Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Travel travails

I still maintain, with the unchanging steadfastness of a novelty t-shirt purchased at the shore, that a bad day out of the office beats a good day in the office, but man oh man, yesterday was arduous.

In hindsight it’s difficult to make it out to be anything more than it was, which was just your typical commercial air travel comedy of errors. My step-father dropped me and my wife and the little guy off at the airport with ridiculous amounts of time to spare, considering the airport itself is not that big from one end to the other and a Monday mid-morning does not generally entail massive crowds in the security lines or anything. But this was by design, because we wanted to have a day free of even the slightest worry, one in which we could check our bags and then go through security and then grab a hot breakfast and then leisurely await the boarding call. Since we had a two-year-old to wrangle on the one hand and his awkwardly bulky car seat to tote on the other, padding the schedule seemed all for the best.

And it would have been, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids and their dog. And by “meddling kids and their dog” I mean “massive delays due to mechanical problems which no one could have foreseen or done anything about”. Well, maybe someone could have done something about it, maybe there’s a business plan somewhere in running an airline which has a 100% on-time rate because all the planes are rigorously maintained and replaced as soon as they’re two years old and armed with Destro’s Weather Dominators or whatever, but that does not describe Southwest Airlines. (Nor, for what it’s worth, does it describe an airline I’d be likely to fly my family on, because I imagine the tickets would be astronomically expensive.)

Iron Grenadier Airlines runs a tight ship, but their major hub is a bit out of the way on Cobra Island.
We had a connection in Chicago and at the start of the day it was a very manageable hour and a half between flights. But our flight out of Albuquerque was delayed 55 minutes, and then an hour and 15 minutes, so suddenly it seemed like the only way we could hop from one plane to the next would be if we were among the first six or so passengers off the plane in Chicago and just hustled like Charlie, and also if the jetway for the second flight were no more than three or four gates away. Getting off a plane fast of course requires sitting towards the front, and this might actually be possible on Southwest because of their bizarre free-for-all boarding/seating scheme, but you know what can really screw it all up? When you spot a window-and-middle pair of seats in Row 8, which would have been perfect for me and the little guy (federal aviation law requires the carseat get buckled into a window seat, and my wife could have found a singleton even closer to the front), and there’s a lady sitting in the aisle seat, and you ask if you can get past her to the two other seats, and she says she’s saving one of those seats for her husband. Does that not kind of violate the spirit and/or defeat the purpose of open, unassigned seating? Husband-Seat-Saving Lady, whoever you are, wherever you are, you pretty much suck. You may not have technically done anything wrong, you may have been within the letter of the law of Southwest’s A-group boarding policy, and you of course weren’t obligated to look out for anyone but yourself, but still. You suck.

We skipped the Emergency Exit row and tried sitting in Row 10, which is still at least in the front half of the plane, but were reminded by a flight attendant that it’s actually three rows that count as emergency exit for purposes of expressly forbidding carseats, so we ended up in Row 13. And also ended up wheels-down exactly when you’d expect, with 15 minutes ticking down until our connection. And also taxied to Gate A11 and were told by the flight crew that the flight to Dulles was at Gate B25. But in a mad frenzied burst we deplaned as fast as possible and I ran … no, that’s not the right word for it, but I think English may lack the specificity to describe in a single word the locomotion that results when an out-of-shape 36 year old with a large carry-on strapped to his back and a carseat hugged to his chest tries to get from one side of Midway to the other in seven minutes. (The German tongue might have it covered, but I think Babelfish has a character limit.)

The plan was that I would get to the gate first while my wife (who, let us not forget, is four and a half months pregnant) maneuvered herself and the little guy (who walks pretty slowly, or slows down whoever’s carrying him) in my wake, and if I had to lay across the cabin door I would keep the plane from taking off without all three of us. I got to B25 with two minutes to spare! And then saw that our connecting flight had been delayed half an hour and had yet to even start boarding. Which would have been nice to know when we landed. Also, once my bride and my heir rejoined me, we heard an announcement that boarding would be further delayed because another Southwest flight carrying passengers who were supposed to make the same connection was coming in late, and they’d be holding the plane for them. Which also would have been nice to know when we were twiddling our thumbs nervously in Albuquerque and trying to claw our way to primo seats on that flight. I really can’t decide after all that if I’m a fan of Southwest Airlines or not. On the one hand they seemed to be doing a lot to accommodate the repercussions of the screwed up schedule; on the other hand the schedule-buck does stop with them. They’ve got good prices; but the cheapness shows in the experience. And some other day I’ll describe the nightmare of the first leg of our flight out west, when the cabin pressurization system malfunctioned and I thought my head was going to explode, as did the little guy (thought his own head was going to explode, I mean, probably didn’t spare a thought to anyone else’s, understandably) and the little guy didn’t even know or understand what you’re supposed to do to alleviate the pressure imbalance in such a situation and therefore just SCREAMED BLOODY MURDER. Which I do, in a roundabout way, basically blame Southwest for in the same buck-stoppage way.

But I’m still pretty sure about Husband-Seat-Saving Lady. She totally sucks.

Anyway, we’re all home in one piece, all back to our beloved routines of work and daycare and whatnot, and all’s right with the world, or close enough. I’ll dole out a few more Thanksgiving anecdotes in days to come. Right now I’m just thrilled to be home.

No comments:

Post a Comment