Business trip from heck (part 1)

New corporate policy (at least “new” since the last time I flew to Germany on business, 5+ years ago) dictates that I cannot take a direct flight unless the cost savings of a multi-leg flight is <$50. They also “prefer” we fly United. I had a bad feeling about this from the start. When I did my online check-in this morning, the website said my flight was “delayed”, and yet the estimated time of departure was the same as the scheduled time of departure. Color me confused.

I get to the airport, and they tell me that the flight to Dulles International is delayed, but only by 20 minutes, and we should have no problem making all connecting flights. The flights on either side of me (Denver and Toronto) are delayed by 100 minutes and 45 minutes, so I count myself lucky. My 54-minutes layover will just be a little shorter.

Oh, and they tell us that despite the carry-on policy of 2 bags, they’re requiring we check any largish bags at the plane.

Then they announce that the mechanical problem was resolved, and the pilot is able to make up the time, so the flight is now back on schedule. Then the plane lands, and they announce boarding will commence soon. Yay!

Only, that doesn’t happen. They announce a problem with the lavatory, and say it’ll be 5-10 minutes while they try to fix it, but the flight will leave whether they fix it or not, so we might want to use the facilities in the terminal right away.

Then they announce that the lavatory problem won’t be solved, so please use the facilities in the terminal quickly. There’s also a cable problem that should be resolved in (you guessed it) 5-10 minutes.

Finally on board the plane, they announce that, regardless of what we were told inside, the problem was that the lavatory was full to the brim, and there’s no way they could take off without fixing that, or there’d be nastiness all over the floor of the plane. (How they landed with that condition, I don’t know or want to know.) So somebody’s lying here. Just not sure who. Don’t really care. We finally get to take off.

The flight attendant is pleasant, if somewhat slow. It takes her almost the entire flight just to serve drinks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the last people served never had a chance to finish before the trays had to go up. So here we are, landing at Dulles.

Get off the plane. Where are our bags? It’ll be a few minutes… Finally get my bag back, run into the terminal, there’s nobody there to direct traffic, so I pick a direction and run, looking at random terminals to see if one is my flight, until I find a board listing all departures and there terminals. Frankfurt…. Frankfurt…. Why the fuck is Frankfurt not listed on the departure board?

Find a self-serve terminal for flight confirmations, type in my excessively long confirmation code. Re-type the second half of my excessively long confirmation code as I realize the terminal won’t accept all the characters of the full code. My flight has departed. I look at the time. 9:50 PM. I look at my boarding pass. Flight leaves at 9:54 PM. What. The. Fuck. Pick up a handset located next to the self-serve terminal. Ask as politely as I can why my flight scheduled for 9:54 is already gone when it’s not 9:54 yet, and my preceding flight just arrived. Customer service dude is no help, and no service.

Walk around terminal, muttering, swearing, cursing, thinking about doing things that will land me in jail. Wanting to just demand a 1st-class seat on a flight home, but the line to talk to a real live face-to-face customer service rep is ungodly long.

Call my project manager, explain the situation, he explains that I just need to go stand in that long line and they should put me up in a hotel, and “get to Germany as soon as you can”. Wait in long line, talk to customer service rep. He’s actually very friendly and very helpful, and takes care of me as best he can. Which isn’t all that great, but…

So now I’m on the 11th floor of the Hyatt Regency, with a food voucher that wouldn’t cover much food, if the hotel restaurant was open, which it isn’t. I’d order a beer or two, but the voucher explicitly does not cover alcohol. How stupid is that. If anything in the world could make me forgive United Airlines right now, it would be a couple of stiff drinks. They’ll buy me pop, but they refuse to allow me anything that might actually placate me. That’s fine. I don’t really want to be placated. I want to be pissed at United Airlines and never fly them again. Tomorrow I get to go back to Dulles early and get my tickets to… Newark. Newark? Yes. The only way they can get me to Frankfurt tomorrow is via Newark. Oh gods… here we go again.

Thus concludes part one of the tale. I really, really hope there isn’t a part two tomorrow. I have no clue who I could get to post bail for me in Newark.

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  • Lawrence Chen  On June 15, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    There was time where I used to like United…they used to have good on time performance.

    But, lately they’ve been just horrible. Every time I’ve flown with them, something has gone wrong. But, all my miles are with them….and one of these days I plan to use them. Perhaps like I used a chunk of my AA miles to fly Detroit earlier this year.

    Though I don’t know about this having to pay to check any bags now….

  • Jay  On June 16, 2008 at 6:49 am

    You are misdirecting your anger. It is your company’s foolish policy that is the problem. In order to save a few dollars, they have screwed themselves. Alternatively, in order to save a few bucks, they have screwed you because your time is not valuable.

    True, United (as with the rest of the US majors) is FUBAR but everyone knows that, including the bean counters that made you take that flight. If I were you, I demand some comp time (actually, I’d just take some comp time).

  • wolfger  On June 16, 2008 at 7:22 am

    I’m angry with both. And I’m angry that United’s attempt at appeasement (putting me up in a very nice hotel) merely reinforces my company’s bad policy (“Hey, this is great! We not only saved money on making him take a connecting flight, we also saved one night’s hotel costs because the airline screwed up!”)


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