Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Travel Test

UPDATE: Apparently I jinxed myself with this post. I made a commitment to do better, and today I was given a great opportunity to do just that. It started with an hour and a half long drive from Bowling Green to Nashville, where our flight was delayed by 45 minutes due to an issue with the "air conditioning" - an excuse which was also given on my flight yesterday, though later we were told we had to wait for the captain to get back from "running up to eat his dinner." So, I'm thinking that "air conditioning" is code for something much less important. It seemed that almost every single person on the flight was trying to make connecting flights, so a good five minutes before the "ding" sounded to let us know we could get up and get off the plane, people were jumping out of seats and throwing open the overhead bins to grab bags. 

There were a handful of us trying to make the flight to Salt Lake, at least six, and when my speediest/long-leggiest co-worker arrived at the gate, they had just closed the boarding doors (10 minutes early despite the fact that there were at least six of us coming from a flight which they had to know had been delayed but had arrived at the airport. The plane was still sitting there as the rest of us got to the gate...but once shut, that boarding door is as unmovable an object as exists. So, some frustration was coming up. 

They started to book us on the next available flight, 2:30pm tomorrow - what's an extra 18 hours really? There was an 8:55am flight available, but only my dad was able to get on that one due to his lofty travel status. However, because I have some pressing things happening tomorrow, my dad was very kind and switched flights with me. THANKS DAD! As part of the process, I asked the gate agent if she could change my name from WESR to WEST, and the answer...that would be a 'no'. Once a ticket has been booked, there are no name changes, so in the 15 seconds between when I started making the request and when I finished, apparently that ticket was booked and I was out of luck. (Interestingly, in Nashville, I went through security without addressing the name issue. I ended up int he line with TWO TSA agents checking every ticket, but neither one caught the discrepancy. I think it was because I distracted them with really charming small talk, referring to them both as 'sir' several times.)

Next up - let's get some hotel rooms. Oh wait. They're "out" of hotels that they can pay for. What we can do is to book rooms ourselves, from their list of discounted hotels, and then submit the receipts later for reimbursement. Really appreciate that offer, so generous. I maintained a decent attitude through all of this, I was rising above, I was doing better. 

My co-worker's sister (a Dallas resident) was kind enough to pick us up from the airport in her very small two door vehicle. After a long, humid day, three of us squished together in the back seat and appreciated the fact that there was a strong deodorant small, rather than another strong odor. 

When we arrived at our chosen (non-discount) hotel, I was determined to order some really expensive room service. I walked into my room, dropped my bags and went straight for the menu. I read that room service ended at 11pm, no all-night options...and I slowly turned around to see that the alarm clock read 11:11pm. In high school my friends would always say, "It's 11:11, make a wish!" My service, and alas, it was not to be. There is a market in the lobby and I had seen some nestle milk bottles, so I got a bag of Cheetos and was looking forward to washing them down with chocolate milk. Oh but guess what? They only had strawberry milk and banana milk. STRAWBERRY AND BANANA! I haven't ever even seen banana milk before in my life. Cursed! 

You would think that we would be able to get a decent meal, paid for by the airline. Our food vouchers however, offered $12 for dinner and $7 for breakfast. Guess what the IRS says is the standard amount which should be provided for travel meals in Dallas? $23 per meal. So....American Airlines apparently has a much different method for making these calculations. I was dismayed at this development. And then I was told that these vouchers were only valid at airport culinary establishments. GAME OVER. 

No more being a better person. I could handle being stripped of my identity and being kept from my home and my cats, but I WILL NOT BE DEPRIVED OF MY RIGHT TO A DECENT MEAL. American Airlines has crossed the line. I will not smile at any of their employees tomorrow when I go back for my flight. And I will make the flight attendants give me extra napkins if they spill soda on me again. And I will recline my seat if a short person is sitting behind me. I might just put my small bag in the overhead bin sideways so it takes up the maximum amount of space, and I will not be giving them a good post-flight review when they send me that survey. 

I am not a better person, I am an angry and inconvenienced traveler. 

Today I am traveling to Bowling Green, Kentucky - one might think I am writing this to brag and make everyone jealous of my exotic travels compared to their lowly summer vacations to Lake Powell, Boston, Disney World, Mexico, etc. But one would be wrong in that assumption. 

I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, checked in, and was waiting in the security line when I realized the name listed in my ticket was JENNIFER WESR. Crap. So I schlepped back to the counter to explain the situation and see what could be done. The woman there told me that the name is pretty close, she understood how such a typo could happen since the 't' is right next to the 'r' on the keyboard, but that she couldn't change the name on the reservation so close to departure. She told me to go to security and see if they will "just not be so picky and let me through." Despite the fact that I was pretty sure they wouldn't, and that I would've just stayed in the security line if I had thought that was a possibility but instead wanted to take responsibility for my own issue and proactively solve it without holding up the line...despite that, I went back to security. When I reached the TSA agent and explained the problem, she said, "If it had been spelled WETS or WSET or something like that, it would be closer." I'm not sure that's true, but the explanation of the proximity of the 'r' and the 't' on the keyboard wasn't cutting it with her. Apparently the TSA is understanding of dyslexic mistakes, but keyboard-proximity typos...not so much. If I were a terrorist, I might look at ways to exploit this. 

"DAM that's great art" The girl sitting next to me when I took this photo
looked pretty concerned/disgusted about whatever she thought
 I was doing. 
I should note that when I first asked the TSA worker about my ticket issue she very noticeably looked down at my chest before responding. Today I am wearing a favorite t-shirt which, as you may notice, very prominently displays the word DAM, which in this case stands for Denver Art Museum where I bought the shirt. But of course it isn't spelled the way the swear version is. While I can't be sure about the reason for the woman's inappropriately focused stare moment, due to the fact that her  initial friendly, helpful tone definitely lessened immediately afterwards, my guess is that it was related to the prominence of the word DAM. I would assume that if there was a different sort of motivation behind the stare, her tone would have changed from friendly to friendlier. However I can't say that I'm endowed in a way that generally excites attention and positive responses, so maybe her lack of helpfulness was a result of disappointment at what she saw. Who knows. 

Anyway, after being cast aside by my less-than-subtle TSA friend, I trudged back to the American Airlines counter, telling the woman they weren't going to let me in but that they said I could get a security pass. Her response? "Sure, I'll get that for you right now," and she had it printed for me in less than a minute. So then I was
confused...this woman had told me to try the security because she couldn't change my ticket, she clearly knew that a security pass was used in such situations and would require almost no effort on her part to provide one for me, but I hauled my bags back to and through the security line (maybe only the second time ever when I didn't check my bag) just to see if they might not be as picky as she knew they usually were? In Geometry I learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and the line between the counter and security in Terminal 1 is a straight line, but the shortness principle only applies if you don't have to walk it four times.

And what happened next? I went to a shop at the airport to buy some headphones since I had none for the flight. The employee working there immediately pounced, and when I tried to explain that I just wanted very simple basic headphones, she insisted on getting my entire listener profile - Would I be watching movies? Did I care more about strong bass or clarity of sound? How deep did I want the headphones to go into my ears? (What are the possible answers to that question - do some people prefer 1/2 inch insertions while others like 1/4 inch?) When I explained that I don't like them to go into my ears at all, and that I just wanted something like my basic Apple headphones, she walked me over to the "cheap" end of the wall which contained only the insert-into-ear variety. Finally I saw a pair of over-ear headphones that were only $25 and said I'd take those, insisting on my choice after she tried to show me the better over-ear options. On our walk to the counter, she also attempted to sell me a portable charger, an iPhone case, and phone cleaner. There should be a law against hard-selling people in airports. Isn't there some kind of rule about not being able to take advantage of a captive audience? If I hadn't just had to check-in three times (each encounter with the American Airlines woman required her to uncheck me in), and go through security twice, I might actually have been feeling generous enough to buy something a little pricier to help this woman make a bigger commission. But I had exhausted my patient and generous quota. 
As I walked to my gate, I heard a man  behind me speaking to his friend, with a lovely, attractive southern drawl, saying, "I don't know why we all just can't be decent to each other." And I was immediately feeling a little ashamed. I treat traveling as a challenge and a test of my character. Or maybe I just see it as an opportunity to be better than other people, a much less noble motivation, but maybe more accurate. I have heard horror stories about travel workers and travelers behaving badly, so whether it's passengers, TSA workers, flight attendants, etc., I am determined that no one will have to do extra work because of me, and no one's day will be worsened because of me. Examples: I never recline my seat. I never ask for drink refills or blankets. I never put my carry-on in the overhead if it is at all possible to fit it under the seat. I am willing to be the recipient of chatter when sitting next to someone who seems to need a listening ear, or just likes to chat. I always give flight crews good reviews when I get post-flight surveys. I never complain when I'm near children who fall asleep on my lap, and try really, really hard not to complain when they pelt me with goldfish crackers. I even occasionally smile at people walking by. I know it's probable that these very, very small efforts really make no difference to anyone. But at the end of my journey I usually feel proud, maybe even a little self-righteous, like I sacrificed for the good of others. It doesn't speak well of my selflessness or considerateness that I feel a sense of pride at simply refraining from potentially inconveniencing people. I am nowhere near being the person who brings doughnuts for the flight crew (see previous post) and unfortunately even my minimally better self seems to be a magical character transformation that only lasts till I walk out of the airport. 

Today I felt a little bit proud for not being short with any airport people, and being outwardly appreciative for the not-so helpful assistance they provided. And yet here I am writing a post criticizing them for the way they handled problems I created in the first place for not typing my name correctly and forgetting my headphones. So I'm going to better. And I'm not even going to mention the flight attendant who spilled soda on me, wiped up part of my tray table, and told me just to put it up anyway where it would drip onto my newly-purchased headphones in the seat pocket. But I WILL mention the very kind teenager who used her last two tissues to clean it up for me.