Until yesterday, I was congratulating myself on a rare bit of frugality, having chosen to fly to Sacramento for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show instead of driving.
Gas prices were on the rise again, and motels never get any cheaper, so when I weighed the costs and benefits of a six-day road trip versus a quick flyby, the flyby won in a walk.
Until yesterday, that is. Now I’m down $342.10 and never got closer to the Sacramento Convention Center than Concourse B at Denver International Airport.
The first bump in my aerial Route 666 came when my 9:53 a.m. flight out of Bibleburg was delayed. The plane was undergoing “a test flight,” we were told, and after it finally arrived and we boarded, it sat on the deck for a spell while the crew awaited paperwork. The original departure time had left a comfortable margin for me to catch the 11:28 a.m. flight to Sacto, but the delay gobbled that up and then some, and my bird was long gone by the time I’d legged it from gate B50-something to B28.
No worries. A gate agent booked me onto a later flight — four hours later — and I whiled away the time wandering Concourse B and inspecting my fellow travelers, a joyous throng that reminded me of Russians queuing up for bread and vodka in the old Soviet Union, Germans trundling wheelbarrows full of marks to a Weimar Republic café, or Americans camping out for cheap shit from China on Black Friday.
I overheard muttered conversations about canceled flights, missed connections, and various other tales of woe, so I started checking the board now and then. Sure enough, lots of time changes, gate changes, flights vanishing right off the board, you name it. Gate agents pitched like carny barkers, announcing that their flight of the moment was “in an overbooked situation” and soliciting volunteers to lay down their seats that their brethren and sistren might fly, offering the less-than-powerful inducement of a $400 travel credit good for getting boned up the ass the next time they dare to set foot in a United concourse.
My own flight, slated for 3:30, got bumped to 3:50, then 4:15, and finally 4:50 before being canceled altogether. We never got a straight answer as to why from the gate agent, who took to hiding in the jetway after mumbling something about unspecified mechanical issues involving “a couple of valves” that needed replacing.
What the hell? I thought. These things aren’t coming in to disgorge one load of passengers and take on another, they’re fucking pitting with oil leaks, thrown rods, their bits coming off in turn three and black smoke belching out from under the hood.
We of the late, lamented Flight 6392 trudged a kilometer or so to customer service, where several computers appeared to be down for maintenance and only three United types stood ready to handle the deluge. One spent a fair amount of time teaching another how to operate her terminal.
I was somewhere in the top 20, line-wise, and I was overhearing discouraging talk like “I can get you on standby at dark-thirty,” “So we’re talking about flying to LA, then to San Francisco, and then to Sacramento?” and “Bob, how do I get the right screen on my terminal thingie? Do I type ‘2’?”
It was at that moment that I lost all faith in United’s ability to get me to Sacramento before the NAHBS closed. Hell, they’d barely been able to get me to DIA. So I told them to stuff me into the nearest pressurized aluminum tube full of opportunistic infections bound for Bibleburg and finally got out the hell out of Denver (an hour later than advertised, surprise surprise).
I’d heard about the bomb threat, of course. But that was early in the morning, before I ever arrived at the Bibleburg airport, and I wasn’t about to question anyone on that topic. Say “bomb threat” in an airport and about 30 seconds later you’re assuming the position in some windowless concrete room with your pants around your ankles and an overexcited TSA flunky taking the scenic route toward inspecting your fillings with a bullet-nosed Ray-O-Vac. (Incidentally, the scariest thing about that Denver Post story is its final sentence: “All airport operations are normal.”)
The weather didn’t seem to be the culprit, either. Not in my case, anyway. The only weather-related issues I heard about involved flights to Colorado mountain towns. No, mechanicals had been the order of my day — planes that needed test flights, valve jobs, a quick wing transplant, whatever.
This was central to my thesis that I was due a refund for my troubles when I spoke with United via the Subcontinent this morning.
“If you folks would just get the oil changed every three months and rotate the tires per your owner’s manual working journalists would be able to jet hither and yon suffering neither hindrance nor let,” I said, or something very much like that. “Give me my money back and we’ll put our long national nightmare behind us.”
Nope, said United, countering that they had successfully flown me from Bibleburg to DIA and back and offering a miserly $158.60 in recompense for not getting me to what flight attendants call, ominously, my “final destination.”
No shit. $158.60. I spent $342.10 to fly to Denver and back, a trip I could cover via Air Subaru for a half tank of gas. Call it $20. And I didn’t even want to go there.
It all makes a guy long for the day when we can travel via transporter a la “Star Trek.” Let’s just hope United doesn’t get a monopoly on that action. Step onto the platform with Chekov, Jakov or Fukov at the controls and you’d never know whether you’d be leaving your heart in San Francisco or sending it to Jesus.
Your ass, of course, would belong to United.