Monday, February 22, 2010

Trouble Getting Home from Steamboat, CO

Yesterday, Roberto and I departed from a short mountain getaway in Steamboat, CO from their local Hayden airport. We were met with lots of aggravation on our journey. I guess we're not so special, probably much like many folks who have been travelling this winter.

A fun time snowboarding had been had by all - despite numerous spills on my part off the magic carpet and preview ski lift (pathetic!). And no, Roberto will not be vying for the oldest Mexican Olympic snowboarder title despite starting to get the hang of it at the end.

After taking the expensive GoAlpine shuttle from our hotel to Hayden airport ($50 pp each leg), we stood on a crowded line only to finally reach the counter and be told that our connecting flight from Chicago to LaGuardia had been cancelled. We figured that getting to Chicago we would have more opportunities to get home then we would have staying in Hayden. We needed to get back to NY that day. I had to get to work on Monday, as did Roberto; Ellie was being boarded and we needed to get back to her.

Unfortunately, because of that brilliant individual who had to do that diabolical stuff with liquids on a plane, I was stuck checking a bag. The flight itself went smoothly. When we arrived at Ohare, Roberto went to baggage claim to retrieve my checked bag while I started the uphill battle of trying to get us a flight back to New York. First, I headed to United "Customer Service" at the B gate. There weren't any humans at the station, despite a long counter. Instead, there were a bunch of phones and kiosk screens. I started at one phone which hung up on me twice. By the time I figured out that it wasn't working, of course others were trying to do the same type of thing so I had to wait.

Eventually I got through. A pleasant woman on the phone got us on standby for a flight to Newark. But because in Hayden the woman at the counter re-booked us on a flight the following day to NY at 7:30PM, we weren't yet able to print boarding passes from a kiosk. We needed the passes to re-enter the secure part of the airport, as Roberto had to cross over because of the checked bag.

???Are you getting all this???

So,after I hung up with the virtual customer service rep, I went to meet Roberto at baggage claim. From there we were told to go to the ticket agent. By now it was about 5PM and the standby flight was at 6:30 pm. A woman directed people onto two lines. One for those needing an agent and one for those who needed to check a bag but could use the kiosk. There was this extremely long line to see a human mostly because there were only three people to actually see the travellers at the counter. At a certain point, a parallel line was also there and none of us on the long line could figure out what exactly qualified one for the other line which went a lot faster. There were a few more agents for those individuals. From our slow line, we didn't actually get to the counter until about 6:50 pm, just short of two hours later. Of course we missed any chance of getting onto the standby flight to Newark.

The agent was able to get us on different standby list for LaGuardia on a 7:53 flight. She told us that if we didn't make it onto that flight, our names would be rolled over to the following flight list for 9:05. Furthermore, if we got stuck in Chicago, we could get a hotel voucher because the cancellation was mechanical, not due to weather.

And speaking of weather, meanwhile, some rotten weather had rolled into Chicago - snow, ice, etc. We didn't make it on to the first standby flight (about 140 people were on that standby list and we were numbers 56 and 57), but we did narrowly get onto the second, and finally, to New York by about midnight. The plane had to be de-iced and inspected by the first officer and everyone was remarkably silent for the first twenty minutes in flight as we ascended into the stormy weather.

Despite the bureaucracy, I was grateful for the safe flight and to have gotten home. I am sorry for frequent travellers' sake that United Airlines has decided that people are too expensive to be a mainstay of the equation in the facetime aspect of their business. I also found myself wondering what other corners might have been cut by the same corportate bigwigs which could impact the safety of our flight. I kept telling myself that this was probably why people flew first class and why they bothered acquiring frequent flyer miles.

Roberto's take was "God is trying to tell us to move to Chicago." All I could hear Him saying was "You stupid fool for ever leaving New York".

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