Sing: ‘This is the worst trip I’ve ever been on’

by Gary Shelton on August 5, 2016 · 0 comments

in general

Wednesday, 5:30 a.m.

Bad trips? The spaceship Discovery 1 in 2001 had a bad trip, what with Hal, the renegade computer on board.

Bad trips? How about Sheriff Buford T. Justice in Smokey and the Bandit? He had a bad trip.

Bad trips? How about the clerk in the Union Pacific boxcar that was blown up by Butch and Sundance? He had a bad trip.

We've all had them, of course. Any of us who have gone anywhere have struggled to get there. Tires go flat and gas tanks drain and transmissions go. Food

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choices are bad and planes get delayed and someone rear-ends you. Weather happens and cops pull you over and traffic jams spring up. People drag suitcases across your head. You remember. Don't you?

And sometimes, you try to fly from the Southeast to the Northwest on a plane called Southwest, or as it's known, the Dollar Tree of commercial flying.

Big mistake.

I am not here to make you feel sorry for me. I seek only a chuckle and a knowing nod from people who have had it as bad as I had it last week. Trust me: I've been traveling for more than 40 years, and I've never had a worse experience. I'm sure you've had one, too. Maybe a couple. Air traffic has never been harder. Passengers have never been infringed on more. And airlines have never cared less. You might as well be flying on Capricorn One in the seat next to O.J.

Here's the itinerary. We were leaving on July 21 to go the Pacific Northwest. My son was getting married in Deception Pass in upstate Washington. Turns out, Lewis and Clark had an easier time getting there.

The tale starts on a Wednesday night. It was obvious that something was up. As I tried to check our connections, Southwest had been knocked offline. But how many businesses are offline? So I didn't sweat it. About midnight, it came back online. Everything seemed fine. Of course, Mount Doom seemed fairly tranquil on Mordor, too.

In my years at the Times, I flew Southwest a lot. Anything to save a buck. I was up at a lot 9fndawns trying to get into the “A” group for the next day. It didn't scare me. It should have. It should have made me weep. Looking back, I think Apollo 13 was a Southwest flight.

The next day, despite a traffic jam getting to the airport, things seemed to be working. Our first flight, from Tampa to Milwaukee, went off without a hitch. Even the peanuts were good.

But when we arrived in Milwaukee, our connecting flight had been canceled. We moved toward the terminal, like cattle, trying to call Southwest as we walked. We were told that an agent would call us back in 17 minutes. I'm still waiting.

Finally, we got to an agent, a women named Carrie, who quickly informed us she might be able to get us to Seattle … by late Saturday night. This was Thursday afternoon. Also, Southwest wasn't providing a hotel or food. We were on our own.

For six hours, I stood in front of the agent, pleading to at least get my wife to Washington in time for the wedding. She found one connection. Then a slightly better one. Finally, she found a way for Janet and one daughter to get there by Friday night — flying to Las Vegas, on to Phoenix, then to Denver and changing planes for Seattle – and me and the other daughter to get there Saturday. At one point, she was working her computers with supervisors on either shoulder.

Briefly, we considered renting a car and driving...28 hours. Our trip would be over by the time we got there. If it had been no more than 20 hours, we would have done it. I'm sure it would have been right out of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but we would have tried.

We left for a small airport hotel. We ate at a restaurant named after Amelia Earhart; frankly, I would have flown with her at that point. Later, the agent called us. She had found Janet a better connection. This one connected only through Las Vegas. She gave us the times. For my daughter and I, she informed me, the connections would be much worse.

So the next morning, we trundled back to the airport. We waited in line, again. We braced ourselves, again. We went to see the gate agent, again.

And we were told it was all fiction.

Amazingly, this agent could not find any trace of the connection made by Carrie, the previous agent. The best she could do was a connection that went to Seattle … through Orlando and other cities. Our time in the air the previous day was a waste. I'd rather connect through Spain...at the time of the Inquisition. My wife refused to take the trip. She was upset, and she was ready to give up on the trip, wedding and all. They threatened to put three of us on a Saturday flight...and heaven help the fourth.

I asked if the supervisor could call Carrie, the first day's gate agent, about the plans she had found. No, I was told. The agent never should have called us, she said. It was against policy. She was new. She had messed up. She was incompetent. I told the agent of the connection times; she said such a flight did not exist. Later, I looked it up. It was the first flight listed on the website.

Yes, I raised my voice, I admit. Into my second day of not getting there, I was frustrated. Then the supervisor threatened to call the sheriff on me. I told her she could do that, and I'd call an attorney, and we'd let the two of them fight it out. I thought it was absurd to take a man's money and disregard his travel plans. She told me hundreds of passengers were in the same boat as us. Her problem, I said. And I wished we were in a boat.

Remember, Southwest is not one of those airlines that puts you on another flight if they fail. They don't pay for hotels or food. You're just out of luck. Your bags fly free, but you don't.

The supervisor leaves. After about 30 minutes, the gate agent asked me to sit down while they worked on something. Still with our bags, we sat. Lo and behold, and against their policy, they finally put us on Alaska Airlines. It was like the sun came out. We had lost more than a day, and the price of a hotel room, but it still felt like a win. Some airline could get there, it seemed.

While we were waiting, however, the first day's gate agent approached us. Remember that flight that didn't exist? She had boarding passes for it in her hands. So evidently, we had an incompetent gate agent accusing the competent
one of being incompetent. Figures.

Me? I wanted to go back and argue some more. But it wasn't going to get any better than Alaska Airlines. Even if it took us to Alaska and connected to a dogsled team.

You've shared this nightmare, haven't you? You've eaten crappy food and squeezed into crappy seats with large men in the middle seats wrestling you for airspace. You've sat in front of crying babies and kids with runny noses. You've been told of absurd connections in the days to come.

Southwest's way of making up for this? They offered two of us half off on our next flight, to be taken before January 31.

That's it. Screw up a lifetime's trip, and you get half-off on the opportunity to screw up another one.

No, thanks. I'll walk.

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