Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Best Hand in Hold’em, The Worst in Air Passenger Travel

The Best Hand in Hold'em, The Worst in Air Passenger TravelI am home.

As I finally drove back from the airport a little while ago, I was contemplating the cliché about bad beat stories and how no one wants to hear them. I mean I knew I wanted to share something here about how the trip home from Uruguay ended up taking about three times as long as it had been scheduled to take. But I don’t really want to write a post that’s just a rant about American Airlines, even if AA deserves as much.

It’s probably because I’ve heard more complaints about AA in the last two days than you can possibly imagine. Not just referring to the poor souls who were on my scheduled flights, both cancelled, but many more as well. This is the airline, by the way, that after screwing up a colleague’s flight on a previous LAPT tried to tell him amid rescheduling hassles that Uruguay was in Brazil. I am not making this up.

I do want to share one little part of the story, though, which was kind of interesting in a poker-related way.

I wrote yesterday’s post while still in the air, and still with hopes of making it home last night. We landed and as I mentioned the four of us who’d been traveling together all quickly had to go our separate ways. I hit the ground running as I had to get through customs and other hurdles, then make it all of the way down to Gate D60 at the Miami International Airport -- all of the way at the end -- in order to make my connecting flight. Where the American Eagle flights mostly go. Or mostly don’t.

Got there with about 15 minutes to spare, pretty much soaked in sweat from jogging with my bags and in the Miami heat. Was ecstatic, to be honest. Saw my flight was “ON TIME” and all was good.

Found a seat next to a passenger bound for Richmond who said her flight had been delayed -- they needed a plane, apparently, and had been told one was incoming from Tampa for them. A third flight also leaving from D60 was late as well, and I immediately sensed a pattern developing that was similar to what we’d endured in Montevideo the night before.

When our flight status changed to being 15 minutes late, I knew the jig was probably up. Announcements were being made to all three groups listing various outstanding needs for each flight -- a pilot, a crew, a plane, etc. -- and the young man delivering them wasn’t necessarily being as clear or even as serious as one would like.

AA says 'we're glad you're here'Once he began his announcement with a big grin, saying “We’re glad you’re here” (the American Airlines tagline). It was obvious he was being sort of ironic in saying the line. A few chuckled, but most just steamed even more. It was absolutely the wrong way for him to be playing this, I realized.

As far as our flight was concerned, he was telling us a flight attendant scheduled for our flight had just landed elsewhere in the airport and was coming. Once that person arrived, we’d be good to go, although the fact that the young man on the PA was saying “when ‘he or she’ gets here” sounded more than a little sketchy. His cheeky demeanor wasn’t helping, either.

More time passed. Our departure time was pushed back a full hour. Much grumbling followed, and this amid people still waiting for the other two flights who were becoming increasingly incensed as well.

Then suddenly -- with absolutely zero warning -- an announcement was made that boarding was about to begin for the flight bound for Richmond. Right after that came another announcement, which for me was like an opponent giving away the weakness of his hand with an unmistakable tell.

Our original flight attendant was “too tired” to fly again, we were told. That is what he said. Another one was coming, and it would be an hour more.

I instinctively knew this was a lie. The young man might be the one lying, or someone might be lying to him. But like a weird overbet on the river after the draws fail to come in, the story simply didn’t add up.

I decided to investigate.

I walked up to the young man making the announcements who asked if he could help me. “Two things,” I said, holding up two fingers.

My intention was to ask him about the truth of the flight attendant story, to which I expected a straightforward confirmation that it was, indeed, true. The second item I wanted to convey was to point out to him that he needed to be more professional with the announcements, as people weren’t taking kindly to his method.

I asked him point blank if the story were true, sensing others gathering behind me as I did. He then did something unexpected. He stammered a bit, starting to say it was true, then when the angry passenger beside me started to speak he immediately lost it, his voice cracking as he surprisingly blurted out that he had to take a walk.

Poof, he was gone. We never saw him again. One minute later, the status changed from delayed to cancelled. No shinola.

It had been a lie. And when forced to answer a direct question about it, he wasn’t up to it. There were three flights scheduled to leave from D60 last night, but only enough crew to man a single plane. They made up stories for all three groups, then when the plane did arrive they gave it to the earliest scheduled, and intended to keep the rest of us waiting longer until eventually telling us we were going to have to stay in hotels and get flights today.

Remain calm, all is wellAn ugly scene ensued. A crowd swarmed about the desk, and soon I was behind them all watching from afar. People were cursing, babies were crying, and the few remaining AA employees looked as though they were about to crack like their colleague had.

It took more than an hour for me to get back up to the desk to get my flight changed -- “anything but American,” I said, and they were able to put me on US Air -- and obtain my hotel arrangements.

“This must be tough,” I said to the poor guy at the desk. Then I ventured a question. “This is happening a lot, isn’t it?” He exhaled, for a moment allowing himself to be a little human when really it was in his best interest not to.

“You get used to it,” he said wearily.

Like I say, I know we’ve all had bad travel experiences, just like we’ve all had bad beats, and so also am aware my story isn’t particularly special. But they still catch us off guard sometimes. That is to say, we don’t really get used to them, and so we feel compelled to share them.

No, we don’t get used to bad beats. Unless we exclusively fly AA, I guess.

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