Every once in a while I'm forced to resign my hermit lifestyle to venture and stroll among the rest of America in all its secular glory. Last week I spent time in Washington DC and San Francisco, CA, with a couple of layovers in Denver International Airport en route. Here are some of my observations of spending many hours dealing with airlines not named Southwest:
JetBlue was able to notify me of my impending flight and upsell me a few offers via email, but they weren't able to tell me that my flight was delayed until I saw it on the departure monitors at the airport.
I'll skip the long story about attempting to determine my options by calling them (let's just say that their phone number is not on their tickets, and really only is set up to sell new tickets). The lady at the counter was happy to sell me a ticket direct to Baltimore (not my orignal destination but, ironically, closer to my next day's meeting location) for a $40 change-fee and a full appraisal of what she would do if she were in my shoes. Not that I asked.
Call me negative, but here I was getting emergency travel advice from someone who should have had the empowerment and serving attitude to help me, but was limited to policies and her best guess at what she would do. She told the customer at the station next to me what she would do if she were him. It turns out that he couldn't change his ticket from tomorrow to today without a $100 change fee and the difference in fees until 12:01 am when it would no longer be the next day and since the flight he wanted to change to was the same flight I wanted to get off of and it was delayed until 11:30 but the inbound flight hadn't left Ft Lauderdale yet, I mean really!, it probably wouldn't get in until at least 12:01AM anyway and what she would do was maybe wait until it came in but then he'd have to stay in the airport for a while and if it did come in early he'd still have... I stopped paying attention after she handed my my boarding pass and receipt for the change fee. She was mid-thirties; nice teeth. I had assumed she was pro-actively helpful and empowered to serve customers as she saw fit to the benefit of the customer and the organization and its reputation... but I assumed wrong.
Asif, the cab-driver who took me to the Holiday Inn Express downtown Baltimore (highly recommended!), asked after my travels and offered a card and a discount if I wanted him to carry me to Dulles the next day. I had schemes of catching a ride to Baltimore, taking the train to DC's central station, then another train and a bus to Dulles... My customers recommended I not do that, so I gave Asif a call.
He arrived five minutes early, took me to Dulles, gave me a discount and I more than happily made up for it with the tip. Best part of my trip.
United's check in terminals will attempt to upsell you multiple offers before you can get to the simple task of (hoplessly) attempting to change your seat* or printing your boarding pass. Be careful, as they're not ashamed to default you into accepting the offer, which you might only realize when they ask you for a credit card number. Back! Back!
United's seats are uncomfortable. From the distant past came the memory of a habit I had developed when contantly flying United from Denver to points east and west. I'd grab a pillow from an overhead compartment and slip it under my thighs. That served the dual purpose of improving the seat's (lack of) comfort and kept me from slipping forward off of it during the flight.
They no longer provide pillows in the overhead compartments of United flights.
At Dulles Airport, they've replaced some of the moon-buggie routes to the concourses with a high speed train (like in Denver and Atlanta and other airports) from the main terminal. At what I'm sure was exhorbitant taxpayer expense, you now have the pleasure of going through security with all passengers of all airlines, then walking a not-insignificant distance to an escalator to the train platform. A run on the train leaves you with an escalator up and then a much more significant non-insignificant hike and people-mover stroll to get to the concourse.
The moon-buggies took you door-to-door, terminal-to-concourse. Sure they were dorky and weird; sure they were a huge vehicle designed solely for Dulles; but that capital has been sunk. Why build a train? You drive by a lot of fifty or so of those things. Surely there's enough material there to have them last for another twenty years or so. If this were Cuba, it would be good forever.
Shure's SE115 headphones, the in-ear type with foam padding to seal the ears, absolutely rock for shutting out the engine noise of airplanes. I've used variations on ear-plugs through the years, but these take the cake and can usually be found for $70 on Amazon.
The best restaurant in the Denver International Airport's B (United) concourse is Pour la France. Their Martinis are filled to the brim; they did not card me as they could probably tell just by looking at me that I'm over the age of twenty-one; they brought the check quickly so I could move on to my next flight. The food is very good.
I caught up on last season's sit-coms and a few movies in flight. Let's just say that they made Two and a Half Men look like a family show.**
San Jose Airport has sort of improved its rental car process with a fancy new building and a shuttle bus to it. I did, however, have to walk an even more significant non-insignificant distance from my gate to the point at which I could pick up the rental car shuttle, which drove me a distance shorter than the one I hiked to catch the bus.
Rental car: Toyota Corolla. It works. Nice stereo- great bass response- tight and detailed. It was parked in the middle of a row of Mazda 5's, which I really (really!) want to drive. I didn't get one.
Seeing the half-moon floating above Half-moon Bay is pretty. Well named.
I was really zoned out when I checked into the Hilton San Francisco Airport. I noticed the wall behind the counter was orange. No, blue. No, green.
"Is that thing changing color?"
"Yes, it is."
"Okay then. ...Does that drive you nuts?"
"Yes, it does."
Speaking of which, I wonder if they've charged me for the on-site parking, which was a non-optional $18/day. It wasn't on my checkout receipt.
United (no, I'm not finished with them yet), after attempting cross, up, and side selling me a few times, pulled me out of line to measure my suitcase. It fit in their little template, though it stuck up about an eigth of an inch over the top.
"We'll have to check that sir"
"Seriously? It fits. I've only been carrying it on flights for a year now."
"" (which represents her silent non-answer to my question).
This gate agent reached for the bag as I was pulling it out of their template. It pinched her finger but good.*** So that sealed the deal. My bag could, she said as she slapped my claim check into my hand, be picked up at the caroussel in Dulles when I got there. Looking back, it was about as close as she could get to saying go to hell; go to Dulles! I'm glad I wasn't headed to Newark.
Normally I'd have been glad to let them take my bag (since they charge $20 or more for a checked bag), but this meant that I now had to go out through security to baggage claim, and then take the security and train route back into my concourse.
At Denver International Airport, I got to Pour la France just after the kitchen closed. No dinner for me. The martini was still superb. No pressure. Finish your martini as they cash out the till and stack chairs on the bar next to you. It was still 10:20. I had ten minutes.
I actually fell asleep on my red-eye from Denver to Dulles. That is until Mr. Flight Attendant bumped me with his $7.00 each box-meal cart an hour and a half into the flight. I was awake from then on. More crappy sit-coms. Okay, 30 Rock was funny.
You know what? Airport wi-fi thoughput is pretty good at 5:30 in the morning, when there's no competition for the bandwidth. I watched The Big Lebowski though Netflix streaming. I gotta say, "meh." Goodman's character freaked me out. But there was a scene in a diner where I did a double-take. Was that Aimee Mann? Googled it. Yep. Who knew? Sorry about the toe.
Getting closer to Boston, the lady in 33C (which is my way of complaining about being in seat 33B. There was a row 34, so it could have been worse) tapped my shoulder. I pulled the Shure SE115s from my ears and she repeated...
"What time do you have? Is there a time zone change from DC?"
"It' s 9:30. No, there isn't a time zone change"
A few minutes later another tap, another removal of the SE115s, and she repeated...
"Is that the ocean?"
"...Have you ever landed in Boston?"
"No... Oh, there's the land over there. I was getting worried."
"Well, I'll warn you now. When we land, we'll be over water until the last second. I mean, we'll be just a couple hundred feet above the water and it will look like we're landing in the water. Just so you know."
Back on solid ground in Topsfield, MA, at the Friendlys, where I hoped to get some breakfast, my high-schooler waiter apprised me that the breakfast kitchen was closed and the lunch menu was active, but if I knew of such and such a local eatery, they serve breakfast all day- just the other side of the highway.
Lesson learned: when the waiter advises you to go elsewhere for food, pack your bags.
Of course, packing my bags is what got me in all this trouble in the first place.
* Exit row seats are now a $15 surcharge! I shit you not!
** Seriously, is this what people tune in to watch? I remember being embarassed by Brady' Bunch during my childhood. I couldn't help wondering what Russian spies would report back to the Kremlin about American culture. Something like "Nothing to worry about Comrades, their minds are mush. That Marcia's cute though. It's a good thing she works for us."
*** I did apologize right as it happened. But she was now determined.