Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Curse of Continental Airlines

I've alluded to it since returning from my holiday vacation. It is finally time to tell you of our travel nightmare. Get comfy.

My mom picked me up in Santa Cruz at 6am (which means, for those of you who are keeping track, she had to leave her house in Monterey at 5am). We made good time to San Mateo where we picked up my Aunt Linda so she could drop us off at the airport. We breezed through security and made our way to our gate with plenty of time. While my mom wandered off in search of vanilla lattes, I perused our boarding passes. Our flight from San Francisco was delayed by 10 minutes and by our boarding pass, put us in Houston at 3:05pm. I looked at our boarding pass for our next flight from Houston to Cancun. It was marked at a different time than our itinerary, having us leave Houston at 2:25pm.

Did you catch that? If you did, maybe you went "Uh oh" like I did.

I went up to the counter to speak to a Continental Airlines representative. As she typed away on her computer, inputting our information, her face contorted into concern, puzzlement and then frustration, thus confirming my fears. Our flights had been changed and we would be 40 minutes late to our connecting flight. Fuck!

Meanwhile, my sister and her husband (Doke and Double B) were arriving from Seattle across the airport. They had been up longer than both of us and were starving. As my mom and I stood at the counter and the Continental Airlines Reps worked some sort of flight plan magic, I continued to be positive and hopeful. I even went so far as to say, "It's Christmas! Miracles happen on Christmas!" whenever my mom would look like she was losing hope. I surprised myself with my calm, positive demeanor. Maybe I had grown up? Maybe my days of being a hot head were long gone?

They managed to rearrange all of our flights (both to and from Mexico because, yes, our return flights on New Year's Eve had the same problems) and even bump us up to first class on our connecting flight. We just had to take one additional flight from Mexico City to Cancun. We wouldn't be arriving to Tulum until at least midnight but at least we would be getting there the same day. Doke and Double B made the flight just in time and we took our seats. Things were looking up!

After a three hour layover in Houston, we used our Elite Access to board early and take to our spacious first class seats. Have you ever had that luxury? No squishing, overflow or costly alcohol drinks. It's roomy and the drinks are free and you get your own TV! My enthusiasm for these luxuries lasted about 45 minutes. Why? ADD, you ask? No. Sadly, no. We sat at that gate for TWO hours while the airline removed passengers that boarded without the necessary paperwork. How did they get on without the right paperwork you ask? Good question! If you find out the answer, we'd love to know. As the captain informed us, their luggage also had to be removed. From a 777. A big mother of a plane. I realized, sitting in my recline back first class seat, that my calm demeanor, my Christmas miracle hope had a shelf life of 8 hours. And those 8 hours had just expired. I tried not to cry or yell at the flight attendant.

We landed in Mexico City and while they tried multiple times to unsuccessfully align the exit ramp with the airplane door we grew increasing anxious. We had 5 minutes to find our gate and board our plane. How were we going to make it!? Double B ran ahead while Doke and I pulled bags and my mom, head bent and arms pumping, frantically made our way to our gate. Of course, it was literally at the other end of the airport and there were no monitors telling us if it was delayed or on time or even if we were going in the right direction. We arrived at Gate 10, huffing and sweaty, to NO plane. Apparently, in Mexico City, planes can take off early.

Dejected and pissed off, we tried to find our way to a help desk. Double B, the only real Spanish speaker among us, asked for help here and there as we wandered the confusing maze that is Mexico City airport. When we finally found the Continental Airlines desk, it was well past 11pm. They gave us vouchers for a night's stay at a hotel across the way, plus dinner and breakfast passes. Too bad they stop serving dinner at 10. Too bad we had to get up at 5 to make breakfast and leave enough time to make our 8am flight. That is why my mom, brother-in-law and sister look so weary. Wouldn't you?

Around 1am, I climbed into bed and couldn't sleep. Anxiety, stress, hunger and the relentless noise from the incessant fireworks being set off outside kept me awake. I felt like I was in a war zone. With only three hours to sleep, it seemed pointless anyhow. We awoke, groggy, and dragged our asses to breakfast along dimly lit hallways permeated by the stench of sulfur. We managed to arrive in sunny Cancun on time and rent a car effortlessly. Finally, easy travel! By noon we were driving down the bumpy road that led us to paradise. I almost cried at the site of the ocean, our room, and the big shower. Let the vacation begin!

. . .And so it did. . .(And I have already told you all about it.)

Of course, this story does have somewhat of a happy ending. Our entire vacation, while in Tulum, was fabulous. But, you know how people say, "It just couldn't get worse!" And that is the moment when it invariably does? Yeah. It was like that. On our return day, we again traveled all day- for over 12 hours. It was New Year's Eve and we wanted to be done with it. I wanted to be back in Santa Cruz with my friends, ringing in the new year. I wanted to not be in a bad mood. After arriving one hour late in San Francisco, we discovered, as the "last bag" bag came out, that two of our bags were missing. As I dragged my cranky ass into the lost baggage office, I knew I my remaining threads of composure and calm were gone. Torn. That's when I crumbled. Our bags were arriving on the 11:05pm flight, not our flight. It was 9:30pm. My mom and I, both so frustrated and exhausted, took it out on one another and parted ways angrily. She went with Aunt Linda and I left with Dumpling. I got in the car and just cried. I was in overload and needed a release.

We got on the road for the one hour and fifteen minute trek home. It was lightly raining. About 30 minutes before Santa Cruz, as we passed Los Gatos and made our way up to the summit of Highway 17, we came to a dead stop. The cops were arriving. We were motioned to turn around. Later, we learned that a police officer had been struck by a car while helping with an earlier accident. Along with all the other diverted drivers we traveled a windy backroad which doubled our time. We arrived at Supple's New Year's party with 20 minutes to spare before the ball dropped. Phew!

New Year's Resolution? No airline travel for at least 6 months.


sue said...

Ah, yes... the wonders of travel. See why I stay home? LOL!! Seriously, I hear this a lot from almost everyone. I've been really lucky the few times I've flown with not too much delay here and there, but I so understand the frustration. At least the trip was good... and you made it back before midnight!!

gronce said...

I am grateful to the core of my being that I have never, ever experienced misery like that. I would not have been as graceful as you.

Nihilistic said...

Well, it made for a good post anyway!

Melissa said...

Holy fucking moses girl! Again, you are far better at being nice than I am. I'd have been a mushroom cloud-laying bitch.

Moonchild said...

At least you were with family. You could have been all alone.

Bill said...

People wonder why I don't do a lot of traveling. They think it's because I like to stay home. That's not it at all. I love the places I get to. But I HATE the getting to them.

Even if the problems you described didn't occur .. I hate getting to the airport. I hate the airport. I hate the plane. For long hauls, planes are inescapable. But even short runs - people think planes are faster. Are they nuts? Personally, I'll take the bus. Believe me - it's faster and there are less headaches. (Not that you're going to take a bus to Mexico ... but short runs, you know?)

And my friends think this is idiotic but I would be willing to pay more for a flight that was problem free than save on some discount ride on Bozo Airlines.

Airline travel is a joke. And the biggest joke of all is what we pay for it. It's like paying someone to hit you in the head with a hammer for several hours.

Kerry said...

ugh.... going on vacation can be stressful. I think we need vacation time from our vacation time! haha

glad you made it back and have good stories ;)

Mrs. Ca said...

That sucks! Sorry, don't know how else to put it. All that calm from a nice vacation wasted on annoying flights and delays and lost luggage.

Impossible Jane said...

Same thing happened to me with Continental. Our flight from Providence to Newark was delayed thus making us miss our connection to Geneva at 6pm. They sent out luggage to Africa and sent us to Madrid. We got to the Madrid flight just as they were closing the gates. When we arrived in Madrid we had no Euros and dehydrated beyond belief. The cigarette smoke was so bad it could have killed an orphanage. The Madrid airport is a maze and no one speaks English or French so we had a real tough time finding our way. Luckily we made our flight in Madrid to Geneva but it was a huge inconvenience none the less. Oh, and we didn't know they lost our luggage until we got to Geneva and had been wearing the same underwear for 36 hours.

The horrors (and joys) of travel! Jane