Saturday, May 24, 2014

Of Bad Brands, Bad Trips, and Bad Moods

Amelia Earhart luggage?  Really?  Isn't that something like trying to sell Sonny Bono ski-poles or Marie Prevost pet treats?

You'll forgive me if I'm taking a jaundiced view of things, darlings, but really the past two days have been very trying.

Toward the end in Vienna, you see, I'd been fighting off some sort of respiratory ick, and overnight from Wednesday to Thursday, it hit full force.  The prospect of flying with that sort of thing is far from alluring, but at least I had traveled prepared, with a plentiful supply of strong Egyptian cold medicine (never leave home without it) and so set off for the airport grimly determined to get home as quickly as possible.

Ha ha! laugh the Fates, with other plans.

The flight from Vienna to London was uneventful, until I looked up from my book (of which more anon at some point - the new biography of Barbara Stanwyck - not perfect, but of great interest), thinking it was about time we should be landing, and noted that our route, as depicted on the travel map on the little TV screen, was no longer a straight line from the Austrian to the British capital, but had somehow turned into a series of graceful loops off the Dover coast.  At length, our captain came on the intercom and said that sudden rain at Heathrow had thrown things there into confusion, and we were waiting and seeing. Patience, he counseled, as if we had any choice (or any idea of the hell that lay ahead of us).

I returned to Barbara (pluckily making her way through her trying first days in Hollywood at that point) and when next I looked up, we were once again traveling in a straight line - one heading toward the north of England.  Where London, even one as geographically challenged as I knows full well, is most definitely not.

Eventually the Captain (whose family name, at this point, might as well have been Obvious) came on again and confirmed that we were in fact unable to land at Heathrow and were instead heading toward Manchester, of all places, adding comfortingly that the rerouting was because we had insufficient fuel on board to wait any longer.  We landed there smoothly enough, but rather than heading for a terminal, we joined a long queue, visible on both sides of the plane, of flights that we were soon told had been similarly diverted.  Patience (again!), please, while we wait and see.  We waited.  and waited, all the while not seeing much.  And after about ninety minutes, we learned that we would be returning to London, after a suitable refueling. Eventually, that took place, and off we headed.

I'd already been checking online (blessings on mobile technology!) and had found that it was unlikely I'd be able to proceed on Thursday, but only on landing, at last, at Terminal Three did I learn just how unpleasant British Airways was ready to make the rebooking process.  Having arrived three hours late, I thought perhaps there might be some possibility of staff on hand to assist; that was a forlorn hope, however, and I and a few befuddled others who had lost our connecting flights made our way through the labryinthine arrival corridors.  I decided to go into the terminal we were in, rather than taking the lengthy trip over to the terminal from which we were meant to have departed (knowing that there were no other flights to be had there), and bade my fellow travelers, acquaintances of short duration to be sure, but already bonded as one is able to during an unwelcome trip to Manchester, farewell.  It was rather a fight to get through security without a boarding pass, but I pointed resolutely at the signs saying Customer Service and insisted that I was a customer and needed service and eventually prevailed.

I almost wished I hadn't, however when, after being as usual scanned and groped, I saw the pace at which the line at the service desk was moving.  I waited.  And waited.  Ahead of me was a large and distraught family from (and apparently desperately eager to return to) Beijing.  I waited.  Finally, after a full three hours of lack-of-customer-service, I reached the head of the line, where a very cheery woman (whom I very nearly slapped) said that she might be able to get me a middle-seat on some flight soon, certainly by Sunday, but didn't I know it was almost Bank Holiday and how could I expect much more?  Then she proceeded to offer me a hotel voucher for a deeply unacceptable room somewhere off beyond Gatwick, and that, dear reader, is when I started to see red.

I was polite.  I was firm.  But I was insistent.  It took a while (although not as long as it had taken to reroute the almost pitifully miserable Chinese family, who had drifted off with the air of Chekhov's sisters knowing that Moscow was forever out of reach), but eventually I emerged, if not triumphant, at least in possession of an aisle seat on the morning flight and a voucher for a hotel that, whatever else its many, many shortcomings, was at least nearby.  My only failure was in being able to reclaim my bag - "Oh, no sir; we got a call earlier from the transfer facility; there were so many bags waiting that they had to close for the night," explained the representative, as if that made any sense at all.

At great length (remarkable how infrequently a bus called a "shuttle" can actually run) I was installed (grudgingly - the British Airways-Sheraton relationship is evidently a fragile one, and my voucher was regarded with the kind of suspicion more usually paid to exit visas in wartime Lisbon) in a hotel room, possessed only of the clothes I stood up in and the airline "courtesy night pack," which proved to contain a miniature toothbrush, a razor of surprising menace, a tiny tub of vile-smelling "deodorant," and a T-shirt approximately the right size for a 12-year-old of high metabolism and small appetite that I would not be at all surprised to learn was made of the North Korean coal-based "wonder fabric" Vinalon.

In the morning, after a rushed and exiguous breakfast, it was off to the airport again.  At check-in, I met one of my temporary companions from the night before and learned that for once I had indeed made the right decision in not pressing on to Terminal Five, for there they found a scene of indescribable confusion and joined a line in which they waited for more than five hours, at which point the staff announced that they were closing for the night.  The hapless travelers were handed a badly photocopied list of area hotels and told to save their receipts for possible future refund, and my poor travel-pal had made her way around the recalcitrant shuttlebus circuit until the third hotel decided to take pity on her at about two in the morning and take her in.  Suddenly my night of restless half-sleep in the damp and freezing airport Sheraton seemed like luxury incarnate.

Finally we were off, and really there's not all that much to complain about from there, the one-hour delay on departure and the ninety minutes it took to clear passport control at Dulles aside.

Perhaps it was the copious cold medications; perhaps it was just lack of sleep.  For whatever reason, the whole affair has taken on in my befuddled head the feeling of a particularly bad dream, one dispelled only by the smiling face of Mr. Muscato at the end of the International Arrivals ramp.

But at least I'm home and for the moment I could easily be convinced never to leave it again, not even if offered a full set of Brazilian Purple Amelia Earhart bags. Well, actually, that might do the trick, as long as I didn't have to transit Heathrow. I'm off British Airways for at least a little while, and if I never have to hear that blasted "flower duet" from Lakme ever again, I think I'd survive.

So we'll spend the Memorial Day quietly, recovering, me mostly sniffling and reading about Stanwyck (she's just met Robert Taylor, and things are looking up).  How about you?


  1. Such a slog. I fortunately have never had any delays of more than 2 or 3 hours in all my years flying. I'm doing a quick San Francisco turnaround this coming Wed-Fri to buy silk flowers for the store for the year. Hopefully, my travel luck continues.

    Working Saturday (a deadly slow retail day over Memorial Day Wknd but a great paperwork catch-up day). Off Sunday but likely recovering dining chair seats, buying appliances, and doing further prep for the homestretch of restoring my parents' fire and flood damaged beach home. A cookout Monday at the home of dear friends, the actress & the bartender. Always good for deceptively potent libations, much laughter, and eclectic company.

    Oh, and word just came over the wire that we're meeting my husband's brother & his wife for ice cream tonight. They own & operate our Princeton location so it will be business chat, not an evening lark. Shop talk offsite with bad fluorescent lighting and our choice of toppings, but shop talk all the same.

  2. I feel your pain, I have run into challenging travel ordeals through the years and my niece just had a very similar issue on her return to the states from Turkey but through Canada. Unlike British Airways though Air Canada had everything, next day flight, room reservation, transport to and from hotel, ready for her when she deplaned much to her relief. It did turn what was going to be originally a long flight into an extended ordeal however.

    Rest up and recover quickly. Anxious to hear your thoughts on the new Missy Stanwyck bio.

  3. Oh darling, poor darling! What a nightmare. I've heard so many of these types of stories that it makes me glad that travel is not professionally required of me and that I 'saw the world' when I was younger and on a privately chartered plane with advanced customs clearing to boot. I say, let the world come to me now.

    Also, "not perfect, but of great interest" perfectly sums up the Stanwyck tome. Feel better.....

  4. On behalf of the entire Britannic Nation, may I wholeheartedly apologise for your ever having to be in Manchester. Jx

  5. Complain. The ratio of ‘complainers’ to ‘victims’ is quite low, so you’d be surprised at how you might get on - especially is you have a robust mileage account. An unexpected sandstorm saw us diverted last year to a regional Saudi airport, where, for want of a visa or an available flight, we were obliged to spend 36 hours in the terminal. A stern fax to the Chairman of the airline (quaint but necessary – they wouldn’t give his postal address and email is useless on these occasions), was replied to in a matter of weeks with the usual corporate blandishments, containing, however, the following gem buried deep within “pleased to offer you and your party complimentary return tickets to anywhere in our network at your own convenience”. Thus we spent Xmas in NYC, with the secret code on the ticket indicating we were “guests of the Chairman” ensuring we were treated like rock starts to boot! Perhaps the thought of crafting such a missive (although you've already done so most eloquently above), might take your mind off ‘the sniffles’…?