a "weight restriction". There are 37 people with tickets, so 12 of the people without assigned seats will not get to go. On a 50-seater plane. Stupid American Airlines. With my luck, that will happen on my flight as well. And guess who still doesn't have an assigned seat; that's right - me.

  55. Watching them deal with all the disgruntled people from the previous flight who are not allowed to fly, I feel a little unsettled. I go up to the gate to try again for my seat assignment, so that the same thing will not happen to me.

    But -


    Why there is no seat assignment? The agent who gave me the ticket told me she had put me on the flight, but she actually put me on stand-by. Great. Thanks. And thanks for telling me.

  56. I wait and wait. Several other people on the same flight were surprised to find that they are actually on stand-by, as well. We all wait together.

  57. I try to find someone to talk to. My flight leaves in 30 minutes (well, hopefully my flight, since I still do not have a seat), but there is nobody at the counter. Apparently they forgot to staff the counter for this flight.

  58. The pilot and flight attendant hanging out at the counter are frustrated and annoyed also at the lack of attendants working to board our flight. The flight attendant goes to complain to the attendants working at a nearby gate.

  59. One of the attendants at that gate decides to come and work ours, since whomever was assigned to work ours (was anyone assigned?) is apparently not coming.

  60. I talk to the stressed out attendant trying to pull everything together at a counter that is not hers, and finally eek out from her that, yes, I am on standby, and I must wait until the flight is boarded to find out whether or not I can go.

  61. They board the flight. Everyone - pilot, flight attendant, gate attendant, other standbys - is stressed out and unhappy. The other standbys and I continue to wait.

  62. The flight is boarded. Still waiting.

  63. Still waiting.

  64. Success! They allow me on. They allow two other of the standbys on. The third is out of luck. Poor girl. I feel for her, but I am glad to be done with this farce.

  65. After a bumpy flight on a tiny, old, beat up plane, I arrive in Montreal at last. Finally! An end to my travels. The first leg at first, and future legs are on different airlines.
So, here I am, online at last and publishing this post. And vowing to myself once again to never, ever fly American Airlines again, if I can help it, and to avoid itineraries involving partner flights, and to never connect through JFK.

Or maybe I'll just move to Australia.

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