Long story short: I just spent 10 weeks in California. This week, I’m at the IEEE Visweek in Atlanta, GA. My plan was to fly from San Francisco to Atlanta with a transfer in Denver. But then everything went wrong.
When I arrive at San Francisco airport on Saturday morning I find myself having trouble with the check-in machine. It refuses my passport and Miles&More card but ends up accepting my reservation number. Yes, I’m an adult, no I’m not travelling with an infant on my lap. One of my flights seems to be overbooked. No, I’m not interested in taking a different flight in exchange for a $200 voucher. I want an extra suitcase and pay for it. Then, the machine tells me to seek assistance by an agent. When I ask airline staff, they send my all the way across the checkin area to the agent checkin. There, I have to check in with the machine again (I haven’t changed my mind about the voucher); it wants me to pay for the additional suitcase again. Finally, an agent sees me, checks in my two suitcases and I end up with my tickets. What was so difficult in the first place? No idea. But this cost me enough time to have to hurry to my gate. Through the body scanner, no liquids, shoes off… same procedure as every time.
I catch the first flight, arrive in Denver and spend 2 out of my 3 hours having lunch and ice cream. I walk to my gate, double and triple check that I’m at the right place, and start my computer to send some comments on a dissertation to the friend who wrote it. from afar, I see a colleague from Hamburg talk to the agents and walk away and assume he just wanted to know if there’s enough time to grab some food.
When I want to board the plane, the ticket scanner refuses my ticket. I’m not on the list. Don’t worry, the lady reassures me. She takes my ticket (which clearly states my flight info) and checks me in manually. I’m lucky and get in a front row seat with lots of leg room. I nap through most of the flight. Then I hear the flight attendant announcing that we’re approaching Moline. Wait, what? Maybe she accidentally said the wrong name. Then, “Welcome to Moline.” Maybe the Atlanta airport has a name? I get off the plane, look at the clock, it’s 2 hours off my planned arrival time. A look at the arrivals screen outside security announces a flight from Atlanta arriving soon. The girl who sat next to me on the flight walks by with her parents (who picked her up) and the following dialogue unfolds
“Excuse me… where are we?”
“Moline, which state?”
I don’t even know where Illinois is, so they tell me we’re 2 hours away from Chicago. I thank them (they wish me luck), freak out for a minute, then I head back to the gate to take care of my situation. The flight crew tells me I need to see an agent. The policeman (who followed me when I went back past security.. oops) kindly arranges a meeting for me.
The flight agent arranges flights for me in the morning (there’s a direct flight but I have to be on the same airline so I fly via Chicago) and a hotel for the night. I also get two breakfast vouchers for the airports. Turns out I don’t have to pay for this mess. Also, I’m told that my suitcases are already in Atlanta.
At the hotel (in Iowa), I shower, read and reply to some messages, and go to bed for a meagre 4 hours of sleep (possibly less, my body was still in the California timezone so I wasn’t very tired around midnight). At 4:30, I take the shuttle to the airport, at 6 I fly to Chicago.
My transfer time is quite short so I don’t waste too much time waiting. We board the plane (I get Economy Plus seating – yay!), and are then told to unboard again because something is wrong with the plane which needs to be fixed. Instead of the promised 2 minutes, we wait for 20 before we get back on the plane. I’m super tired and pass out before the plane takes off. When I wake up again, we’re already half way across the US.
In Atlanta, I go to the missing luggage counter, pick up my two suitcases and leave the airport within less than 30 minutes.
All this turned out pretty okay for me. I was 14 hours late (not bad considering the magnitude of that mess) and only missed 2 sessions of the conference. I also got to add two states to my visited states list (I once decided they count if I was outside the airport/car). However, I still don’t fully understand how all that could happen.
- Why was there no big announcement for the gate change? I’m pretty sure I was alert enough to not miss that, and the screen clearly said Atlanta when I sat down.
- Why didn’t they think to check if it’s the right flight if I’m not on the list and they know there was a gate change?
- Why was I able to get on a flight I wasn’t supposed to be on?
- How come they didn’t ask for me on the other flight? I’ve heard announcements asking for missing passengers very often, but my colleagues didn’t hear anything while they were waiting.
- Why was my luggage able to travel to Atlanta when I wasn’t on the plane?
There’s a lot of security measures at the airport. After the two bodyscans I was put through, I got pat-downs on my ankle and the back pocket of my pants because they lit up. I had to take of my shoes. I wasn’t permitted to take liquids through security. But my luggage flew without me and I was able to board the wrong flight.
So much for all the safety measures.