Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities...Four Airports...One Car Rental...and One Hotel

Brace yourselves.

Once upon a time there was a happy-go-lucky editor who traveled. A lot. Who, when she began her adventure in publishing, loved to travel. Who, in the last year alone, sailed into the wild blue on fourteen--count 'em, FOURTEEN--long trips. (Who, in the last few years, no longer loves it, but deals.) But in her 26 years in publishing, our weary traveler found a flight partner that always treated her well: United. Yes, others have bewailed United's many faults, but for our intrepid traveler, this airline seldom let her down. They were her heroes in the sky.

Our traveler had actually been home for two whole months, but last Sunday saw her first trip of the new year arrive. And so she arose in the wee hours of Sunday morning (4:15 AM!), loaded her bags into her trusty van, and, her sweet hubby at the wheel, made her way to the Rogue Valley International Airport, where she boarded her plane and sailed off into the skies. Her flight landed, right on time, in Denver, where she caught her lovely direct connection to Nashville, sailed into the skies again, and landed at her destination without a single problem. Ah, life was good.

Or it would have been, had that been the case. Sigh... Now let me give you the real story. Part 1 today, the rest to come. Yeah, it's been a long couple of days...

But first, let me 'splain a bit about the Rogue Valley International Airport (RVIA), the airport I fly out of (out of which I fly...? Whatever). It's small. Okay, maybe tiny is a better word. Roughly 30,000 sq. ft housing a gift shop, a coffee kiosk, a few car rental desks, the ticket counters for United, Delta, SkyWest, and a charter business. Oh, and the gate area. Yup, one. You went through the small security line to the holding area, where all the airlines loaded through two doors. Although, we DID get an airbridge a few years ago. And the bathroom was a nice addition to the gate area a couple years back. That way you didn't have to go through security again to get back in after leaving to use the restroom. And hey, that coffee pot in the holding area was usually kept full. Usually.

Well! All that changed this month. RVIA built a new terminal! Complete with separate gates for the different airlines, streamlined security, arrival and departure boards, a restaurant both outside and within the gate area, and even two floors! We got an escalator, folks! There's even a nice observation deck for friends and family to watch the planes depart. So my flight on Sunday came about a week after the new airport terminal opened. Fun to see all the improvement.

Pity those improvements didn't also apply to their procedures.

My flight was scheduled to leave at 6 a.m., which meant I was up at 4:15. That's A.M., folks! I got to the sparkly new terminal, walked in, and was met by a line almost as long as our fancy new 100K sq.ft., $35 million terminal. The check-in kiosks weren't working. Well, not until I'd waited in line for a half hour. And the two people at the check-in desk--TWO--moved the line along at a snail's pace. Happily, two more United folks joined the fray at check-in as flight departure times approached. Unhappily, the line moved even more slowly because they fixed the check-in kiosks and those folks got to jump in front of those of us in line to get their bag tags. But I'm not bitter. I'm NOT!

I finally made it through check-in, then went on to security. That actually went well, so I was finally in the new gate area. Fun, fun! Even a big, fancy coffee place waiting for me. Coffee clutched in hand, I made my way to the sparkly new restroom. Hmmm. Three stalls. One of which wasn't working. Okaaaay...more lines. More waiting. Got out to the waiting area, and waited some more. Listened as the United folks radioed back and forth about why they weren't ready to load us yet. Scheduled loading time sailed past. And still we sat. Twenty minutes later, we were finally lined up and ready.

To walk outside. Down some icy steps. And make our way around the old terminal (in 29 degree weather, thank you. SO glad I packed my coat. In my suitcase...). Apparently plans are to raze the old building. Just hasn't been done yet. Happily I survived the frigid hike and sank into my seat. My aisle seat in the bulkhead, which I always try to get because of the Fibromyalgia that makes flying painful. , they had a little problem getting the bags for the flight. A 45-minute problem. Guess whose time between connections in Denver was 50 minutes? Guess whose flight landed in Denver 5 min. after her connection took wing. Yuh-huh. Still not bitter. Really.

Twenty minutes at the United desk in Denver, during which time I tried to comfort a woman who burst into tears when she was told there was no way to get her to her destination by the time she needed to be there--I had my new boarding passes. Yes, PASSES! My direction connection to Nashville didn't happen again until 7 pm, which would put me in at 11 pm, 9 hours later than my original arrival time of 1:47 pm. Hence, the new itin sent me through Chicago, where I'd have an hour to dash to my connection flight to N'ville. Oh goody. It's SO easy to get from one end of O'Hare to the other... I pointed out to the agent that that wasn't much time. She gave me that bright customer-service smile and chimed, "Oh, you'll have plenty of time."

A quick and pointed response crossed my mind--and was summarily relegated to the now-crowded back recesses with the rest of the violent urges I'd stuffed away that day. I smile and say, "I'll trust you." Then make my way to the waiting area. To wait.

So, you may ask, did you make it? When did you get to Nashville? Well! Stay tuned, and I'll tell you all about it. But before I sign off, let me tell you what surprised me most about this day. Not the problems. Not even the lack of customer service or care. What surprised me was the attitudes of those with me on those planes.

I've had terrible flights before. Long delays. Frustrating rerouting. And almost always the people who are suffering along with me are one thing:

On Sunday, though, I didn't hear one angry word. Not from anyone. In fact, we found ourselves laughing. (Okay, at times it verged on hysterical, but still!) And, as I did with the crying woman, I saw people trying to comfort others who were distressed. It was kind of amazing. And it was more encouraging that I can say.

I learned something that I've always known, but never seen demonstrated in such abundance: Attitude is contagious. The old adage (shared with me by the venerable Steve Laube) "Don't get emotionally involved in things you can't physically change" was evident in those people's actions and reactions. Instead of fuming over what should be, how they were being inconvenienced, how terrible this or that was, they commiserated, they comforted where they could, and they were patient with the airline personnel and each other. While I had moments of wanting to scream, I never gave in. And, more often than not, I found myself just shaking my head and laughing along with the others. Rueful laughter, to be sure. But laughter all the same. Which left me, at the end of the day, in a pretty good mood.

And when you hear the rest of the story, you'll see what a true miracle that was!



Karen said...

We travel often and many times to far distances--China, Europe, Australia. So, yes, I feel your pain.

My brother, who absolutely hates to fly, was talked into a US Airways flight to CA with his daughter and wife. When they closed the door in his face after running from one gate to the other, he (who has learned his colorful language from my father) sounded off. He was reminded that he could be arrested for those abusive words. He then asked for a list of what words he could use to express himself properly. ;-)

Deborah Raney said...

Love this story so far...and I've seen that attitude, too, lately. It's SO hopeful and refreshing.

But hey...it's January 21. I'm trying to have a good attitude, but ahem! I want to hear the rest of the story!!! ; )

Anonymous said...

Wow! And my only hassle was that my video screen wouldn't work... piece of cake compared with your saga! I do wish I had a photo of me pushing the smartcart that had 4 suitcases, a pack n play, 2 car seats and 2 carryons though. While directing my 5 year old to push his sister with care. God gets us through, doesn't he!

Amy Boucher Pye xx

Karen B. said...

Hey, all. Sorry the rest of the story hasn't been forthcoming. I'm in Nashville in back-to-back meetings all week, but finally head home tomorrow! Yay. So I'll fill you in on the rest soon!



Lori Benton said...

Yanno, I'm coming to think it's a miracle that ANY flight reaches its destination on time. And many do, wonder of wonders!

I hadn't realized the new terminal was open, and got really excited at your description and then... buzz kill. LOL! Don't think I'm flying outta here until July, so hopefully all razing will be done and the kinks worked out of the new system by then.

Courtney Walsh said...

Yes, I'm quite intrigued too!! I have to say... traveling sure doesn't sound appealing after reading part one!! (And I've never been much of a traveler to begin with!) I hope you have plans for a long hot bath or maybe a massage when you get home!

I've only read half the story and I can already see you deserve it!