Love-hate relationships are great fodder for writers. Just last week I wrote about my feelings towards running. I hate the burn and the pain at times, but I like the way you feel when you’re done, the exhilaration while you’re doing it. There is the yin and there is the yang.
But the topic of this column has no love to be countervailing to the hate. No yang for the yin. I am writing about flying – flying commercially. Pure hatred.
Just yesterday I returned from a wonderful and productive legal conference in Colorado Springs, at the bodacious Broadmoor. My first time on Colorado soil, a meeting and social occasion with some of the best and brightest lawyers in the country (present company painfully excluded). The warm and fulfilling memories were wiped away, however, by the return trip, the thoughts of the hospitality and congeniality of the staff at the Broadmoor replaced by visions of the surliness and indifference of the airlines.
My day started at 4:30 a.m. Mountain Time with a wake-up call and a text to the effect that my flight from Colorado Springs to Dallas-Fort Worth was delayed by 36 minutes (not a big deal), putting in jeopardy my connection on to Pittsburgh (a big deal given I was already scheduled to be in the air or in those God-awful areas where you sit and wait for delay and disappointment most of the day. And further given that bad storms were called for late evening in western Pennsylvania).
I decided to wait till I got to the airport before trying to deal with my options. Once there, I was advised that my best bet was to “stick with” my current connection and “hope” that the “pilot picks up some time in the air”. If lucky, and if I make my connecting flight, I would be in Pittsburgh at around 3:30 and home by 6.
It was not to be.
I won’t fault our pilot. He was on the ground 20 minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off for the Burgh, giving me 10 minutes before the gate closed. And I had cleverly (I thought) upgraded my seat to the first row of economy, giving me a shot at making the connection.
I gave it my best, doing my O.J. Simpson/Hertz commercial (for those who remember) sprint through the crowded halls of DFW. I believe I set my age-group record for the A-8 to A-28 dash. I could see the blessed word “Boarding” when I pulled up to the gate. I then saw it change to “Closed” before my very (disappointed) eyes. Surely, I thought, there was some leniency in the system, some level of humanity that would issue clemency and get me on that darn plane. But, alas, there was no pardon, no recognition that this was their fault! I didn’t cause the delay, I was the victim here.
I will not disparage the attendant at the gate. She recognized my urgency, she called the pilot, and she was rebuffed. The door was closed and unless I was the pope they were not re-opening. If I could have remembered his Holiness’s name at the moment I would have used it.
So “options” came into play. The first one was a ray of hope – a flight in half an hour to Chicago! A three-hour layover, but still into Pittsburgh by 6. This hope was dashed within a few minutes by the airlines’ favorite word – “delay”. A three-hour delay.
At this point I was referred to the “service center”. I have other words for it. Amazingly, I was asked by a lady there if it was “important that you get home tonight?”
My answer – and I quote – “apparently not or else I would have taken the bus”. We then discussed O’Hare and Dulles and Atlanta, finally deciding to “stick with” (apparently a favorite phrase of these people) the delayed flight and hope that it wouldn’t be further delayed. “Hope” is apparently the concept on which air travel is founded.
Well, the flight did leave DFW, almost only a half-hour late, an airline record for timeliness I suspect (unless your connection is tight, then it always leaves on time). This led to another race through the friendly (not) confines of O’Hare (referred to for some reason as “ORD”, probably part of the airlines efforts to add to the confusion of non-frequent flyers). I made it with a few minutes to spare, and then sat on the ground for 30 minutes. For someone who has flown into and out of ORD as much as I have, this was to be expected. I felt blessed that we didn’t have an on-ground collision while aimlessly taxiing.
Eventually we made it to Pittsburgh – my bag having arrived many hours before I did, not facing the indifference shown to me. I tracked it down and began the drive home, about 15 hours after my trip had started. As feared, I then ran into horrific storms, with cars pulled to the side of the road and water pouring across the interstate. Having enjoyed all that the day had to offer, I finally stopped 35 miles from home and got a room.
My firm’s managing partner and my great friend of 40 years, Susan, likes to say, “go by air when you have time to spare”. She also likes to say “calm down before you hit ‘Send’ and then hit ‘Delete Draft’”. Sorry Susan, I violated your second rule.