Tuesday, December 23, 2008

K.A.O.S. and C.O.N.T.R.O.L

It started innocently enough: 3:36pm flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, with a 10:25pm connection to Melbourne. United had originally wanted to book me on the 7:10pm flight from San Francisco, but SFO being what it is, I asked them to put me on an earlier flight.

I checked in at SFO only to find that my regularly scheduled plane had not only been downgraded to a TED flight, but that the plane was going to be a little late. There were all sorts of delays of people and equipment due to snow in the Pacific Northwest and bad weather elsewhere in the US. Two crew-related flight delays later (the plane was there, but no one to fly it) we finally board for a 5:30pm departure. I find someone sitting in my seat and am concerned that with all the chaos that my seat was double-assigned, but it turns out that it was just someone sitting in the wrong place. Some lady whines to the flight attendant that "there's going to be an insurrection" because we're so late. The attendant asks if the lady would like to get off the plane, and the lady says no, she just wants to get going. The attendant replies that is exactly what she wants too. We all do.

We start to head out to the runway, but not long after the plane circles around back to the gate. It seems there was a brake-related mechanical problem, so they offload everyone and send us to another plane, now scheduled for a 7:30pm departure.

There's still plenty of time for me to get to LAX, so I'm not concerned, until I get the message that my Melbourne flight has been delayed by 12 hours. I didn't want to end up stuck in LA overnight, so I call United to find out what my options are and if I'll be given a hotel room there. The agent tells me that I've been rebooked via Sydney, so I think everything is okay, and head to the new gate. I decide to call United to get all my new flight times, and the agent tells me that no, I'm not rebooked via Sydney, so she tries to do it and can't get the change accepted by the system. She guesses it's because I've got checked bags. Not long afterward, I get another message telling me that my flight to Melbourne is completely canceled. I call United again, and they rebook me for the next night, which means I can go home and sleep with my cats.

Rather than just heading out to BART to go home, I stop by the Red Carpet Club to get my new boarding passes. Truth is, I'd feel a lot better about the changes if I had an official document in my hand. While waiting for an agent to help me, I get a phone call from Ruby in the International First Lounge in LAX, wanting to know where I am. I tell her I'm in the San Francisco Domestic Red Carpet Club, and she tells me I'm rebooked via Sydney and to get on my original flight to LA. I tell her the flight is leaving in 6 minutes and besides I'd given up my seat to someone else. She tells me to get down to the gate, that I can still get on the plane. I tell her I'd be on the plane but someone from United already told me they can't send me via Sydney because they couldn't get me a ticket to Melbourne, and I was all set to go tomorrow, but she says no, she has a ticket for me and will meet me at the gate in LA, I should go get on the plane now.

So I run to the gate, and am worried that the door has closed and that I've missed my flight. The gate agents are very busy, and there is a line, but somehow despite the chaos an agent asks me to follow her and I get on the plane. My original seat is available, so off I go. The flight to LA takes off at 8:33pm and lands 47 minutes later, I've never been on one that's gotten down there so fast. I get off the plane and walk to my connection, and as I approach the gate I hear my name being called. Ruby is there with my new boarding pass and a Qantas ticket from Sydney to Melbourne for the next morning, so it's all good.

I'm now settled in my new United First Suite, which consists of a chair pod that reclines to a 6'6" bed. I've got a big (17"?) video screen with on-demand access to dozens of movies, a glass of champagne, and an actual 110v outlet to charge my laptop. Rather than being 24 hours late for Christmas Day in Melbourne, I'm only going to be 3 1/2. Not bad for going half way around the planet.

The only question, of course, is regarding where my luggage is. It got on my flight in San Francisco, but whether it got on the Sydney flight or not is unknown. At worst case it will arrive in Melbourne the morning of the 26th. I've got an extra pair of underwear in my purse, plus some makeup and a toothbrush, so I'll survive. I'd just hate for the bottle of tequila and carton of cigarettes I'm bringing as presents for Grant and Bryce to be lost in the wilds of the United baggage system for weeks.

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