Thursday, April 10, 2008

Airport Drama

I hate going to the airport without having checked in for my flight.  Whether I can print the boarding pass or not, I strongly prefer checking in in advance.  I know where it comes from -- back in 2004, Continental cancelled my confirmed reservation (with a seat assignment!).  I could have checked in before going to the airport, but I didn't, and therefore, didn't end up going to Pittsburgh.  These days, I always check in early if I can.
Last night, I heard on the local news about issues with American Airlines.  I was set to fly American today, and the aircraft affected was the type of plane I was scheduled to be on.  But when I checked my reservation it said it was on time.  The first leg of that flight number (from St Louis to Chicago) was cancelled, but the leg from Chicago to NY said it was still on time.  I checked in, printed a boarding pass in the hotel lobby, and checked up to the moment I went to sleep to make sure my flight would still be on time.  I went to sleep thinking, maybe my flight wasn't affected.
I got up around 6 and checked on my blackberry, and found out that my flight was cancelled.  They knew about this problem yesterday; why did they let me check in?!  After sitting on the phone with the travel agency (good thing this went through the travel agency and not American directly, or I would probably still be on the phone), I got a confirmation code for a United flight and headed to the airport.  I was prepared for chaos, but figured that I was already in a better place since I had been confirmed on an airline that wasn't cancelling all its flights.
The travel agent had told me to go to American first to confirm that my ticket was being moved to United.  I walked in and it was just as bad as the pictures showed.  Hundreds and hundreds of people stranded and on line.  I was rescheduled on a 10 am flight and it was a little before 8.  Looking at the line, there was no way I was going to make it.  I checked with an American rep and she told me that if I had a confirmation code, I could just go to United and they would take care of everything.
I ran over to United through the underground passageway, the whole time just thinking about how I could have gone to United in the first place.  When I got up to ticketing, I noticed that the lines were so much better.  There was room to breathe.  No news crews with their bright lights shining and video cameras pointed at people's faces.  Unfortunately, the people working there were sending people onto all the wrong lines, and after 15-20 minutes of waiting on the line for "real" United customers, I had to go to the much longer line for the "American" United customers.  Apparently a confirmation code wasn't enough to check in without special assistance.  You needed an "eticket" number.
By the time I got to an agent, I knew there was no way I was making a 10 am flight.  (It was after 9:30.)  I doubted I could even get out of the city today.  I started thinking about how I would have to work remotely again and get another hotel room (although that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world).  When I got to the agent, he first tried to tell me that I had to go back to American to get them to call the ticket over, but there was no way I was going to trek all the way back to the American terminal to face what surely was a 500 person line (at least) at this point, a few hours later.  A couple of calls to the help desk later, and somehow they were able to get my reservation over and get me onto a noon flight.  With an aisle seat!  I was so, so, so grateful.
It was like a club in the airport, everyone talking about how they had been cancelled off of American and moved to United.  (Made me wonder how empty United's flights had been and also realize how lucky I was to have even made it to Chicago the day before.)  There was the woman who told people she had gotten 6 boarding passes.  The person who stayed up all night and immediately rescheduled her flight as soon as the notifications went out, yet still didn't have a ticket number.  The couple who couldn't make their morning flight to California because the line had been so slow, and the next flight was at 8 pm but was full.  Everywhere people were talking about the American cancellations.  When I eventually heard that over 800,000 people were affected, I could definitely believe it.
I was so grateful to get on a flight today in the middle of the chaos that I was even amused that I got selected for special screening.  Amused until I had to wait for a female to do the screening and watched all these men get to go first as my bags sat there on the wide open table.
I eventually got back to NY before 3:30 and back to the office by 4:30.  Although I got so sick from my taxi ride that I ate half a bag of Starbursts to try to cure the carsickness and bought potato salad to steady my stomach after I hit unmoving land.  I'm at the too exhausted to sleep point, but I hope it passes soon because I am so exhausted and need to go in early to get all the stuff done that I couldn't get done today.  With that, good night!  And good luck to all those stranded American passengers.  I think this is going to go on for the rest of the week, and they are predicting a nightmare for anyone flying any airline.  What a mess.

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