Saturday, June 23, 2001

Well, that didn’t go at all as planned.

I left work at 5:30 p.m. amid the well-wishes of my officemates, and started driving towards Dulles Airport. A thundestorm was beginning to gather — both literally and figuratively. The phone in my car rang. I jammed the “Snd” button to connect the call.

“Hi,” my Mom said. “Saalon just called. He said he’s been checking on the internet, and your flight has been cancelled.”

I pulled the truck onto a gravel driveway and stopped. My Mom and I discussed my options, and she graciously tried to connect to the internet on my computer and view my reservation on Yahoo! Travel. The site refused to load, however, so I told Mom I’d continue to the airport and see what was happening there.

I pulled back onto the road and drove the rest of the way to Dulles, troubling thoughts dancing about in my head. Well, I decided, right now I’m just going to drive. I’ll worry about my flight when I actually get to the airport.

[CNN projection]
Rarely a good sign

I parked in one of the vast parking lots at Dulles and caught a bus in to the main terminal. Dark thunderclouds had gathered overhead, turning the sky into one huge bowl of chocolate pudding. Once I got to the airport, I walked right up to the nearest departure display. Oddly, my flight was listed as “ON TIME.”

Since I had bought electronic tickets as usual, I didn’t have to wait in line at the ticket counter. After nervously watching my $2,000 camcorder be inundated with X-rays, I made my way to the appropriate terminal. Rain had started to fall in earnest by this point, and I was getting worried.

At my gate, I was surprised to see that the counter had a flight to Amsterdam listed instead of my flight to Boston. I asked the crew working there, and discovered that the flight to Amsterdam was supposed to fly out of this gate before my flight, and they hadn’t even gotten to that point yet. This was at 6:30, and my flight was scheduled to leave in an hour.

[A bored couple]

So I waited, along with a lot of other people. And waited. And waited.

I chatted with a family from California that was hoping to go to Amsterdam and Norway for ten days. Imagine: they had no idea even what hotels were available nearby.

Meanwhile, the storm intensified. Thunder crashed like a frenzied drummer every minute or so. I took out my camcorder — which seemed to work fine, X-rays or no — and pointed it out a window, trying to catch a lightning strike. I wanted a lightning strike.

[Lightning strike]

And I got one.

The flight crew got on the loudspeaker and informed us that lightning had just struck the fuel farm there are Dulles. It had knocked out the power at the fuel farm, so they couldn’t pump any fuel. Which meant that they couldn’t refuel any planes.

So, we waited some more. We were informed that the flight for Boston had been re-routed to Pittsburg, and we’d have to wait for it to get here, if it would be allowed off the ground. Great.

Around 10:30, the crew got on the loudspeaker and told us that, if everyone bound for Amsterdam could get on the plane within the next 20 minutes, they could take off. Half of the room leapt into line. It occurred to me that it would be awhile before I could even think about getting on my plane, so I wandered off in search of photographic opportunities, and took a few pictures.

By the time I got back, I found out that the rush onto the Amsterdam plane had failed for some reason, and they had to disembark the plane. Man, the collective anger and frustration radiating from that group of people as they charged out of the plane felt like it would kill us.

Now they were getting ready for the plane from Boston, but it was still in Pittsburg. I tried to be patient; I watched my fellow priso–err, passengers read or play with their kids. I even took out three socks, rolled them up, and juggled them for awhile.

[A mother and her child]
I just liked this shot

By 1:00 a.m., though, the plane still hadn’t arrived, so I called Saalon and my parents and told them I was coming home. I got transferred to a Saturday flight at 2:30 p.m. and left the airport. I had no trouble getting home, other than the annoying bus passengers who seemed to feel that the airlines had created this thunderstorm themselves just to inconvenience them, and I quickly collapsed into bed.

Time passed. I slept.

I woke up around 10:00 and puttered around the house before driving back out to Dulles. And then…and then….

OK, I’m going to keep this somewhat brief, because it angers me even now as I remember the event. Having electronic tickets still, I went straight to the gate and sat there for over half an hour before the crew got on the loudspeaker and informed us that they’d overbooked this flight, and that only those with prior reservations — not the ones who’d been booked the night before — could fly. But if we went to the ticket counter, we’d get a travel voucher. Have a nice day.

I was annoyed, but I went back to the main terminal and waited for another half an hour in the line for the United ticket counter. And there, I was given a $300 travel voucher (which is about how much a new flight to and from Boston will cost me), and…the woman at the counter couldn’t cancel my current reservation. I was still going to be charged for these tickets.

So I wasted all night Friday and much of my Saturday and all they were going to do was put me on another flight? While the weather wasn’t their problem, they overbooked a flight, which is a mistake on their part. They seriously inconvenienced their customer, and were doing nothing to address that fact. All they were saying is “we’ll put you on another flight.” No, that’s not fair when I’ve been yanked around like this.

So, that was my adventure. I’ll have to call United and get them to to cancel the charge on my credit card. I’m at home now, just resting from the ordeal.

And discovering that I can’t keep a stable internet connection, but that’s a story for another day.

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