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Dulles Debacle

Posted by LOTGK on November 24, 2007

As usual, business was on the line and it was long distance. This time the Grassy Knoll Institute team of scientists were off to the great state of Virginia. My associate and I had a meeting to attend. It was a one-day stopover, no big deal, and no problem. Travel arrangements were made and we would fly out of Pittsburgh via United Airlines to Dulles international airport.

As luck would have it, our flight was delayed almost two hours as our plane was taken out of service for maintenance. As we sat reading the paper we listened to the incessant repeated message in a monotone voice cautioning that the automated walkway was coming to an end and to use caution when stepping off. I had to have heard that 1000 times in the span of two hours.

We are ready to board and as is the way with United, we walked out to the tarmac and boarded the jet. The flight was good, only half full and roughly only 30 minutes in the air. That good feeling would change the moment we walked off the plane at Dulles airport. There was no terminal, just an open walkway that would guide us to the terminal. A solid quarter mile jaunt with briefcase and overnight bag in tow we began the sojourn.

We came to the terminal doors and followed the signs and walked upstairs. Then down the walkway some more. Hey, more steps, this time we went down. Again, another walkway. And incredibly, more steps back up. I felt like a rat in the maze. I was waiting for a bell to ring and a snickers bar to drop down to me for doing such a fine job of navigating the maze. We came to a barrier and doors to the outside. WTF?

Yes, we had to take a shuttle bus the rest of the way. Mind you, we didn’t have luggage. We just wanted to get to the rental car area. A 10-minute painstakingly slow tour around the tarmac and up to another set of doors. And goddamn, another shuttle that led us to the rental car agency. Finally, we got our rental and got the hell out of Dulles.

The meeting went smooth and we actually wrapped it up early. We were booked on the 5:40 pm flight back home but it was 12:30 pm and there was a 1:58 pm flight out that was wide open, (Meaning only half full) so we put the pedal to the medal to catch that flight.

Even after driving right past the airport and missing the exit for the rental car return, we still had a chance to make the flight. Of course, the shuttles would be a big headache but we began by getting lucky as the first shuttle was just leaving when we jumped aboard. We then de-shuttled and ran through the outside walkway. Yes, I was in full suit regalia including suit, tie, wing tips and overcoat.

We get to the second shuttle and we still have an outside shot of catching the plane. Then through the FN rat maze up and down the stairs and walkways until we got to the ticket counter. Of course the E ticket machines were off line but since we didn’t have luggage, we still clung to the slim hope of making the flight.

We got standby on the flight that was loading at Gate G and the ticket agent said good luck and I told her we would make the flight. Of course, we had to go through another walkway, through the metal detectors, off with the shoes and coat, and another walk way and then another shuttle. Damn, we boarded the shuttle and waited for the driver, who was apparently taking an opium break.

Again, we de-shuttled and ran up the stairs to the check in counter. It was 1:44 pm and we had made it. But damn, there wasn’t anyone at the counter. A minute later a ticket agent walked by and asked if we needed any help. I said we were on standby for the 1:58 flight and she looks at me and said we closed the doors 10 minutes prior to takeoff. I looked at my cell phone clock that said 1:46 at this time and said we still had two minutes to the ten-minute cutoff. She tells us once again that the flight is closed but she would call out to the plane to see if they actually closed the door.

Of course they closed the damn door. She then said sorry, the door is closed and that there was nothing that she could do. She then left. Here we were, two paying on time customers, and the United Airlines ticket agent didn’t give a shit. I’m sure that’s the reason United is making millions of dollars in profits…..(inject heavy sarcasm here)

Exhausted and sweating, we sat down for 5 minutes to catch our breath and decided to check with the customer service podium if another flight was scheduled before our 5:40 pm flight. We got in line and wouldn’t you know it, the same ticket agent at the jet way door was now behind the counter. At that exact moment, I knew I had somehow traveled through some sort of three dimensional space-time continuum and was now stuck in a Twilight Zone episode. (Submitted for your approval. Two business travelers trying to find their way home)

The ticket agent said that there were no United flights earlier than the ones we were booked on. We asked for another airline and the agent (of satan) says that yes there was but she would have to charge us $100 for the ticket change plus the cost of the new ticket. My associate said, “WHAT?” He then inquired what if we just bought the plane tickets, and then we wouldn’t have to pay for the $100 ticket change. The agent of satan said she couldn’t process it that way. Disgusted, we walked away.

We had three and a half hours to kill so we decided to eat lunch. Yup! We had to take the shuttle to gate C to get food. I realized that this was the worst airport I ever had the misfortune to be in.

Back to gate G waiting for our flight and the terminal was packed. Standing room only. I started to listen to the ticket agents announcing the status of each flight. Most flights were delayed for some reason or other. At one point, the announcement crackled over the loudspeaker that flight such and such was on time and would be boarding soon. I said loud enough for people around me to hear, “Hey, an on time flight, lets do the wave.” I then proceeded to simulate the football stadium wave from my seat.

Another announcement stated that they could not begin to board the aircraft until they were able to open the aircraft door. That wasn’t a big confidence builder.

Yet another announcement said that “We are waiting for the pilot and the flight crew to arrive and we will not fly the plane without them according to regulations.” I’m not FN kidding you.

Finally, our flight was called out to board and as we were walking out to the tarmac my associate said that the man in front of us had the worst case of body odor he ever witnessed. He was betting that one of us would have the bad luck to be seated next to him. Thankfully, neither of us was. In fact, no one was sitting next to him. It was the only seat available. Two minutes before the door shut a passenger scrambled on the plane, a late last minute stand by customer and he thought he was the luckiest man alive getting a seat on the plane? Until about 30 seconds after sitting next to the king of stink. He immediately turned the air jets on to somehow funnel the stench away from him.

To further add misery, the jet stayed on the tarmac for an hour before we took off. The cabin air had to be at least 85 degrees. The stink man had to be ripe. I was laughing and started to draw a few worried looks from my fellow passengers. Finally the plane took off and we made it home in the early evening…

Did I tell you that United Airlines sucked ass and that Dulles airport is the worst I was ever in?

As an epilogue. We stayed at the Holiday Inn and being a Priority Gold Member I received a special gift upon check in. I felt so special, like in the Progressive Insurance commercials where Ryan Stiles, the actor from the Drew Cary show thinks he is being catered to since he is a star. “A second bag of peanuts. Second bag!” The actual contents of the gift were a chocolate mint, four Oreo cookies, a small bag of chips, and a bottle of water. Yea, that was priority gold service…

Addendum: I was just informed by my associate that I left out the best part. As we were waiting to fly back home to Pittsburgh, the plane was overcrowded and we were delayed on the ground. Apparently, the plane needed to shift 900 pounds of weight to the cargo hold. The stewardess opened the overhead compartment and looked at everyone’s carry on luggage.

She then came up to me and asked if I would allow her to take my bag and put it in the cargo hold. She only asked one person. Only me. I was thinking maybe she thought I worked for a bowling ball company and had 900 pounds of bowling balls and pins stuffed into my overnight bag. I politely declined. She asked me again saying that my bag would be available at the luggage return when we deplaned. Again, I told her no thank you for I didn’t have any other luggage to pick up and I was already late for an appointment because of the hour long delay from United.

Miffed, she looked away, closed the overhead bin and then sat down. She did not ask another person on the plane. WTF, did she really think my overnight carry on bag weighed 900 pounds? And worse, apparently, the weight never got adjusted cause no one else was asked to check the luggage.

So, thats the whole story. I think so anyhow….

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