Airline frustrations triggers some interesting reactions–from attendant and my uncle

August 10, 2010

Having just returned from another weeklong business trip, I can sympathize with anyone who has to fly a lot. I have to work hard to hold back my anger at the stupidity of much of the so-called security measures which seem much more clearly aimed at hiring as many new people as possible without doing much to increase security.

However, it isn’t all roses for the poor folks who have to work on these, as the story about a flight attendant shows. Apparently, arguing with one more passenger about the necessity of remaining in the seat until the plane had come to a complete and final stop was too much for him. He opened a beer, threw out the emergency shoot and slid away–it looks like right into jail.

However, for an entertaining story about just how frustrating flying can be, it is hard to beat this one I got this week. It’s from my uncle who was visiting from Michigan. You might notice that the love of story telling runs deep in my family:

“It started auspiciously on Wednesday morning when Delta called around 7:30 to tell us that our flight was confirmed and would leave as given at 12:20.
It’s always nice to be confirmed, right?  But our son was not able to access boarding passes online for us out of Seattle, and that was an omen.
Still, we trusted our itinerary info from Delta, and confidently strode up to the Alaska kiosk when son Henry dropped us off at Seatac.  Delta told us on the itinerary that they would use Alaska Airlines to fly us to Minneapolis.  Henry told us how good that was, for Alaska doesn’t use the terrible 757-300, comfortable for sardines only.

However, the kiosk “told” us to go find an agent.  We did.  That agent went in search of another agent.  That other agent promptly closed her counter to other clients after taking one look at our schedule and her screen.  We stood there in bemused expectation, wondering what sort of misadventure was awaiting us this time.  We stood there a long time, as she made phone calls, punched keyboards, and kept staring at her enigmatic screen.
Finally, she confided the sinister details: since we had landed on our flight west – by virtue of unacknowledged equipment failure – in Spokane rather than our scheduled destination of Seattle, so Delta had mistakenly re-scheduled our return flight out of Spokane as well.  Hence, Alaska had no seats for us.
She invited us to go for a walk with her.  She led.  We followed.  She walked all the way to Delta, elbowed her way through the waiting crowd, got the ears of an agent, and then another agent.  Eagerly she looked him in the eyes as she asked, “May I leave this in your competent hands?”  Then she left, looking much relieved.
I looked at the agent’s hands, felt some doubt, but made the intentional choice of courting optimism.
It took quite some time.  Yes, what a good thing Henry had dropped us 2 ½ hours before scheduled departure.
At last the man smiled at us and said, “This will work in your favor.”
That sounded good to our ears, though it was especially our wearying feet that needed favor.  But what was the favor?
I was hoping FIRST CLASS, of course.
“It’s a Delta flight that leaves at 1:10 and will still get you there in time to catch your flight to Grand Rapids.  But we have no seats left in coach, so I’m putting you in FIRST CLASS.”
And I said, “Ah, some compensation at last for the troubled flight coming here.”  But inside I hurrahed a lot louder.  And we looked at each other with an expected smile of much pleasure to come: priority boarding, wide comfortable seats, drinks, dinner on plates, maybe filet mignon, luxury for almost 3 hours!
Who said that life isn’t fair, eh?  It was smiling on us right then and there.
The man with the competent hands handed us the first class tickets.  Without even looking at them, I stuck them securely in my pocket where no one could snatch them away.
We joined the long security check line, not minding much at all, and even hoping the TSA personnel would steal a glance at our ticket long enough to notice that we were FIRST CLASS –bound.  That should be enough for them to think twice about making us open a bag for individual inspection.
On our way to the gate area, we passed a number of enticing eating places.  We smiled somewhat condescendingly in their direction, relishing the fact that we were bound for more sumptuous dining, free!
After reaching the gate area, Ruth had to make one of her not infrequent visits to a resting place nearby.  When she returned, I said, “Follow me.”  As has been her well-practiced custom, she obliged readily.  I led her to a nearby Delta Sky Club Center, where only the very elite hang out.  In my hands I held two small tickets, a Day Pass given some time ago after another misadventurous Delta flight.  I had remembered to stick them in my billfold for this trip, though I had no illusion that we would actually have time or occasion to take advantage.  But here we were, a fitting prelude to our forthcoming first classiness.
We settled in comfortably, helped ourselves to a buffet of minor goodies, making sure our appetites would not be unduly compromised.  I fiddled eagerly, but vainly, to connect my gadgets to the free Wi-Fi; only Henry may have the answer why my i-pad and netbook are allergic to unfamiliar hookups.  After much time-wasting, I comforted myself with the thought I would have another chance in FIRST CLASS, where everything would be perfect.

When the time drew nigher for eventual boarding, I glanced at our seating numbers.  I was assigned to A 6 and Ruth to A 3!  Well, surely the nice person at the Sky Club desk could speedily straighten that out.  I marched my documents to her.  She took one look and blanched.  I had seen that same look on the Alaskan’s face.  She started punching, screening, calling, conferring with her colleague at the desk.  It took a long time.  She called a supervisor to come and help, but no one came.  At last she handed our precious but confused seating assignments to her colleague, and told him she was out of there, unable and by now very unwilling to spend any more time on this vexing phenomenon.  The colleague’s explanation came in bits and pieces: we should not have been assigned to first class b/c we had coach tickets.  BUT THE MAN WITH THE HANDS SAID THERE WAS NO PLACE FOR US IN COACH, THEREFORE THE ONLY OPTION WAS FIRST CLASS!  No, we could not be seated in first class, we would have seats in coach.  BUT COACH WAS FULL!  Your seats are 25A and 25B.

There was no time left to contest; no time left to buy some eats to hold us till home arrival time; only time to join the long line of coach-bound victims.
Thus instead of a one-time treatment befitting a baron and his spouse, we became sardines on yet another B757-300, munching not on mouth-watering appetizers and fortifying steak and lobster in capacious surroundings, but in straight-jacket positions on pretzels and cookies from the teeny-weeny Delta packages denoting the airline’s munificence.
Fortunately, we both had, in our circumstances, much-needed literature to read: I “The Christian Atheist” and Ruth “Love Mercy.”
When we finished, we switched.
I think it’s easier to reach a slight degree of sanctification when grandiose dreams of the high life have collapsed into a coach seat on a 757.
We hungered and thirsted for a china-served dinner and cloth napkins and a glass of Merlot.
Instead we “suffered” a bit, more ready to identify with the suffering subjects of those books.
And we made it all the way home, on time!
Hungry, weary, but safe.

I do have something I’d like to say to that Delta agent with the competent hands, though.


2 Responses to “Airline frustrations triggers some interesting reactions–from attendant and my uncle”

  1. Joe R Says:

    The apple certainly didn’t fall very far from the tree Gerald. What a great story teller! Thanks for passing along.

  2. katelynmash Says:

    Great story that highlights the ups and downs of traveling. And being from Seattle, I’m sorry you were stuck in Spokane.



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