When I was coming back to Canada from my lovely trip abroad I experienced a hell of a day while traveling with my least favourite airline. In a series I’ve entitled “Traveling Nightmares, or why is United Airlines against me?” I’ll recount the nightmare I had to live through to get back home WITH my luggage. This is part 1. There are other wonderful stories around the web on how UA screws up travelers in other ways. Read here, it’s outrageous.
As I type this I’m seething with rage over how stupid it was of me to try and give United Airlines another chance to take me home once again …..
My “comedy” of horrors has a very clear start. Five years ago, on Christmas day, as I was heading home to visit my family for 8 days or so, it began. I had just 8 days of winter break because I was to take a very defining exam in my graduate career upon my arrival (the qual., or what determines whether I continued on to finish the PhD or left with a Master’s degree). Everything was carefully planned, and was I to travel with Ted, the “cheap” version of United (which wasn’t so, as my ticket was well over 500 USD). My boyfriend was going to pick me up at the airport and we’d go on a romantic stroll after not seeing each other for 2 months, and then we would head to my parents home, a full 2.5 hours drive from the airport. I’d flown back home on the 25th a couple of times before, and I found it very nice and even relaxing, as most people were already home and the airports I frequented were not as chaotic as usual (mainly Chicago’s ORD). So, I left my home airport, and the small jet taking us to ORD was in late due to weather warnings at ORD (according to what we were told). Thus no planes were heading in or out of Chicago. I thought, “Well, that’s OK then, because it means that my next plane can’t get out and I’ll have enough time to get to my gate (how foolish of me, I realize now that it was naïve of me to think of it this way) even if we head out of here late”. I should have known better. Upon our arrival at ORD, and to my surprise, planes were taking off regularly. We experienced no turbulence and things seemed normal. Once we were at ORD I tried to ask, beg (almost crying), to the personnel of United Airlines(UA for short) on gate to communicate with the departing gate that I was in and could make it if given just 5 minutes to run to the gate. They didn’t do it and instead instructed me to “run” to try to catch my flight (I guess that’s too much to ask, and granted, I don’t know if such a strategy would work), if not they would gladly reschedule my flight to the next available one. I was just a 5-minute run away from my next flight which was to put me home in a few hours. My gate seemed to be miles away (or so it appears when you’re in that situation). though. When I made it to the gate an old, blond and grumpy lady told me my itinerary had been changed because I wasn’t on time and that I would not get in my original, without blinking or even making eye contact. My plane was still at the gate but the gate was closed and there was no Santa Claus who could get me in (apparently the old bearded man can’t stand against FAA regulations, or UA old blond and grumpy ladies). It didn’t matter how much I pleaded, begged for the slightest Xmas mercy. She stood her ground and said that no, I was not getting on that plane because “Federal Law prohibits opening the door for even 1 passenger 10 minutes before departure.” It gives me chills to this day to think about it, how the plane was there, and no matter what, I wasn’t getting in.
I have to tell you at this point of the story that American Airlines, 2 years before, had opened the gate for a few passengers on another flight going from ORD to my grad school city … they kept the plane at the gate for 2 hours. Two full hours. All this happened 2 full years post 9-11 so I could not understand what “Federal Law” business this employee was talking about. I also get very stressed when is time to fly as I’m a little superstitious and planes scare me to death.