November 20, 2010

Trials of a traveling man

Do you remember when travel was easy?  Do you remember when travel seemed glamorous?  Do you remember when the worst thing you could say in the airport was an exuberant greeting to your brother John; as in "HI Jack!"  Do you remember walking a loved one to the gate?

The times have changed.  Now getting there isn't half the fun, it's most of the hassle.  Seeing armed law enforcement officials is common.  As an individual that has had knee replacement surgery I can tell you that I prefer the X-Ray machine over the dreaded words; "Male Assist!"  The pat down has gotten invasive, I agree with that, but I try not to think about that.  As my Mom used to say, "At least they're doing something to keep you safe!  Let them do their jobs."  I stand there and say as little as possible, knowing that they probably, (hopefully) aren't enjoying this either.  I like how they tell you that if you're uncomfortable with this they'll take you to a private place, let me tell you, that made me feel even more uncomfortable.  At least I'd have witnesses if we stayed in a public place. 

So, with TSA being such a fun deal, why the complaining?  Well, to be a bit more specific let me share some highlights about my recent trip to Denver. It's never a good thing when you have to quickly throw together a trip for business.  Where to start with this rant?  How about this, most of my flights were delayed, well, all but one, the last one to take me back to Grand Rapids.  I am a pretty tolerant guy, my goal is to get along as best as I can without ruining someones day.  On a normal day my personal goal is to make those that I am interacting with smile.  Pretty tough when your day goes like mine did yesterday.  Delta is my new carrier of choice.  Why?  Four reasons; I was with Northwest and they bought them, Detroit is a major hub for them, I have lots of miles, and generally they're pretty decent to us business folks. 

The flight from Denver to Minneapolis/St. Paul was delayed, the reason given was that the inbound flight was late.  Why?  Not sure, it's not in the system.  Will I make my connection or should I start rebooking now?  Oh, you'll have plenty of time.  Right!

With the flights nearly always completely full, why do they still allow roller bags?  Let's stop the insanity and reduce the size of allowed carry on and the number of carryons and stick with it.  Briefcase or back pack, that's all.  Invariably near the end of boarding they will announce that if you can't get it under your seat, you must check it.  So why not enforce that right away, not like we have many options, let's make the boarding process faster.

The reason for that rant?  It caused us a huge delay when they had to open up the baggage area to stow all the overflow bags.  Then we sat, for about 10 to 15 minutes, with no idea why, in an airplane with no air movement.  Thanks Delta, I really needed that to know that my fellow man is not as diligent with his personal hygiene as he should be.

We get to MSP (Minneapolis/ST Paul for the uninitiated) and the flight crew knows that many of us are either really close or have already missed.  They gave us this encouragement; "Only the ground crew can tell you where your next gate is and how likely you'll be to make it."  Funny, I thought that they had a radio and could get updated gate information so that we'd know if it was possible or not.  Wouldn't that be nice?  They know where we all need to go, they know if we're close.  What if they have those carts standing by to rush us to our next gate?  Nah, why exceed the customer's expectation?

They did ask those not pressed for time to stay seated so that we could make the dash.  I was really impressed with my fellow passengers, they stayed seated.  Hats off to them, they're at least helpful.

The dash to the next gate was for nothing.  They had just closed the door and wouldn't reopen it.  Period.  There's our ride home, just outside, sitting there.  It sat there for about 10 minutes while we started the rebooking process.  There I met one of the most beaten down, least happy, least helpful people that I have ever met.  I could tell that Delta was "having one of those days" just by looking at her.  Can't help you, nothing to get you home, no other airlines, all delivered in a flat monotone with no eye contact or compassion or empathy.  We were given meal vouchers for $6, one for dinner and one for breakfast.  Any ideas how much a decent meal costs at an airport?  George Moss can attest that a banana alone is $1.50.  Hotel vouchers were also issued.  We had made it clear that there were two of us traveling together that would need a room.  For what ever reason we were issued vouchers to different hotels.  We didn't catch that until later.  I asked about my checked luggage, someone not directly assisting me (and I am using that term loosely) said, you need to just request it and they'd be happy to locate it for me, it's sure to be located in 2 or 3 hours.  That was delivered with what was supposed to be a warm smile but felt like a smirk.  Then came the parting shot from my Customer Service Professional, "Make sure that you arrive at least 2 hours before your flight."  I looked at her and asked incredulously; "Are you insane?  You'll have us here at 4:30 AM!"  She muttered something about making sure we don't miss our flight and I held my tongue.  The responses that flashed through my mind were many, but I chose silence as my best course of action and merely grabbed my vouchers and walked away

We walked down to the hotel bus loading area and this was when we discovered that they were sending us to two different hotels.  I didn't think that this was such a good idea, so we went to a ticket counter to have them rectify this.  It took two people 20 minutes to figure out how to make that happen and still no empathy as to being stranded.

Back to the hotel pick up zone, in comes the bus.  After proving that we had a right to ride to the hotel we're allowed on.  Because I didn't choose the hotel, they shall remain nameless in this account, but they didn't help much either.  The driver was about 70 and seemed to have Parkinson's, steering was jerking back and forth and the touch on the breaks/gas was full on then full off, repeat until nauseous.  Upside, he had the Gopher's BBall game on and they were winning.  As we're leaving the airport he calls in; "I've got 4 distressed passengers, do you want me to stop at Mall of America?"  We were labeled for the trip now.  Distressed.  Getting to the hotel the woman checking us in was as tentative and apologetic as could be imagined, like to the point that she was annoying us even more.  Very difficult to remain positive. 

After I checked in, I went to my room and crashed after watching some TV.  Next morning, up and out by 5AM.  Upgraded to First Class for the last leg to Grand Rapids.  Nice, but too little too late. 

Here I am, home again, writing this to help me finish venting and now I'm dreading my trip to California in 2 weeks.  I haven't had a bad trip like this in quite awhile, maybe it was a fluke.  Yeah, let's hope so.  Or maybe I can try hang gliding across the country, OH Yeah!

Thanks for listening.

For those that would like to know how the trip to Germany went, I've finally got the pictures downloaded and oriented so that they're ready to be used.  I promise, I'll get to this soon!