So I just spent an amazing week in Houston, training on all kinds of double-super-secret cop stuff that will help protect kids.
(yay! my favorite subcategory of humans…blah….)
Had a ball. Met some good officers, saw some old friends, and found some top-shelf barbeque (a requirement of off-site training, as far as I’m concerned).
But there was just a bit of a problem at the end.
Understand, my history with United is not brilliant. About 15 years ago, I flew Lubbock to Denver and was invited not to fly with United because of a…uh…disagreement with a woman at the ticket desk. Somehow, I managed to avoid not one, but two, sets of handcuffs and cowboyed back to Denver on Continental.
That particular lesson cost me something like $600.
I wouldn’t have chosen United but the flights were set up by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and so I was stuck. Not a biggie, the previous problem was more than a decade a go and hey, we’ve all grown up. I’ve learned a bit of tact and United has learned to communicate better with its customers (remember that….)
So I got to Houston just fine. Coming home however, things got a bit dicier. When I arrived at Houston International I learned the Chicago flight was delayed a bit so I checked my connection to the Quad Cities.
No problem, the gate guy said. The flight to the QC is also late. Originally scheduled to leave at 8:49 p.m., it was now scheduled to leave at 10:19 p.m.
In Chicago, the boards all still say 10:19 p.m. The two women at the gate say the flight is 10:19. The website says 10:19.
It’s a mechanical difficulty, the women say, but there’s another plane coming.
Suddenly, at 9:30, they announce the plane’s on its way and we’ll hit the skies at 10 p.m.
Whoop whoop, right?
Hah, naive reader. This is United, remember, capable of fucking up not only a free lunch (which they don’t serve anymore, by the way) but damn near a free drink of water (which they barely serve).
So the plane arrives and we all get ready to board….
And 10 comes…and goes.
The two gate women announce the flight will leave now at 10:20. Except it’s after 10 and ain’t nobody being allowed to board.
At 10:15, they announce a new departure time of 10:30. But still the doors are closed and still they ain’t letting anyone on this plane.
Now, remember, some of these people have been waiting on the original flight, scheduled departure at 8:49. So by this time, some of the natives are starting to get a bit restless.
About 10:25, the two gate women leave.
And never come back.
Seriously, we never saw them again.
At 10:30, the gate marquis magically changed to 10:45. No one came and told us, we just happened to see it on the board.
Still…we’re not boarding.
And at 10:45? Hard to believe I know, but the board magically changed to an 11 p.m. departure.
Remember, the plane is at the gate, the luggage is aboard.
By this time, passengers are getting pissed. There are three flight crew members in the gate area and customers keep asking what’s going on. Each said they didn’t know, or they refused to say anything. Nor did they bother to call someone from United who might have told those pesky paying customers what the hell was going on.
By 11:00, mutiny began to percolate around the gate lounge. A guy with dirty blond hair, surfer skin, and a harsh attitude stirred the troops by randomly pointing to passing crew members and saying, “Get them, they can fly the plane,” or “Grab that one, they can be the flight attendant.”
There was a flight attendant in full uniform waiting with the passengers. She was obviously done on her hours and was flying to the Quad Cities, but the problem – like the rest of United last night – was that she refused to say anything. She also refused to go find someone on duty who could talk to us and let us know what the hell was going on.
So between the two still missing gate women, the three pilots standing around, and the waiting flight attendant, the passengers were ignored by six United employees.
What’s the Ratt song? ‘Lack of Communication?’
This was the exact same bullshit that got me booted from United way back in Lubbock 15 years ago. Exactly nothing had changed for this corporation. And so I responded nearly the exact same way.
There was a woman hovering around the gate, orange reflective vest and work pants, who I finally talked to. Got in her face a little, but it wasn’t anything like that fabled day so long ago. Why crank off on her? She didn’t work for United, she was runway help, guiding planes in and out and directing the food, sewer, and fuel services. She had no horse in this particular race.
So I apologized even as I got in her face and tried to ease up. But I’m guessing I scared her because she immediately disappeared.
The difference between her and the United employees, though, was that she came back.
With a United supervisor in tow!
Things happened fast after that. The guy took a second to have a small stroke as he realized there was no one around and a plane sitting at the gate. He snatched up a radio and filled the airwaves and within five minutes we were boarding.
Yay! Champagne all around, yes?
I have no idea if he moved mountains or his timing was perfect enough to make it appear he moved mountains. Either way, he should have moved a few more.
We boarded about 11:15 and everything looked great. Except the pilot told us the plane (which had been scheduled originally for a longer flight) had too much fuel. Couldn’t get off the ground with this much fuel and the passengers so it was going to be ten or twenty minutes while the tanks were emptied out a bit.
I sat in my seat, belted up, and ground my teeth. We were on the plane so I was closer to home than I’d been in a week, but still….
Then the fuel truck pulled away.
Yah! Cheap wine all around, yes?
Then the captain said the generator in the back of this small plane, the one that started the engine, was hosed. What he said was, “…on the fritz.”
I ground my teeth and dug my nails into the arm rests. It was 11:40, about three hours after this thing was supposed to be wheels up, and we were hostages to the corporate incompetence of fucking United Airlines.
Eventually, a generator truck twaddles up and started our engines. We were overjoyed! There was nothing to keep us from getting home.
Salvation was at hand, brothers and sisters, and all we had to do –
What’s that you say?
No crew? I don’t understand. The crew is on the plane.
Hah, you naive reader. Takes more than one crew to get off…the ground. We also need the ground crew to physically push us away from the gate.
And apparently, during the wait for the generator truck, and the fuel truck before that, and whatever else before that, the ground crew…um…left.
Yes. With a plane at their gate, one they knew needed a push, they left.
Thus stranding us at the gate. The captain said, “…we’re stuck here until they come get us.”
When we eventually left the ground, at almost exactly midnight, the pilot put the freakin’ hammer down. What was scheduled as a 59 minute flight took us exactly 36 minutes. Son of a bitch found himself a tailwind and blasted the hell off.
Ultimately, I got home about 2 a.m. Had United not had its collective corporate head up its arse, I would have been home by 11:30.
The point here is not the delays. I understand delays. Weather happens and sure as hell happened yesterday. Mechanical problems happen and I want the airline take the time to solve that particular problem so I don’t…you know…die in a fiery crash.
But you gotta talk to your customers. You gotta communicate. I think most paying customers would be able to deal if they were simply told, straight up, what’s what. Hell, in this case, even the website knew what was going on before the customers did.
What we had was no communication, two employees who fled for burger breaks or something, and a constantly changing departure time that was never attainable.
(another hint, United, don’t constantly change the time by 15 minutes when that’s never going to happen. Figure out how long it’s really going to take and tell us. That way we can go eat or piss or make a call, rather than having to stick around because hey, in 15 minutes the flight’s going to leave)
Getting treated like this, it’s absolutely no wonder people are protesting corporations. (And if corporations really are people, per the Supreme Court decision in Citizens’ United, then I’d punch this motherfucking person right in the balls…hard…and repeatedly.)
I don’t think any of last night’s passengers were protest-types, but they sure as hell won’t have anything good to say about United.
Which is worse, Corporate America, the protesters who not a lot of people pay attention to? Or the middle Americans who fly a few times a year and have lots of friends and co-workers who also fly a couple times a year?
On the upside, bravo to the flight attendant who worked her ass off to lighten everyone’s load. Jokes and comments and great Motown on the air before we left.
Lastly, no, I’m not equating getting a late flight with Mrs. Lincoln seeing her husband blown away at a play. That’s just hyperbole.
Which is something I never use.