Sunday, April 11, 2010

It could have been worse but . . .

I am so glad to be home.

Of course I am currently missing my Garmin running watch, my newest pair of running shoes, two pairs of running shorts, two technical T's, clothes for the four days I was at the conference, a dress shirt, my water bottle, a book, and a mess of conference materials not to mention my laptop power cord extension. Frontier Airlines assures me that all of this will be arriving on the 8:00 flight from Denver. It should have arrived with me at 2:00 but then I didn't get in until almost 5:00.

This has certainly been a long, eventful (not in a good way), and tiring day.

Woke up at 4:00 AM Orlando time to get a 5:00 shuttle to MCO. No problems. The lobby was filled with bleary-eyed students, many of whom had been up all night at the closing dance and then (for some) homework. Big bus pulled up and we filled it to the gills. Student sitting next to me was whining and whinging about being tired before falling asleep, snoring very loudly, and then starting to drool. I concentrated on looking out the window at all of the malls we went by in the predawn darkness.

Got to the airport and went as fast as I could to find the Frontier counter to get my boarding passes and drop off my bag. Good thing too as the woman who ended up behind me was holding the line for 13 other people. One guy was working the counter and had to deal with a bunch of nursing students whose bags were overweight because of their textbooks. Took a while and another check-in agent to get the line moving. Went away from the counter towards the security line and . . .

stopped. Just stopped.

Security area was just nuts and there was a TSA guy trying to get people into 4 lines that funneled into one entry point. "Keep space between the lines! Four separate lines!" he kept on saying. Note to the TSA: how about actually putting the lines on the carpet if you need this to be the case. The visual cue might help. All lanes were open though and things went fast once I got into the main line. People were muttering and grumbling though and, OH, the smell of unwashed socks was breathtaking.

Found the gate, got some coffee, sat down to do some email, boarded the flight to Denver and took off. Cool.

Half way through the flight we had a medical emergency but, fortunately, there were lots of nurses, trainee nurses, and at least one doctor on board and the person seemed to be alright. She was escorted off the plane by a paramedic when we landed and then taken off on a gurney.

That is when the real fun began.

I am not so sure that the merger between Frontier and Midwest is going all that well and, judging from my experiences in Denver itself, there are some real organizational problems.

Unannounced gate change in Denver along with an unexplained delay, the reader board showed a 1:00 departure instead of 12:10. OK, I walked around a bit and then settled down in the rather chaotic boarding area (it is wall-to-wall people and just feels cramped). Another medical emergency right there (the paramedics were certainly busy today). 1:00 came around and there was no airplane. The crew showed up but still no plane. Finally it showed up and we boarded. And then we sat . . .

For 2.5 hours we sat.

Some problem with the bags. One passenger was called off the plane and interviewed on the jetway about something or other. Lots of thumping around underneath and no indication of what was going on. Finally, an announcement, something wrong with the luggage. They had to take it off and re-screen. There were TSA people all over the tarmac speaking meaningfully into their radios and cell phones. This went on and one in 15-minute increments. At least we were able to get up and move around AND they serviced the lavatories. They were just about to bring on some more catering (and more drinking water) but the pilot got word that we were cleared and after hearing that the bags had been replaced we buttoned up and after taxiing interminably were in the air.

Pretty bumpy and grumpy flight. One of the lavatories went down and there wasn't much to eat or drink. Missed meetings, connections, and shuttle services (my seat mate was worried that she wouldn't get back to Camano Island). Another woman behind me was having claustrophobia problems while we were waiting. The Flight Attendant was getting progressively snippy and ended the flight sitting rather sullenly in the jump seat after having disappeared into the galley with her make-up bag. She made some comments to other passengers that were what I would consider to be rather rude and inexcusable.

The view of Mount Ranier was amazing, a real welcome home that made all the foregoing mess OK.

Then I got to carousel #7 to wait for my bag. Talked with another passenger out here for a job interview while waiting for the bags to come out. The carousel started, bags started coming off, and then . . . nothing. The other passenger looked at me and I him, we both shook out heads, and headed over to the lost luggage counter. That took a while.

I took a cab home (expensive but fast).

I just cannot figure out what went wrong today.

It could be that there was some sort of security problem, hence the TSA reaction. It could have been that the bag counting and tracking systems for Frontier and Midwest Airlines did not mesh correctly (there was some excited whispering about this by the DEN ground crew). I don't know.

What I DO know is that given the choice I won't be flying either airline again. I realize that a fair amount of this might have been beyond the airline's control but it was the reactions of their personnel that were fairly off-putting. It was almost like all the apologies made were simply empty words going over a shrug as if to say "It happened, it's not our fault, get over it." I cannot remember a day of flying where I heard so many people on and off the aircraft speaking so negatively and so angrily about the way that a situation was handled. I suspect, also, that barring terrorist threats, rather a lot of this WAS the result of a cascade of decisions made about airline processes. "Just get over it" is not an appropriate attitude to take given the impact that this failure cascade had. I got off rather lightly by comparison to the missing luggage containing job interview clothes, the missed connection that was going to stop grandparents from meeting their grandchild.

It's 9:17 PM, the Frontier Baggage Office at SeaTac is open from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM and then from 10:00 PM to 11:00 PM.

Addendum: 9:31 PM—Frontier called. They will drop the bag at my front door tonight. Driver has a lot of deliveries to make. It is either this or waiting until who knows when tomorrow.

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