I hate airports, airlines and air travel.
I have a feeling that the majority of air travelers these days would agree with me.
Maybe my most recent experience with the “pleasures” (NOT) of air travel is coloring my air rage.
Start with the fares. I had a family emergency, had to get to Houston fast. I booked late on a Saturday night for a Sunday a.m. flight.
Cheapest roundtrip fare on any website I checked was $1,585. And that wasn’t even a nonstop. I had to fly north from Richmond, Va., to Washington Dulles, change planes, and then fly south again over Richmond to Houston.
I know, I know. It was less than 24 hours before flight time, it was a weekend, I didn’t have enough frequent flyer mileage points and I was at the mercy of the airline — United in this case.
When I called in desperation, the non-compassionate agent bent one rule only — she waived some $5 fee that I would have been charged because I called to talk to a real person to beg my case rather than book online.
Ten days later, I had to change my departure date. The first agent said it would cost me a change fee of $300. I handed the phone to my daughter.
“You just can’t do this to my mom. She’s already paid a lot of money, I mean, really a lot of money. You can’t charge her any more money,” Jenn said.
The agent wouldn’t budge. Jenn demanded to speak to a supervisor. The agent hung up.
Jenn called back. I’m sure she got another agent, but Jenn delivered her opening line very decisively.
“I need to speak to a supervisor. Now. Don’t hang up on me. I want a supervisor.”
She was transferred to “John,” who listened, waived the $300 charge and rebooked me.
Again, it wasn’t a nonstop, although there are several each day from Houston to Richmond.
This time I was routed to Newark for a change of plane and a connection to Richmond. The first leg went okay, little cramped but acceptable.
I arrived at Terminal C, Gate 126.
Terminal C at Newark Airport is about the size of upstate New York, but I had an hour to make the connection, which I figured gave me enough time to saunter to a nearby gate in the same terminal, grab a coffee and maybe even read a newspaper.
Not to be.
The board listed the Richmond flight as departing from Terminal A, Gate 23. That meant taking the AirTrain to Terminal A, which also meant leaving security in order to board the train, ride two stops and then endure another TSA bottleneck when I had to go through another security check nightmare.
My heart sank when I finally got to the checkpoint. Hundreds of passengers were in line ahead of me, many of them international passengers who had just endured two-plus hours of hell in customs and were now trying to make their connections.
Everyone, including me, was bone tired and exhausted and all of us were in the same predicament. Slow moving line, tight connections, frayed tempers.
I started undressing about 30 minutes before I even got to the bins. Shoes, belt, jacket, gum wrappers out of pockets, toiletry bag and computer out of backpack, tacky bracelets off, crumpled boarding pass in sweaty hand.
Why is it that some people — mostly men — wait until they are at the bins to start disrobing? And why do men carry so much stuff in their pockets?
And who in this day and age doesn’t yet know the shoe rule? And what’s with the high-top, lace-up boots that take 10 minutes to remove?
That entire exercise took 47 minutes. I grabbed my stuff and ran. Gate A23 had one lone agent standing guard.
“Please tell me I can get on that plane. Please don’t tell me you have closed the doors,” I begged.
She must have been related to the agent who hung up on my daughter.
“Flight is closed. Sorry,”
She shuffled some papers and started to move away.
“The lines at security were impossible,” I started to whimper.
She was unimpressed, unflappable and a real bitch.
“Is there another flight to Richmond tonight?” I asked.
“Nope. Next flight is 8:56 a.m. tomorrow morning,” she said and handed me a boarding pass.
I asked for a hotel voucher.
I do know the rules: the flight wasn’t cancelled, there was no mechanical issue. I simply was too late.
“Airline isn’t responsible. If you need a hotel, take the AirTrain to the P4 station. There are phone numbers for hotels there. You can call one.”
What a sweetheart. Not.
As I trudged back, I noticed two things. One was a man stretched out on the floor, attended by two paramedics and three cops. He was conscious and looked OK, just a bit pale, probably as a result of running to catch a flight. I wanted to curl up next to him and have one of those paramedics take care of me.
The second thing: There was absolutely no line at security. In fact, the TSA agents were chatting it up, laughing and eating Fritos.
Station P4 was a zoo.
Passengers who had missed flights or whose flights were cancelled were huddled around a bank of phone lines calling hotels.
I tried five hotels. All booked. I saw a name I did not recognize — America’s Best Value Inn.
I had no idea where it was, what it was. It could have been in Bearsville, N.Y., for all I knew.
I called. There was a room. I booked it over the phone.
“How far are you from the airport?”
“Oh, not so far,” a man said.
“Maybe 15 minutes. Van comes every 30 minutes. Stand outside and watch for it,” he told me.
Par for the course, the van had just left. Next one in 29 minutes.
Actually, it was 53 minutes.
I was the sole passenger. Since it was dark I had no idea where we were headed, but Newark Airport faded fast in the rear view window.
The driver pulled up to a nondescript building on a dark block of row houses and four-story brick apartment buildings.
It was 11:30 p.m. I needed a bed, I needed sleep, and I needed a room. I had no options.
The lone clerk behind the Plexiglas barrier took my money, handed me a key card and pointed around the corner.
“The elevator is there. Vending machine is on the right. You’re on the second floor.”
I didn’t have my alarm clock. It was in my checked bag and I certainly did not know where that was.
I asked for a wake-up call at 5:45 a.m. He scribbled it on a piece of paper.
I was quite sure I would not get the call, but I was wrong on that one. It came at 4:45 a.m., however.
Didn’t matter. I kept the lamps lit, my clothes on and the door bolted and secured by a chair under the doorknob. My purse and computer were under my pillow.
I did not sleep a wink.
The room was basic but clean and it even had a mini Mr. Coffee and a strip of paper across the toilet seat.
I was in the lobby at 5:45 a.m.
“Van leaves at 6:30. Just relax,” the man behind the Plexiglas told me. It was the same man from the night before. He looked as tired as I did.
Van came. Back to P4 station for train ride to Terminal A. Security check once again.
This time it was 27 minutes from start to finish during which my favorite black belt with a silver buckle from Mexico was swiped right out of the bin by the man in front of me.
The lady behind me saw it happen. She told me, but I was struggling to get shoes on, jam computer back in bag, grab my purse. By that time he was long gone.
He left me his cheesy black plastic belt in return. I cased the gates at Terminal A, but I never saw him or my belt again.
This time, however, I did have plenty of time to get a coffee and read a newspaper since the flight to Richmond was delayed an hour-and-a-half.
Flight was full. I was in the last row where the seat didn’t recline and the sounds of the toilet flushing behind me were all I heard during the one hour, 12-minute flight.
I’m filling out the forms right now for Global Entry, TSA Pre-Check and the airline programs that offer priority access to high-mileage travelers.
I’m also checking bus and train schedules.
Or I might just stay put for a while.
— Gay Nagle Myers