The unfriendly skies.

Posted by ROBERT ZERR on April 30, 2022 in Defies Description |
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I used to enjoy flying. I took my first big trip in 1984. It was to the Cayman Islands. I was just 24. It was the first time I had ever been on a commercial jetliner.

Since then, I have rarely lost my love of flying. Even in the middle of a hellacious thunderstorm on approach to Minneapolis when we were bouncing around the cabin, I still found a way to enjoy the ride. In the spirit of the moment, I started singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and by the time I had hit the chorus, the rest of my party was singing right along. A chorus of 12 heavenly voices, most drunk, singing our way to the netherworld – Minnesota.

I have been fortunate over the years. I have never lost a piece of luggage. It always showed up magically on the carousel. Sure, planes were late departing or leaving, but I never missed a single connection. All those horror stories on TV about people sleeping in airports for days at a time were unfathomable to me.

With all this in mind, I set off a couple of weeks ago to Key West. I haven’t been on a vacation in two years, thanks to COVID. So I thought, what the hell, let’s make it a memorable trip.

Back in November, I booked our flight. My favorite airline flies straight to Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. But it doesn’t fly to Key West. I guess the Eskimo on the tail of the plane didn’t wasn’t the sun-worshipping type. In normal times (re: Pre-COVID), I would fly into one of these two cities on Alaska and then rent a car to make the three-hour drive south through the Keys.

But this time, we weren’t going to need a car and figuring out what to do with it on the crowded, narrow streets of Key West would have been problematic. Most of the town is fairly walkable, so taking an actual car from Point A to Point B on a three by five mile island is nonsense.

Against my better judgment, I decided to take another airline this time around. Two airlines flew one-stops to Key West – Delta and American. Remembering that Delta killed one Jan’s dog, I opted for American.

One-stop of about 45 minutes in Dallas. Total price: $1099 for the two of us. Feeling a bit largess since I hadn’t gone anywhere in two years, I upgraded the legs to First Class. For those who haven’t traveled recently, that’s the part of the plane that arrives at the scene of a crash shortly before the peasants in steerage do.

I have always wanted to experience the luxury and pampering of First Class. Sitting with the highbrow and hoity-toity, sipping champagne and toasting our good fortune and so much legroom that you could have let two people in Coach sit on the floor and still have enough room to put your feet up.

The outbound flight was a joy. I was a bit concerned about the scant 45 minutes we had to make our way from our Seattle flight through the endless passageways of DFW, but it was a snap.

We had the same layover on the way back, and as a bonus round, the terminals were next to each other, so it would be a quick walk.

Our flight from Key West back home was right on time. We walked out on the tarmac and climbed the stairwell to the door of the plane and settled into our First Class seats. The peasants passed us on the way to steerage and we were off.

Free drinks, food served on plates with silverware, hot towels (I don’t get these at all), a dedicated bathroom and I had finally figured out how to work the Tetris-like seat tray.What could be better?

A lot, it turns out. As we approached Dallas, I started to notice that the flight tracker was getting a bit wonky. Our 45 minutes time to arrival changed to 60, then 75. We circled the airport for so long that we had to leave it and fly to Houston instead. The weather had closed in, and I guess American is famous for canceling flights because of a little crosswind.

Our pilot – a good ol’ boy from Louisiana who had about 33 weeks to go to retirement – was apologetic, but his voice had a slight overtone of unexpressed anger in it. He said that the crosswinds were gusting to 40 mph at DFW. I sensed that he had been through far worse. He seemed like a guy who would put it down on the numbers in a hurricane with both engines on fire.

Even so, we were off to Houston to refuel. Our flight from Dallas to Seattle was delayed too, so no biggy. We were 12th in line for fuel at Houston so it felt like we were taxiing back to Dallas for a while. Finally, we gassed up and took off, flying with reckless abandon back to DFW before they shut it down again.

So far, so good. But we climbed out of Houston, American became American’t. Our homeward leg was canceled, all of Monday’s flights were canceled, and the first we could get out on American was 8:35 p.m. Tuesday night. If we wanted to get home earlier, we had to fly from Dallas over to Miami and then back to Seattle. In Economy.

No biggy. We were in First Class, I thought. American will take care of us. That’s what airlines do with First Class passengers. They’ll already have us rebooked before we land or find us a hotel for the night. We’d hop off the plane and meet a gate agent waiting for us. There wasn’t one.

There was, however, a long line of peasants from previous flights waiting in a line. I figured that line was the Peasants Line because I had been in one before. It couldn’t be for the First Class passengers. But it was a general line, a line Kat took her place in as I called American’ts Customer Service. They were of no help at all.

A hotel room? All we got was a postcard with a QR code to some partner hotels at ripoff rates. That was a non-starter so I switched to Hotels.com where I had some free nights banked. I found a suite at a Sheraton six miles away. By now it was midnight. We should have been back in Seattle four hours ago. Now all that was left was to retrieve our luggage.

Another line. Another disappointment. Our bags were somewhere in the catacombs of the airport. Now I was stuck in my pirate geat in a cowpoke town with nothing to change into and nary a single clean piece of underwear in sight.

Oh well, we’ll get them tomorrow. Let’s just catch the shuttle to the airport. I called the hotel and they said the shuttle was about an hour late. No biggy. We were still trying to find our luggage so we had time. They finally said they had found them and would get them to us.

With nothing left to do, we called the hotel shuttle. They were running an hour behind. No problem. We could wait.

And wait we did. Before we knew it, it was 1:30 a.m. and raining. Another person was waiting for the same missing shuttle. We initially didn’t engage her because she kept mumbling into her phone, like the guy in Office Space. We finally named her Red Stapler Girl.

I shouldn’t throw too much shade on her as it was her idea to get a cab to the hotel. As a travel tip, know that taxis in Dallas seem to head off into some secret cave at night. They are impossible to find. To get one going out of the airport, someone has to be coming into the airport. An airport that was now officially closed.

Finally, we get to the hotel. It turns out the shuttle didn’t come because the hotel was officially full and they were hoping we just wouldn’t show up. They looked pretty surprised when we did. We had outsmarted their little game of “ignore them and they will just go away.” To their credit, they did give us a suite; one an assistant manager had to clean while we waited in the lobby. Kudos to him.

In the morning, I checked again on our bags. American’t had sent them on to Seattle. They were set to arrive at 10:30 Monday morning. We weren’t set to fly out until 6:10 a.m. Tuesday.

By now we had totally abandoned American’t, even though we had an unused leg to go. I booked on Alaska and decided to eat the cost of two one-way rides home. By now, our reservation with American’t had disappeared from their screens, as if we never existed, nor the money they promised to reimburse us for the last leg we never took.

The Eskimo didn’t let us down. Like someone who had been unfaithful, we were welcomed back to our first love – Alaska. We swore never to be swayed again by those fancy promise of First Class on another airline or any trip that used DFW in their itinerary. We won’t even do another one-stop. We’ll stay with direct flights from now on. I don’t care where they go, as long as I don’t have to be expected to fly the American’t Way.

Somewhere north of The Emerald City, thankful that the Eskimo is planning to fly direct to Tahiti in the fall,

  • Robb

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