Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Making the World a safer, happier, better place...

... by bankrupting one corrupt airline at a time. Yes, that's right. I'm going to need your help in fighting the Evil Empire commonly known as American Airlines. By sharing my flight experiences from the past couple of weeks, I'm hoping to shed some light into the darkness, helping you, too, to resist the AA Force.

I'm going to sprinkle actual conversations throughout this blog, in order to (1) help you understand the situation more clearly and (2) to provide much-needed comic relief throughout this horror story. :)

It all began a week prior to departure when I received an E-mail suggesting I contact the airlines, as my itinerary had been changed. Upon contacting AA, I was told that the final leg of my flight (from Chicago --> Austin) was cancelled, and that I had to leave for Austin the next day instead. Yes, there was a later flight (at 6:30)... but they wouldn't book it for me, as it would only give me 30 minutes to make it through customs.

Mary (to a colleague): You won't believe what just happened... my flight to Austin was cancelled!
Uwe (a colleague): What do you mean "cancelled"?
Mary: Cancelled. Storniert. I have to leave the next day.
Uwe: The airlines can just do that? Aren't there laws against that?
Mary: Not in the States, evidently.
Uwe: America... the land of unlimited possibilities...
Mary: Yeah... the land of unlimited *bleep.*

The trip home started off nice enough... Bizarro Mom took me to the airport, and helped me check in... and I had a nice, comfortable flight (including British shortbread cookies) from Duesseldorf --> London.

In London, however, the drama began as soon as I handed the AA Agent my boarding pass...

Agent (spoken with a British accent): Are you with a Mr. Bardsley?
Mary: Pardon? No...
Agent: Whose ticket are you flying with? Where did you get it? Who are you?
Mary (starts to panic): Um, this is the ticket I was handed in Duesseldorf...

Sure enough, upon closer examination of my boarding pass, I realized that it had the name "Spencer Bardsley" on it. I was ushered behind the counter, and asked to please sit still and wait as they investigated the situation. After multiple phone calls, they determined that I had no criminal intent, and they asked me to identify my baggages before boarding the plane.

The frightening thing in this situation is that I made if from Duesseldorf --> London not only under someone else's name, but under a male's name. There were even three checkpoints, where they "checked" my boarding pass, my passport, and me. What does that tell you about airport security? What does that tell you about the security agents? What does that tell you about AA? And, most importantly, what does that tell you about my femininity?

Fortunately, I was moved to business class as a result. Talk about a different world. Ok, SAT prep time...
Coach class : Business class, guys with Texas drawl : guys with _____?*
(a) floral shirts
(b) eyeliner
(c) British accents
(d) skills

After making my my way to my comfy business seat (yes! Leg room for freakishly tall people!), I was still in a state of nervousness. As I began to frantically write in my journal, the guy sitting next to me asked if everything was ok. He was a Mormon, which is important later on in the story.

Mystery Mormon: Are you ok?
Mary: Actually, the craziest thing just happened...
Mystery Mormon (looks at me like I've lost it): Hmm?
Mary (proceeds to tell the above story): Yada yada yada...

After telling him what happened, I couldn't help but look at his nametag. Lo and behold, it said "Elder Bardsley."

Mary: Is your name, by chance, Spencer?
Mystery Mormon (with bulging eyeballs): Yes...
Mary: Aha!!!
Elder Bardsley: How do you know?
Mary: You're The One! I had your ticket!

Sure enough, I happened to be sitting next to Elder Spencer Bardsley in business class. What are the chances?

Touching down in Chicago was rough... I did not want to be there, and I did not want to spend the night there alone. During the landing, I decided two things: (1) I was going to fight as sweetly and tactfully as I could to make it back to Austin that night. (2) I was going to anticipate having to spend the night in Chicago, so as not to get my hopes up, only to have them dashed.

Mary (at the AA ticket counter): Hello *smiles sweetly*, I'm supposed to leave for Austin tomorrow morning, but I'm wondering if there's a flight leaving for Austin tonight instead.
AA Agent: No, I'm sorry, there's not.
Mary: Actually, it's only 6:20, and I know that there's a flight that's supposed to leave for Austin at 6:30. Could I go stand-by or make it on that one?
AA Agent: Oh, actually, that one was delayed. It's leaving at 7:00. But you don't have enough time to make it to the terminal. It's 45 minutes away.
Mary (through tears): You mean I'm missing it by five minutes? What if I run? Can you call and see if it's been further delayed?
AA Agent: No. I can't call anyone. Plus, we can't delay the flight for one person. You can't make it.
Mary: Are there any other flights leaving for Austin tonight? Has anything else been delayed?
AA Agent: No, I'm sorry.
Mary: Would you please check? Please just check the computer once more.
AA Agent: Actually, a different flight has been delayed until 8:00.

And so it went, back and forth. As soon as she demanded that I pay for the flight change from Saturday morning to Friday night, I asked to speak to her supervisor. The original/cancelled flight was Friday night! Once the supervisor showed up, things were straightened out, I was printed a boarding pass, and was sent on my merry way.

Of course, I had to call my parents to let them know I would be arriving that night instead of in the morning... but sure enough, my German cell phone didn't work in the States, and sure enough the payphones weren't working (I even remembered to carry USD with me!). The perfect solution: ask an AA Agent for help!

Mary: Is there any way I could borrow your phone? My cell phone is out, and the payphones aren't working.
AA Agent: There are payphones right over there.
Mary: I realize that. I tried three of them, and they're not working.
AA Agent: I'm sorry, but I can't fix the payphones.
Mary: But do you have a phone I could borrow, as they're not working?
AA Agent (walks away): I can't deal with this right now.

I'm not exaggerating; this is seriously how the conversation went. Thank you, AT&T commercials, because within five minutes it dawned on me to call Collect. Which means that within about six minutes, I was on the phone bawling to my poor mother.

The fun ended as soon as I tried to board the plane and handed the agent my freshly printed boarding pass.

AA Machine (spits my boarding pass out): *beep*
AA Agent: There must be a problem with your boarding pass.
Mary (starts going into convulsions): Pardon? It was printed 30 minutes ago.
AA Machine (spits it out again): *BEEP*
AA Agent: Your seat seems to be nonexistent. Well, I'll just print you a new one.

Sure, I appreciated that she printed me a new one right then and there... but what concerned me was that she had just told a stand-by passenger that there was absolutely no room on the plane. How in the world was she able to print a new pass for me? There was something rotten in the state Illionois that night...

That Friday was literally and figuratively one of the longest days of my life. Literally, due to the time change and figuratively, due to the drama.

Every bit was worth it, though, to see my parents and three beautiful sisters waiting for me in Austin! My five favourite people! I never knew a hug could feel that warm and nice... :)

All that to say... if you have a choice, do not fly American Airlines. Fly Continental. Or United. Or Southwest. Or hitchhike.

*the answer to the question is (c), British accents. Which are as plentiful as tea and shortbread cookies on Beatles Airways.

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