Monday, June 25, 2007

Murphy's Law Of Travel

Whatever can go wrong on a trip will go wrong, and there will be vomit.

After a very late night at Niece L's Bat Mitzvah party last Saturday evening, we woke up groggy on Sunday morning. We packed our bags, checked out of the hotel, and went over to TaxBro's house for brunch. Mid-way through my first cup of coffee, WineGuy says "How upset will my parents be if we don't visit them on this trip to Washington?" No, don't do this to me. I answered, "If you explain it nicely, maybe they'll understand." An hour later, we'd had enough family time – my parents showing up very late, The Egg (eldest brother) pontificating on Israeli and American politics, kids tearing up the rec room. I said to WineGuy, "If we leave RIGHT NOW, we can drive 40 minutes completely out of the way and have a short visit with your parents." I told him to call and let them know we were coming. 20 minutes and 20 goodbyes later we were out the door.

We drove 10 miles back to the Washington Beltway, 7 miles around the Beltway, 9 miles up I-270 and another couple miles to the in-laws' house. MIL gave us a frosty greeting. FIL was nowhere to be found. MIL eventually warmed up and told us FIL was pissed at not hearing from WineGuy on Father's Day last week. I forgot to send a card. MIL went on and on how WineGuy messed up. He got defensive but felt badly. FIL finally showed up downstairs and across the street at the community pool. We sent Wizard and Wild Thing down to invite FIL back upstairs, but he wouldn't budge. So, we all went down to chat with FIL and apologize for missing Father's Day. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and Jewish guilt. What a combination. We raced out of there an hour and 45 minutes after we arrived.

Back down I-270, around the Beltway and out the airport access road (at excessive speed) to Dulles Airport. Gassed up the rental car and returned it. Shuttled over to the airport. Checked in. Tagged bags and dragged them over to the TSA screening machine. The luggage was piled 6-feet high waiting to be screened. When I asked whether they would process all our bags in the 75 minutes before our flight, the TSA Deliverance man agent replied, "I'll do my job, ma'am. Can't speak for the airlines, though." Not confidence-inspiring. Hiked through the airport, slogged through security, hiked more through the airport and made it to our gate about 25 minutes before boarding time. Bought pizza and water to feed everyone a late lunch, instead of giving them the chocolate and apples WineGuy stashed in the carry-on bag. Wolfed down the food and boarded the plane. Five minutes before our departure time, five off-duty flight attendants got on the plane and stowed their bags to catch a ride home. Five minutes later, five 0ff-duty flight attendants collected their bags and got off the plane because those five ticketed passengers finally showed up. The five latecomers sat down, and our flight attendants closed the door.

The pilot's first announcement was that TSA was slow to screen the luggage, and we had to wait for another batch to be loaded on to the plane. The ramp agents loaded the luggage, but the plane didn't move. The pilot's second announcement was that TSA did not deliver 5 bags on time, and those five bags would be sent on a later flight. The lady sitting next to me was convinced hers would be one of those bags. I smugly replied, "No. They're ours. We checked 5 bags." And we waited some more. The pilot's third announcement was that an on-board computer crashed and they were waiting for it to re-boot. Okaaay. Lost bags, dead computer, what else? The seatmate was afraid to fly. I asked Moose to make friends with her, and he proceeded to regale her with some tale.

Sometime before the pilot announced our departure, "Damien," a/k/a Roberto the 2 year-old in the back row started to shriek. For 2.5 hours, on and off, we listened to Roberto scream and cry and wail. We listened to his increasingly frustrated and ill-prepared mother talk (loudly) to him, sing with him, and feed his frenzy. I heard the flight attendant kindly ask the mother if the child was unwell. The mother said that he was tired because it was his naptime. Good planning, lady. With about 40 minutes left in the flight, Roberto's howling escalated to a fever pitch, and he vomited all over himself and the seat. The mother demanded, "Someone, help me!" Two flight attendants raced over with wipes and towels and tried to clean up the mess. The stench wafted through the plane and sickened us all.

We descended towards the runway when suddenly the plane pulls up and away. An aborted landing. O, joy and rapture. The pilot never came on to announce what happened, but we heard from the crew that a plane crossed our runway and did not clear the path in time. We circled the city and finally landed. Amen. Satan's Flight 666 was finally over. Fortunately, the ground crew allowed us to disembark the plane from the rear, so WineGuy shoved us past everyone and down the stairs. But the night was far from over.

Off to Carousel 5 for our bags. WT's bag arrived. Moose's duffel arrived. WineGuy's bag arrived. Then we watched the conveyor go around and around. My bag didn't arrive, nor did Wizard's bag. I walked the entire length of the terminal to the bag claim office and realized I didn't have the tags from the bags that did arrive. I walked all the way back and got them from WineGuy and trudged back to the bag claim office. Where there was one guy working and 20 pieces of delayed luggage waiting to be processed. Fortunately, there was one woman in line ahead of me. When my turn came, I had all the necessary papers and information ready, but it still took Bag Guy forever to type it in with those two fast fingers of his. As he finished writing up my claim, Roberto's mother walked in. I thought, "Just shoot me." She starts in with her harangue about how awful the flight was, how her kid is so tired and got sick, and how she needs to get him home. I turned to her and said, "I know your entire story. I were sitting two rows ahead of you. I was here first. They lost 2 of my 5 bags. I have a husband and three exhausted, ravenous children waiting for me, AND I have a 115-mile drive home yet tonight. You need to wait your turn." Honey. She waited, while BagGuy finished my paperwork.

As I walked the entire length of the terminal (again), I called the airline's bag claim at Dulles. They had the bags and had tagged them for priority handling and rush delivery on the next flight to Fort Lauderdale ... the following morning. Fine, at least they had the bags. We all trudged back to the car and buckled up to go home. I pull up to the cashier on my parking level. No one was there. The sign said to pay on the next lower level. I drove around and down to the next cashier. Each line had 5 cars in it, and neither line was moving. By this point, I'd had it. I got out of the car and hollered called to the parking attendant about another cashier. He said to try another level down. I backed out of the line and drove down another level. There was no cashier, but there was an exit into another parking garage and a downward ramp. I took the ramp at a 10 mph clip, nauseating Wizard in the process. I finally found cashiers on ground level, so I paid with my credit card and zoomed out of the airport.

A faint chorus of "I'm hungry" and "Me, too" burbled from the back of the car. WineGuy suggested we follow our usual route home and look for the Golden Arches. Bad plan: you can't see those things in advance driving on an urban/suburban interstate highway. I pulled off at some random exit and bought some food at a grocery store. WineGuy served dinner, al auto, as opposed to al fresco, and we sailed home through the dark Everglades night. We finally arrived home at 11:00 p.m. and collapsed into bed.

Monday morning arrived, and everyone was still exhausted. The airline called twice with the good news that the bags arrived on (adjusted) schedule, at 10:30A, into Fort Lauderdale. The airline handed the bags over to the luggage service, who managed to get them on a truck at 4:00P that afternoon. I gave the luggage service exact directions to my house. The bags arrived in The Zone at 5:30P, which means the driver drove directly to my house. Super! I opened the handle of Wizard's bag, and it worked fine. I opened the handle of my own bag, purchased last September, and it was stuck. I pushed the handle; I pulled it; I prodded it; I jiggled it; I yanked it. Finally, it opened, but it did not stay open. Either the airline or TSA bent the handle and broke the pins that hold it in position. So, I called the airline's central baggage service. They, in turn, told me to call Fort Lauderdale baggage service. I called Fort Lauderdale baggage service and got their voicemail. They never called back, so I called again later in the evening. Guess what? The airline is not responsible for damage to the pull handle. This is specifically stated in their contract of coverage – not clearly printed anywhere you might see it when you check your bags but buried six levels deep in their website. Thankyouverymuch.

I've had a matched set of expensive (non-rolling) luggage for 17 years. It's gone all over the world with me, and it's in good shape. I bought one, lousy, little rolling suitcase – from Costco, no less – last fall, and it's already ruined. Unbelievable. Now, I have to shop for new luggage. Ugh.


Sock Girl said...

Wow... you deserve a vacation just to recouperate from that journey! (Maybe one that doesn't involve flying)!

Rambling Mom said...

How HORRID. I'm so glad I wasn't on that flight. I'm thinking you need a spa day.

BUT in defense of Roberto's mom scheduling the flight at his naptime -- it COULD be that she she got this tickets that flightime was *NOT* his naptime. I remember when Matthew was that age and his naptime would change every few months as his hit new development milestones.

Robin said...

The joys of flying. Ugh.