Over the past week I posted a blog of sorts about how things can go on a typical or perhaps sometimes atypical ski getaway. Since we got off to such a crazy start I dubbed the stories "Amazing Race Canada Style".
If we HAD been competing in the CBS show "Amazing Race" we’d have been well out in first place for the entire week as no matter what curves we were tossed – we pretty much hit them all out of the park.
However, as the time came for us to leave Tremblant and head home, some of our own moves potentially set us up to be losers on the final leg of "the race" and bumble-headed moves by Continental Airlines completed the deal that "lost the race" for us. Obviously we were not competing in any show or race whatsoever, except for the race to make it back home to North Carolina as intended on Sunday, so that we could get back to work, home, school, etc. If we HAD been running such a race, we’d have been in the lead all the way to the last leg – and then come up major losers.
We’ve all heard and read thousands of stories about how the airline industry has become a failed entity that seems to be operated by the "three stooges". Most of the recent news coverage seems to be focused on the pat downs and full body scans of only good looking women or most anything other than perhaps singling our terrorist looking peeps. To my knowledge we’ve never had a good looking babe strap a bomb to her chest and threaten anyone. Ditto for elderly, the handicapped, etc, etc. If you’re like me I shake my head when I hear news reports that defy logic. To be honest though, I witnessed ZERO people getting patted down and ZERO cases of full body scans in the hundreds and hundreds of people that I was around during my four trips through airport security and customs centers. Perhaps one of every 30-40 people were called aside to have a lady wipe a wand across the back of the hands to supposedly check for explosives. Other than that NADA.
One last thing that I DID learn on this ski trip that had nothing to do with skiing or Canada – is that Continental Airlines has to be the worst of the worst in terms of running an airline company. I had mentioned earlier that Continental had cancelled our flight GOING OUT last week for evidently no apparent reason other than they were FORECASTING a bad time of it the next day. They made things tons worse by not having ANY kind of support system. Any calls to Continental were met with "Due to high caller volume we cannot take your call. Please go to our website." Visits to their website did nothing for those trying to make their way to their destinations.
We ended up making a GREAT deal with US Airways that got us from Charlotte to Montreal in TWO HOURS, where Continental was taking us on a 1.5 hour flight to Newark and then after an hour layover we were to have flown another hour and change to Montreal.
After a great week of fun at Tremblant we were meant to fly back via Continental from Montreal to Newark, then to Charlotte. I understand more stops are cheaper, etc but that’s a huge part of what’s wrong with the airline industry. The notion that the first people booking a flight get the flight cheaper and then as seats fill the rates go through the roof. That’s a nutty way to do things. However that story is for another kind of publication and at least for another day. This story is about our last leg of the Amazing Race, Canada Style or at least SkiSoutheast style.
Rewind to Sunday. Our flight our of Montreal was set for 3:01pm. We potentially contributed to what could have been a stupid move by thinking that we had time to stop by a shop in Montreal before heading to the airport. We figured if we got to the airport 1.5 hours ahead of our flight we’d be fine. So we arrived in the airport at 1:30pm and half of our group (four people) checked baggage in perhaps five minutes. Somehow my five got the one-fingered-typist from hell as our baggage check person. She seemed to be in management as well because in addition to playing the one-fingered-keyboard player she also would stop and have conversations with clerks to the left of her as well as on the phone. Thirty minutes later (I kid you not) she was still typing in God knows what as she hit my credit card five separate times (once for each person in my group). I should interject at this point that we TRIED to check the baggage ourselves but I GUESS because of our initial issues with the orginal flights that were cancelled we were not in the system. When I asked the one-fingered-manager-typist-from-hell why it was taking so long, she actually responded, "It’s faster if you do it yourself through our automated machines."
Let me get this right – "I should be able to figure out how to check my own baggage in quicker than someone who is PAID by the airlines to do that job?"
Anyway, it is NOW 2:15 or so and we’ve YET to hit security or customs. An agent told us that we were going to have a tough time making our flight. Of course the "one-fingered-typist-manager-advisor-from-hell" said, "They are aware you’re the last one checking in and they will hold the flight."
I am no frequent flyer but this I know – they don’t hold up flights for people unless you have "Senator", "Congressman" or "President" in front of your name and me being President of AppNet or SkiSoutheast wouldn’t carry any weight…understandably.
We get to the security line and in a moment’s glance KNOW we’re not making our 3:01 flight. The lines were huge. This brings me to another thought. I want to be safe when I fly. I LIKE feeling safe and I say WHATEVER they have to do to make us all safe – I’m ALL for it. However isn’t the REASON we fly to save time? If you have to now be at an airport three hours ahead of time to reasonably KNOW that you’ll make your flight kind of making it smarter to drive?
Nevertheless, we do the security thing pretty much already resigned to the fact we probably aren’t making our flight. Amazingly we get through security fairly quick but it is now 2:45pm and we still have to get through customs. As we get to that spot we now KNOW it’s a lost cause as those lines were equal to the security lines and they were already boarding our flight…or so we thought.
We’re WAY back in the line but as this customs agent was floating around I caught his attention and asked, "I realize this is probably a stupid question but is there anything we can do to get through this quicker as we have a 3:01 flight that we’re meant to be on right now. He responded somewhat negative but decent I guess. Minutes later he shouted out to the crowd, "How many of you have a 3:01 flight time?" Dozens of people raised their hands. He got several more windows open moments later and we breezed through customs with nothing more than a "top to bottom" glance from the customs agent. No questions, just a look and a passport and we were off running to the gate…still thinking we were idiots for running because it was now 3:10pm.
Much to our amazement the flight had been held up by Newark. We were told that Newark wasn’t allowing anything IN or OUT (still don’t know what that was all about or even if it was true) and our flight was delayed. We all took deep breathes and I thought to myself, "Wow, we dodged that bullet!"
About 3:30pm (a half an hour late) we boarded the plane. Around 3:40pm we now began to worry that we’d have a difficult time making our connecting flight to Charlotte because of the delay. Drama and stress began anew.
Minutes passed as slowly as the one-fingered-typist-manager-advisor-bitch-from-hell had handled our baggage. (Yes I know I keep adding to her title.)
Nobody on the plane seemed to know what the heck the hold up was, but finally an announcement came that we would be taxiing to the runway in moments. More time passes….
We FINALLY begin taxiing and we get to the runway and the engines begin to roar as we’re about to slingshot in the sky…when unexpectedly the engines begin to wind down to idle speed again. Minutes pass…
Then the announcement comes that makes all on board know that our connecting flights are all doomed to be missed. The pilot announces, "Ladies and gentlemen we regret to tell you that we JUST heard from Continental corporate that two of our crew members have just timed out and we’ll have to taxi back to the terminal."
He further informed us that we’d NOT have to get off the plane, deal with baggage etc and that they’d get a new pilot on the plane shortly and be in the air asap.
"ASAP" turned into a "we’re trying to get the papers from corporate" 2.5 hours later deal before we’re finally in the air and on our way to Newark. To clarify – it is now 5:40pm and we’re headed to New Jersey. During the flight our flight attendants offered free drinks to EVERYONE on board. Even one of our 16 year olds who looks 13 was offered alcohol. Seriously, they were not joking nor taking stock on who they were speaking with or anyone. If you were in a seat on the plane, you qualified for drinks. Also while trekking towards Newark one of the attendants asked, "We’re going to help all of you know more about your flights, etc – so how many of you are trying to make connecting flights? If you are please hit your call button."
The place lit up light up like Christmas. All but perhaps three of the 80 people on board were trying to make connections. Faced with that she then promised that we’d have a GATE AGENT meet with everyone on touch down to assist us in making arrangements to get to our destinations.
We get there around 7:15 or so. They DID have a gate agent meet us, but I swear that the ONLY thing the gate agent did was point (literally) to where – somewhere – down the terminal there was a Continental Information Station where they would be able to assist us.
We found the Continental info center only after at least 15 or so had found it before us. Thankfully WE FOUND IT before another 50-60 found it. Here’s where Continental’s peeps really showed their amazing organization. (INSERT MAJOR SARCASM HERE.) Within this center where 12 stations equipped with computer screens, etc. Around the corner were 12 more stations. Of 24 stations, only TWO were manned by staffers who would not look you in the eye; who would not actually answer questions and who obviously had ZERO real concern for any of the people in line.
I have to say that you could not pay me enough to do their job. I’ve read countless stories about how stressful working at the post office is and why so many end up climbing up on roofs and shooting people. Working at the post office can’t hold a candle to working at the airports of our country. Neither of these two experts had a clue about how they potentially could have dealt with the issue facing them in a more organized manner. LOGIC (which was nowhere to be found) might have dictated that they could have simply asked how many people were trying to fly to Memphis, Seattle, Charlotte etc and perhaps inform multiples at a time what their options were and perhaps get people handled more quickly. LOGIC might have dictated that they bring on another few people to handle the ever-growing line in front of them.
INSTEAD…I kid you not…after handling one case ONE of the two ladies got up, picked up coat and left. It was 8pm and I guess she was off duty. Minutes later another lady comes in and takes her place. It was obvious from the moment she sat down that she didn’t want to be there. It was obvious that she must have been related to the one-fingered-typist-manager-advisor-bitch-who-should-have-been-fired-from-hell lady. One by one they handled people. Some cases took ten minutes, some took 20-25 minutes. By the time we were at the front of the line, a guy who ALREADY KNEW that there was another flight to Nashville that he could have made…was not handled in time to get him on it.
We get to the "I-don’t-want-to-be-here" lady and she quickly tells us that there’s only one flight to Charlotte going out Sunday night and there’s only one seat on it and we go on standby.
REALLY. Like standby would get the rest of our eight people on that plane. This is how these mindless robots operate. Since we obviously knew that there was a better chance that we could teach two fingered typing to the one-fingered-typist-manager-advisor-bitch-who-should-have-been-fired-because-she-didn’t-want-to-be-there-either-from-hell lady than we had of getting all nine of us on that flight – we opted to take a flight out the next morning.
Believe it or not I could go on and on further on what took place past that, but regardless THIS is what is wrong with our airline sytem. Nobody really wants to work there and they are so overtasked with corporate departments that don’t support them properly that it is a real wonder that anyone gets anywhere when they’re supposed to, etc. The craziest part of the whole thing is that we’re PAYING these lunatics to mistreat us.
Remarkably, we make the flight Monday AM, arrive to a much more comfortable Charlotte Douglas Airport and our baggage – all of it – was waiting there for us. We went straight to the Continental Baggage room (not the baggage claim) and before we could get three words out, they pointed out ALL of our skis, luggage and everything waiting on a wall.
Even a blind squirrel…
So if we were actually participating in an Amazing Race episode we’d have finished well back in the pack after leading all week. However much like some of the contestants on the real show that airs on CBS, we could say that the we could not have enjoyed the week and the travels anymore. While it was stressful DURING the last days of the trip…even THOSE experiences gave me something to write about.
In closing, since I posted numerous things that I learned in Canada during the last week, let me post one final one. If you’re booking flights don’t use Continental. Yes I know they all have their problems, but at least you can get someone on the telephone at the rest of the airlines. …and unless they fire them you won’t run into the one-fingered-typist-manager-advisor-bitch-who-should-have-been-fired-because-she-didn’t-want-to-be-there-either-from-hell ladies.
Feel free to email Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org