Macworld is my destination, but as is typical in life, the road, or in my case, the flights to my destination is wrought with pitfalls and hurdles aplenty.
I had booked a flight on Airtran well in advance and got a good fare. I was to arrive at around 9PM PST on January 5th, more than enough time to get settled in for the conference I've wanted to attend for years.
Being a somewhat seasoned air traveler, I got to Orlando International Airport well in advance, got my ticket, headed through the security for my gate without incident. I travel light, just one carry-on bag and a satchel -- remnants of my military training -- so getting around in an airport is fairly easy for me. In fact, things were going too well.
When I got to the gate area the agent at the counter had just finished announcing something about delays. I asked him to repeat it. "Where ya heading," he asked me rather curtly.
"See customer service."
Now, whenever someone tells you to see customer service for anything alarms should start going off in your head. I, however, was still oblivious to my impending fate.
At the Airtran service desk a line had formed at least 15 persons deep and only one agent did her best to work through the queue. Of course, by the time I got to the head of the line a second agaent appeared. The young man (he looked barely out of high school) told me that due to weather between Orlando and my lay-over destination, Atlanta, my flight was delayed and I would miss the only Atlanta to San Francisco flight Airtran offers. Furthermore, because the folks who missed today's flight were already packed onto the flight on the 6th the only available flight they could offer me was on January 7th. As I mentioned earlier the flight would arrive at 9:30PM PST so, in effect, I would not only miss the keynote on the 6th, but all of the conference fun on the 7th as well.
"I really need to be in San Francisco tomorrow," I told the young agent. "Can't you put me on another flight?"
"Yea, but since the delay on your original flight was weather related we are not obligated to get you alternative passage on another airline. The best we can do is offer you the flight on Wednesday."
I could have spit nails.
"Well, can you at least tell me what's available on other airlines?"
He types at his terminal, frowned a lot, mumbles something in Spanish, and shook his head slowly. When he finally looked up at me he said, "It looks like everyone else has the same problem. You won't get a flight to San Francisco until Wednesday."
"Isn't there anything you can do? I really need to get to San Francisco as soon as possible."
More typing, more frowning, more mumbling, more head shaking. "No, everything's booked solid."
Now I know "booked solid" is rarely the case, even with the habitual over-booking airlines tend to do. "There must be something...?"
He stood there with a well practice pained look on his face, I stood with an anxious, bordering on angry, look on mine. Just the the original agent, a middle aged woman named Myrna, piped in, " I see that there are several available flights tomorrow on several other airlines, we can refund you the outgoing ticket price and you can then try your luck with one of them."
"That's better than Wednesday. Let's do that."
Myrna gave me a list of flight numbers to look for on the other airlines and a voucher for half the cost of my round trip Airtran ticket and sent me on my way.
My first stop was American Airlines, but the only thing the agent there could offer me, after an extended frowning-mumbling-head shaking session, was a Wednesday flight and more painful looks. (I think they go to school to learn looking painful.) My second stop took me to United Airlines were a middle aged of Indian or Pakistani descent controlled the ticketing queue with the commanding air of a drill sergeant.
"Where are you going?" she asked briskly. Her name tag labeled her as Selma.
"Good luck," Selma said and turned her attention to the woman ahead of me.
Hope for getting to MacWorld before it ended on Friday was starting look dicey, getting there by Wednesday was starting to look impossible.
Selma, having dispatched the woman ahead of me to her destination with well practiced efficiency turned her attention to me. "And you are going where?"
"You have a cell phone?"
"Call this number instead of waiting in line, it could save you the $25 charge for buying the ticket at the counter and you could get a better flight than what they see."
I did as instructed and booked a flight that would arrive on Tuesday, January 7th at 7:30 PM PST. Sweet! I would only miss one day.
I went back to Selma to thank her. She was getting ready to leave her shift. "Did you get a flight?"
"Yep! Thanks to you I'll get there tomorrow at 7:30. I really appreciate your help."
She frowned. "Let me see if I can get you on today's flight."
What? A flight out today? She had to be kidding. I followed her to a ticket counter. She started typing, and frowning, and mumbling something that I think was Hindi, and shaking her head and I knew things were looking bad. "Well, I can get you a standby ticket to L.A. and another to San Francisco..."
She gave me the tickets and told me to hustle or I'd miss the flight.
The thing about airports these days is that hustling is just not possible. I ran as far as airport security. Upon seeing my ticket destination I was remanded to an exclusive area where a more thorough search could be conducted. I was patted down, my bags were scanned twice by hand and once through the big security scanner. I dreaded that a cavity search was next, but I apparently passed the screening and was allowed to proceed.
After more hustling and waiting I made it to the check counter where I was told that I might get a seat if the last three passengers -- Anderson, Hopper, and Wang -- didn't show up. It was the final call and things did look hopeful, but of course, just as the guy was ready to write Anderson, Hooper and Wang, off they showed up. The agent, a nice guy named Steve, understood my dilemma, " I'm an Apple fan myself," he confessed, wrote me a standby ticket for a flight that would land in L.A. at 9AM PST.
"You can easily get a standby flight to San Francisco from there, but if that doesn't work you can still take your confirmed flight."
I thanked him, called my wife, and went home.
I did make the early standby flight to L.A. (after being nearly cavity search again by airport security) and getting into San Francisco was a breeze after that.
I missed the keynote, but it's worth the trip.
Is there a lesson to be learned from all of this? I honestly can't think of one. It's all an adventure that can sometimes suck like a Hoover, or the stars align like you were blessed from birth. No sense in getting too upset, even at an airline that leaves you stranded and claim it isn't their fault.