Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How I Spent My Father's Day

I was getting ready for bed in a St. Paul hotel room at 10:30 Saturday night when my wife called to say United Airlines called the house and needed me to call back. The airline wouldn't tell her why.
When the phonebots finally gave way to a human on the Indian subcontinent, I learned my 8 a.m. flight home, via Chicago, was canceled and United would re-book me on a flight that would leave Mpls. at 3:30 p.m. Sunday and arrive here at 9:40 p.m. on Father's Day -- roughly an hour after the bedtime of two little girls who hadn't seen their Dad since Thursday morning.
After I fussed, United "accommodated" me by putting me on the 6 a.m. flight. That way, I'd still get the original connecting flight to Cleveland, to arrive here at 1:20 p.m. Sunday.
The anxiety of dealing with arrogant, unapologetic morons kept me from falling asleep til maybe 12:30 a.m.
So after maybe 3-1/2 hours of sleep, I awoke at 4 a.m. to go to the airport.
Of course, I had to refuel the rental first. More stress.
I arrived with an hour to spare. Good news. Except that I was at the wrong terminal. After a 10-minute walk and a train ride, I was at the right place -- only to find a mile-long line at security (at 5:30 a.m.!!!)
It moved quickly enough that I made my flight. I arrived in Chicago about the same time as the thunderstorms that soon would turn my four-hour layover into something more. A lot more.
After an hour or so, I learned my connecting flight would be delayed indefinitely. After another hour or so, the airline changed the gate to one at the end of another terminal. I then had to walk about 1/2 mile (no exaggeration), schlupping my luggage and laptop and all of the useless books that folks foisted off upon me.
After two hours at my new gate, United decided to mix things up again: another gate reassignment. I then dragged my arse and my stuff all the way back to the terminal I'd originally been at, and beyond the original concourse to the next-farthest one. There, I learned my flight was further delayed.
The airline (United, I repeat) felt so bad about this that everyone in its employ was speechless -- so speechless that not one single United Airlines person apologized through all of this growing ordeal. In fact, I had to listen to United gate agents scold "you people going to Cleveland" twice, effectively telling my fellow travelers to just sit down, shut up and wait after our second gate reassignment and third delay announcement.
After eight hours of that hospitality, I finally got out of O'Hare around 2:15 p.m. CDT; a pilot broke United's consistency by apologizing for the delay.
Shit weather happens. But it's inconceivable to me that any person in any business -- let alone a floundering, failing, reviled one like United -- would be so disdainful of its customer base as United's people were. Bankrupt? NOO! You're KIDDING!
I arrived here in Cleveland an hour later (4:15, w/ time change). My wife picked me up at the urine-tinged University Circle rapid station around 5 p.m. - 12 hours after I left my hotel.
But the hassles melted away at the sight of the two little folks who were bursting with excitement over seeing their daddy. They made their own giftwrap for my presents, which they just could not wait for me to open. And they wrapped me, too -- with giant, giant hugs from little tiny people.
That's why I missed them almost the whole time I was gone.

- JN

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