April 29th, 2011


New Orleans Roadfood Festival, Mar-27-2011: Airline Troubles

Those of you who are particularly inclined to remember every picayune detail of my trip reports may recall that several weeks ago, I included some ominous foreshadowing when describing our airline travels. In this episode, the implied prophecy of that ominous foreshadowing comes to pass.

Our first sign of a problem came when we tried to check in at the automated kiosk at the airport. The kiosk said "Unable to recognize your flight. Please see a representative." We got the attention of the agent behind the counter, N, and she took a look. After a few minutes, she started frowning a "this is not as simple as I expected" frown and started digging further. (I'm going to refer to the agents in this story by initials, so that I can speak critically of them without worrying about it affecting them.)

After fifteen minutes, N was able to tell us what happened: when we had been rescheduled from Delta to US Airways on Wednesday, the Delta agent hadn't dotted all the i's and crossed the t's for our reschedule. In particular, she had not done the right things to suppress the automated system that says "they didn't fly on the first leg of their round trip; we can cancel their reservation for the return trip and resell their seat." So our return reservation was cancelled, and the flight was full.

Fortunately, we could handle the delay. My schedule is flexible, and Lori had an in-service day scheduled for the next day, so her coming home a day late wouldn't entail a last-minute search for a substitute teacher.

After lots of phone consultation, N had a proposal for us: she'd reinstate our reservation on the overbooked flight, but we'd be among the first volunteers taken when they called for volunteers to be paid to give up their seats, and she would go ahead and make our reservations for the flight the next day. (We chose a late flight, because this was an opportunity for more fun in New Orleans.) I had a definite impression that N was playing fast and loose in doing so; in particular, she went ahead with this plan before she'd gotten approval to do so. But she was exceedingly pleasant, and we were very grateful for her help; I made sure to note her name, and I sent an e-mail to US Airways praising her in careful terms that didn't mention how she might have exceeded corporate approval in her generosity.

N told us we should show up at the gate, fail to get on the plane, and return to the ticketing area to get our travel vouchers and hotel arrangements. We did so ... and waited and waited and waited at the ticketing area for someone to arrive. Finally, after two phone calls to US Airways, D showed up. D was short-tempered and gruff - but she mentioned that she'd been on her feet for over eight hours and hadn't yet had a chance to eat lunch. She said that N had screwed things up, and we should have received our travel vouchers and meal arrangements at the gate; despite her grouchiness, D got us our vouchers, made arrangements for us to stay on USAirways' dime at a hotel near the airport, and gave us food vouchers.

So I don't know how to interpret this tale. It could be "N finds creative ways to resolve the problem, D grouches and shows up late for her part of the job" or "N maintains her pleasant demeanor by not following correct procedures and foisting her work onto D". This is why I used initials to refer to them.

Another tale from the line at the ticket counter: one woman there had arrived an hour early for a 6am flight home. The whole line at the ticket counter had been held up for thirty minutes because someone had forgotten to bring their ID and there was only one agent to handle everybody. Because of that delay, she'd been unable to check in for her flight. Since then, she had tried to fly standby on every flight out, but every flight had been full. We heard her talking very angrily on her cell phone with US Airways, and I thought that she sounded very harsh and unpleasant - but I cannot say that I'd be any less crabby after being in an airport for twelve hours with no satisfaction.

I think the bigger issue, though, is that the airline system is running so close to capacity that both flights and personnel are stretched so thin that there's no slack to handle problems gracefully and pleasantly. That's my rational response - but my emotional response is to take that previous sentence and scrawl "SLIMEGUZZLING MONEYGRUBBING SCUMWEASELS" across it with Magic Marker and lots of exclamation points.

So we got a shuttle to our hotel - we think it was a Fairfield Marriott, but it was one of a large class of airport hotels that carefully cultivate unmemorable blandness. And there I had an idea that was brilliant or disastrous or both: we could rent a car for the cost of a couple of taxi trips, and that would give us a chance to visit New Orleans restaurants and attractions that weren't in the French Quarter.
Like Mosca's - but not exactly like Mosca's, because Mosca's is closed on Sunday and Monday. And that shows the way to the flaw in this plan... by the time we got the shuttle back to the airport and had rented a car, it was 9pm on Sunday night, and none of the Roadfood-listed places in New Orleans were answering their phones.
We tried finding places with Urbanspoon, but couldn't find anything open and auspicious. And hunger made us crabby and argumentative.

So by 9:30, we were reduced to driving around aimlessly looking for open restaurants of any stripe. We settled on a chain restaurant called Raising Cane's because it had two virtues: it was unfamiliar to us, and it was open.

It was a dismal meal. Raising Cane's has only chicken fingers, and the chicken fingers we were served were tough and dry. We would have assumed that they had been lingering under a heat lamp for hours, but if that was so, I don't understand why it took them so long to serve us. But I still have good things to write about, so I shall waste no more words upon a dismal meal.

In retrospect, we should have rented a car without the long detour to the hotel. Perhaps we should have gotten something to eat at the airport - but by the time we were waiting in line at the ticket counter, most of the airport restaurants were closed, so I don't think we could have foreseen how long we'd be delayed at the airport in time to eat there.