Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Mythical Hope for On Time Arrival

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have heard from our pilot that if we board quickly and push off from the gate with an on-time departure, he can get you to Houston before storms in the region affect this evening’s air travel.”

Dutifully, First Class and Elite Access passengers stowed their carry-on bags and personal items, then the y took their seats. The occasional travelers trudged through the aisle with the bewildered gaze not knowing where to find seats A through F. They tried shoving bags in the overhead compartments or under the seat in front of them blocking the aisle with their large butts. And, several eventually realized they were in the wrong row or seat and attempted to move forward against the one-way flow of boarding passengers. Thus went our mythical hope for an on-time departure.

The gusting winds rocked the plane and the hum of the engines for take-off went silent. “Ladies and gentlemen, Houston is experiencing a ground stop. Just sit tight, we’ll keep you informed …” The pilot kept his promise, he kept us informed and we sat tight for 90 minutes. When we finally took off, we were mythically assured that we’d make our connections since the ground stoppage delayed all flights.

The lines at the Continental Service Center clued me differently, but I dashed to my Pittsburgh departure gate arriving at 7:05 for the 6:50 PM. “Pittsburgh?” quizzed the gate attendant. “That flight’s gone.”

I joined the line of people on the blue Elite Pass carpet. No one was queued for the infrequent flyer line. I wondered how all these people could be frequent fliers. They weren’t and the majority had also missed the Pittsburgh flight that didn’t’ wait. The attentive customer service representative dared to ask, “Are there any first class passengers or our One World Elite travelers in this line?” I sheepishly raised my hand. She waved me to the front of the line. “Sorry,” I softly said as I moved ahead of the angry mob of tired, travelers who also missed connections.

“We can get you to Pittsburgh tomorrow on the 6:50 flight.”

“AM,” I clarified.

“No, PM” she said in an apology.

“No, find another way. Route me through Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia or Newark. Don’t make me wait until tomorrow evening,” I pleaded. “I just want to get home to my Momma and grandbaby. Please do what you can.”

A litany of long layovers and more possible missed connections were my options. I rejected them one-b y-one. And, in final resignation, I said, “Give me the confirmed seat on tomorrow’s 6:50. I’ll just find a friend in Houston to have a fun lunch with me.”

“Oh,” she groaned. “This is a rewards booked flight, isn’t it?” I nodded. “I’ll need to call a supervisor.”

I expected the worst. Then after a few whispered words on the phone, she said in a hushed tone, “I can confirm you on the 1:10 PM direct to Pittsburgh tomorrow.”

I thanked her and blew her a kiss. She ticketed me on the spot and I slipped away past the Pittsburgh crowd who would be on the 6:50 flight tomorrow evening or running for connections on routes between Houston and Pittsburgh.

This was my first flight in the five months since leaving my road warrior career with Ketchum. My optimism thinking this trip would be on time, without missed connections, and same day arrival proved to be mythical.

February 17, 2006

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