Sunday, March 11, 2007

My Gumbo Is Getting Cold...

I was all excited to arrive in New Orleans in time for a nice lunch at Gumbo Shop. Then I got to the Philly airport at 7:45 and saw the largest line ever inside. People were snaked everywhere, and there was no room to move. It was ridiculous, so I went outside into the balmy 13 degree air to wait in a much shorter line for the skycap. 10 minutes later, he's telling me that there's something wrong. "Your flight is restricted. Come with me." We went inside and he told me to wait in front of the monitors. He walked off with my I.D. I didn't like sound of this at all. So I waited...and waited...and waited...and stared at the monitor, which indicated that the flight to Nola was on schedule. After an eternity, he returned and said, "Your flight has been cancelled. You're on Standby for the 11:00, but she says it looks good." Ugh.

I walked to the B1 gate for the Standby flight, but I was way early and there was another flight waiting, so I walked down to the gate with the original 9:30 Nola flight, Gate B16, conveniently located at the furthest possible point in the terminal. Gate B16 & the monitors both showed that the 9:30 flight was still on. WTF??? Passengers at the gate thought that the flight was still on. Of course, there was no one from USAir around. Eventually, someone got through on the phone and learned that the flight was originating in Buffalo, but they decided to skip Philly and fly straight to New Orleans. Makes sense to me. Why would they want to stop in Philly to pickup the people who paid for a flight to New Orleans? (Later I learned that this Buffalo flight had an entire 7 people on it. Friggin brilliant.) Back to B1.

After waiting for about 20 minutes, the man at the B1 counter, an “I’ve-seen-it-all-before” kinda guy named Geno, tells the Standbys that the 11:00 is fully booked and we'd have to wait. Oh yeah, because of sheets of ice that keep remelting and refreezing, the flight is now changing to gate B4. Before we leave, this one Nola native asks him to check on the status of our original 9:30 flight because she had been told it was rescheduled for 10:45. She's a little stressed because she flew into Harrisburg yesterday for a brief work trip and when she tried to drive back to the airport, traffic ground to a halt at the exit ramp and she missed her flight, as she was stuck for hours. She had driven to Philly and needed to get back to Nola because her guests were arriving before she was.

There were a few characters in our similar predicament, including a doe-eyed blonde, two beaded partying guys who looked like Jazzfest vets, and a guy who was turning 50 running around barking into his bluetooth headset with his kid in tow. Normally, I would hate a guy like this with his mid-life-crisis-mode-blonde-hairdye-job-with-dark-roots-exposed-in-hipster-fashion, but there was something about his I-will-break-your-balls aura that I found charming. Anyway, the guy at the B1 desk says the 9:30 flight is rescheduled for 10:45, so we all trudge back to B16. The clerk at B16 is an ass. He looks like he could care less about anyone or anything. He is inattentive. Quite frankly, it is not his problem. He is an embarassment to customer service professionals everywhere. I hate him.

After a lengthy delay that involved a lot of mashing of keys, a phone chat with a friend, and some odd squatting behind the desk, he tells beaded partying guy #1 that he's in. Beaded partying guy #2? You're shit outta luck. There are 10 Standby seats, and he's #14. This does not look good. Doe-eyed blonde is in the same boat. Then I get the same spiel. I calmly ask what happened, and I'm told that when I was put on Standby for the 11:00 flight, I lost my seat. I explain that I purchased a seat for 9:30 and was never given a choice for Standby, as the Standby ticket was just given to me by the skycap with no other option. He doesn't care. The Nola-native-stuck-on-the-Harrisburg-exit-ramp woman is next and she magically gets her seat, despite being in the exact same predicament I was in. Okay, keep it together, Brian...

So then guy with mid-life-crisis-mode-blonde-hairdye-job-with-dark-roots-exposed-in-hipster-fashion steps up and gets rebuffed, as well. I don't feel so bad until he asks Mr. Aloof clerk to check on something in his account. Suddenly, he gets tickets. Obviously, guy with mid-life-crisis-mode-blonde-hairdye-job-with-dark-roots-exposed-in-hipster-fashion is some sort of VIP. I don't like him anymore. Now I am pissed, so I go back to the side of the counter and ask why two people in the same situation got tickets and I didn't.

Mr. Aloof clerk says, "You lost your seats when you went on Standby, but they did not." My voice raises slightly, but I am not yelling. I would describe my tone as bitter resentment with a delicate hint of hatred. He says, "There are no seats. I can't do anything, and I have a line to deal with." A request for a supervisor is met with a suggestion to stand in the "customer service" line that wraps and wraps and stretches far back into the terminal, a line that would take 2-3 hours to navigate. Forget that. Then Nola-native-stuck-on-the-Harrisburg-exit-ramp woman suggests I go to B5 to try to find the supervisor who told her about the flight being delayed not cancelled. On my way, I attempt to call USAir's Manilla-based customer service department but hang up after being informed that it's an estimated 30 minute wait before you can talk to someone who can't speak English.

My man at B1 listens to my story. I beg him for advice. He takes my Standby ticket and magically prints a ticket for the 10:45 flight. I love this man. I want to carry his children. When I return from New Orleans, we will wed and live happily ever after. God bless you, Geno. You are a model citizen. Mr. Aloof at B16? Y ou are a dead man. I storm back down the hall ready to raise hell. I show Mr. Aloof the ticket and he says, "Where were you? I looked for you. Your ticket is here." I ask why he couldn't do anything earlier and he says, "You were yelling and you made me uncomfortable, so I couldn't help you at the time." Bullshit. When I yell, the whole world knows about it. I didn't even give him a muffled roar. As I was telling this story to other passengers, one wise old sage says, "You know, you'll get further with sugar than vinegar."

Who the fuck asked for your input, Morgan Freeman? I was plenty nice to this asshole clerk, but he tried to pull a power play. There was no reason for this piss-poor service and USAir should be ashamed. I found doe-eyed blonde and told her to check the desk for her ticket. He had one for her, but decided he would not make an announcement and was probably waiting to give her seat to someone else. Same goes for beaded partying guy #2, who took my advice and successfully visited my newfound life partner at B1. Now beaded partying guy #2 wants to gratefully buy me drinks throughout the entire time we'll be in New Orleans. Mr. Aloof's name is Devin Coleman, and I will make it my mission in life to see to it that he is fired. Devin Coleman, you fucked with the wrong guy, and you will pay.

USAir has been incredibly pathetic, as only one man, the amazing Geno, has been of any help to me all morning. There were no announcements about cancellations or postponements. There was no one to explain what was happening. This airline does not care.

And it gets better. On the plane, I learn that the pilot of the Buffalo flight with 7 people was all set to skip Philly until this one passenger with a Dad in a high-ranking position at USAir, called his pop and made them fly to Philly. Amazing. On the runway, we taxied and waited for well over 90 minutes before the pilot announced, "Folks, we've been cleared for takeoff, but there's a weight ratio that the baggage handlers need to program into our flight pattern and apparently, they all went to lunch without entering the data. They are in trouble, and we're looking for them, but we can't go anywhere until they input that information." Perfect. Now I just can't wait until they lose my luggage.

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