Flying the Friendly Skies

Prior to boarding my flight yesterday, I saw an elderly lady in a wheelchair near the ticket gate. I think I took notice of her, because she looked like a character straight out of a storybook. She was quite small, and she was wearing a long floral skirt, a floral blouse that didn’t match the skirt, a bulky sweater, and some sort of a head wrap. She was wearing fluffy pink and white slippers, and she had a big black handbag tucked under her arm. She had light brown skin and appeared, at least to my eyes, like a Romanian gypsy.

She was boarded first, and when I got on the plane, I saw that she was seated directly across the aisle from me. She had an empty seat beside her and a young man was occupying the window seat. I was in the aisle seat and both seats next to me remained empty. When the flight attendant walked down the aisle, the woman gestured to her. I could tell from the interchange that the woman either spoke no English, or very little. The flight attendant patiently listened, and finally figured out that the woman was cold, and wanted the overhead vent to be shut off.

About 15 minutes after take-off, the young man seated by the window, leaned forward and tried to get my attention. It was dark, with just a bit of ambient light, but I could see that he looked concerned.

“Excuse me….She’s trying to talk to me, or ask me something, but I don’t know what she’s saying.”

I looked at the woman seated between us, and I saw that she was holding an object that looked like a pen, but much thicker. The woman looked at me, held up the object for me to see, and then she mumbled something. I didn’t feel panicked, but I didn’t understand what she was showing me, and I certainly didn’t understand what she was saying. I unbuckled my seatbelt, stood up, and hit the flight attendant call button.

The flight attendant arrived immediately, and I quickly filled her in on the situation. I was able to be quick about it, because I had no clue what was going on. The old woman waved the object around, and the the flight attendant replied, “Oh, no…you can’t smoke that on the plane.”

I peered around her and said, “I don’t think it’s a vape pen. Is it an EpiPen?” I had never seen one before, so it was just a guess.

“Oh…I thought she was asking if she could vape.” We smiled at each other. “But I think she’s trying to say that she wants the light on.” When she flicked on the light, we could see what appeared to be a needle housed in a plastic tubular case.

Once again, the flight attendant turned to me and said, “I think she’s diabetic, and it looks like she’s checking the dosage. In the moment that it took me to agree, we watched the old woman unbuckle her seatbelt and lift up her blouse to expose her belly. She grabbed a roll of skin and then stuck herself with the needle.

I looked over at the young man and he still looked shocked.

It was an awkward situation, but the flight attendant was so kind and supportive. I don’t know her name, but I want to give her a huge shout out! After the flight attendant walked away, I could see that the woman was struggling to put her seatbelt back on. I reached across the aisle and clicked it into place for her, and her smile of appreciation warmed my heart!

A Bit of Humor at the Gate—

The gate agents announced three or four times that they needed at least twenty people to gate check their bags. Nobody stepped up to volunteer, so the gate agent tried once again, but this time with a twist.

“If I reach my quota today, I’ll be earning an iced coffee.” He smiled and looked around the room, “I’m thirsty—any takers?”

I laughed and nobody budged. Come on! That was funny!

United Airlines–tsk! tsk!

I was scheduled to head to Atlanta, GA on Sunday, June 2nd. It was a direct flight, so things should have proceeded smoothly. I’m going to use a list to lay out the timeline, so it’s easier to follow along with me on my travel debacle–

  1. 6:41 a.m./text–your 12:45 p.m. flight from Washington to Atlanta is delayed. UA6201 now departs at 4:39 p.m. (4:39 p.m.? What? Oh wait, this means that I don’t have to leave for the airport and I’ll get more time at home. Okay, this isn’t so bad.)
  2. 6:42 a.m./text–Your 12:45 p.m. flight from Washington to Atlanta is not as delayed as we indicated earlier. UA6201 now departs at 4:38 p.m. (HUH? Did you really just sent a message saying that it’s not at delayed as indicated earlier, and it’s a 1 minute difference!)
  3. 6:42 a.m./text–Your inbound plane is delayed because of a plane change that occurred last night as a result of maintenance-related schedule disruptions. We’re sorry for the inconvenience. Your estimated departure time is 4:38 p.m. arriving in Atlanta at 6:34 p.m. (Wait! Your knew this last night? Why did it take until 6:41 a.m. to get the first delay message?)
  4. Okay–I live an hour and ten minutes from the airport. We’ll leave for the airport later this afternoon.
  5. 1:19 p.m./text–Your 12:45 p.m. flight from Washington to Atlanta is delayed further because an earlier delay impacted your plane’s arrival. UA6201 now departs at 7:55 p.m. on June 2. We’re sorry for the extra delay and are working to get you on your way. (WHAT? You’ve known about this since last night. You can’t problem solve any faster than this? I also noticed that you didn’t even bother to let me know what time I could expect to arrive in Atlanta.)
  6. 1:19 p.m./text–Gate change: Flight UA 6201 from Washington to Atlanta now departs from Gate D20 at 7:55 p.m. on June 2. (Why are you even bothering to tell us about a gate change right now? Also, still no indication for arrival time.)
  7. Okay–I’m still at home–it would be much worse if I was already at the airport. It takes me an hour and 10 minutes to drive to the airport, so we’ll leave at 5:00 p.m. That will get me there by 6:30 p.m. at the latest–allowing a little buffer for traffic.
  8. 3:58/text–Your 12:45 p.m. flight from Washington to Atlanta is not a delayed as we indicated earlier. UA6201 now departs at 6:00 p.m. on June 2. (WHAT? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!)
  9. We raced out to the car and were on the road by 4:05 p.m. As we were driving, the following text came through: Your inbound flight is on the way and is now scheduled to arrive by 5:35 p.m. Your estimated departure is 6:00 p.m, arriving in Atlanta at 7:56 p.m. We realize how frustrating delays can be, so your patience is greatly appreciated. (Notice the wording–a few minutes ago it said leaving at 6:00 p.m., now it says estimated departure is 6:00 p.m. You appreciate my patience? I WAS patient until you decided to bump the flight earlier after telling me ALL day that it was leaving at 7:55 p.m!, forcing my husband to drive like he would on the Autobahn just so we can get to the airport on time.)
  10. Another text came through as we were driving. Reminder: Flight UA6201 from Washington to Atlanta departs at 6:00 p.m. on June 2. (Reminder? Why would I need a reminder? You just sent the same text three times in the last few minutes. First you say departs at 6:00 p.m., then you say estimated departure 6:00 p.m., then you said departs at 6:00 p.m.. Okay—I get it–we’re trying to get there!
  11. We hit massive traffic at the airport–bumper to bumper rounding the bend to departures. I arrived at United’s Premier ticket counter at 5:25 p.m. I punched my frequent flyer number into the computer and got a message that said there wasn’t a reservation under my name in the system. I typed it in again–same message. I asked for help from the lady behind the counter. She asked for me name and told me that she didn’t see a reservation under my name. I told her that I did have a reservation, and that I was receiving messages about the flight and that time was TICKING!
  12. She asked me to scan my credit card, so she could find my reservation–nothing! At this point someone farther down the counter asked her a question, and she walked away from helping me to answer their question. When she came back, I told her again that my flight time was approaching and that I was running out of time. I handed my license to her, and this time, she miraculously found my reservation. She was extremely short and abrupt with me–Friendly Skies? No, not this time!
  13. I ran, walked, ran, snorted, huffed and puffed my way to my gate—I’ve NEVER had to run to gate before with such a small window of time remaining.

14. As I approached my gate, I saw that the door was closed, so I figured that I had missed my flight. I was sweating and out of breath, and the woman at the counter looked at me with a weird expression as I raced toward her.

“I’m heading to Atlanta, has the flight left yet?”

“No,” she replied. The inbound flight hasn’t even landed yet.”

“What? Why in the world didn’t they tell me that at the ticket counter?”

UNITED–now I’ve lost my patience. THAT was unacceptable!

15. 6:01–Your plane has arrived. However, lightning has been reported close to Washington Dulles International Airport. For the safety of our employees, we’ve asked them to remain inside until the weather improves. We’re sorry for this inconvenience. Your estimated arrival time in Atlanta is 7:49 p.m. (What about our estimated departure time?)

15. I was given a $10.00 food/drink voucher by the woman at the counter for my inconvenience. United–$10.00? I went to Pizza Hut right across the hall from my gate and got pizza and a diet coke–the cost–$11.34. Nothing extravagant, and it didn’t even cover it. Others have been waiting in the airport for HOURS–$10.00 doesn’t come close to cutting it for them either!

16. Moments later I got this text: Delay Update: Your 12:45 p.m. flight from Washington to Atlanta is delayed further. UA6201 now departs at 6:45 p.m. on June 2. We’re sorry for the extra delay and are working to get you on your way. (HOW are you working on lightning? You just told us that was the reason for the delay.)

17. Back-to-back text: Delay update: Your 12:45 p.m. flight from Washington to Atlanta is delayed further because severe weather conditions on the way to your destination. UA6201 now departs at 7:15p.m. on June 2. We’re sorry for the extra delay and are working to get you on your way. (You’re GOD now? How are you working on it? You just said it was due to weather. How do you plan to work on that? AND please stop calling it the 12:45 p.m. flight–that’s getting a bit annoying.)

18. 6:32 p.m.–the passengers from the inbound plane de-boarded at our gate.

19. 6:48 p.m.–Much to everyone’s relief, we boarded our plane. When I scanned my ticket, the woman at the gate told me that I had been upgraded to 1st Class. Okay–things are improving.

20. We boarded and the pilot quickly got us out to the runway. He told us there would be a delay in take off because there was a long line of planes in front of us. Almost immediately, he came back on and said, “Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you. We have a very small window of opportunity. If we have to wait too long for take off, the flight crew will be ‘timed out’ and we won’t be allowed to fly. We’ve been going since 5:00 a.m.”

21. Sure enough, a few minutes later, he came back on and announced that the flight crew had ‘timed out’ and that he had to return us to the gate to de-plane.

22. When we got off the plane, the woman at the ticket counter told us to wait in the area until she could give us an update. She finally told us the flight was cancelled, and that we had to go to the customer service desk for help with re-booking. Since I was standing right next to her, I asked for clarification, “You can’t help us re-book?” She replied, “No, you have to go to the customer service desk.” She pointed down the hallway, and everyone stampeded in that direction.

23. I was about 10th or 12th in line, and it moved at a snail’s pace. At one point, fearful that I wouldn’t be able to be re-booked, I called United from my place in line. The representative told me that 10:00 p.m. flight that night was booked, and that the next available flight was at 12:45 p.m. the next day! I booked myself on that flight, knowing that I would have to cancel my first day of teaching. I asked if I could be put on the waiting list for the 10:00 p.m. flight and she informed me that she could only re-book, and that I had to continue to stand in line to be put on the waiting list. (WHAT? That’s crazy!)

24. I waited in line and was finally second in line, when the woman from my boarding gate stepped in and motioned for me to follow her to a nearby computer. I was grateful for her help, but why didn’t she help me hours ago when I first asked her? It was 9:05 p.m. when she started to help me, and 9:20 p.m. when she issued me a stand-by ticket for the 10:00 p.m. flight to Atlanta.

25. I arrived at the gate for the 10:00 p.m. flight at around 9:45 p.m.—that was cutting it close! Miracles do happen–I got on the flight!

26. I’m serious–miracles really do happen. Not only did I get on the flight, but my luggage made it to Atlanta, too! I finally arrived at my hotel at 1:00 a.m. and I was in bed by 1:30 a.m. My alarm went off at 5:45 a.m.

Yes, United–I’m tired! Shame on you! Yesterday was ridiculous! I could overlook it, if it was a rare occurrence, but things like this happen all the time. Tsk! Tsk!

Update—United apologized and issued me a $150.00 flight voucher for dealing with the hassle of this flight. Thank you!