Tuesday, January 05, 2010

So, our good friends Liz and Larry, who inherited a timeshare a few years ago, invited our family to come join them for a week in Kauai. Armed with the lessons learned from the same trip we took two years ago (no goddamn surfing, and bring an arsenal of sonic weapons for the goddamn roosters), we crossed the mighty Pacific and spent a week in lovely Kauai together.

The beaches were marvelous, the late night card games were fun, and we skirted any major tragedies by employing copious quantities of sunscreen, ketchup, vodka, and a box named Lynn. Hell, most of us even came home with ocean-tested Boogie Boarding nicknames:

Hank: The Maple Wave (See, she's from Vermont)
Daisy: The Reading Rider (Uh, because she likes to read?)
Larry: The Oceanic Six Footer (He's tall! He's in the ocean! We're on the island where Lost was filmed!)
Me: The Gefilte Fish (I'm Jewish! Hilarious!)

Liz is apparently unnicknameable.

Anyway, the trip went pretty well. We had our 6 days o' fun and then climbed onto our airplane and were promptly informed by the United pilot that we'd even be arriving back in San Francisco a little early. Hoo hoo! Smoothest travel day EVER!

We rolled down to the runway and then....

Well, we just kind of stopped there for a long while. Then the pilot came back on the intercom and explained that they had found some mechanical issues and we'd be heading back to the gate for some repairs. No prob though, after an hour or so, we were ready to depart again.

We rolled down to the runway and then....

Well, har har, darned if that plane wasn't still having pesky mechanical problems. We went back to the gate and hung out there for a good while longer, while United put their top head-scratchers and elbow-greasers on the issue. After approximately 2.99 hours of this game, we were informed that we could get off the airplane temporarily. Meanwhile the mechanics continued to read the maintenance manuals, whack on the engine with hammers, and download all the Windows 95 virus checkers they could fit on their floppy disks.

We hung out at the gate while various United employees got up and made speeches about how we'd have more information in another 20 minutes. This went on for a couple hours. Many of the passengers hopped on their cellphones looking for other ways off the island, but flights out of Kauai are infrequent and solidly packed. Meanwhile, various passengers began to exhibit their stress personas.

Angry Activist Man yelled out the email address of the United CEO, exhorting us all to complain online as his wife literally dragged him out of the room. Panicky Interrupter Woman demanded her luggage NOW as United employees explained the state of the airplane. Various other men loudly grumbled their displeasure as their wives nagged them to shut up. I, of course, just made smart ass comments barely softly enough to evade the notice of anyone official.

More than seven hours after we arrived at the airport, the crew finally gave up on the idea of flying out of there that Sunday evening and sent all hundreds of us out of the airport, with vouchers for a one night stay at the nearest Marriott hotel. Everyone hopped on our phones and tried to book flights later that week. I got a red-eye on Tuesday night, ensuring Daisy and I would miss at least two days of work and school. (Hank, due to other logistical issues, was on a different flight) Liz and Larry didn't get anything until Thursday. All of these new arrangements were booked with United with the understanding that if our airplane magically got fixed on Monday morning, we'd fly home on it instead.

Being stranded in Hawaii doesn't really sound that bad, but considering that I spent virtually all of my "extra" time there on the phone with United or in various lines, it was really an outstandingly crappy day.

The capper was the next morning when Larry called me to tell me that our plane had been fixed and that they had been automatically booked back on it. I excitedly called into United, confirmed that our original plane had indeed been fixed, would indeed be flying back to San Francisco that afternoon, but that the plane was full and did not have room for me and Daisy. I calmly explained to Steve in India that a mistake had been made and that clearly there was room for Daisy and I since we had been sitting on that exact damn airplane the previous day. Steve said there was nothing he could do. So, I waited for 30 minutes while he transferred me to his supervisor.

I spoke not so calmly to Supervisor Betty in India, explaining that the pilot had told us all that if the plane got fixed that we'd be able to take that flight. Betty made sure to speak very slowly to me so that I could clearly understand that the flight was full and that there was nothing she could do. My arguments that a mistake had been made were neither acknowledged nor appreciated. Betty finally agreed to call someone at the airport and then call me right back. That apparently is customer service supervisor code for "goodbye angry American".

I decided that yelling is something best done in person, so I grabbed Daisy and all our luggage, and headed back down to the Lihue airport, which was now my least favorite place in the world. Even though I had already been told by two levels of United employees that the flight was booked, I thought maybe if I just yelled loud enough at someone in person, perhaps that would merit a couple of boarding passes.

Turns our, har har, there WAS room for us on the plane. Steve from Bangalore had had his head up his sphincter as had his patience-less supervisor Betty from Bangalore. The ticket agent at the airport handed us our boarding passes and we flew back to San Francisco later that afternoon, merely one day late.

So, apologies for boring you all with a travel-gone-awry story, but I like to get these things down on "paper" so that I never forget what a horrible experience airline travel is, and especially what an incompetent airline United is.

United Airlines, this was your second strike. Details on United's first epic fail can be found here.


Diana said...

This made me laugh aloud several times (maybe you will too someday...). I had a similar experience with United years ago and my stress persona is apparently not too pleasant. As I argued with angry Betsy-the-Boarding-Pass-Keeper then told her I was just going to take another flight, she smiled at me knowingly then picked up the phone, dialed, and said, "A woman is going to be coming to your gate to try and get on your plane. Don't let her on."

Mike Duffy said...

United cancelled one-too-many flights on me about 8 years back. I haven't flow them since.

Glad you made it back, otherwise there'd be no more funny blog posts.

Mike said...

Diana, that's awesome. Confirms my theory that people working at airports are sadists.

Mike, well, United gave us a coupon to compensate us for all their incompetence, so I'm flying them at least once more. After that, however, I'm strongly considering only flying places where Virgin flies.

Pilaf said...

United has banned me from shipping stuff on their planes as I have found a way around their stupidity (much like you did).

I ship fish for a living (such is life) and United took a shipment as far as Denver and then stopped it. Their customer service said it had a leak (very likely with rough handling) and couldn't be moved. I explained the fish in the box are alive but if they sit there much longer they will be dead. They said there is nothing they can do.

I called a little local cargo company that does business out of Denver. I asked if they could ship my packages for me. "Yes". I told them to go down the tarmac and get my fish out of United's hands and on a plane to its final destination. They laughed at the situation, told me they would take care fo everything and did it.

I do not know what that little rebel company did but they warmed my soul that day.

About a month after this incident United sent a letter informing me that I am banned from booking cargo with them. Damn shame about that -- looks like I need never be temped to use them to move my freight ever again.

United will never survive this century.

Mike said...

Pilaf, the most horrifying part of your comment was the word "century". Can we knock that down to "decade" or maybe "month?".