Get your kicks on Route 666

Until yesterday, I was congratulating myself on a rare bit of frugality, having chosen to fly to Sacramento for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show instead of driving.

Gas prices were on the rise again, and motels never get any cheaper, so when I weighed the costs and benefits of a six-day road trip versus a quick flyby, the flyby won in a walk.

Until yesterday, that is. Now I’m down $342.10 and never got closer to the Sacramento Convention Center than Concourse B at Denver International Airport.

The first bump in my aerial Route 666 came when my 9:53 a.m. flight out of Bibleburg was delayed. The plane was undergoing “a test flight,” we were told, and after it finally arrived and we boarded, it sat on the deck for a spell while the crew awaited paperwork. The original departure time had left a comfortable margin for me to catch the 11:28 a.m. flight to Sacto, but the delay gobbled that up and then some, and my bird was long gone by the time I’d legged it from gate B50-something to B28.

No worries. A gate agent booked me onto a later flight — four hours later — and I whiled away the time wandering Concourse B and inspecting my fellow travelers, a joyous throng that reminded me of Russians queuing up for bread and vodka in the old Soviet Union, Germans trundling wheelbarrows full of marks to a Weimar Republic café, or Americans camping out for cheap shit from China on Black Friday.

I overheard muttered conversations about canceled flights, missed connections, and various other tales of woe, so I started checking the board now and then. Sure enough, lots of time changes, gate changes, flights vanishing right off the board, you name it. Gate agents pitched like carny barkers, announcing that their flight of the moment was “in an overbooked situation” and soliciting volunteers to lay down their seats that their brethren and sistren might fly, offering the less-than-powerful inducement of a $400 travel credit good for getting boned up the ass the next time they dare to set foot in a United concourse.

My own flight, slated for 3:30, got bumped to 3:50, then 4:15, and finally 4:50 before being canceled altogether. We never got a straight answer as to why from the gate agent, who took to hiding in the jetway after mumbling something about unspecified mechanical issues involving “a couple of valves” that needed replacing.

What the hell? I thought. These things aren’t coming in to disgorge one load of passengers and take on another, they’re fucking pitting with oil leaks, thrown rods, their bits coming off in turn three and black smoke belching out from under the hood.

We of the late, lamented Flight 6392 trudged a kilometer or so to customer service, where several computers appeared to be down for maintenance and only three United types stood ready to handle the deluge. One spent a fair amount of time teaching another how to operate her terminal.

I was somewhere in the top 20, line-wise, and I was overhearing discouraging talk like “I can get you on standby at dark-thirty,” “So we’re talking about flying to LA, then to San Francisco, and then to Sacramento?” and “Bob, how do I get the right screen on my terminal thingie? Do I type ‘2’?”

It was at that moment that I lost all faith in United’s ability to get me to Sacramento before the NAHBS closed. Hell, they’d barely been able to get me to DIA. So I told them to stuff me into the nearest pressurized aluminum tube full of opportunistic infections bound for Bibleburg and finally got out the hell out of Denver (an hour later than advertised, surprise surprise).

I’d heard about the bomb threat, of course. But that was early in the morning, before I ever arrived at the Bibleburg airport, and I wasn’t about to question anyone on that topic. Say “bomb threat” in an airport and about 30 seconds later you’re assuming the position in some windowless concrete room with your pants around your ankles and an overexcited TSA flunky taking the scenic route toward inspecting your fillings with a bullet-nosed Ray-O-Vac. (Incidentally, the scariest thing about that Denver Post story is its final sentence: “All airport operations are normal.”)

The weather didn’t seem to be the culprit, either. Not in my case, anyway. The only weather-related issues I heard about involved flights to Colorado mountain towns. No, mechanicals had been the order of my day — planes that needed test flights, valve jobs, a quick wing transplant, whatever.

This was central to my thesis that I was due a refund for my troubles when I spoke with United via the Subcontinent this morning.

“If you folks would just get the oil changed every three months and rotate the tires per your owner’s manual working journalists would be able to jet hither and yon suffering neither hindrance nor let,” I said, or something very much like that. “Give me my money back and we’ll put our long national nightmare behind us.”

Nope, said United, countering that they had successfully flown me from Bibleburg to DIA and back and offering a miserly $158.60 in recompense for not getting me to what flight attendants call, ominously, my “final destination.”

No shit. $158.60. I spent $342.10 to fly to Denver and back, a trip I could cover via Air Subaru for a half tank of gas. Call it $20. And I didn’t even want to go there.

It all makes a guy long for the day when we can travel via transporter a la “Star Trek.” Let’s just hope United doesn’t get a monopoly on that action. Step onto the platform with Chekov, Jakov or Fukov at the controls and you’d never know whether you’d be leaving your heart in San Francisco or sending it to Jesus.

Your ass, of course, would belong to United.

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21 Responses to “Get your kicks on Route 666”

  1. Arnold Says:

    The lord tunnerin’ jaysus bye! No WONDER you were “wound for sound” yesterday. Has the dog come back to earth yet? I count myself so lucky to have bad ears and therefore I cannot partake of the “unfriendly skies” But I feel your disgust at having been put through the wringer this way. Just be grateful that your ass does NOT belong to United. For you know you would never see it again! It would be in Jakarta and you in Bibleburg, 😦

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Arnold, it’s enough to make me bark like a dog, which I do anyway. And I need my ass right here, to sit on while I compose my bloggy goodness. It would serve no purpose — well, no purpose to which I would enjoy seeing it serve — in Jakarta.

  2. BenS Says:

    Bread and vodka? A good day yes. My ancestors tell of depressing day when all they had to wait I line for was a pogrom.

    But Buddy was happy you were not gone for good.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Hey, Ben — I keep forgetting that the Irish don’t have a monopoly on suffering.

      Happily, my people had it comparatively easy. Once the English invented the wheelbarrow and taught us how to walk upright, we were able to work toward development of the fabled Irish Seven-Course Dinner — a six-pack and a potato.

      And you’re right, Buddy was glad to see me, despite favoring Herself above all others. But the Turk’ is the one who really misses me when I’m gone. In chilly weather he permits me to serve as a heating pad.

  3. md anderson Says:

    What a nightmare! My son has had similar experiences with US Airways. How can a n airline just decide to “cancel” a flight and still expect to have any customers? Makes me shake my head in wonder.

    Living near the “Duke City” I fly Southwest almost exclusively and have had no serious problems or delays going almost anywhere. I agree with Khal. Take a half day to drive south, stopping for green chilie and brew in the City Different.

  4. Larry T. Says:

    Well, if you had any sense you fired up a computer of some sort and watched the Strade Bianche race via live-streaming from Tuscany! We watched it TWICE, once via the ‘net then the last hour again on Italian TV later. And before this we enjoyed a couple of hours riding our own bicycles in the warm Sicilian sunshine. A fresh fish dinner tonight will cap things off nicely. Buon weekend to all!

  5. Libby Says:

    What a grisly tale and all true, too. Amazing how it was so dragged out. I hope you can get more compensation.

  6. bromasi Says:

    I know it’s not funny, but I couldn’t stop laughing, I will not ever fly again.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Bro’, I am so not ever flying United again. Should I ever need to cross the water — say, to get Larry and his better half to show me around Italy — I’ll take another stab at air travel. But you couldn’t get me to look at another United ticket if it were parked in a Ziploc bag full of cocaine tucked into Kate Upton’s cleavage.

  7. Jack in KC Says:

    The incompetents who crashed Braniff, TWA and Continental seem to have taken over United. Just rest in the comfort that you didn’t get to Sacramento and had to fly back on the same airline.

  8. Larry T. Says:

    Airlines, especially the US ones pretty much suck, no surprise there. But the alternative is….? My wife keeps threatening to write a “Stoicism for travelers” book. Sure, we could SAIL over to Italy – once we got to a coastline in the USA from Iowa, but flying, as awful as it is, pretty much gets you there in the least amount of that awful time. And a ship could hit the rocks near Tuscany or lose power in a sea of pirates. …like has happened recently. Or you could just stay home and like Abe Simpson, shake your fist at the clouds….and who wins then? Patrick should have driven the car or arranged other ground transportation to DIA, then flown from there….as he wrote, DIA’s almost within cycling distance from Bibleburg!

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Larry, the Bibleburg airport used to be a nice alternative to DIA. Lots of flights were cheaper, even though they originated here, and the attendant hassles — parking, clearing security, etc. — are greatly reduced.

      But the airport has seen passenger traffic decline for four consecutive years, and I wonder about the reason(s). Airlines include Allegiant, American, United-Continental, Delta and Frontier, but direct flights to anywhere seem rare — one business traveler I talked to said he had to route through Denver to get to Vegas, f’chrissakes. Hell, Pueblo used to have direct flights to Sin City. (Incidentally, this guy missed his connection to Vegas — I saw him in DIA, looking woebegone.)

      After this non-trip I’m back to standard operating procedure — if I can reach my destination in two days or less via Air Subaru, I’m driving.

      • barry Says:

        I can’t imagine why air traffic has declined in the last four years…perhaps it has something to do with “the single greatest economic downturn Amurcan society has seen in 80 years”.

        Couldn’t have a thing to do with that. No sir.

        Eh…I’m glad you were at least able to make it back home safe and semi-sound. It could have been worse.

        That said, you story makes me glad I haven’t had to fly much since a whole new fedral department had to be created to “police” it. I used to love flying.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        I dunno, Barry … the same story I linked to says DIA traffic set a record for the second consecutive year (though the two airports measure traffic differently).

        One howler in there came from the local assistant director for finance and administration, who said that airlines “are switching to larger, more fuel-efficient planes” on their Bibleburg routes in response to rising fuel prices. I recall hearing this same story about the switch to smaller, more fuel-efficient planes.

        Here it is March and United-Continental is still flying Canadair CRJ-200s for short hops like the ones I endured on Thursday. These shitboxes make a Citroen 2CV look like a Mercedes-Benz GL450. You can upgrade to an Iron Maiden but it’ll cost you $150.

      • Larry T. Says:

        Same song they played in Sioux City. We’re down to just whoever owns the old NW at present and you can go ONLY to Minneapolis with them. We used to do this because it was convenient but gradually it …wasn’t. So now we get someone to haul us down to Omaha if it’s long-terrm (like now) or just pay the parking charges for shorter trips like sponging off the in-laws in SB for the holidays. No love for the airlines from me, but for some reason I don’t mind Alitalia flights as much – must be the smiling young women in the green jackets and the fact that they speak to you in ITALIAN…I’m halfway to Italy just from boarding their green-white-red aluminum tube!

  9. James Says:

    At least next year you will only have to drive to Denver for the big bike shew.

    Otherwise…maybe make United an offer to ‘sponsor’ your trip.

    Seeing as how they were able to complete this one without any major catastrophes, well, except for the missed connection and royal pain in the ass fiasco….never mind.

  10. What do you mean ‘we,’ white man? | Mad Blog Media Says:

    […] I was determined to take in the Denver edition, if only because I wouldn’t have to depend on United Airlines to get me […]

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