Monday, December 27, 2010

Kafka was here

My first New York City storm and I'm missing it. Drat.

Plus, yesterday was an absurdly unproductive day, which I spent in a Kafka novel.

The shit started just before midnight on Christmas, while losing at cards with my family, which I don't like. American Airlines called with a robot to tell me my flight was canceled. No additional info, not even a number to call. Annoying.

I spent the next two hours on hold, and never got through. But halfway through that, my sister, who is a platinum member called her specialtopsecret number and sat through the same hold music and got through in one hour.

It seems there was a blizzard heading for New York City, and they were starting to wipe out their entire pm schedule into the city. There was one seat open on an early flight, at 8:50a.m., to beat the storm. I took it.

My dad and mom and I got up on four hours' sleep to drive to O'Hare before dawn. Despite the local storm, nobody was out, and we got there over an hour early. I thought my big issue would be getting both carry-ons onboard, since I had my laptop in one and the expensive new happiness light I'd gotten for Christmas in the other.

That was accomplished, and everything seemed good until 8:30, when the captain announced during boarding that they were looking into "a maintenance issue." Shit.

I believe I would be writing this from New York if some goofball had not realized that they were about to have plenty of idle aircraft, and should make it a priority to use one of them to get one more flight out before the storm. They did not.

They spent more than three hours dicking around trying to fix that one, then finally giving up and sending over a new one from the hangar--proving one was in fact available--and loading us on.

That appeared to be too late. During our time back in the terminal, we watched the monitors showing a slew of canceled flights into all three NYC airports. The last one was leaving at 10:55. The first one canceled was at 11:05. It looked like the deadline for take-off was right around 11. So why we loaded up after that and took off at 11:45 remains a bit of a mystery.

But we did.

Half an hour before landing, the pilot--who would prove very nice through the trying day--announced that we had been refused landing at Newark. All airports nearby had also said no. The closest we could get was Syracuse--on the opposite end of a very wide state.

We landed there, but did not proceed to a gate. We pulled over at the side of the (road?) to refuel and figure out a plan. We ended up staying two hours.

Passengers all around me went right to cellphones and we quickly established that there were no trains to NYC until Tuesday, rental cars were sold out, and Greyhound had suspended operations into the city because it was nearly impossible to drive. We could stay in Syracuse, but we couldn't leave.

The captain informed us that because of the new regulations, we had the right to leave the plane if we wanted to, but we were then on our own. Two minutes later, he sheepishly returned to the intercom to tell us that deserters would also have to leave checked luggage behind.

He did not use those words, but he did diss the American operations people in Dallas at one point. He said he had no trouble making a decision, but the operations people did, and he'd been on the phone repeatedly trying to work out a plan. Several minutes later, he said they had made a decision: to delay a decision for one hour.

(Oddly, that seemed to placate everyone--even though the "decision" was to continue indecisively, except to stop communicating with us about it for an hour.)

Per the new regulations, we were also each given a cup of water or orange juice, and a "granola bar" (one of those sugar cereal bars.)

I was also surprised that about two dozen out of the 130 or so of us chose to leave. I wonder where they were going. That was also a mess, since for some reason we were not allowed gate access, so departers had to be escorted across the pavement quite a ways to the building. The initial plan was to have a TSA person walk them to a police car which would pull up nearby and drive them to the terminal. They would go two at a time. This would take an hour or two. About an hour into it, they finally decided the group could just be walked across.

We unloaded them, and then the decision came to send us back.

Ten hours after first boarding at O'Hare, we landed there. Fun.

Early in the day--around 10:30 a.m.--I had been close to aborting, and grabbing the best seat available after the storm. The gate agent said the next seat open was not until Tuesday. He told me not to think that way--I needed to think positively. A plane would be there sound.

I found that attitude annoying. I'm not a fan of the wishful thinking. The replacement plane had not yet arrived, and it was clear that we'd miss the original take-off window. Had the storm been delayed long enough to let us in? If it was hopeless, why would they be going to the expense of sending over a new plane?

I took the gamble. At that point, it seemed like I'd already invested a lot of time, and I wanted to get home.

I lost that one. The jerks at American would not let me book a new seat until we landed back in Chicago. Even while enroute back, my sister tried to rebook and they said I had to be on the ground again. By then, the first option they would give me was Thursday.

Later that evening, an opening popped up for Tuesday. Two downsides: 1) it's through Dallas, and 2) it's at 6a.m., meaning I get up by 4. (I usually go to bed around 2.) It w

I took it. I will be crabby tomorrow!

Through this process I have encountered quite a few issues with the American computer system. The latest is that it insists I took the flight yesterday and "used" that ticket, so it they can't reissue a new one. Various phone agents have assured me they will be able to over-ride that at the airport tomorrow, but it means I have to check in there prior to 5 a.m.

(How stupid and annoying is the one-hour cutoff time anyway? The last agent said I should get there 90 minutes early. At 4:30 a.m.? Because security will be mobbed at that hour? I've been to airports at 5 in the morning, and they are pretty deserted.)

It's been nice spending a little extra time with my family. I'm at my sister's and heading back to my parents for dinner soon. We say The Fighter last night, which was really good, though Hard To Watch.

I'm on hold again trying for a better flight. The NYC airports were supposed to open tonight, supposedly at 7pm for LaGuardia. They might also add back flights tomorrow. It's a longshot, but I'll keep trying.

Nope. Just as I was typing, the hold music ended. No other flights until Friday, but he did fix it, supposedly so that I could print my boarding pass.

Most likely, I'll be in Dallas tomorrow morning. If I'm lucky. And back home in my apartment around 4-5pm. I'll have updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Update Monday night:

They canceled my flight an hour ago but they somehow managed to find a seat on a direct flight to LaGuardia at 6:10am (Could they have created that flight at the same time? Seems very un-route-related.)

Who knows. It's much better.

But they have a screwy system for online check-in and keep not deleting the old records when they change my flight, and then I can't check in online. I'm still waiting for them to fix it so that I can check in here and get up a little later.
It's also odd that they didn't notify me of the change. I happened to find out when I called back one of countless times checking to see if something better was open. (They add back flights at unexpected moments, and whoever happens to call in next gets them. And that creates a ripple effect, where each person who shifts opens their somewhat-worse slot.)
I have spent half my day on the phone with them. Not done yet. I really want a boarding pass.

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