The Ballad of United 218

I am back from San Francisco, and it was outstanding. There will be photos and haikus and all sorts of other awesomeness shortly, but I decided to begin with the end. It is freshest in my mind. Also, photos are going to be uploading to Flickr for like an hour because there are A LOT. I'm sure that comes as a surprise to you all.

So the first four hours of my flight back were pretty uneventful. Well, except for realizing that the BART doesn't start running until 8 a.m. on holidays, and that was not going to be an option to get to the airport for my 10 a.m. flight. I ran back to the Marriott all, help!, and they directed me to the Super Shuttle, which was only $16, and left shortly thereafter, so that was not too bad. (Dearest blog readers, if any of you are going to SF and want a $5.15 BART card, send me an email and it's yours...first come first served).

So I got to the airport with plenty of time to buy the refrigerator magnet I had not yet managed to buy, and also some post-security wine (I was not about to pack wine in my checked luggage). And all is well until right before we should be landing, when the captain announces that there are storms over Dulles and we can't land yet, so we're going to circle around about 70 miles away.

I am sitting in the aisle, because I have in my United profile that I prefer aisle, and United almost always delivers. It is about at this time that I began to want to smack the woman in the window seat of my row. She asks the guy next to her, whom she's traveling with (brother? husband?), what happens if they circle so much they run out of fuel.

Yes, you know, it really sucks when they just let the planes run out of fuel. It's why you read about them dropping from the sky all the time.

So after we've been flying in circles for awhile, the captain announces that we will indeed be going to Pittsburgh for refueling. We land there and taxi over to a gate, and wait for the refueling truck. It takes awhile for it to get there, but it does eventually, and we get fuel.

We were actually at a gate, and it was my understanding that we could get out of the plane and go shopping in the Pittsburgh terminal, which has a full mall. I opted not to, because with my luck I would have missed the flight. We took on a bunch more passengers whose flight to Dulles had been canceled.

We sit there for a long time. The captain announces that they're having a hard time restarting the right engine. They are going to get a mechanic to come along and do a "stick start", which apparently means they will stick some part into the engine and wiggle it around and start the engine. I am mildly concerned about flying back to DC in this plane, but I figure they know what they're doing. The woman in the window seat is pissed and whines a lot. Dulles is still at a ground stop, so we are not really losing any time that could be made up.

Somebody asks about food, and the United attendants come around with another round of pretzels and water. The mechanic shows up, and doesn't have the right part.

The mechanic comes back, and still doesn't have the right part. I do not fully understand how they do not have the right part for a Boeing 757, but since Pittsburgh isn't a hub for them I don't think United regularly flies anything this big in to that airport. Dulles is still at a ground stop.

The woman in the window seat begins whining in earnest. I really really really want to tell her off but I bite my lip. Seriously. They EVACUATED THE CONTROL TOWER at Dulles due to the tornado threat. Regardless of what is happening with our plane, the amount of chaos that had to cause is not going to be something that airport recovers from quickly. It's going to take time to get planes going again and work out priority for who takes off.

The captain announces that they've borrowed a part from US Air. Ground stop at Dulles is lifted. We make the 35 minute flight to DC, and all in all we lost about 3 hours.

The fight attendants ask the people who are trying to make connecting flights to raise their hands. They ask everyone on the plane to look around at the hands and let these people get off the plane first. I specifically asked the guy next to me if he's trying to make a connecting flight. They're not.

The plane lands and comes to a stop. The connecting flight people start pulling down their carry-ons and rushing out of the plane. Window-seat woman suddenly decides that she has been on the plane too long and cannot wait another 5 minutes to get off. She says she's been sitting there this whole time and she wants off this plane NOW. Sitting there that whole time is her own damn fault, since I've gotten up multiple times, and guy with her has gotten up, and she's never asked to get up, which I do not mention.

Instead I just stand up and open our overhead bin and pull out my wine and other bag of souvenirs very very slowly, primarily to piss her off. Then I sit back down and wait as the connecting flight people continue to file out.

But window seat woman is GETTING OFF THIS PLANE RIGHT NOW. I try to tell her that I'm trying to let the people with connecting flights try to make their flights, but she barges through her traveling companion, and I have to pull my legs up onto the seat so she won't bruise past me, too. She cuts in front of the connecting flight people, yanks down her giant carry-on suitcase, and leaves.

I was kind of totally flabbergasted by that level of assholishness. I took heart in the fact that she has damaged her karma so significantly that at some point in her life she WILL miss a connecting flight and will probably end up sleeping on an airport floor, miserable and no doubt whining the whole time.

I thanked the flight attendants as I left and told them they did an excellent job. They did as well as they possibly could, particularly as people got cranky. A lot of people were mad at United, but it's not United's fault there was a thunderstorm.

I did learn some important things during the whole ordeal. One is that they're not kidding about being prepared to sit on the tarmac for a long time. We were at a gate, but I was still very very glad that I had bought a water before I got on the plane, and that I had a nice supply of Kashi bars and other snacks. I was also very glad that I had thought to pack an extra book, even though I wasn't sure if I'd finish the one I was reading. I did, and I ended up reading a good chunk of the extra book while we were sitting there, which may be one of the reasons why I was much less cranky than some of my fellow passengers.

The other thing that was reinforced for me is that if you cannot easily lift your carry-on over your head and keep it in control, you should not be carrying it on. Aside from window bitch, I've seen a number of people struggling with massive carry-ons. It's bad enough when you're just trying to get off the plane with no huge rush, but if you are in a situation like the connecting flight people, being able to whip your carry-on out in seconds and start walking helps you get off the plane faster, not to mention the people behind you.


Kelly said...

Oh, dear. I keep hearing stories about how flying is becoming more and more of a pain - see here for an example. I'm starting to dread my upcoming Newark-to-Cincinnati flight (on the bright side, if I miss my connection, I will have the opportunity to visit lovely Charlotte, N.C.).

Your post will remind me to keep it together if there are problems. I certainly don't want to be the asshole window lady. :)

Carrie G said...

Depending on when you are in Charlotte (also, depending on whether you are actually stuck there), you can hang out with my sister! She is moving there at the beginning of August.

Water, snacks and books and you will be okay! :-)