Thursday, March 13, 2008

CRA-W 2008 I: Air travel sucks

Yesterday I returned from the CRA-W 2008 Grad Cohort Workshop in Seattle, and my head is full of new information, thoughts, strategies, outlooks.

Bookending my conference experience were two unpleasant air travel episodes.

Toronto to Seattle: I arrived at the airport 15 minutes after the cutoff for check-in for my (direct) flight. (I hadn't known there was a cutoff, and figured that arriving with more than an hour to spare was generous.) An airline employee hassled me, refused to let me check-in, and made me use the courtesy phones to change my ticket. After an hour, the agents on the phones said I needed to (a) pay $2000 and overnight in San Francisco, or (b) talk to someone at a desk, so I snuck back in line and threw myself on the mercy of the attendant and her terminal. She very kindly rebooked me, connecting through Chicago, on a flight that was leaving in 45 minutes, and told me to hurry. I did. The customs line was short and quick, and I made it to my flight, to Chicago (what a nice airport!), and to Seattle. My bag made it, too, which I consider a small miracle. Only 4 hours later than I had planned to arrive, and after about 100 times more stress.

Interestingly, my tickets had other people's names on them (and my own name on a separate paper detailing how I had been rerouted, stapled to the back). I figured that these were people who had canceled at the last minute, but one of them didn't. I got to meet her, because I was sitting in her seat.

Observations: I checked-in to the flight I took long after the same "cutoff" that I supposedly missed for my original flight. Airline rules, as observed in many other places, are applied inconsistently, and (seemingly) with an eye towards sadism.

Seattle to Toronto: I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare for even the most ridiculous of arbitrary cutoffs, only to discover that my flight was delayed an hour, so that I would miss my connection. I tried -- and failed -- to fly standby on an earlier flight. I ended up waiting for a few extra hours in Chicago for a later connecting flight. The combination of red-eye flight and time-zone difference reduced me to a zombie, so the stress didn't really sink in. I made it home, again miraculously with my bag. Plus, the airline paid for my breakfast.

Take-home lesson: Always, always talk to a person at a computer terminal. All other people -- in person or on the phone -- cannot really help.

This post's theme word: nefandous, "blasphemous in character, not to be named." This post details my recent dealings with the nefandous airlines.

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