Planes and Cars- Travel Woes

I went on travel this week. Perhaps you picked that up from my Twitter feed which at times became quite cynical as my frustrations grew and my time since awaking went longer. I went up to Maine for a meeting. The meeting went well enough, and I learned a lot, and I believe it was very fruitful. I even me some people that I dealt with in my last job. It was good to see them again.

The travel was another story, although in the end we met our objective, arriving home, 24 hours late. We started on a flight out of Philly. About the time we should be pulling away from the gate, the pilot came on the intercom. Apparently, the plane had been fueled twice, and had too much fuel and was overweight for takeoff, so fuel had to be taken out. That would take about a half hour. It finished within the estimate, and we pulled away from the gate and began taxiing. As we taxied, the plane pulled over and the pilot said that all of the fuel was taken out of one wing so one wing was full and the other empty so the plane had to transfer fuel, but had internal pumps. My piloting experience is limited to Cessnas and Pipers (about 12-16 hours total flight time), but I’m sure that like the small planes, the big ones have fuel gauges in the cockpit and the pilot is supposed to check these things before pulling away from the gate. Perhaps everybody involved was on his first day of work. I don’t know. We eventually took off, and arrive in Portland, ME after our scheduled time. Most people book tickets for specific flights, especially during the workday, because they need to be somewhere by a certain time. Time is money, and incompetent pilots and fuel truck drivers could end up costing somebody money.
Our stay went well enough. The meeting was productive and we had a good time after work in downtown Portland.

Wednesday, we got to the airport around 4 PM for a 6:20 PM flight. We pulled up at the terminal and I got out to check the flight status. The monitor said "On Time," so we returned the rental car and checked in and got our boarding passes. We then entered the police state through the TSA checkpoint. We then holed up at the Shipyard brewpub with a beer. The other two guys broke out their laptops. I plugged my Pocket PC’s cradle into one guy’s laptop to top my battery off. The battery in my 6945 does kind of suck for serious business travel. We took turns checking on the flight. Everything from New York got canceled due to storms. We heard that our plane was on the ground in DC, but could not take off. Eventually, our flight was canceled. By this point, 8 people from our organization were at the airport waiting for that flight. It’s "Parents’ Week" at summer camps in Maine, so there is not a single hotel room or rental car available in the Portland area. The only hotel room we could find was over 50 miles away, but there was no way to get to that hotel or back to the airport. One guy broke out his cell phone and we all took turns rebooking on a 7:15 AM flight out of Boston while we worked on finding a way to Boston. Enterprise Rent a Car told one of my coworkers that they had two cars available so he reserved them, but when we called the local office for a pick up, they told us they had no cars as the email confirming the reservation dinged on his Motorola Q. By this point, we were hanging around the rental car counters looking at options. I took a few moments to chew out one of the workers. I said "This kind of thing happens every single year. You know it’s coming, so why don’t you have any plans to deal with it?" He suggested we take a 3 AM bus to Boston. Sure, great idea. At one point, I asked if we could find a copy of the classifieds. Perhaps somebody was selling a $500 beater that we could abandon in Boston.

We managed to find a limo service with a van that could drive us to Boston, so we booked rooms at the Renaissance hotel in Boston. We had no desire to stay at the Portland airport if we could help it. The van ride cost us $66 each, and it took 2 hours to get to Boston. We rolled into Boston at 11:30 PM, and decided that a 7:15 AM flight was a little too ambitious. We called US Airways to reschedule. The two guys I work with had unrestricted tickets, but because I’m a contractor to the organization and have to book my own travel, I didn’t have that luxury. US Airways wanted me to either pay $700 to reschedule or I could buy a new ticket for $500. I’m not going to cry "poor" because I do have a corporate card and this is a reimbursable expense, but just because it’s reimbursable does not mean this policy isn’t bullcrap. I asked to speak to a supervisor.
By the time I got to speak to the supervisor, it was after midnight. Between the meeting and the travel time, I was already over 16 hours on my timecard and in no mood. I tried to plead my case to the supervisor, who in turn tried to explain to me that the other guys had unrestricted tickets and I had a restricted ticket. I cut her off and said "I understand what the small print says, but I’m not some silly teenager who overslept and is trying to plead for another flight. Your airline STRANDED me in Portland Maine where no hotel rooms or rental cars are available. I rebooked for 7:15 AM out of Boston and had to pay a lot of money to secure my own transportation to Boston. By now it’s after midnight, and I’m not really in the mood to get up in three and a half hours to go back to the airport. Your airline put me in this, and you have the authority to make the change.This policy is bogus and is nothing more than a shell game…" At this point, the phone I was on died. This irony is that earlier in the day, I was complaining about the battery life on my phone and the guy who owned the Blackjack that died on me was bragging about how long his lasts. Ah, irony. I called back on my phone to find that like my coworkers, my flight had been adjusted to 11:30 and no charge was required. Sometimes yelling at a manager, especially when the policy is BS, does get things done. With that settled, one of our traveling companions bought us a round of beers at the hotel bar. I went up to bed in my room, which honestly was really nice.

Of course, the nice hotel was not without problems. I wanted to check email and my RSS feeds on my iPod Touch. I easily picked up a wireless network, but could not log on. I called the number and found out that you have to pay for wi-fi. Why do the most expensive hotels always nickel and dime you for little things? There were two tiny bottles of water in my room with a friendly note on them letting me know that upon drinking them, a $4 charge will be conveniently added to my bill. I kept checking the toilet paper for a similar notice.

I settled down into bed and could not sleep. I used my Pocket PC to read email on the 3" screen until I wound down enough to drift off somewhere after 2 AM.
My wife called and woke me up at 7:45. I had an alarm set for 8. I called her when I got to the hotel the night before, so I filled her in on my "conversation" with US Airways. My wife told me that the 7:15 flight was canceled, as was the 9:30. Even if I did get up at 4 AM I still would have been stuck at Logan. She suggested we get a car and drive. When I met with my companions to leave the hotel, I passed that along. We caught a cab to the airport and went through a LONG line at the TSA Checkpoint Charlie (East Berlin reference for those who forgot the cold war.) Our flight was listed on time. We got some breakfast. At 11 AM, I went to check on the status of our flight and realized that there was no plane at the gate. This was NOT a good sign, as our boarding passes CLEARLY stated that the flight would be boarding at 11. Not long after, we heard that the plane would be landing soon. The plan did land somewhere after 11:30 and we were told boarding would begin shortly. Shortly after that, an announcement was made that maintenance was called out to the plane because of a problem with the bleed air valve. If I remember correctly, the bleed air valve is what killed Payne Stewart
in 2000, so the plane does kind of need that. We were told that there would be an hour delay. Then we were told the delay would be longer. At this point, we’d had it with US Airways, weather, and sitting around airports impotent to do anything. One of the guys called Hertz and procured a one-way rental to Philly. We left. The other guy checked a bag. Bad idea. I don’t check. Even when my mom died, I only took what I could carry on the plane. The airport told him he couldn’t get his bag back. He’d have to file a claim in Philly. The wouldn’t let him file a claim at Logan. Throughout the afternoon, he kept calling US Airways about his bag, and was told something different each time. Finally, he found that his bag was in Philly and he could pick it up at baggage claim.

We picked up our car and started driving through the weather that was grounding flights left and right. As we left, the guy with the checked bag found out through his Q that our 11:30 flight was canceled. He checked again later and found that the 2:30 flight was canceled. We could have been sitting around the airport all day, but at least we were driving. We had some control over our destiny.

Of course, this trip wasn’t as simple as driving home. We had to return the car at Philly, and two of us left our cars in long term. We picked up my car, I followed him to Hertz, then took him to get his car. I got home at about 9:10 last night. I was still at work at 6:30 this morning. I’m a real road warrior.

I got a funny text from my supervisor this morning. He was one of the guys with me on the trip. My company issued me a Verizon RAZR when I started, but because it’s practically useless, I don’t use it much. When I get home from work at night, I turn it off and throw it in my underwear drawer. I forgot to take it with me when I left on Monday. This morning, I took it out and turned it on to find that I had a new message. It was from my supervisor, dated this morning at 5:53 AM, saying that he was at a certain bar by our gate at the airport. I was a little groggy, and wondered "What the hell are you doing at the airport? Haven’t you had enough at this point?" I figured out quickly that he sent the text when he got to the airport on Monday so we would know where to find him. Somehow the message was timestamped for when I got it rather than when it was actually sent. Great move, Verizon or Motorola. The Verizon RAZR sucks. It’s good for making calls while I’m at work so I don’t have to use my personal minutes, but other than that it doesn’t DO anything. Verizon has it locked down so far it’s pretty much useless outside of making calls.
Anyway, I’m back at work and I have to get ready for my next trip. I’m renting a car and driving for that one. I’m tempted to say I’ll drive for any travel from now on, even if it’s to Hawaii. Heh, heh, heh.

I might write a post later on about air travel. If you think about it, airports and airlines really aren’t equipped, nor do they seem to care, when things go wrong during travel. We had quite a few discussions during our journey about the "Passenger’s Bill of Rights" that went before Congress before being shot down. Stupid Congress. Of course, they get a lot more money from the airlines than they do from the people that the airlines screw on a daily basis. Of course they’re going to protect the airlines. The airlines have no incentive to treat customers right, because if they screw up they’ll get another taxpayer bailout.


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