Business Travel Blows
Posted by cann0nba11 on July 25, 2007
Who the heck wakes up at 4:00AM? Opening shift people at fast food restaurants perhaps, donut bakers… after that I can’t think of anyone else that should be up this early. Fishermen. They get up early. But here I am sitting in an airport waiting out a mechanical delay on my way to a business meeting where I personally will spend about 30 minutes talking to a small group of people interested in buying our services. Damn, my dog is even too sleepy to wake up with me.
Thus begins my journey into another chapter of the hit-and-run out-of-town business meeting story. My mission, though I chose not to accept it (but was advised to go anyway), is to visit with a prospect in response to something called a Request For Proposal (a topic I’m saving for another blog entry). Apparently the concept of using a telephone is inadequate to some, hence this face-to-face meeting at our expense. So, on only two day’s notice my company has to shell out $1260 round-trip per person to fly and meet with three people for three hours to discuss documents that we’ve already emailed them. Old-school selling is the soup de jour.
- Alarm set for 4:00AM
- Flight departure: 5:45AM
- Meeting start: 1:00PM
- My Presentation: 2:30-3:00PM
- Return departure: 6:00PM
- Return home: 8:30PM
Last night before bed I dusted off a suit that somewhat resembles clothing that fits me. It’s been more than two years since I last wore a suit. “Honey, did the dry cleaner shrink these pants? And my jacket?” Damn, I need to lose weight. After prepping the uniform I tried to check-in online and save myself a little time in the morning by printing out my boarding pass. No dice. Denied. That’s weird. I’ll try again in the morning.
The day begins. Shit. Shower. Shave. (The sacred Three S’s of any man’s morning routine.) Sometimes its Shower, Shave, Shit… taking a shower in a stinky bathroom isn’t fun. But I digress. The weather has given me a break; no rain yet. Traffic should be a breeze. Before I leave I try again to pre-board. Nope. This is odd… then again, I never fly Delta. Maybe this is normal. I plan on getting to the airport by 5:00AM. Plenty of time to make my flight, who the hell else will be at the airport on a Wednesday morning at that time? Right?
Sure, traffic was great and parking was easy. But when I walked into the terminal at exactly 5:00AM I saw long lines at the Southwest, Delta, and even Frontier ticket counters. (who flies Frontier anyway?) Did I mention it’s five o’clock in the morning? A.M.? Where did all of these people come from? A ha! Self-service kiosks! Score. I even have my confirmation number handy.
“Unable to check-in at this time. Please see ticket agent.”
5:05 AM: I step into a line that is 15 people deep and there are only two Delta agents available. I should already be at security by now. To make matters worse, the woman in front of me says, “they must be having trouble,. The same two people have been up there at least five minutes already.” Great.
5:20 AM: With no regard for any of the far too patient people in front of me I head for the front of the line and ask the nice couple there if could cut in line since my flight was now leaving in less than 30 minutes. They were elderly and very sweet; they said yes. I hand the agent my license and flight info. “Sorry sir, we’ll need to find you another flight. It’s too late to check in for this flight.”
I’ve been flying for about 15 years and many times I’ve checked in with less than an hour remaining. Hell, I’ve checked in with 10 minutes to go without problem. Then again, I usually fly Southwest and they rock in so many ways. Traveling without luggage has its advantages and I’ve never missed a flight in my life. Well, there goes that perfect track record. The agent then tells me that there is a $25 fee to change the ticket. “Charge it to the card that purchased the ticket.” Denied. Then the agent next to her is having problems with her transaction so my agent excuses herself to help out the newbie. When she gets back to me she has to run my transaction again because “the system” would not accept her entry of $25. (I wonder if it was coded by “the man”) She had to re-enter it as $24.99. At this point I am now thoroughly convinced that Delta’s computer system is a turd.
5:30 AM: It took 10 minutes to complete my transaction. I head for the security line.
5:45 AM: Security wasn’t too bad and I headed to my gate with the realization that my coworkers were taking off and wondering where the hell I was. (note to boss: if I had a damned Blackberry they would have known!) No worries though… I’m only 45 minutes behind them; there’s plenty of time to make it to the meeting. I arrive in Cincinnati on time, the sky is sunny and clear, a nice shade of blue really. My connecting gate is even in the same terminal. Everything is back on track. I look at the flight board: Flight DELAYED.
A side note: The Cincinnati airport is weird. You get a gate number on your ticket, but when you get to the gate area, there are a bunch of counters and doors with big flat-screen monitors above them where gate numbers should be. But no numbers. Each door has a big capital letter over it, sort of like some weird Sesame Street game. The actual gates are behind the doors. Which damned counter am I supposed to go to? So, like dozens of other travelers, I walk from counter to counter looking for my departure gate letter. Found it. I ask the petite gentleman behind the counter the reason for the delay. Francois (I think it was a French accent) tells me that he’s not working that flight and doesn’t have access to that info. Service? Not fanatical. Apparently another bold testament to the fine Delta computer system. A second agent mans the alphabetized counters and she tells me that it is a mechanical delay. Damn.
This could be a quick fix, or it could be hours. It’s 10:30; the flight was supposed to leave at 11:05. The new time is 11:30. Then it gets moved back to 11:15. Now we are boarding. Cool! We get our seats, I’ve got my own pair of seats even. Then more bad mojo. We are asked by the pilot to deplane. Apparently the maintenance guys that were supposedly fixing our plane for the past hour woke up and found a hydraulic leak while we were all getting our hopes up and turning off our phones. Was this the leak they were looking for originally? Did they board us before they found the problem they were looking for, or was this a new leak? Thankfully we are instructed to go to a different gate and board a different plane. Leaks + planes = bad.
At this point, we are now an hour behind schedule. As they check us in for the second time I end up walking down the Sesame Street gate area behind two Muslim couples. One wife is wearing the full blown (pun intended) “don’t even show me your eyes or I’ll beat you” burqa. Or is it a hijab. I always get those two mixed up. The other couple looks more “western” for lack of a better descriptor. Sadly, my first thoughts are not “what a nice looking couple.” No. I’m thinking “what the hell does Jihad Jared have in that heavy looking bag he’s carrying?” Sad, but true. Thanks radicals.
As I board the plane I look down the aisle and see a huge man sitting where I estimate my seat to be. Huge. I’m thinking he’s near 400 pounds. I’m not far from 300 myself so I know of what I speak. This could be a problem. Can planes list? I reach my seat. Yep. Jabba is sitting in my seat. He’s a jolly old soul, though, and he tells me that someone is in his seat. Naturally, I then take someone else’s seat to make sure the assigned seating system is thrown into complete chaos. Call it karma for the crappy ticketing system. Eventually the last passengers arrive. My squatter is informed that he can’t sit in an exit row if wearing seat belt extenders (???). So, he struggles to his feet and takes his assigned seat three rows forward, much to the chagrin of the formerly comfortable woman sitting alone in her two-seat row. As I peer through the seats I can see that his shoulders are clear past the gap between the seats and the poor woman is leaning her head on the wall probably trying to regain circulation in her legs.
We arrive at Dulles International and I quickly learn that our gate is the farthest possible point from the taxi stand. Two rounds of stairs, two long escalator walkways, and more stairs. A thick-accented gentlemen with a dirty clipboard and a big smile hands me a taxi form and tells me something, I don’t know what, then motions to one of the two available cabs. At least he is smiling. I mention my desired street address and my cab driver has no idea where I need to go. Hello? Taxi companies? Have you heard of Tom Tom? Garmin? Four friggin’ dollars per mile and you can’t afford a GPS unit in your cars? Well, I planned ahead. While killing time on the internet for five bucks an hour in the Cincinnati terminal I grabbed a screenshot of a Google map just for this occasion. But before I could show it to the driver he already starts driving and refuses to look at it. I ended up telling him where to drive, and ten minutes later I’m at my destination. Our customer is in the middle of the facility tour so I have a few minutes to scrape the airport funk from my forehead and plug in my laptop. Five minutes later everyone is seated at the conference table and the presentation goes well. More on that later.
The Q&A session ended up going long, so now our team has to hustle back to the airport. Thankfully the guys I met up with have a rental car. A mini-van actually. And thankfully I wasn’t driving because in the three mile drive to the airport we got nailed by a radar gun: 45 in a 25. The cop wasn’t too happy either… a surly, muscular fellow with an attitude. He took his sweet old time writing out that ticket too. I’m starting to get a little nervous because my three coworkers have their boarding passes in hand, but for some reason my boarding pass could not be printed. Eventually we are at the terminal and I head straight for the ticket desk. A perky agent suggests that I try the kiosks that are around the corner. Seeing that I have just three minutes before we reach the sacred hour before take-off after which they give your seat away, I want to avoid turning into a pumpkin and politely tell her “that didn’t work out so well for me this morning, I’ll be using a real agent.” I get checked in, no waiting. Well, no waiting until I round the corner and see the security line. “About 20-25 minutes from here” said the poor attendee pointing out the end of the line by standing there with a gold helium-filled balloon tied to her pony tail. No joke… and she looked thrilled to be standing there. Must be a rookie hazing thing.
My coworkers joined me in line and we bantered about our meeting while waiting. When we got to the part where they look at the boarding passes and photo IDs my buddies passed on by while I was rerouted to the special “your ticket is screwed up and/or you are a potential terrorist, so we’re going to make you wait longer while we go through all of your crap” line. You see, for whatever reason, my ticket — the only one out of the four that were booked for this trip — is special. Not only could I not check in online, or at a kiosk, or print out a bordering pass for the return flight (all features that my peers enjoyed today), I had to wait in the line to stand in a machine full of air jets to determine if I have any explosive dust on my person. Wee.
The line moved incredibly slow, thanks partially to the fact that the TSA issued new warnings this morning because terrorists are trying to test our security system by sending cheese blocks with cell phones taped to them through the screening process. Cheese is similar in density to plastic explosives. One thing about this bastards… they are persistent. But noooooo… we can’t profile. That would offend someone. So, twenty minutes later, I make it through the security check and head for my gate. I got on the plane with about eight minutes to spare. My seat was in the very last row… I realized this as I walked past my buddies seated neatly together in the middle of the plane. But hey, I got my own pair of seats so I’ve got room for the next few hours.
As soon as we reached cruising altitude a woman and her child headed for the restroom behind me. About five minutes later the stewardess (call her what you want, she’s a damned stewardess) informs me that I need to move to a different seat because “we have a sterilization problem to deal with and I need to clear out the back two rows.” What? I’ve never heard of this. Toxic spill? Food cart problem? Nope… a passenger barfed all over the bathroom. Probably sprayed diarrhea everywhere too. The two stewardesses had the unenviable task of cleaning this up. I gladly moved from row 16 to row 6. No more elbow room for me though. The guy in front of me has his seat back and he can’t sit still. My left elbow is now enjoying the lovely intersection of two not-so-smoothly rounded edges of the wall, and Im doing everything I can to avoid poking the redhead next to me with my other elbow. At least I’m near the front of the plane and will be able to get the hell out of here shortly after landing. After a day like this I could use a nice cold beer. Then an announcement: “We are sorry to inform everyone that we are unable to provide our beverage service on this flight, and furthermore, we have closed the only restroom on the plane. You can still use it if you really, really have to go, but you will be doing so at your own risk.” Great. I guess the girls decided that they weren’t going to try and tackle all of that recycled curry and humus. All of this fun and I can’t even get a cold Bud? Southwest… where are you?
Oh, yeah, The meeting? The short notice, gotta go, wake up at 4:00AM, put on your suit, miss your flight, sit through a delayed connection, arrive just in time for the customer presentation that I participated in? I spoke for a whopping 10 minutes. The meat of my section was handled by a very knowledgeable coworker with specific customer-experiences.
He attended via speaker phone.