Thursday, March 11, 2010

getting there the hard way (part 2)

When I left off yesterday, I was stranded at the Detroit airport, standing in a line-up for three hours waiting to re-book my flight to Atlanta. 

A very drunk young guy in front of me spent the whole time hitting on all the younger women in line (I was only brought into the conversation for affirmation, "Isn't she pretty?"). He also showed us the the alligator Crocs he'd bought for his young nephew (whom he called while standing in line. Not sure where his nephew lives but it was well after 10:00pm in Detroit) and asked if the shirt and tie he'd bought matched each other. Under different circumstances, he might have been endearing but I was well and truly done with him by the time we reached the front of the line.

At the 2.5 hour point, the woman behind me in line, who had been reading the Book of Ruth and worrying relentlessly about what would happen next, stepped out of the line and went directly to an agent - who served her and sent her on her way. There were some very disgruntled rumblings about this but I'm surprised to say that no one had a meltdown, or even complained to the staff. I was very impressive by the behaviour of the crowd throughout our frustrating wait.

And there were some folks around to give us perspective, chief among them the 6 year old boy who I did not hear complain even once. There was also a big guy who was sharing some beef jerky with his neighbours. I heard him say. "This is a pain in the ass but it's better than being in Iraq." Seriously. He went on to explain that he'd recently returned from a tour of duty.

It was around this time that I overheard an agent telling folks who had succesfully re-booked that they would be given a voucher for a hotel room, if their layover was due to mechanical failure but not if it was due to weather. When she then asked folks one by one which was the reason they'd missed their flight, I did my best to send them telepathic messages, "Say 'mechanical failure'!" - because, really, if no one is checking, why would you say anything else?

I knew that my own case was ambiguous, since my original delay had been due to weather but languishing on the tarmac in Detroit had sealed my fate - and in Detroit the skies were clear and there was no snow on the ground. I was fully prepared to argue my case when it was my turn to do so, to raise my voice, to threaten a blog post and even to play the cancer card. Basically, I was ready to stoop really low to ensure that my head would rest on a pillow that night.

It was after 11:00 by the time it was my turn.

I approached one of the two agents on duty. He asked me how I was. I took one look at his face and said, "I'm just fine. How are you?"

He replied that he was OK, just frustrated because the computers were now working really slowly, to which I said, "That's OK. I've been really patient until now, I can be patient for a few more minutes."

I thought at that point that the guy was going to burst into tears. He said, "You've been really..." then interrupted himself and concentrated on getting me out of town the next day. It took a while but when I left him I had a ticket on a 7:15 flight to Nashville the next morning, a connection to Atlanta, vouchers for a hotel room (no questions asked) and for breakfast the next morning and the reassurance that my suitcase would meet me in Atlanta the next day.
After getting lost trying to find my way to the hotel shuttles, I called the hotel listed on my voucher to find out how to get there. The voice on the other end of the phone told me they were full and I should go to the Quality Inn. I called the Quality and was told how to find their shuttle.

As I left the airport, I spotted the drunk guy from the airport. He was holding the free phone to hotels looking confused. I silently wished him well but was too tired to stop and see if he needed help.

I boarded the hotel shuttle as instructed, along with a lot of other punchy, exhausted travellers (we were sitting in a circle and someone started singing, "Kumbaya!"). Our first stop was a little Days Inn. I got off to confirm with the driver that he would be stopping at the Quality Inn. 

"You have to go here, Ma'am. The Quality Inn is full and all passengers are being re-routed here."

"But I just spoke to someone at the Quality Inn and she said to come on over." I'm sure I sounded petulant.

"I've been told to take everyone here, Ma'am but I'll call for you." He placed the call while I stood there and I listened as a hysterical voice on the other end of the phone shrieked at him that they were completely full, as she had already told him.

I apologized, thanked the guy profusely and got into yet another lineup in the lobby at the Days Inn. There was one person at the front desk and she was really flustered. She loudly announced that she was not at all sure she was going to be able to acccomodate all of us. As I stood at the back of the line, I felt tears pricking my eyes.

In the end, she did have a bed for me, in a smoking room (incidentally, this is the only time in my life that I have checked into a hotel room without being asked for any form of id or a credit card). I was hungry but also nauseated, so I skipped the restaurant which was filled with smoke (it  had also been a really long time since I'd been in a public place where smoking is permitted). I went up to my room, flopped down on the bed and turned on the TV just in time to watch Joannie Rochette accept her bronze medal.

The alarm went off 4 hours after I'd closed my eyes. I showered, dressed (from now on, I'm carrying clean underwear in my carry-on) and headed down to join a throng of bleary-eyed travellers in the lobby (my "free breakfast" turned out to be a tray of wizened, sugary pastries with a large sign overhead saying "Please do not smoke during breakfast." I was tempted to take a photo but didn't want to linger, out of fear of missing my shuttle).

The hotel clerk, a young man, was on the phone as I checked out, trying frantically to find another hotel shuttle. I gather that there were twice as many people in the lobby as had signed up for the airport shuttle the day before. After a couple of minutes, a shuttle was succesfully located - another instance of someone, who is no doubt paid minimum wage to do a difficult job, pulling out all the stops. I was impressed (and I emailed hotel management to tell them so).

The rest of my trip was uneventful. I sailed through security. Bought a latte and a new paperback book and read my way through my next two flights. I arrived at the hotel in Atlanta 90 minutes before the start of my conference.

I was very happy to be there. And way too relieved to complain when I discovered that my "city view" room looked out on a giant car park.


Anonymous said...

My most memorable experience was probably when flying w/ my 8wk old 2nd son. It was post-9/11 and I had a breastpump with 4 precious bottles of expressed milk in its cooler compartment.

They dusted it for explosives residue, suggested I should taste the milk to make sure that's what it actually was (@ which point I explained that would make it all spoil, etc), and then said they had to plug it in and turn it on. I told them that could break the pump (true, due to the way mine worked) and pointed out I was traveling with a newborn - clearly I had these items for a specific purpose and that purpose wasn't malicious.

Thankfully a supervisor used some common sense and waved me through. I had no such issues on the flight back.

Finola said...

Unbelievable. You have a lot of patience.
I have never had anything like that, but when we flew to the states I hated that they made my kids touch their belts and pockets and then be swiped for explosives or drugs, I'm still not sure which.
But that's nothing compared to your exerience.

whymommy said...

Yikes! I too forget about smoking rooms and smoking areas in eating places when I travel. So very different.

Sorry you had such a difficult time -- and it is amazing how nicely you were (eventually) treated.

Anonymous said...


It's so awful, nobody could make it up. Had it been me, however, there'd be much more emphasis on food and my feelings of starvation. Just a latte? I'd be stuffing sandwiches in my purse. Goes to show you how psychology directs us.

You're a tough cookie, cookie.

B in T

Chris said...

Cool...its always great to see what happens when people who have been berated all day receive a little kindness!

RivkA with a capital A said...

well, at least you got a few hours of shut-eye!

I don't think I could breath in a smelly smoking room.

Nat said...

Sounds like you maintained a touch of compassion through the whole thing...

(And yeah, I travel with a change of undies usually too. And snacks, lots and lots of snacks.)