Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Flight from H-E-Double Hockey Sticks

Posted by Heather at Sunday, March 17, 2013
Let me tell you a story. A story about a family just trying to fly home. A long, woeful, rambling and sometimes unbelievable tale that borders on laughable, ridiculous and completely exasperating and frustrating!

Our Hawaiian vacation had come to a close and we made it to the Honolulu airport in plenty of time to go through Agriculture inspection, get through security and wait for our plane. Shortly before our flight was about to leave, an announcement came on over the speakers telling us that our incoming plane had landed, but at a far part of the airport and made to taxi to our gate. This was going to take a little longer than usual, so our board time was delayed slightly but our arrival into San Francisco Airport (our connector) would not be delayed. The plane eventually made it's way to us and we boarded soon after our scheduled departure time of 12:49PM (Hawaii time). Then we sat. And sat. And sat and sat and sat some more. We sat on the plane for a full TWO hours- not moving- just sitting at the gate. We were told that they were working on the air conditioner.

Finally, we departed Honolulu, Hawaii, two hours PAST our scheduled departure. (BTW, the air was FREEZING on the flight- guess they got that a/c working pretty well!) Because our our late departure, we arrived in San Francisco, CA, at 10:07 PM (local time). Our next flight home was scheduled to leave at 10:20 PM. For whatever reason, we landed at the international terminal in SFO. Once we hurried off the plane, there were no agents present to tell us where we needed to go to *try* and make our Charlotte bound flight. The only thing that the boards said was that our connecting flight was in Terminal 1.

So, off we go, running through the airport like made people, Katy strapped to my back so we could move quicker. Of course, if you know the SFO airport, you already know what we did not yet realize; you have to take a shuttle to get from International to Terminal 1. So, wait, wait, wait for the shuttle. Run, run, run to find a board to tell us what gate our connecting flight is at. Dash to Gate 26 only to be greeted by emptiness. Nobody was around. Gate 26 and all the gates around it were deserted. We had officially missed our connecting flight home. It is after 10:30 PM.

After wondering around for a bit to find somebody to help us, we finally get told that we need to go to United Customer Service to get booked on a later flight. Guess where Customer service is located? In Terminal 3.

So, we get onto yet another shuttle, going to Terminal 3. We find United Customer Service and are greeted by a ridiculously long line of grumpy, tired, upset customers, ourselves most heartily included. We wait. And wait and wait and wait and wait. At this point, Katy has fallen asleep in the Ergo on my back. We wait and wait and wait some more to get to speak to a Customer Service Representative.

We FINALLY get up to the counter. We explain our dilemma and are told that there is a 1:30 AM flight that we could catch to Charlotte. We get grilled about our two pieces of luggage that were supposed to be traveling with us, but just like us, most assuredly did not make it on the original flight to Charlotte. We are told that our luggage will be on the 1:30 AM flight, with us. We've got less that one hour to get to the gate... back in Terminal 1. We are assured by the agent that there is plenty of time to make it.

So, back to the shuttle stop... only to find out that the shuttle stops running at 11:00 PM. It is 11:30 PM. Back to the United Customer Service counter we go. I go right to the front of the line and ask how we are supposed to get to Terminal 1, without the shuttle running, in time to catch the flight. We are told that there is an alternate form of transportation using the Air Train. The customer service rep assures us that it's only a five minute wait and even though we need to go out of the terminal and back through security, there shouldn't be a problem because it's so late in the night.

So, we go madly searching for the Air Train. We find it and wait and wait and wait. We catch the train and get off at Terminal 1. There is no line at security and we hand the TSA officer our United-issued "e-tickets" only to be told that they are in fact not actual boarding passes and that we cannot under any circumstances go past security. *Do not pass go, do not collect $200, we might as well have been in jail.*

**Side Note**Now, let me stop to explain a little tidbit of information at this point. United and USAirways sometimes run what they call "code share" flights. Even though we originally booked our flights through United, some of our flights were actually on USAirways planes and/or United Express planes. This made for A LOT of finger pointing and blaming on both airlines' behalves. This also contributed to most of our running around the SFO airport because one airline would tell us to go to the other airline's gate/ticket counter/customer service only to then be told to go back (and forth and back and forth). Our HNL to SFO flight was United. Ours original SFO to CLT flight was considered United Express (operated by USAirways). Our make-up connector was a USAirways flight.

Back to the story.

Right around this time, Katy wakes up from her "nap." It's one AM at this point. She's ready to party- she doesn't want to be wrapped up in the Ergo. She wants to be free, she doesn't want to sit still, stand still, or be still. She has been sitting on an airplane for seven hours that day, then fell asleep- she's ready to be FREE! Ted and I on the other hand, are exhausted. Exhausted from traveling, from dealing with the stupidity of unhelpful customer service, from basically everything in between.

After being told that we cannot get through security to try and catch our make-up flight, we go and find the USAirways ticket counter. There is one lonely agent closing up shop for the night. One grumpy-grouchy-my-shift-is-almost-over-so-don't-even-think-of-bothering-me lady. We show her our United-issued e-ticket. She tells us that because United issued the E-Ticket, she can't do anything to help us. She cannot view the itinerary, she cannot issue us boarding passes (At this point it's after 1:00 AM and it's too late, anyway at this point- the flight has closed for check-in), she cannot switch anything or book us on a later flight.

SOOOOOOOOOOoooooo, at this point we are stuck. We cannot go back to United Customer Service because they are located behind the security checkpoint. However, we don't have actual boarding passes so we can't get through security. However, we can't get anything reissued because the people who originally changed our itinerary are behind the counter. It's after one in the morning and most ticket counters and airport information desks (outside of the security checkpoint) are closed.

We decide to try our chances and try and find the United ticket counter. Guess where it is located? You guessed it- back at Terminal 3. With no shuttle running, we are forced to walk outside of the airport back to Terminal 3 at after one AM in the morning.

**Side note** Lest you forgot, we are still carrying our carry-on luggage and dragging our time-zone confused Preschooler along for this adventure. Also, we have not eaten since breakfast in Hawaii at nine in the morning (thank goodness it was a DELICIOUS breakfast! :-). Because of the late hour and all of our rushing around the airport, there are no food places open to grab some anything to eat. So, essentially, we are tired, hungry, frustrated and STILL without a flight home to Charlotte.

We get to the United ticket counter and *luckily* find an agent working. We tell her our woeful tale and she agrees to book us on a flight to Charlotte the next morning (which is really the same day, just later). She also agrees to book us a hotel room to stay in for the night (aka, the next five hours). We heartily agree to her plan of action and wait *patiently* for her to type in the necessary information into her computer. We wait and wait and wait. She types some numbers/letters. She consults with another agent. She types so more. We wait some more. She has trouble actually checking us in for the morning's flight. So, once again, we are issued "e-tickets." She sets up the hotel for us and sends us to pick up the hotel shuttle bus.

So, we go outside to wait for the shuttle bus. We wait and wait and wait and wait... only to find out that the hotel shuttle has stopped its service for the evening at one AM- it is now closing in on two AM at this point.

We are not the only ones in a predicament here. There are many stranded flyers waiting for a non-existent hotel shuttle. So, we split a 15 passenger van taxi ride with five other fellow stranded flyers, and a bohemian International student that barely speaks English trying to get to downtown San Francisco by herself. We pile into the van only to become quickly aware of the fact that our driver (very obviously not a native speaker of the English language) has no clue where our hotel is located. Thank goodness for Iphones! One of our fellow strandees pulls up the hotel's address on her phone and proceeds to give our driver directions to our hotel.

We arrive at the Crowne Pointe Hotel and are greeted by yet another long line of waiting, grumpy, disgruntled, stranded flyers at two AM in the morning. There is one lone woman working the desk. One very busy, angry, no-nonsense woman to deal with checking in over a dozen stranded people into a hotel that may, or may not have rooms available once everything is said and done.

We finally get to the front of the line and the stars align- we secure a room for the night! We check in, find our room and literally crawl into bed, keyed up from the night's adventure, desperately wanting sleep and willing it to come quickly. Katy, on the other hand, had other ideas. Remember how she fell asleep at the beginning of our SFO airport adventure? Well, after that little power nap, she is anything but tired!

Eventually, though, we all fall asleep. Both Ted and I sleep fitfully, frustrated over our missed flights and anxious about waking up in time to catch the next one.

Morning arrives all too quickly and we check out of the hotel room. Katy is dead asleep in the Ergo, again. We do the "arm test" (you know the one where you lift the child's arm and see if it limply falls) to check if she's really, fully asleep. She is.

We catch the 7:03 AM shuttle to the airport (for the record, the hotel shuttle bus does NOT have the hotel's name on it- it has other hotel's listed on the side, just not the Crowne Pointe. I point this out because when we were waiting for the shuttle the night before (really, earlier the same morning), we happened to see this bus, but because it didn't have "Crowne Pointe" on the side, we didn't board it.

We get to the USAirways ticket counter and show the agent our United-issued e-ticket. The agent behind the counter looks at the ticket, furrows her brow and proceeds to tell us that we are not actually booked on the 11:15 AM flight to CLT.

Say, WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!??!

In fact, we are not booked on ANY upcoming flight....

Please, dear sweet Mother Mary, Joseph, Paul, Simon and Garfunkel.....

Lord help me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fire must have been coming out of my eyes. Smoke was steaming from my nostrils.

Our agent consults with another agent. At this time, Ted strategically maneuvers me (holding Katy) and our carry-ons to an out-of-the way counter and goes back to the agent helping us (well out of ear shot). I think he knew I was going to blow like the volcano from the Hawaiian islands we had just left.

We wait. The agents consult. We are told that there are just three seats left on the 8:30 AM flight. We'll take them! The agent types and enters in all of our information. We have about an hour to make it through security and to our gate in Terminal 1.

We make it through security and find our gate. At this point, it's safe to say that we are famished. We had not eaten since the morning before. We go looking for Starbucks and end up settling for airport food fare. Yuck. Luckily, we didn't pay for this paltry offering of "food" since our airline-issued food vouchers covered the tab. Thank goodness for small miracles!

We make it on the full flight. We are in the very last row. We don't care- at least we are all sitting together. We wait for the other passengers to board. A scruffy, obviously bra-less, unkempt, dred-locked co-ed sits down in the row across from us with her dog. Said girl proceeds to be visibly sick the WHOLE four hours and 12 minutes flight home.


We arrive home! Charlotte has never looked better! Spring has sprung while we were away and the trees and flowers are blooming.

We get off the plane and make our way down to USAirways baggage claim office. We check on the status of our bags. We are told that one bag made it on our 8:30 AM flight, along with us. We are also told that they have no clue where the other bag is and they *think* that it *might* also be on the 8:30 AM flight. We just have to wait and see.

So, we wait and see. We wait and wait and wait some more... Yippee! Both bags appear on the conveyor belt! We quickly grab them and make our way to Long Term Parking to get our car. We load up the car and head for the exit gate. We feed the machine our parking ticket. The ticket gets eaten. The gate does not budge. We call the "help" button only to be connected to a clueless clerk who has to ask THREE times what our problem was and when did we first arrive? After much back and forth, we are told to wait for somebody to come to us to collect payment as long as we have cash (never mind that the lot is clearly listed as "debit/credit only" and that is one of the main reasons we parked there in the first place since we tend not to carry cash on us). While we wait and wait and wait and wait some more for this "mystery" clerk to come to us, the machine blinks and instructs us to pay. So, we do. The gate opens and we leave.

Hurray! I-85 was a sight for our tired, weary eyes! (Never were those words ever uttered, before!)

We call ahead an order of wings to go from Quaker Steak and Lube. I call and speak with "Bobby." I order three sweet teas (please don't judge the zero lack of nutritional value in our dinner choice- we were tired, we had just been through an airport ordeal from H-E-Double hockey sticks and we had no food at home). Bobby then proceeds to ask me if I want those sweet teas in to go cups. "Yes, Bobby, I would like those sweet teas in to-go cups because I'm placing an order TO GO!!!"

We finally, finally, finally, FINALLY get home. Home sweet home! We unload the car and sit down to a nice, leisurely dinner at 6:30 PM Eastern Time. We clean up the dishes and whoosh!! The kitchen sink floods- water all over the floor, under the cabinets, soaking everything under the sink.

That, dear readers, was the icing on the cake!!

No, wait, the icing on the cake was later checking our banking online only to find out that the Charlotte Douglas airport had charged us not once, but TWICE for their malfunctioning parking gate. Icing.On.The.Cake.

Drama! Emotion! Anger! A multitude of mistakes! Energy and motion (running back and forth and back and forth and back, again between the terminals). Comedy of the darkest kind! This story has it all! Fact is truly funnier (tongue-in-cheek because I am most certainly NOT laughing about it, yet!) than fiction.

I could not make this up if I tried!

(At least I can honestly say that we had a GREAT time in Hawaii with Rob and Julie. I refuse to let this horrible experience on the way home taint the whole trip. Hawaii was everything you see in pictures- tropical, beautiful and fun! :-)


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