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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Trip Report Part Two: Thanks, Ted...

So just add United Airlines (or Ted as their new offshoot calls themselves) to my list of airlines to avoid. It wasn't so much the lost luggage - I mean, it happens. Surely not on direct flights with no layovers or changing of planes, I hope, but I understand it and what can you do?

And I hope you don't get the idea that I am some kind of complainer or whiner - if anything, it often makes my wife upset when I won't complain about poor service when I should. I suppose I just give people the benefit of the doubt.

So like I say, the luggage thing worked out. I finally got my stuff and I was able to attend my meeting with clean clothes and fresh breath, and I was able to take my prescription meds - except for the ones I missed taking the previous afternoon and evening. But why make a fuss?

This morning, my colleague and I got an early start from the hotel so we could beat the traffic, get the rental car turned in and get the shuttle to the airport. Plus, we figured something odd was taking place with the ticketing so we wanted a little extra time to get things straightened out. You see, last night, we did the online check-in process so we could get our seats assigned and print our boarding passes, but for some reason, United's website would not allow us to get seats - in fact, other than to purchase $39.00 upgrades to what are otherwise normal seats (window, aisle, front of plane, back of plane, wherever), we could not select any seats. So, like I say, we got there early to resolve this little issue.

In all fairness, I prefer Continental Airlines. I'm sure you can find just as many people who hate Continental and have a hundred horror stories, but I like them, they seem to be on time and they seem to have their act together. As the cliche goes, your mileage may vary. So, this whole thing about the no assigned seats (something I am very comfortable with on Southwest Airlines by the way), would not be a problem, except for the fact that some people had assigned seats and I didn't.

We get to Dulles, go to check our bags (trusting they would arrive in SA within 24 hours) and as we check in, both my co-traveler and I find that we still can't get seats at the counter, that we have to ask the attendant at the gate. We both look at one another and shake our heads, but press on with security and such and make our way to the assigned gate - A2. Our flight was scheduled for 8:30 and we got there slightly early. Okay, it wasn't even 7AM.
With no gate attendant in sight, I went over to some Italian place to get a bite of breakfast. I usually don't do eggs and bacon, but for $7.50, you can actually get a plate of sliced eggs (okay, scrambled hard then sliced into cubes) and an assload of bacon - more bacon then any normal family of four should eat in a weekend, and a cup of coffee. And yes, I ate all the bacon. Oh, and the eggs were cold. Not just no longer hot or no longer warm, but I mean cold. Cold as in fresh out of the fridge. I know some people advertise to say their stuff is "hot off the grill" - this was seriously cold as in, some guy said, "let's leave it in the fridge for a few more minutes before we serve it" cold.

Surprisingly, the eggs were really good. I must take mine cold, henceforth.

Okay, so after a while, an attendant shows up at the gate and we walk up and present ourselves for boarding guidance. The nice lady confirms that we are in fact confirmed, but she is unable to provide us with boarding passes which might help us better acclimate ourselves to the seating arrangements for our 8:30am flight. I like to know which boarding group I'll be in, and if you don't travel these days, boarding group is important because it dictates whether or not you can stick your stuff in the overhead bin, or if you will have to travel with your stuff under your seat. You see, these days, people think nothing of taking on 10 carry-on items even though you are only allowed 1 and a purse or 1 and a laptop, so instead of using the overhead bin for one item and under the seat in front of them for the other, they spread their crap throughout the overhead bins the length of the entire plane so that by the time you get to your seat, you can't put your stuff in the overhead bin that should really be your space. So, if you get in the first or even second boarding group, you still have a chance.

As a side note, this is why it is always important to do an online check-in, even if you are still going to check baggage at the counter. On most airlines, if you check in 24 hours in advance, you will get in the first boarding group, even if you show up just as they are starting the boarding process. If you travel, you know all this, and if you don't travel, you don't care; so I'll just move along.
So, just about the time we start talking amongst ourselves about the situation and us not having assigned seats, I look up to see the time on our flight change from 8:30 to 8:55. No announcement, just a simple change to the departure time. At this point, my colleague starts to show signs of a gasket that might be prepared to explode. So he promptly went off to the restroom.

But upon his return, he went to track down the lady manning the counter (though she was now at another counter) and questioned her as to the situation with not having assigned seats. I'm just gonna cut to the chase and tell you the truth; United assigns seats based on your frequent flier miles.

Hey, I'm all for the perks of frequent fliers clubs. If you can get yourself an upgrade, that is fine. If they give you a free drink or two on the flight or even if you get to go sit in a private lounge, more power to you. But once I purchase a ticket, or in this case, once my company pays a well known and probably one of the most used business travel agencies in the world to purchase me a ticket, you need to assign me a seat and give me a boarding pass (preferably in the first boarding group).

What they are doing in effect is saying, if you travel with us a lot, we'll make sure that you get your first choice of seats. In theory, that is fine, but why not tell me that up front so I can fly Continental where I have a hell of a lot more miles?
And at what point does it get to where they start lining everybody up and letting the guys with more mileage say, "I don't want to sit next to him or her or this guy or that lady." I just know that if I ever fly United again (which I don't plan on), I'll get to the gate and they will purposely assign me to sit in the middle seat between two morbidly obese homeless people fresh off the streets in the last row of the plane and the vent of the bathroom aimed down the back of my shirt collar. And some guy who has only flown ten miles more than me with have his ten carry-on items in my overhead bin and his laptop tucked conveniently beneath the seat in front of me. I'm telling you, this could be a situation.

So, when my co-worker learned of this little scam, he basically announced to the entire seated population of the A-2 area which was serving five different flights, how United was doing this and what an injustice it was etc etc. I told him he needed to pipe it down because surely they would get upset and put us in the 4th boarding group. He immediately countered that our plane was too small to even have four boarding groups.
In spite of our assigned tickets (notice the group) we boarded as soon as they called for the First Class and people with special needs. The lady didn't even bat an eyelash.

When everything was said and done, we arrived (as did our luggage) safely back in San Antonio and we were only about an hour and a half behind our original scheduled flight. I did get an aisle seat (though I would have preferred the window) and thankfully, the lady sitting next to me was not obese, nor smelly, nor did she appear to be homeless.

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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