Archive for August 8, 2007
Following on from my little set-to with United Airline’s automated non-service line last week, the flight attendant on the much delayed flight from Austin to Chicago suggested at one point (while we were waiting in the refueling area in Indianapolis) that we should contact the United 1-800 number to check on later flights and to help resolve our missed connections.
Like a fool, I listened to that advice, called the number, and selected the option to query flight departure times thinking I could find out when my London flight was leaving and perhaps reserve a seat on a later flight, if necessary.
“Please speak or type the flight number you are inquiring about.”
(Not being a complete fool, I typed the flight number)
“Your flight appears to have multiple stops, please say the name of the city you want the departure time for.”
“I do not understand. Which of these cities do you mean? Portland–” (a flight attendant walks by muttering, the voice recognition system picks it up and stops talking)
“Did you mean Detroit?”
“My mistake. Your flight appears to have multiple stops, please say the name of the city you want the departure time for.”
“I do not understand. Which of these cities do you mean? Portland–” (my neighbor coughs)
“Did you mea–” (a baby cries out nearby)
“My mista–” (a passenger walks by)
“Are you inquiring about a domestic or international flight?”
I hang up. Yelling down the phone in private is one thing. Doing in front of a planeload of tired and irritable people is quite another. Then about a minute afterwards, someone just in front of me (one of those going to Kiev) by some miracle got through to a live operator only to be told that nothing could be done about remaking connections until we all got to Chicago anyway!
Monday, for me, was all about getting into, and then getting out of Chicago. I won’t bore you with all the details, but when the airline captain comes on the intercom to announce there is a line of storms between the plane and landing at Chicago O’Hare, you know you’re going to be in for a very long day.
Our cozy little plane didn’t have enough fuel to wait in a holding pattern for the storm clouds to clear, so we made an unscheduled stop in Indianapolis to refuel. After a couple of false alarms they finally let us on our way and we arrived in Chicago over three hours late–and too late , by 15 minutes, to catch my flight to London.
While I have been involved in the Chicago O’Hare evening rush hour before, I have never seen it after everyone’s been delayed for two hours or more. The sense of collective suffering was palpable, as people compared notes on how long their had been waiting for their flights and how much their connections and travel plans had been messed up.
United’s Customer Service desk had a line that must have been at least 250 people long. I was fortunate that I was sent directly to the gate of the next flight to London where I managed to get a seat (with no elbow room) otherwise I would have been stuck in line until all the transatlantic flights had gone for the night. I eventually landed in the UK five hours late and minus my checked bag, which turned up on the doorstep 22 hours later.
So in the end, I was one of the luckier ones. I was chatting to people who were traveling to Kiev, flying to China, meeting up with a cruise liner, and so on. I have no idea if they got to where they needed to go, but I am sure the airport hotels were full Monday night. Maybe connecting through Chicago is a risky business at the best of times, but when you have further connections or tight travel schedules in your itinerary, well, you’re just asking for trouble.