Home Trip — Part III: Lies, damn lies, and airlines.

I suppose the beginning is the best place to start.

We returned last Sunday, 7 February 2016, to the frozen, uninviting bosom of Milwaukee from a four-day trip to the happiest place on earth—no, not Disneyworld, but close—a bar, which in this case was at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. We arrived and collected our seven pieces of luggage at the same hotel from which we departed a few days prior.

Our additional night in the great USA meant there was time for one more dinner with our most excellent friend, AB, during which she agreed to act as Vice President of Anthropological Endeavors (title negotiable) for robertjrichey.com, although she may not totally remember as she was a bit congested at the time. Having secured the participation of another unpaid robertjrichey.com staff member—we are a staff of three now—along with lobster rolls, salad and another dozen oysters for yours truly, we said our ‘see ya’s’ until next time.

Monday morning arrived to the vibrating, buzzing sound of a text message from another most excellent friend, JP, with news that our frozen cheese and assorted sundries, stored for the last two weeks in his freezer, was in transit. (It is of note that JP transported the aforementioned frozen edibles sans vehicle heat, no small sacrifice during a northern Midwestern February. JP is certainly deserving of an unpaid appointment to the robertjrichey.com team (that’s four staffers, for those keeping count at home); however, we have yet to identify a title for JP—perhaps Executive Cheese Jockey, or VP of Frozen Consumables, or maybe Sub Zero Operations Chief—suggestions welcome.)

With the coolers delivered and placed in two of our seven checked bags, we reweighed everything and departed for Chicago and a 19-hour plane trip.

Fun with Jenga.
Six of seven bags destined for India.
Six of seven bags destined for India.

Moving seven pieces of luggage each weighing around 65 pounds, plus two roll-a-boards, a backpack and a laptop bag, is about as easy as it sounds, which is to say it’s not easy at all. Fetch two carts to haul everything from the curb to the counter—Why two carts? Because despite the fact a blind dog can tell they are obviously over-loaded, two carts is all we can manage. Stack the bags to minimize falling—which is like playing Jenga in reverse with 65 pound wood blocks. Navigate throngs of gawking travellers, most of who are probably thinking, “Where are they going? Mars?”—No, we are not going to Mars. If we were going to Mars, we would not be allowed to bring this much weight aboard ship. Answer ‘seven’, when asked how many bags we will be checking, then listen to the ticket agents discuss whether we exceeded our allotment and should be charged—when one is traveling to the U.S. and needs to return with mayo, peanut butter, and frozen cheese, one knows exactly how many bags one gets and the weight limit of each. Load each bag on the scale and watch with anticipation as each comes in at under 70 pounds, then wonder if we will ever see that frozen cheese again. Finally, head through security to settle into the priority passenger lounge—we have status.

Normally, this is the point in the trip when we recombobulate, get a drink and wait for the announcement that our flight is delayed. This trip did not fail to disappoint, each of us receiving voicemails within minutes of clearing security unceremoniously notifying us of said anticipated delay.

(There will be those who will question whether ‘recombobulate’ is a word. Microsoft, via Word’s spellcheck feature, certainly doesn’t think so; however, the Urban Dictionary provides a number of definitions, one of which includes, ‘to re-assemble one’s self, after passing through TSA security at any major airport.’ The General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin includes a sign identifying the “recombobulation area.”)

To paraphrase Mark Twain, “There are lies, damn lies and airlines.”

Our first notification advised our flight to London, American Airlines flight number 86, originally scheduled to depart at 6:45 PM CST, was delayed by one hour; the new estimated time of departure (ETD) was 7:45 PM. Our first explanation for the delay was the inbound flight was delayed. Unfortunately for American Airlines, we, and I dare say most travellers, know how to use that new fangled information thingy called the Internet.

American Airlines inbound flight for flight 86 originally scheduled to depart at 6:45 PM. Courtesy of Flightaware.com.
American Airlines inbound flight for flight 86 originally scheduled to depart at 6:45 PM. Courtesy of Flightaware.com.

According to FlightAware.com, the inbound American Airlines flight, 1109, which would become flight 86, was scheduled to depart Miami at 3:55 PM CST and arrive in Chicago at 7:13 PM. Therefore, our first notification of a delay was actually the second lie in the series. Color us impressed if American can figure out a way to get passengers scheduled to depart at 6:45 PM aboard an airplane that will be in the air until 7:13 PM. But the miracles did not stop with the Star Trek-esque beaming of passengers aboard inflight aircraft.

American pushed our ETD—more about ETD later—back to 7:45 PM aboard an airplane not scheduled to arrive until 7:13 PM, leaving 32 minutes to deplane, service, fuel, load meals, board passengers, clear paperwork and close the doors. I’ve seen many amazing things—the aurora borealis, a thermometer reading -50 Fahrenheit, anytime the Bears make the playoffs—but the only way American Airlines could slow down time enough to turn-around, board and push back an airplane in 32 minutes is if they stole Zak Gibbs watch from Clockstoppers.

Lets take another look at FlightAware.com—a site American Airlines might want to check occasionally. The 7-day average departure time for flight 86 was 8:32 PM. During the last seven days only one flight departed at 6:48 PM, four flights departed after 10:00 PM, and two flights departed after 7:00 PM, putting American Airlines on-time flight percentage at a whopping 14 percent, provided we give them the 6:48 PM flight. I guess we should be happy it isn’t negative.

ETD means what?

It is now 11:15 PM and three lies, or rather, updated ETDs later.

Just after 9:00 PM we inquired about the possibility of traveling on flight 46 scheduled to depart at 10:00 PM. We were told that there was not enough time to move our checked bags to the new plane prior to departure. However, American decided to hold flight 46 until after midnight, moving most flight 86. Why couldn’t we be transferred to flight 46?

“Is there a new estimated time of departure for flight 86?” we asked.

“Actually, ma’am, ETD stands for ‘estimated time of decision’…the time the airline will make a decision about the flight,” the gate agent replied.

Who knew? Flights are never actually late! Reading ‘ETD 6:45 PM,’ actually means American Airlines will make a decision at 6:45 PM about whether they want to fly somewhere. The suggestion box submission probably read, ‘Just change ETD to estimated time of decision and so long as we make a decision, we will maintain a 100 percent on-time departure rate.’ Congratulations, Mr. Employee of the Month, you get to park close to the building for the next 30 days.

In addition to flight 1109’s “late” arrival, flight 86 needed a tire change. Unfortunately, this occurred during shift change, at which point all worked stopped for at least an hour. Furthermore, the aircraft sat too low to fit the jacks in place. Really? Strut servicing was required before they could jack it up to replace the tire. Also, because Murphy’s Law was written for American Airlines—they should just rename it American Airlines Law—the crew was going “illegal” at 11:45 PM, or possibly 12:30 PM, the story kept changing. Once they passed the number of hours they could legally fly, their arms gave out from all that flapping and they could not fly anymore.

At this point we start to consider our frozen cheese and sundries. We carted seven bags to the airport, two of which were loaded with frozen food in soft-sided coolers at 8:00 AM. We need to get these bad boys into a freezer. But the airline won’t book us on another flight and give us our luggage until the flight is officially cancelled. Not that there is another flight to get booked on tonight.

Finally, at around 11:30 PM they decide they are not going to fly the airplane with the eight-ish passengers left. It is thirty minutes past the ETD (estimated time of decision), which means American Airlines on-time decision percentage is at least as bad as its on-time departure percentage. Sorry, Mr. Employee of the Month, you’ll be forfeiting that parking spot.

Can we help you with those bags? No, in fact we cannot.

They offered to rebook us on the same flight the next day—a laughable suggestion considering all of the information on FlightAware.com. Instead, we asked for and received booking on a British Airways flight the following evening. American Airlines was gracious, paying for a hotel at the Hyatt, providing a shuttle, giving us inaccurate directions to the shuttle pick-up point, refusing to help us with our luggage, failing to offer meal vouchers, and not caring even a little about our frozen cheese and assorted sundries. All this and we are Executive Platinum status—lucky us.

Keeping cheese and assorted sundries frozen.
Keeping cheese and assorted sundries frozen.

Speaking of frozen cheese and assorted sundries, they all arrived home fully to mostly frozen. We raided two ice machines when we arrived at the hotel at 1:00 AM, covering them like that mammoth they found in the snow some years ago. In the morning, the Hyatt, which was awesomely helpful, put both coolers in their freezer for five more hours until we checked out.

We breezed through customs after 27 hours in airports and airplanes. Our freezer is now full of brats, cheese and beer, like every good Wisconsin freezer!

Edit: On 12 February 2016, American Airlines sent an email that read, “In appreciation for your patience, we have added 20,000 AAdvantage bonus miles to your account.” According to Nerdwallet.com, as of October 2015, the average value of one AAdvantage bonus mile is 1.2 cents US.

On 13 February, the American Airlines website—I’m surprised they have an internet presence; it must be subcontracted—listed a round trip ticket from Milwaukee to Chicago, departing 17 March and returning 24 March, at 240.20 USD. Which means American gifted us a round trip ticket from Milwaukee to Chicago. Not sure when or why we would use such a generous gift, but I suppose a ‘thank you’ is in order, which they will receive as soon as we book our trip.

Isn’t the Internet wonderful? American Airlines really should consider learning more about it.


 

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