Sunday, October 6, 2013

Dallas tripping

My eyes snapped opened at 5:00 am. It's Saturday morning in San Diego, and I'm heading back to Sarasota after the NMEA conference. Marine electronics propaganda is secured. My scattered clothing is gathered, and hung in the bag. A final sweep of the room ensures I haven't left anything behind. I head down to the lobby to check out, and grab a coffee. I'm doomed, and don't know it yet.

The San Diego Sheraton is right next door to the airport, and I'm whisked there in less than five minutes. Finding an empty ATMesque check in computer my e-ticket number gets scanned in. There's my seat assignment alright, and it sucks. The dreaded center seat in which it's guaranteed you will be squashed in-between a 300 lb professional wrestler, and a mom holding an infant that is crying nonstop and needs its diaper changed. Despite the fact I had purchased the ticket five weeks before the flight, the coveted aisles had been booked. I study the remaining options and what's this? An exit row aisle seat is available. That's great, it means if there is an accident I'm the first one out the door, but it requires paying another $27.50 to get it. Grimacing, I swipe my card, and acquire it, a most fortuitous decision it turns out.

I wait patiently for boarding. "We're boarding our super deluxe platinum members, and service men and women in uniform. Gold card holders, and passengers with small dogs in strollers may now board. We are now welcoming aboard our advantage plus members and all one eyed passengers. Silver plated club members may board at any time. Now boarding group one. I stare at my ticket and sigh. I'm group four.


Digressing for a moment, wheeled handled luggage has become an epidemic anathema. This is the direct result of airlines squeezing every penny out of every passenger. These things are cleverly designed to fit every criteria for carry on baggage, while taking up the maximum amount of space. So instead of paying $25.00 to check a bag, zillions use these things instead completely stuffing the overhead compartments.

I can still hear the drone. "Place your luggage in the overhead compartment wheels first." What passengers hear is, "Put the bag in sideways." This insures only two of these things fit in the compartment instead of three. I'm sure the cargo hold below is nearly empty.

Back to the saga. I finally get to board. I always have this image of the plane in my head. I'm walking through first class. There is the white grand piano. Cocktails, and canap├ęs are being served. As I enter the steerage section I see the rows of cargo nets strung up on the green anodized aluminum ribs with the desperate masses hanging onto them. The plane is packed to the max, we push back, turbines wind up, we taxi out, and shortly we're wheels up for a three hour flight heading for Dallas.

The three hours pass, and there is an announcement stating there is a weather hold due to a thunder storm in Dallas, and we will be circling for a while. I hunch down and go back to my book. More than an hour passes, and another announcement. We are getting low on fuel, there is still a weather ground hold, and we will be landing in Oklahoma City to refuel.

I've been to the Will Rodgers World airport before. It's a nice little airport that is distinguished by being one of the very few named after someone who died in a airplane crash. But I won't see it today. We stop on the tarmac, and the engines shut down. I check the time. I have been sitting on the plane for about five hours now, but the three hour tarmac delay rule timer is now running.

A fuel truck pulls up and we are now laden with lots of jet A. An hour more passes, and a announcement from the cockpit says, the ground stop has been lifted. Fasten your seat belt signs light up, and everyone settles back into their seats. The engines spin up, and then shut down. Great, we now have a mechanical fault. The back door opens, and a mechanic boards, goes to the cockpit. Hands are wildly gesticulating, and the mechanic leaves, and comes back, and leaves, and comes back. About an hour later the engines restart, and then the bad news. The weather ground stop in Dallas is back on.

The insurrection was started by.... I'll just describe her as a older very imposing and haughty women. She starts walking around in the aisle loudly decrying the state she finds herself in, and demanding to know just what the airline was going to do about it. She is joined by several others, and then more lemmings jump into the fray. To be honest, the flight crew had been far less than communicative, and a flight attendant's attempts at humor were worthy of looking for rotten vegetables to throw at her. The plane only had water from their tank left to drink, and the food consisted of rock hard granola bars that shattered like glass the moment you bite into them. There are just enough for everybody to have one crunchy tidbit.

Heeding the hue and cry from aft, a pick up truck with stairs pulled up, and irate passengers are told if you want to disembark, now is the time, and you can't re-board. I decline to leave. You won't get anywhere from this airport late in the day on a Saturday, and driving for four hours to Dallas isn't going to help me either. About twenty passengers abandon ship. A woman complained her kids are hungry, and a flight attendant finds two left over breakfasts to sell her. A notably cheesy event on the part of the airline, who also wouldn't provide free WiFi.

If fifteen more minutes are spent on the ground, the tarmac delay rules will kick in and the airline will have to spend some money to feed and water the onboard cattle. But the engines are started and off we go to Dallas, land, and parked again on the apron for about 45 minutes waiting for a gate. By the time we got to the gate the three hour flight had taken about 9 1/2 hours.

I know I'm screwed, but when I get off the plane and look at the boards there is a flight leaving for Tampa in ten minutes, but it's two terminals away. Pounding up the escalator to the driver-less train I hop on. At the terminal, I tear down to the gate. The plane miraculously is still there, and I wave my ticket at the agent. She looks up and says, "The door is closed." "Well open it." "I can't, we've done it twice already, and we won't do it again." A supervisor hears my strident plea and makes a call to no avail. The agent starts to re-book me for a flight on Sunday morning. Fifteen minutes later the half full plane to Tampa finally pushes back from the gate.

I call Kate, and give her an update. I then call the Hyatt at the airport to see if a room is available. Yikes, because of the weather delays they only have some suites left, and I'm not going to pay that rate, ever! It's now a quarter to nine, I haven't eaten and there is a TGI Friday's in sight. I order a Bourbon, and ask for a menu. "We close at nine, and the grill is being cleaned," says the bartender. "How about pretzel sticks with that beer cheese dip?" Sure we can still do that. I holler as he disappears, "and another bourbon please."

Despite the size of the DFW airport, after 10:30 pm it's a ghost town, and TSA security is shut down. You can leave the terminal, but you won't be able to get back in. Subtracting thousands of people from the place also removes the heat they make, and the temperature drops precipitously. I start to look for a place to hunch down and while away the hours. There must be an old refrigerator box around here some place I can crawl into to sleep. 

I've lived in Texas, a state that prides itself in having express lanes built to expedite arriving at death row, but all of a sudden I see trundling down the concourse a golf cart loaded with new blankets and cots. This is a welcomed revelation. Okay, Texas, I'll take back some of the bad things I've said about you over the years.

The rest of the story is a melange of scenes from the movie Terminal, minus Catherine Zeta-Jones. I find a reasonably dim spot out of the lime light and make a nest. Kate packed me bourbon miniatures which are always handy on a trip regardless of circumstances. The laptop is plugged in to recharge, and there is good free WiFi service. 

I'm dozing in and out for a few hours and then my phone rings to tell me it's five o'clock. I go to the head and wash up as best as can be done, and put on a clean shirt. Coffee and a bagel are found shortly later. The buzz of the traveling hoards starts to increase as the airport inexorably grinds back to life.

This was not the first time I had spent the night in a airport, and a cot was better than sitting in a chair if it had to happen. I have advice for those who are caught in delays, or more extreme cases such as mine. The gate agents are overwhelmed with attempting to re-book thousands of passengers, of which the majority seem to be convinced it was the gate agents personal fault for their plight, and they loudly tell them that.

Being indignant and rude insures you will get on the later flight in the center seat surrounded by homeless people that were given free tickets out of town by the City of Sarasota. I also beat the folks who rented cars to drive to DFW.

However if you're pragmatic, and pleasant, they will work hard to help you, and in my case I was upgraded to business class, just because I was nice to her. I can assure you it wasn't my roughish good looks that cinched it. And thanks Q for the Buc's game tickets, I got in too late to use them, but I did watch the last of the game from your watering hole. Travel time from San Diego to Tampa? Slightly south of thirty hours.

8 comments:

  1. Funny read!

    **note to self: never travel with Bill. He's cursed**

    Good read, Bill.

    Connie K

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  2. Must have been that Yankees shirt.

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  3. Did you mean "rogueish" or "roughish" good looks?

    Because one is George Clooney and the other is a hobo.

    I despise air travel these days. There are too many pennies pinched and too many choke points staffed by people who've failed the test to make mall cop. I know better than to lose it with helpless gate staff, but the fish stinks from the head.

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  4. Thanks RHYS, no rough it was, but if rumpledish was a word it would have been better. I can't be confused with Geo Clooney even on a good day. It's a bit obscure I'll admit but a close description to the way I felt at the moment after the terminal to terminal 100 yard dash.

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  5. I find the fee to check luggage strange. If you carry on luggage you can still gate check the luggage and you get it back faster. Why in earth do the airlines think that they can charge money for less convienence.

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  6. Double-plus on civil treatment of airline staff, even the ones that are obviously on the border of snapping. These people are cannon fodder in the shareholder value scheme, like soldiers ordered to "go over the top" one more time by some ass sipping branding and sucking on a cigar back at headquarters. Give 'em a break!

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  7. Reminds me of too many of my travels while in the military. The worse was a 36 hour almost around the world trip because uncle sam will not pay for a non-us airline ticket (8hrs) from Japan to Europe the short way. (won't fly China air) So, with kid and wife in tow I enjoyed a trip like yours with a few more nuggets of "fun" at three to for times the fair price it could have been, the short way.

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  8. In a twenty-five year career of flying three or four times a week, I never experienced anything like that Bill. Have you considered this is a Karma issue? Have you ever had a litter of black cats cross your path on a daily basis? popped one of those whisky minis after a warm beer? recommended Furuno to a technologically impaired client?

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