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Transplant Athlete
Friday, June 18, 2004
  The Gloves Are Off!

I am a reasonable man, a patient man, but NORTHWEST Airlines just pushed me over the edge. I fly about a dozen times a year, I'm not racking up an frequent flyer miles like some people I know, but enough to have been bumped from a flight here and there.
Yesterday, I was flying back from Louisville, Ky by way of Memphis, TN and my final destination was IAD (Dulles, VA). I landed at Memphis at 5:30 for a 6:20 flight. Cool, I'm ahead of the game, grab a snack and wait. A poor hapless traveler to Chattanooga had his flight canceled over at the next gate and ripped in to the gate attendant. I'm thinking, "she doesn't care. She doesn't have the authority to fix the problem. And he doesn't feel any better, so why bother."
When I get back I find the flight has been delayed "by weather" until 8:20. Ok I can deal with this. Around 6:20. They announce that there is a flight to Reagan National leaving immediately from a gate across the airport. "OK," I think, "if National is open, then we'll be taking off soon also and there will be more room on this plane for me."
I call my aunt and when I get back the flight is now listed as 9:20. Still the Airline is insisting its a weather delay. Reagan National is maybe 20 miles away from Dulles. Unless the weather fairy was taking pity on our dearly departed President's namesake, both airports will be seeing the same weather system, in fact most of the time, the systems flow from Dulles to Reagan and Dulles clears up first.
I call my mother and when I get back the flight is now listed as 10:20. Now, I know those of you at home are thinking "stop calling your family, you idiot!" but that's just superstitious, I had my lucky underoos on...
At about 8:40pm, I approach the Gate attendant and ask "how late can this flight go out before they cancel it?" A valid question, she works here, she has presumably seen cases where the airline says let's cancel the flight. Airports shut down at some point. They don't want to have jets rumbling down the runway waking up kids at 3am. She says the flight will leave as late as it has to. Now, I'm thinking they're going to put us up in a hotel tonight, but they want to see how many people leave on their own. After all, if they cancel the flight, they have to provide compensation, at the very least a night in a hotel. If you give up and go to a hotel, they are off the hook.
So, I ask for a meal voucher since I was expecting to eat at home. She says that they can't give out vouchers for weather delays. I tactfully suggest that since National is open, the problem isn't weather. She counters with a "if you leave to get food, you won't be able to get back through security." She then offers to call security and find out how late they are open. Which is determined to be 9pm. I rush out to MCD's and grab some food. By the time I get back we are told that we will be waiting on a crew member who is arriving at 11:10pm and the flight will leave as soon as that person gets here. I dig into my dinner and after I finish, the attendant says that her supervisor has authorized meal vouchers for everyone, they've notified MCD's to expect us and security has been told to hold the checkpoint open for us. BTW, they had put a weather map on the monitor behind the attendant (presumably to prove their point) and it looked the same all day, it could have been a weather system from twenty years ago for all we know.
At 11:30, they told us that the flight had been reinstated (does that mean it was canceled?) and we would be taking off shortly. We took off around midnight and landed at 2:40am. Now, as you may have guessed, Dulles is nearly deserted at 2:30am, so we had to wait for a flight crew to guide us into a gate, we had to wait for the jetway to be moved (it wasn't and we eventually ended up descending down to the tarmac and then going up stairs alongside the jetway to get into the airport. We then had to wait for the shuttle driver to leave the main terminal to pick us up. By the time we found our luggage, it was stacked in a pile on the floor next to a baggage carousel. My empty bike case was at the lost and found area which leads me to believe it took an earlier flight.
I like aiports, I really do, they're shiny and they seem like glorious cities of the future to me. Marble - Carpet - open spaces - stores - just the right temperature. But, to be stuffed in an aluminum can for 3 hours and dumped into Dulles, where you then have to walk to another can (I mean shuttle bus) to get out is one of the most humiliating things I can think of. Humiliating might not be the right word, but you get the picture.
OK, so what really aggravates me is that there was someone, somewhere who said, "Tell the passengers its a weather delay." Somebody entered that code into the computer and that's what the attendants had to recite. Where in real life is it ok to lie outright like that to your customers? I'm not talking a little fudging on the numbers, say Honda saying their car gets 45 MPG when it gets 41. I'm talking an outright lie like, "this natural herbal remedy makes your grow larger(or smaller) in just 30 days"
I understand that the airline wants to limit its liability and things happen, but give us a bit more truth next time please. The sad part is there is nobody to complain to, there's nobody listening. I'm sure at this point when a passenger complains to a gate attendant, all the attendant hears is the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons. You can write a letter to the carrier, but they just send a form letter back.
 

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I've gone through kidney failure twice. The first time in 2000, my mother donated a kidney; and again in 2008, I'm on dialysis waiting for a breakthrough in immuno-suppression medicines before seeking a new kidney.

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