On Saturday, I had an awful experience with flying US Airways to Houston, and today (well, yesterday, at this point) was only slightly better. At least my travel experience didn't involve a four-hour drive in a rental car with a frisky cat!
(As with Saturday's blog entry, I'm writing this post with respect to preserving enough detail to accurately portray my plight in a letter to US Airways.)
According to my itinerary, I was supposed to fly US Airways from Houston, through Philadelphia, to Pittsburgh. When I tried to check into my flight on the web, it wouldn't let me, so I looked at my reservation again to see if anything was wrong. Behold, it appeared like US Airways had invented a non-stop flight to Pittsburgh, numbered 1417. The truth was much more gruesome.
Upon further investigation, it seems US Airways had canceled my flight to Philadelphia and then re-booked me on Continental flight 1417, non-stop from Houston to Pittsburgh, leaving two hours after my original flight would have left. Which is all good and well, but they never told me about this. One would think, as a courtesy, an airline would inform its customer of such a significant change in their flight plan. Apparently not.
I called US Airways to verify the reservation, which fortunately required a phone call of only about five minutes, and the guy on the other end of the line said the reservation was correct and that I should check in with Continental at the airport.
I stood in the line at the ticket counter of Houston's terminal E for quite some time and eventually made my way to the automated checker kiosk thing. Well, I couldn't check in there because I didn't have a valid Continental confirmation code, ticket number, or OnePass account. I asked for assistance from an obviously very unhappy woman, who took my driver's license, dialed someone on the phone, and stood with the phone to her ear, not acknowledging my presence in the slightest way, for the next 15 minutes.
Finally, she got off the phone and told me I had to have a paper ticket. Why would I possibly have a paper ticket, given that every last bit of this reservation was done electronically? I have no idea, but according to her, I absolutely had to have a paper ticket with a ticket number. I looked through all my previous boarding passes and other things in my laptop bag and couldn't find a ticket number.
The only immediate way to remedy this was to make my way over a mile from terminal E to terminal A, where I could talk to someone at the US Airways ticket counter. Which I did, again sweating and wondering whether I was actually going to catch that Continental flight, which at that point was set to depart in about 55 minutes.
At terminal A, the US Airways representative was very kind. I explained my situation to him briefly, gave him my last name, and not more than one minute later, he presented my itinerary in E-ticket form to me, along with a very clear ticket number.
Having seen the madness at the security lines at terminal E (that's Continental's international terminal, and a bunch of long-haul flights leave in the evenings, carrying loads of people), I decided to try my luck with terminal C. At terminal C, I checked in with no problem, using the ticket number on that US Airways itinerary. Someone checked my bag with only about a minute remaining for checking luggage, and I looked at my boarding pass and went agape. I saw a big letter S at the bottom of the boarding pass, flanked by SSSS markings. That only means one thing: a free government massage.
Fortunately, the last time I saw SSSS was nearly two years and about 50 flights ago, but with so little time remaining to board my flight, this was icing on the cake for my stress level. Luckily, I arrived at the security line, and I was, quite seriously, the only person there. What a contrast to the lines at terminal E! Most of the time, terminal E has much shorter lines than terminal C, but since the two are connected, Continental customers and customers of other international carriers are free to choose whichever terminal they prefer for the check-in and security process.
I went through security, and by the time some wise guy patted me down and I put my shoes on, my bag had been tested for explosives, and I was on my way. Really, it was the quickest I've ever experienced the TSA screening process.
After leaving security, I hauled ass to gate C25, and just as soon as I got there, the gate agent opened the door for boarding.
Shortly thereafter, I boarded the hot, humid plane and made myself as comfortable as possible in seat 7C. The flight attendant closed the cabin door, and we pulled back from the gate five minutes behind schedule. But, then, agony struck! We inched ever so slowly away from the jet-way, as the plane became warmer and warmer. Nearly everyone aboard was fanning themselves with the 737 emergency brochure or the Continental magazine or some other bit of bound paper.
The pilot explained we were somewhere around number 15 for take-off, which he then estimated would require about 30 minutes of sitting around and taxiing because air traffic control was requiring a plane to be 15 miles away from the runway before another could take off. All the passengers groaned and sighed, and I think someone even shouted an obscenity.
We sat in the sweltering heat without any flight attendant offering water for 50 long minutes before taking off and, at last, feeling relatively cool air come from the passenger service units above our heads.
Finally, Continental 1417 landed in Pittsburgh 20 minutes late, at 11:35 local time. After another ridiculous 20 minutes of waiting for the luggage carousel to start, my bag was one of the first handful to arrive, and I was, at long last, out the door and on my way home.
Now, I'm writing this from my huge, comfortable, air conditioned bed, pondering the fun I'll have crafting the nasty-gram to US Airways tomorrow. I know we determined customer service is a lost art within the airline industry, but I really hope US Airways has something good to say about all the crap I endured on this trip. Specifically, I want them to refund my entire ticket and also pay for my American Airlines flight and rental car from last Saturday. I wonder... I'll keep you posted.