I am no stranger to air travel. I’ve been in some bad airports and I’ve missed my share of flights. Weather can mangle the best planned airplane schedule, and mechanical problems are often not the direct fault of the airline. I’ve spent many nights in expensive airport hotels (often on my own dime) and I’ve spent entire days in hotel lobbies waiting for the 10pm flight to Rio. Friday, however, was beyond what I have ever experienced.
Monica and I had an early flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we were to connect for a half-hour flight to St. Croix. Our American Airlines flight left the gate exactly on time, but was towed back due to a problem with an engine starter. It took about 25 minutes for the maintenance guys to fix it. With both engines running, our flight left the gate area and then taxied to that all-too-familiar line at the end of the runway. After sitting there for about 15 minutes, the captain told us that we were 12th in line, and that we would be leaving in about 15-20 minutes more. We departed more or less when the captain said, leaving me to fret the entire four hours of the flight about whether or not we would make our connection.
The two previous times this year that I made this trip, things didn’t go so well, so I didn’t have very high expectations.
We had chosen to upgrade to business class, where we were taken care of well. Breakfast was a choice of an awesome omelet or pancakes – the best thing about our American Airlines experience that day. As we approached the San Juan airport, the flight attendant read off the gate numbers of our connecting flights. Since she announced the gate for our connecting flight, I thought that we might have a chance to make it. We landed about 20 minutes before the next flight was to depart at Gate 18, on the opposite side of the terminal – couldn’t have been farther away…
Monica and I walked through the terminal quickly, even forsaking the bathroom stop, in order to make our connection. I had no illusions about the luggage – it would certainly have to take a later flight. Glancing at the flight information display, I saw that the information that we received from the flight attendant was wrong (OK, that happens sometimes), and we made a quick path to our gate.
When we arrived at the gate, it was clear that we were not welcome. The gate agent looked at our tickets and told us that we had to go to customer service. I asked if we had missed the plane, and he repeated the same thing. We walked three steps to a ticket counter as they announced the name of a passenger FOR THE VERY SAME FLIGHT THAT WE MISSED! That’s right, we couldn’t get on the plane, but they were holding it for some schmo that may have been waiting in the slowly moving line at Domino’s to trade a $20 bill for one of their cardboard pizzas. I couldn’t believe it and neither could the girl at the ticket counter. She tried in vain to argue with Mr. no-you-can’t-fly-now-go-to-the-ticket-counter, but was no more successful than we were. I went upstairs and stood in line to see which flight would take us the 90 miles to St. Croix, hoping that it would be the next one.
The girl at the ticket counter upstairs was helpful, giving us new boarding passes for the next flight and listening to our tale about missing our flight while they were waiting for someone else. I tucked the boarding passes in my pocket after checking the time, gate and flight numbers. I didn’t look at the names on the tickets (because I’m an idiot, that’s why).
As we were waiting at the gate for the next flight, I looked at the boarding passes again and saw that we had boarding passes with names that were not even close to ours. Bad, bad, bad. Monica suggested that we just play stupid and board with the passes we were given, but after a few minutes, I realized that there was no way our luggage would show up in St. Croix (they don’t fly unaccompained luggage for obvious security reasons) if nobody with our names flew there. Once again upstairs to the ticket counter, where I was trapped in a line of very upset people that were finding out that they were not going to arrive in New York until tomorrow. After 20 minutes of waiting in line, I gave up and went downstairs to find my new wife, stressed and upset that we were about to miss the plane (again!). We went with Plan B (play stupid) and handed our incorrectly issued boarding passes to the agent, boarding the bus to the plane.
Nope, we didn’t get away with that, either. A gate agent got on the bus after we did and asked us to go back to the gate to clear up the boarding pass mess. It just took a minute and we were once again on the bus. We got on the commuter turbojet, which had been baking in the tropical sun for hours.
It was really warm, and keeping the shades down wasn’t helping that much. I’ve been on these planes before, and I knew that the A/C systems aren’t worth a fig until we’re in flight and at cruising altitude. We taxied towards the runway where we sat in line waiting for our turn to take off (again!). After another 20 minutes in the sweltering tropical heat, one of the planes in front of us took off. Finally, it was our turn to escape the San Juan airport, and our little turboprop left the runway and headed for the sky with it’s load of sweating passengers. Just about the time that the A/C started to control the temperature, we had started our descent into the St, Croix airport.
Sorry about the whining….
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