Monday, December 5, 2011

Fanciful Flying

Though neither of us slept well, waking up at 3:00 am for a 6:00 am flight out of RDU posed little challenge for Matt or I as both of us were pumped to get underway. After several months of work, we felt we had a trip with strong goals and a solid plan to address these goals. When the taxi arrived we loaded 200+ pounds of equipment along with 60+ pounds of personal gear into the SUV,  allowing only a small crevice for me to slither into. Our plans called for us to fly a regional American Airlines carrier called American Eagle to JFK before switching to Emirates Airlines for a leg to Dubai and then on to Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

Arriving at the terminal, I filched one of the huge aluminum alloy baggage carts from a snoozing airline employee, and proceeded to wheel our gear into the line for baggage check. Despite entering the terminal 15 min before baggage check opened, at 4:00 am, a lengthy line was already forming. Other international travelers also had carts piled high with baggage, but due to the diligence and competence of the American Airlines representative, we were quickly through and on to security. After a cursory glance at my passport by a half-asleep security guard and a trip through the x-ray body scan, we were headed toward our gate. At 5:30 we were loaded aboard the regional jump jet; this was a very small plane with two rows of seats on one side of the isle and one row on the other side. The only positive attribute of the plane was the young, cute, and inexperienced flight stewardess. I suspect she had already been awake for a considerable period of time, as she frequently confused Raleigh with Chicago during the flight. The flight departed on time and everything was hunky dory for ~1 hour, when the first signs of trouble surfaced. 

I was happily napping when awakened by an announcement from this stewardess that we were no longer headed toward JFK and were instead headed to Boston. After some initial confusion we learned that fog was preventing us from heading to JFK and we were being diverted to Boston because, I suspect, our flight was a low priority, with plans to refuel and wait out the fog, then return to JFK. We were informed that a travel agent would come aboard in Boston to provide updates to everyone on the status of connecting flights. Later we would come to question the motives behind such cheery pronouncements of customer service and good will. 

Coming in to Boston, our pilot took us on a long, low, sweeping path which gave us a great view of the harbor, the town, and the light houses on small rocky islands out in the harbor. Therefore it came as a shock when, upon landing in Boston, we learned that American Eagle no longer ran services in Boston and, as such, we did not have a travel agent looking after us or even a terminal to dock in. After a while they decided to take us to an old terminal section no longer in use only to discover that the loading ramp no longer worked. After ~45 minutes of repair work, they managed to connect the ramp and the jet only to announce that we were to stay on the plane for another 45 min while they waited on the fog status from JFK. Finally after ~1hr and 50 minutes on the tarmac in Boston, someone decided to act and transfer us to a larger, higher priority plane heading to JFK.  At this point, fast action could get us to JFK in time for our 10:40 departure to Dubai.
We exited our plane and had to wait for carry-ons side checked into the regional plane resulting in the loss of valuable pole position on the way to just the two travel agents trying to deal with the Crisis.  After a time American Airlines realized that two travel agents cannot deal with connections for 75 people so they doubled the number of people they had dealing with the situation. Finally we got to an agent to try to help us, after only a few minutes of trying to solve our difficult situation, his boss comes up and in a haughty accent exclaims “PRESHAH!, PRESHAH!, PRESHAH!, HARRRY, HARRRY!, HARRRY!!!!”. She then proceeded to totally shut down the agent trying to help us and railroaded us onto the flight to JFK. Despite throwing down on the throttle, we landed in JFK as the flight we were supposed to be on took off. 

I can't help but believe that if the agent had finished dealing with us, we would have been on a flight to London and the Dubai, only losing a few hours instead of ~ 1 day. In addition, if American Airlines had four flight agents helping people and moved faster to get us off that plane and into the larger one, we would have made it to JFK on time for our Emirates flight. So now we wait, either to board a flight for Dubai tonight at 11 if we are lucky, or if we are not lucky to board a flight tomorrow morning.

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