Ah, travel. It’s one of those ideas that seems really sexy when you are younger. See new places, meet new people, all without hassles thanks to the modern day conveniences. In a past life, I even took advantage of those fringe benefits such as frequent flyer miles. This allowed me to earn premium status on American Airlines at one time and pay $25.00 to take my family to Florida last summer. Never once had those horrible trips described in magazines and folklore… until recently.
I needed to head to Portland, Oregon for business. My goal was to leave Saint Louis on Wednesday, February 6, 2008 and return the next day. I had arranged for 2 meetings in the late afternoon before heading to dinner with another customer. Patrick Lightbody and I had plans for breakfast the next morning just to catch up. Plus, I still needed to deliver off his wedding gift. Then, I would take leisurely metro ride to the airport before heading back to Saint Louis.
I had the airplane (with a stop through Seattle) and hotel booked. Everything was prepared and ready. I am an old pro at this having racked up over 300k frequent flyer miles. Hell, last summer, my wife and I took our 3 children all under the age of 3 to Florida. Yet, that’s when American Airlines and Marriott decided to tag team me into trip hell submission.
First, my flight departed from the gate as scheduled. This departure consisted of backing off from the gate by about 15 feet and, then, rolling back to the terminal. The pilot stated that a problem was found in the center fuel tank pump. It was failing to start and maintain consistent pressure. He hoped it was just a sensor reading. Since the all fuel tanks are needed to complete the trek to Seattle, this needed to be corrected.
After waiting 45 minutes, concern hit about whether I would make my connecting flight to Portland. I was advised by the flight attendants to depart the plane and talk with the gate agent which I promptly did. The gate agent assured me hat we should be taking off shortly and there would be plenty of other flights should I miss my original connection. While chatting with the agent, the pilot stepped off the plane. I am not an expert in the workings of an airline by any stretch of the imagination; however, I am pretty damn sure this is never a good sign.
Over three hours later, we finally depart Saint Louis. Curious what happened with the fuel pump? Well, that problem could not be corrected according to the pilot who was always polite, professional, and kept the passengers informed. The center tank was drained of the fuel. Therefore, we would be making a stop in Denver, Colorado for more fuel in the working tanks. This means that we needed to alter the flight path which would result in a longer flight.
At this point, we are late taking off, need to make a stop half-way, and my original connecting flight will be gone. American decided that these inconveniences were not yet enough. The flight was stocked with a complete lack of snacks for every passenger. By the time I was offered something, my choices was a candy bar or to suck down more recycled, pressurized air. At what point when we sat at the terminal for 3+ hours did American decide that people want to site on one of their fucking spacious airplanes for 9 hours without a drop of food with real substance? Maybe this is part of their grand plan to fatten the passengers so that we can buy two seats and have the extendo-belt.
I finally arrive in Seattle after 3:00 pm local time, but American is far from done kicking me. The gate agent informs me that he has little information on my connecting flight other than which concourse. I phone the AA reservations desk where I discover that I have been booked on a United Express “puddle jumper” flight from Seattle to Portland. If everything goes right, I should arrive in Portland around 6:00 pm local time. I may have missed my 2 meetings but will be able to have dinner with the customer.
Unfortunately, American Airlines has locked my electronic ticket. It takes the United Express gate agent five phone calls over 30 minutes to find someone at American to pick up the phone. The AA supervisor contacted then has no clue how to unlock it. Another 10 minutes go by. Finally, someone at American corrects the problem. I now have a plane ticket and head to grab a quick snack.
Thanks to delays imposed by Seattle Airport, the flight is restricted from departing for approximately 1 hour. It is just after 7:00 pm local time when I arrive in Portland. Thanks to American, my bag containing my phone charger and Patrick’s gift are lost. The United lost luggage agent informs me that there exists a possibility my bag was sent to New York by American. Once again, let me reiterate – I am not an expert in airline logistics; however, I do not believe the direct route from Seattle, WA to Portland, OR is through the east coast.
After an enjoyable dinner (thanks Eric, Michael, and Justin from fmyi.com!), I head to the Marriott with visions of my bag awaiting me. This dream even seems a reality when I check in at the front desk. The desk clerk informs me that I was already checked in which is probably because my bag arrived and was delivered to my room. Instead, American Airlines tagged the Marriott to continue the match in a move that would make The Road Warriors proud.
When I open the door to the hotel room, it is obvious that the room is not empty. How do I know? The naked male who attempted to engage me in a vulgar conversation on why I entered his room provided me a hint.
In all fairness to the Marriott, I was placed in another room and given a complimentary breakfast. Someone checked in under my reservation for the pre-paid room. Since I worked at the Saint Louis Airport Marriott in college, I can understand how this mistakenly happens on rare occasions. Sincere kudos to the staff working that night with their apologies and attempts to make it better.
I finally got my bag the next morning right before heading to the airport. This was after a good nights sleep and an enjoyable breakfast with Patrick at a local pancake place (beautiful blue corn pancakes!).