Hello friends! In honor of the week of holiday that I am currently spending at my dear boyfriend’s house in New Hampshire, I bring to you a special treat from the man himself. As you all well know, said boyfriend came to DC to visit me about a month ago, and while our week together was blissful and exuberant, the joy only began after a voyage to end all voyages–a journey for justice, a quest for the quintessential, a trek and a triumph: flying on an American airline.
Without further ado, here is his tale, in his own words, taken from the transcription of a letter dated 7/7/11. …. ..
Without fail, airlines and airports have websites shrouded in mystery. When I want to find something simple, like the departure time for my flight and its gate, I first must enter one of a few assorted code numbers that I know I do not have (combine the words ‘sky’ ‘gold’ ‘platinum’ ‘premier’ ‘travel’ and ‘member’ and that about sums it all up) and after wondering for a few minutes how to get around this I notice in small print it says I can simply enter the last four digits of my credit card. Which doesn’t work the first time. Or the second. But when I exasperatedly close the browser and then open it again it works. Same number. I do not understand such nonsense.
Once I crack into the Mission Impossible-style ‘security’ system designed to keep me out of my own business, there it is! All my flight information! And even a few handy big buttons for checking in or changing my flight. But of course, these are only buttons designed to squeak when pressed and amuse small children. When I decide to move to a later flight, the button is suddenly inactive. After furious mouse clicking it decides to respond after 38 or 52 clicks (depending on the time and date) but I cannot actually change my flight on the Internet. The button only reveals a secret hotline.
Upon calling the hotline, I am greeted by a friendly computer asking me for more codes and my name and my city of birth and what color shirt I am wearing and whether or not I have to pee. I decided to be good natured and wait for a human being so I sit through twenty-odd minutes of hold music and more blather about PlatinumGoldTravel Member Orgies I’m missing out on by not forking over $1,000 and my first-born son before someone finally answers. In an unintelligible accent she asks me to repeat all the information I told to Computer Lady and even has the audacity to question my answer to the pee question. After gritting my teeth and dealing with this she tells me sweetly that it costs the same as my entire ticket to change to a later flight even though there are seats available. Of course. This makes no logical sense so I should have expected it. I am not bumping anyone out of a seat and I am not demanding an earlier time and I am not trying to transport an elephant or a Horcrux. I am simply changing seats. This is equivalent to getting up at dinner and deciding to move to the open seat next to my kindly grandmother, upon which she informs me that I will have to return all my birthday money and let her eat my dessert.
But wait! Let’s say I skip all these steps and am perfectly happy with my flight time and I have my boarding pass printed out before I get to the airport. That’s what I’m supposed to do, right? Except now I must pass security. There are 18 different lines for people with different bags and small animals and unidentified liquids (which they say you can’t actually bring but if you go to line 15 they’ll let you in). Though by complete accident I end up in the senior citizen line because it looked empty and I didn’t notice the sign until I was already on my way and lo and behold, nobody tells me to turn around. Clearly I am not 73 but they let me through and ahead of the poor chumps who followed the rules and stood in the line for sad, normal people. But karma strikes and now I must figure out how to properly expose and divide my personal items so the TSA can make sure I am not a crazy person and have a laugh in the break room at my expense if I am carrying a particularly amusing dildo. There are many rules and certain ways to place my things in the boxes to go through the scanner but nobody tells me and there are no signs posting these rules. So I chuck my things in a few boxes and head through the metal detector. Having removed the metal pellets from my ears the night before, I make it through, but my laptop is not so lucky. The scanner has decided that it must be dangerous (it is a netbook, after all) so he says in an official voice to nobody in particular ‘Red 5, Object 3’. Nothing happens. Everyone is standing there looking at my laptop and nobody can get their things. He says it again. Still nothing. He whispers it into his radio. Nope. He gets up and walks seven feet to another officer who approaches me and tells me that my laptop has to go through again. Wait – you identified the mystery object as a laptop in the scanner so why does it have to go back through? Did you notice that it has no DVD drive and that made you nervous? Or maybe the small screen seems threatening? It passes through again and because it obviously hasn’t grown any new appendages in the moments it was being moved to the front of the line it looks exactly the same to the scanner and they let me go. Good grief.
Ahh. I can relax. Security is the hard part, and now I just have to find my gate and hang out until boarding. I can count to 20 and hence can locate Gate 15, where it appears that my flight is waiting and on time. Until I get there. And discover that the flight is still not even at the gate even though it is supposed to leave in 45 minutes. I didn’t even mention that the airline called me three times during the day and forced me to listen to Computer Lady tell me that my flight was on time. There is also nobody at the desk who I can ask about the status of my flight. I toughen up and stand there anyway, hoping that someone will appear to try to drive me away before I can pry out any useful information. Then I notice the estimated departure time of the flight jump from 3:20 to 4 pm. Lovely. A woman appears and I ask her kindly but firmly what is going on. She tells me calmly that the flight has yet to leave its current location because it is undergoing mechanical issues. Calmly?!? My fucking plane is broken! And it’s sitting on the ground 400 miles away! How the hell can you say that to a paying customer with a smile on your face?! That’s like a waiter handing me a beautifully crafted chicken Caesar salad and then spitting on it, smiling all the while, and expecting me to enjoy it, dammit. Fuck. Grudgingly, I sit back down and stew until I notice that the flight is now departing at 5:51 pm. My brain explodes and I jump out of my seat and stomp to the desk. The lady, whose smile is stuck to her brainless head with glue, tells me unflinchingly that the plane is still fucking broken and has yet to get in the air. You have got to be kidding. I demand to be changed to another flight and I think the redness of my face and my throbbing neck vein startled the lady out of her zombie-like airline trance because she immediately switched me without further ado. And she gave me food vouchers, which I promptly spent on Mentos and gum.
I trudge over to my new gate, conveniently located on the opposite side of the airport, only to find out that I don’t actually have a seat. In tiny print on my new ‘boarding pass’ it says ‘Please wait until 10 minutes before departure to be assigned a seat, maybe, you dumbass.’ Fuck that. I immediately presented myself in front of the gap-toothed employee (that’s not an insult, it’s just the best way to describe her) and silently hold out my ‘seat voucher’. She looks from my glowering face to the white paper in my hand and back again before asking me to sit down and wait. I say nothing and continue to stand there. Time stands still as we face off like gunslingers in Dodge. Tumbleweeds roll by. The other passengers give me lots of space. Beads of sweat hover on my temples. After an eternity, Gap Tooth says ‘Okay, hand me your voucher’ and, still wordlessly, I pass it over. I eye her every move and she refuses to make eye contact until she passes me a paper that actually says ‘BOARDING PASS’, Seat 20B. Fuck (that is an exclamation of relief). I have a seat, on a plane that works, that appears to be on time and leaving at 6 pm.
You didn’t think it ended there, did you? Relaxing on my laptop and listening to the gloriously angry beats of Biggie Smalls, I notice a flicker out of the corner of my eye. I glance up and notice, incredulous, that the departure time has surreptitiously crept from 6 to 7 pm. What?! No stranger to confrontation now, I charge to the desk and demand to know what the hell is going on. Uh-oh – Gap Tooth has been zombified. Smilingly, she tells me that the plane that is parked at our gate has no pilots because they are on another plane that happens to be delayed as well. Hang on. I rush to the arrivals and departures board and see that the only other delay is the flight I just switched from. OHMYGOD. Fuckfuckfuckfuck. This makes no sense. Someone must have known that the pilots were on the delayed plane and yet nobody told me or all the other passengers who switched to the later flight that it would also be delayed just as long as our original flight because it was actually full of the airline’s entire staff. And hold on – this bajillion-dollar operation has no spare pilots kicking around? Seriously? Who runs these things – two year olds with crayons and rattles could do a better job. Their mindless scribbles across a map would probably be more efficient travel routes than the airline’s routes anyway.
Now I am stuck with the conundrum of switching back to my old flight or staying on this one. They’re leaving at the same time now anyway, so I don’t push my luck (unluck?) and stay put. For all I know, if I switched back, they’d tell me I was actually flying on a giant paper plane and I would have to hang on for dear life as they flung me off the roof of the airport in the general direction of my destination. I had gotten up at 5:30 am to get to the airport to take a one hour flight to avoid a ten hour drive – but if I had kept driving I would have gotten where I was going two fucking hours ago. It’s not like I might care about getting where I am going or anything. I love spending mindless hours in airports with shitty food, terrible WiFi, and hordes of zombie employees and touron couples with lolcat shirts that say ‘luv we haz it’ (I actually saw this rare breed). FUCK.
Finally I got on the plane (I was convinced the staff would find a missing child in the luggage bins and delay boarding while they flew him back home) and took off relatively quickly (in airline terms, that’s one hour). My flight was also one hour. I was in the airport for five hours. Sometimes people ask me why I walk everywhere. I should just hand them a boarding pass and say ‘race you!’ and I might get there first.
I hope you enjoyed! He is a rare bird indeed.