Sunday, March 20, 2011

The unfriendly skies

In February, Dana and I took a mini-vacation to the Dominican Republic. There are a few stories from our brief stay (including Dana’s inability to run in the wilderness, the island version of any mixed drink, and Casper Wyoming news), but the most dramatic story of the trip occurred on the last day. Backing up, when Dana was booking the trip, the travel agent told us it was a 45min drive from the airport to the resort. About 45min into the ride, Dana asked the driver (in Spanish) how much longer. He said “tres”, and she was like “okay tres minutes”. He shook his head and said “tres hours”. Whaaaat! Three more hours! Yep the travel agent was waaaay wrong. The path had to go through two mountain ranges full of roller coaster winding roads and one lane “construction” zones that lasted hours where un-surfaced or pot holed roads made the van into a bucking bronco.
Being type “A” personality girls, we followed the instructions to a T for the return transport. We called and confirmed our reservation two days in advance. Filed our flight numbers, and got the name of the agency contact. Our flights were leaving at 1:30pm, so the transport would pick us up at 8am. That would get us to the airport about 2hrs ahead of time. Since the breakfast buffet didn’t open till 8am, we could use that 2hrs to get through immigration, eat, and shop at the duty free store. Well 8am came and went. By 8:30, Dana was on the phone with the agency’s voice mail because they apparently didn’t start work till 10am. She finally got the cell phone number for the rep and rang her over and over till she had to respond. The rep said our flights were delayed till 4pm, so they were not going to pick us up till 10am. Well we called the airport and checked the internet, and sure enough the flights were right on time. So Dana made it clear to them that a 10am pick up would make us MISS OUR FLIGHT!
They finally agreed to come as soon as they could which in island time meant 9:30. Not knowing their eta (again the damn island time) we didn’t grab breakfast in fear of missing them. We hurled our bags into the van and the driver reassured us in a laid back voice that it would be no problem, I drive faster. Bumpy hairpin turn roads…yeah you go ahead and drive faster.
He indeed did drive faster by laying on the horn and occasionally spending quality time in the oncoming lane. We got to the airport 20minutes prior to our flights. Thankfully we both only brought carry-ons so there was no need to check luggage (we didn’t have enough time to anyway). After checking in and immigration, we had about 5 minutes before our boarding group was called. Our choices were A) grab some food at the Pizza Hut kiosk (the only food stand past security) or B) go shopping for booze in the duty free store. Yep, booze it is…plus the food at Pizza Hut looked terrible and likely would not be ready by the time we had to leave (damn island time). I picked up a packed pair of white rum bottles sealed up and ready for international travel.
Since I hadn’t eaten for 17hours, my stomach started to growl something fierce. The flight was about 4-1/2 hours, so I was looking forward to the meal or snack they would serve. Well Delta sucks! Yep, for an international flight, we were given one package of peanuts and a complimentary soft drink. Sometimes airlines sell a “snack pack” or something where $3 can buy you twelve pringle chips or something. When I asked if they had any food for purchase, the stewardess told me they didn’t and also denied my request for more peanuts because she had to make sure everyone got some. Pissed!!!
I flew into JFK and had about 90 minutes to change flights and hop back to Chicago. We landed on time but a plane was parked in our gate and that delayed us about 25 minutes. Thankfully an agent standing at the gangplank handed me an express pass since I had a tight connection and I was able to jump to the front of the line at immigration. Since I didn’t check any bags, I flew thru customs. Right outside customs was the rebooking desk for connecting flights. I told the Delta agents I wanted to check my bag since the layout of JFK would force me to leave security and transfer to another terminal. I picked up those two bottles of rum (definitely greater than 3oz) so I needed to check the bag in order go through TSA. The snarky Delta guy said he couldn’t accept any checked baggage because it was less than an hour before the flight. How much less…5 minutes! Yep, because it was 55 minutes till, I couldn’t check my bag…and I didn’t make the time limit because of their damn airline gate delay! Furious, I asked what my options were. He said I could go standby for the later flight for which he could then take my bag. Unfortunately that meant surrendering my guaranteed seat and gambling for an opening on a full flight. He then cheerily informed me that if I failed to obtain a seat then I could purchase another ticket for tomorrow. Yeah $300 ticket for $20 worth of rum, um no.
I grabbed my bag & rum, and ran out to catch the tram to another terminal. JFK airport is kind of kooky because the tram drops you off across the street from the terminal forcing you to step outside and dodge traffic. With the terminal transfer and haggling with the Delta staff outside customs, I had about 10 minutes before the last boarding group for the flight. I know, this constant skin of my teeth schedule was taking its toll. Add to it a lack of food for about 21 hours straight and it made me a hysterical sight. The passengers at security check thankfully let me cut in line. A sympathetic old man TSA agent confiscated my rum even though I told him my abbreviated story and showed him the seals on the rum were intact. Now normally they put the confiscated material into the trash, but he instead put the bottles into a bin with other contraband (that they likely would raffle off at the end of the shift).
I ran to my gate and saw about a dozen people standing at the kiosk so I knew I didn’t miss the flight. Well, they soon made an announcement that the flight crew was stuck in Minnesota due to a storm and we would be delayed about 2 hours (which actually turned into 3). Ding! The light bulb came on and I ran back to the TSA security check point. I am literally in the security check point, right next to the guy looking at the x-rays, and I am talking a mile a minute “hi, remember me, I was the hysterical woman that came through here about ten minutes ago…you took my rum, oh and it is right over there in that bin”. The manager came over since I doubt it is protocol to have a civilian in a secure place. Again I retold the story which was confirmed by the same old man. The manager informed me that procedure would not allow them to return any seized material, but then he nodded and told me to step around that partition. A hand then appeared around the corner and handed me the rum. Score!!!!
I ran back to the Delta counter and proudly told them I wanted to check my bag. The unenthusiastic clerk asked about the flight and I promptly told him I had two hours due to the delay and therefore met the stupid time limit. He then tried to charge me $25 to which I tapped on the counter and sassed him with “naw ah, I flew international today, you have to take it for free”. An eye roll later, my bag was on its way and I was enjoying my first bite of food in a very very very sad looking Burger King.
Of course the day couldn’t end on a high note. When I landed in Chicago, completely defeated and much too late for my sleep schedule, my bag was nowhere to be found. Yep, in that two, no three, hour delay, they stuck it to me by not putting the bag on the plane. Delta Airlines, you can suck my balls!


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