Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Homeblogging: Coming home from SF on Fri

There are no pictures to accompany this post, but our homecoming still had its share of adventuring. We woke up at about 5am, called the front desk and cancelled our wakeup call, finishing our last minute hygiene and packing activities and headed down to the lobby to await our, ahem, Towncar. Travelling in style is fun, but it really helps that the Towncar price was the same as a cab for our destination.

The driver was a nice gal who, after hearing we were from Portland, launched into a 45 minute conversation/monologue about the fact that:

A. Portland has a women's rugby team
B. She played against them for 3 years while part of a Bay area team.
C. That her team enjoyed "mooning" people (I mean sticking their butt out the window, not following the Messianic owner of the Washington Times and UPI, Rev. Moon)
D. They enjoyed chugging beer while she enjoyed a glass of wine and marvelled over why she always had more energy then they did.
E. Farting was involved with the aftermath of the beer chugging.

Luckily, we were all too sleepy to interrupt except to laugh and gasp at the appropriate times, so it all worked out well.

We arrived at SF Int'l about 2 hours before our flight. The ticket counters were exceedingly busy, so we thought we were soooo smart to allow plenty of time. We checked our bags and got our boarding passes...except they weren't really boarding passes because there were no seat assignments. The counterperson said they would be assigned at our gate; Gate 68. Fine.

We slid through the TSA security theater more quickly than expected, double-checked our gate (Gate 68) on the monitors and proceeded to it for our nearly 2 hour wait for our flight.

Time passed. and passed some more. I napped. The entire time, our gate display said Flight 698 to Portland, on-time departure, Gate 68. Well, the seats weren't filling up very fast. Weird. Finally, some guy came by (not an airline employee) and said that he checked the monitor and the gate had changed to Gate 81. Greeeeeeeeeat.

We motivated ourselves and hauled as much butt as my creaky knee and sore foot would allow to our new gate; Gate 81. We got there, got into line and found out...wait for it...that the flight was overbooked and we didn't have seats. Yes, all the people who came later got seats and those that came on time, as in RIGHT ON TIME, got screwed. We were told to take a seat and wait for our names to be called.

(Aside: This was UNITED for those who like abuse)

We explained that we were here before all these other people who had seats and they said the usual sorry, please take a seat and wait for your names to called. So we went to sit down and I rather audibly said, "ASSWIPES!" while I walked away. (Sometimes my tact disappears when under duress)

After sitting for a couple minutes, Ladybug walked back up to at least try to get the Minisnab on a flight so she wouldn't miss her flag team prep for the Championships on Saturday. Apparently her form of upset worked better than mine (big white males with foul mouths just don't get enough respect) because she hung around until we all got seat assignments.

Our collective mood improved considerably at that point. Apparently the original plane was broken or otherwise ineligible for reflight, so some of the confusion was due to our boarding on a different model of Boeing 737 than planned. Why they didn't change their sign or send a person over like I've seen happen in Portland, I don't know.

In any case, one of the complicating factors is that airlines are allowed to do something that is illegal in just about every other pursuit of commerce, which is overbook flights. What made this particularly troubling for United is that they overbooked ALL of their flights by a dozen people on a known vacation week. For me, that little act of short term greed is going to cost them. If we had not gotten on that flight, we were probably done for that day at least because of the other overbookings. We were even talking about renting a car and driving home.

I fly several times each year and all I have to do is say, "Avoid United Airlines" and they lose a few grand. If several hundred people went through what we did, it could mean real money before long.


Anonymous said...

I hate flying on airplanes and it has nothing to do with a fear of flying. All though most of my trips have been pretty uneventful, I have done my share of running from one terminal to another. Worse, are international flights where you have to go through customs. On my trip to Singapore, we had a layover, and just because we got off the airplane, they had to run us around the terminal in a giant circle in order for us to reboard. On the other hand, I can say I set foot in Hong Kong, if only enough to stretch my legs a bit.

Airlines are the worst form of transportation, only next to a bus. All though I have never seen a bus overbooked, the ride can last for days, not ours, and the latrine in the back is far worse.

If I had the luxury of choosing, I would travel by train, not just becuase I like trains, but you can get up and walk about any damn time you feel like it, and the scenery is better.

The only time I rode a train where I could remember the trip was from Aberdeen Maryland to Washington DC, where I went for a weekend trip while I was in the army.

Don Snabulus said...

I actually don't mind flying most of the time and I am sure I will get over this particular incident, but I like Alaska and Frontier much better than United.

I actually enjoy being in smaller planes that fly lower when I am not crammed into the seat (CRJ 800 makers, are you listening).

One funny thing I forgot to mention that was a silver lining was that the exit row in front of me was filled with children, so I was able to switch and have luxurious leg room for a change.

I want to take that Trans-Canada train line some time. I've enjoyed most of my train travel (except the Trenton, NJ to NYC run unairconditioned on a hot, humid eastern day).

I like cross-town buses, but I have not done much Greyhound riding, so I can't judge.


Pandabonium said...

Too bad Moody wasn't there to entertain you with his drop the pants routine.

I switched from United to Northwest and flew them for several years before I left the US. I got better overall service.

Next time take the Shinkansen. :)

Swinebread said...

Thanks for the tip...

I can't understand how they expect to stay afloat with biz practices like this...

Don Snabulus said...

In America, the concepts of bullets and trains (Shinkansen = bullet train) have not melded in any meaningful way yet.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Ah, United (loud diminished 7th chord)...

The OSU marching band always flew with them because they were cheaper...and I always thought they had the lousiest service. My experiences with United include:

- an international flight with the air conditioning turned off so the air was horribly stuffy and smelled bad all the way across the ocean,
- the only airline meal I've had thus far that was so bad I couldn't finish it,
- an incredibly rude flight attendant who would violently shake passengers and yell in their ears to wake them up so she could ask them if they wanted something to drink,
- a 727 pilot who suddenly banged the plane into a hard dive (making the passengers scream), pulled up hard (making them scream again), and then landed...very hard...bouncing several times (and making the passengers scream even more) when landing in San Francisco.

Come to think of it, the pants-dropping incident also happened when I was flying United, though I can't really blame them for that.

Needless to say, I avoid United as much as possible. Thus far I've been very happy with Northwest, JAL, and ANA, mostly happy with Delta, and sufficiently satisfied with Air Alaska. I also had fun the few times I flew with Horizon.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Having said that, overbooking is common among airlines. Almost every flight I've been on between the States and Japan announced before takeoff that it was overbooked, but it was only by two or three seats at the most. And those were all on jumbo jets on very busy flights during the winter peak, so it's to be expected. Twelve seats on a regular carrier flight? WHAT??!?

Dean Wormer said...

I would like to see rail travel improve in this country. It's not a good option for business travel unless you're taking a long trip. One day jaunts to Seattle don't work out well because of the infrequent schedules. Better to just hop a puddlejumper/ Buddy Holly plane.

Most of the trouble I've had with the airlines has been when I'm travelling with the fam like you were or with more than myself. I agree that Alaska is better but on balance they ALL suck.

As for overbooking- I can see a couple of seats but more than that is criminal - especially considering how hard it is to finagle a refund for an airline ticket.