Thursday, June 3, 2010

Arrivals, Departures and Delays

Spent a portion of Tuesday morning thinking about my pal Phil Ayoub. My flight East out of Denver was due to take off shortly after noon but I had arrived at Denver International Airport significantly well in advance of take off. I headed south from Fort Collins to Denver when Rob headed north from Fort Collins to work - finally freed from the parental occupation - and arrived at DIA via the shuttle bus from the car rental drop-off lot shortly after 9:00 a.m. Being the moron that I am, shortly after I arrived at the airport I did something incredibly stupid. No, I did not purchase a poached salmon sandwich at the food court. I ignored the specter of danger completely and checked my suitcase with a Continental Airlines employee.

I went to law school to stay away from hard science so while I can spell aerodynamics I do not pretend to know much about it other than the basics such as short, essentially squat bodies (i.e., Me) tend not to run as effortlessly - knifing through the wind - as do lean, angular bodies (i.e., a gazelle). However, even as Bobo the Layman it appears to me that the tricky part of the airline business is doing what must be done to ensure that the jets themselves, being both composed of heavy shit such as steel and glass and rubber and occupied by heavy shit such as fuel, baggage and humans, are designed and operated in such a manner as to take off from the points where they are supposed to take off and to land at the points where they are supposed to land. And to do so safely so that both the jets and the people occupying them can live to see the next departure and arrival.

By contrast - inevitably perhaps - it would appear to me that the "Any Idiot Can Do This" part of the process would be the one involving having the airline's employee to whom the passenger has entrusted his luggage being able to start that luggage on its way to its owner's destination. How many atoms are we splitting here to get my bag from the check-in counter in the terminal to the baggage compartment on the airplane? Hell, to help out all of the other top-notch personnel who might encounter my bag the first one I deal with as the passenger (we shall call her "The Tip of the Spear" because one ends up wanting to use her to stab everyone else from the airline in the eye), Tip places an identifying marker on my bag, which includes not only the number of the flight that I would like it to join me on and my name but also its very own tracking number. One would think that it would be this part of the operation that the airlines would have down pat by now; right? Feel free to stop nodding your head. The question was rhetorical.

Tuesday morning I made the mistake of entrusting my sole piece of luggage to "Candy" or "Fawn" or whatever the hell her name was at the Continental counter in Denver without first scanning its image onto the side of a soy milk container. Silly me. I presumed that when I got into the plane shortly before its 12:35 take off time that my luggage snuggled in with the rest of the bags underneath the plane - warmer than I perhaps but spared the indignity of eating something that masqueraded as a cheeseburger and of listening/watching some piece of cinematic dreck starring some woman named Amy Adams - that it would arrive in Newark with me. On principle I refused to pay $6.00 for headphones to "enjoy" the in-flight movie but - in an effort to spare any future fellow travelers wasting $6.00 and (more importantly) 92 minutes - without any source of sound and paying only intermittent attention to the action on the screen, it took about 17 seconds to figure out the answer to the movie's great question. She marries the local dude she meets after she lands in Ireland and not the uptight Yuppie dweeb who she is in love with at the beginning of the film. Never saw that coming; right?

Our pilot, clearly having mastered the intricacies of aerodynamics, had us on the ground at Newark Liberty Airport forty-five minutes ahead of our scheduling landing time. Forty-five minutes! It was as if he reduced Pennsylvania to the size of Delaware and then leaped over it regardless. Because the good people who operate Continental Airlines are idiots, although we landed almost an hour ahead of schedule, we did not get off of the plane until our scheduled arrival time. Why? No one on the ground in Newark for Continental bothered to ensure that they directed our pilot to a gate that was not already occupied when we landed. With no place to park the jet and no way to get our baggage off of it and into our hot little hands (I was still in the dark at this moment as to my bag's whereabouts), our pilot sat stopped out on the "taxiway" until they cleared a space for him. An hour spent on the road to nowhere.

The cherry atop my Continental Sundae O'Fun was discovering that while I got onto the plane in Denver - in the company of several hundred of my newest, bestest friends ever - my bag did not. Pray that you live a long life without ever having to deal with a Continental Airlines "Team Leader" at the Baggage Service Center in Newark Airport. Bearing in mind that it was their fault - not mine - that brought the two of us together, the woman responded to my query (one that another member of the BRT (Baggage Retrieval Team) - I just made that up but they will thank me someday for the cool acronym - directed me to make, as if I had struck her in the side of the face with a sock filled with pennies. Good tip to live by: if you are going to act as if you are doing someone a favor, then it helps if you are indeed doing something that might be considered to be a favor. Doing your job because one or more of the other idiots with whom you share an employer proved incapable of doing his/her job is not "a favor".

I drove home from Newark Airport Tuesday night without my bag. Margaret is the eternal optimist, which explains more than I wish it did about the secret of our marriage's longevity (that as well as our stout refusal to engage in any absurd PDA). She went to sleep Tuesday night and awoke on Wednesday morning believing that Continental would have my bag back in my grubby little hands by day's end Wednesday. As the hour grew late and unlike Lassie my bag had not in fact come home, even the unsinkable little woman to whom I am married appeared to be listing a bit. Staring the inevitable conclusion to this little drama directly in the eye, it is hard for even Margaret to remain optimistic. Her mettle is being tested even though - according to Continental - good news abounds. It turns out that my bag is not lost. Nope. It is merely "delayed".

It is now Thursday morning. My bag is still "delayed". And I am still thinking about my pal Phil Ayoub. Same minstrel, different tune. I hope at least he is happy.

-AK

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