austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

I'll say it anyway

Airport '14. It's not my proudest day. It was the result of a lot of anxiety and frustration and things designed to bring me to anger. bunny_hugger's brother summarized one particular moment of it when he said, ``You know your customer service is bad if it causes the airport police to have to go do a cooldown on [me]''. Let me put it all together here.

bunny_hugger was supposed to fly back home, alone, out of Trenton. There had been a major snowstorm in the midwest and besides we'd been away from home for just about forever. I don't like being separated from her but at least she'd be able to get home and calm all our fears that something had gone wrong, and even get to pinball league because they were for the first time having a meeting on a non-class day. Given the snow we worried about her flight being cancelled, but it hadn't reached Trenton, and had stopped overnight in Detroit, so I imagined they would have plenty of time to plow the runways. Before we set out (about an hour's drive to the Trenton airport) we checked and the flight was still on.

We got into the airport to see everyone in the world in line. Trenton has only the one airline, and the one counter, and the line filled the floor. The rumor was that the flight was cancelled. This was confirmed by a more-frantic me, going downstairs, around the security area and being shooed out by the cops. We found a second counter upstairs with a shorter line of people trying to rebook. It was slow-moving. Trenton has no surplus flight capacity, and given so much of the midwest being snowed in, every alternate flight was booked. We overheard people who were flying out of LaGuardia on Wednesday, and even grim mutterings about flying out on Friday.

But! Being a lone flyer means you can squeeze in places. The attendant told us that there was a flight leaving from Philadelphia in about two hours --- Philadelphia's one hour away --- on US Airways Express and if we rushed we might just make it. We went for it. I don't speed; on this drive, I was speeding. I was getting more anxious about this fiasco. We got to Philadelphia a bit over an hour before the takeoff time; if we could get bunny_hugger's bag checked and get her throughs security without issues we would be all right after all.

Philadelphia has an awful airport. Horrible, horrible, horrible. For example, you know how the short-term parking for terminals at non-horrible airports have signs directing you to them, and which ones correspond to which terminals? Philadelphia offers a couple of signs, just enough to strand you at ambiguous points. We asked a security guard at one of the parking decks and he redirected us to a better one. In fairness, it was a better one, closer to the new airline.

The trouble was, US Airways Express didn't have bunny_hugger's reservation. She had receipts from the Frontier Airlines agent in Trenton, but there wasn't any signs of her in their system. All she counter agent could suggest is that we take it up with Frontier's agents.

OK. Where is Frontier Air in Philadelphia? Of course there's no signs suggesting this. I got on the white courtesy phone, which at the time was a charmingly retro-ish late 80s white handset model, and learned: they're in terminal A. We were in terminal F. Of course. So, we started following some of the signs to terminal A, and got stranded somewhere in an existential void between terminal D and a parking deck and nothing at all. I got back on the courtesy phone, who were able to explain that I was calling from inside the airport. Yes. They asked how much time I had. I posited that I had until the inevitable entropic heat-death of the universe, which threw them off script a moment, and relieved a tiny bit of the anxiety devouring me. There's apparently no way to get to terminal A while staying inside the airport or enclosed spaces; we just went out, walking against the flow of traffic down several buildings and down one false trail around the space for people who've had baggage issues. But, we were able to find the Frontier Air counter, where there were ... no people.

I picked up the courtesy phone again and asked them where the Frontier Air customer service desk was. They said we were there. I asked if they could get a Frontier Air person in. They said they'd page someone. I trust that they did, but, nobody ever came around. I waited a reasonable time and tried again. They swore they had paged. I pointed out that they might have paged, but nobody answered. They said they'd page again but if nobody came out then all I could do was be transferred to the Frontier Airlines telephone queue.

There, we sat, while I fumed, anxious about getting my wife home, and about getting through this agony, and everything else that's been grinding me down, kicking at the floor and punching my own leg, with no sign of anyone answering anything on the phone queue, and nobody at the Frontier Air desk or anything ... until, finally, after something like an hour of my call not even being important enough to them to be asked to hold, I got a message: my estimated wait time from this point was fifty-five minutes.

``FIFTY-FIVE MINUTES?!'' I screamed, and slammed the phone back on the hook hard enough I was worried I'd shattered it. And I collapsed into the seat as strangers sidled farther away from me.

So this is when the police officer came over.

He explained about the necessity of me not making a scene, and I, slumped and defeated, admitted that but explained some of just what had been going on all day.

And ... well, he was affected. It turns out that Frontier Air doesn't actually fly out of Philadelphia, despite their apparent physical presence. They just operate flights for Apple Tours, so, if there's not a tour package on, then they don't have anybody on site. But he went back into the secured areas and looked around to see if there might be anyone, and there wasn't. He suggested the best thing to do was go back to Trenton and talk with the agents there.

This would be a sensible thing to do if Trenton had more than maybe two flights per day, but it was something to do, and better than despairing. And it inspired us to do something more useful: go back to the US Airways Express counter and say, we have this receipt for a booking, you do something about it.

There was a different agent working the counter there. He understood at least part of our frustration: Frontier Airlines had been rebooking a lot of people incompetently that day --- starting reservations but not completing them, basically --- and they'd been dealing with redirected passengers all afternoon. He looked around and found that bunny_hugger could indeed get on the flight that we thought she'd been booked for. The flight had been delayed a couple hours, so she could even get on it ... why, right now. She got rebooked at last, and checked her bag, and hugged and kissed and I watched her go off through security, and while we were separated, at least she was safely on her way home.


... to be continued.

Trivia: James and John Ritty, inventors of the mechanical cash register (patented as ``Ritty's Incorruptible Cashier''), sold, as best as the evidence records, only one machine: to John H Patterson, who would found National Cash Register. Source: Before The Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs, and Remington Rand, and the Industry They Created, 1865 - 1956, James W Cortada.

Currently Reading: Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery, Frank Spencer.

PS: January 2014's Statistics, or how the mathematics blog is going. Pretty well, in parts.


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