Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Airplane Debacle

On December 24, 2007, D, the kids, and I headed to the airport. Our airport is 2.5 hours away along mountainous roads so it's important to be strict with the schedule and planning. We had very little time to prepare what with the craziness of D's work, the kids just finishing school, and me with final exams, Christmas shopping, and the like.

But amazingly, we were prepared. Organized even.

We arrived to the airport on time. We dropped off eight bags with the skycap. That's right. Eight. Then drove to the extended parking area. The girls each had a backpack filled with activities and snacks and D and I each had a carry-on suitcase filled with Christmas gifts, wrap, tags, and ribbon. The last thing we wanted was for our luggage to get lost and be without presents on Christmas morning.

We took the shuttle to the airport from the parking area. Still on time.

We stopped to pick up a new book for me, a couple of magazines for D, and some treats for the kids. Still on time.

Then we noticed a lady selling sandwiches and thought it a good idea to take a nutritious bit of food onto the plane so we stopped to buy one to share. Turkey and Swiss. We were still on time, and in amazingly good spirits.

We headed to the gate. We got in line, handed our tickets to the agent, and boarded the plane.

The plane was surprisingly empty. Our seats, in row 25, were in the back, but not as far back as the agent had said they would be. We were slightly surprised, since he said we'd be the second to the last row and these seats were about ten up from the back, but we didn't think much of it. We loaded our gear into the overhead bins and settled in for a 3 hour flight.

Then we looked around the plane and noticed that many of the seats were empty. We had anticipated that it'd be full based on something the agent had said, and then D said jokingly, "Maybe we're on the wrong flight."

Ha ha, right?

Then the guy across the aisle said, "Ya goin' to Charlotte?"

"No. Ha ha, we're going to Chicago," we said.

"Well, this plane's going to Charlotte," he said.

"You mean you're connecting through Chicago on your way to Charlotte, right?" I asked calmly.

"No. We're flying directly to Charlotte," he said rather nervously for us.

So I asked another passenger, "Where are you going?"

"Charlotte," she said.

I asked another passenger, getting more and more nervous, "Where are you going?"

"Charlotte," he said.

Then panicking, I asked the flight attendant, "Where's this plane going?"

"Charlotte," she said.

Oh no!!

I handed her our boarding passes. She took way too long to look at them and said, "You boarded the wrong plane."

What?!?! How'd they let us board the wrong plane?

Quickly, we grabbed our gear and kids and ran off the plane. We showed our passes to the gate attendant, the one who had let us board the wrong plane. He took an excruciatingly long time to look at them, and you could tell he was very nervous. In retrospect, we knew he was realizing that his job was on the line. He then pointed to the gate right next to us and said, "You should be boarding over there."

We stepped over to the next gate. The two were literally right next to each other. The door was closed.

We quickly showed our boarding passes to the attendant who said that it was too late. We couldn't board the plane. The door was closed.

"But (pointing) he let us get on the wrong plane," we cried.

"I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do," she replied.

"What do you mean, nothing you can do?" we cried, "Let us on the plane!" The plane was still sitting there. We could see it attached to the jetway. We had missed it by seconds.

"I'm sorry. After I'm finished with this gentlemen, I'll book you on the next flight," she replied, way too calmly.

Then chaos happened. We all started talking and crying at once.

The girls were crying, "What does she mean Mommy? Why can't we get on our airplane? Will we get to Chicago? Will we be there in time for Santa to come?" And then more hysterically, "Oh no! We're never going to get to Chicago! We'll be late for Santa! What will happen to our presents? Oh no!"

And I was begging, "Please don't do this! The plane is right there. Just open the door! It's not like we were late. They let us board the wrong plane. Please, just open the door!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am. We can't do that," she replied.

Again, I was begging, "What do you mean, you can't do that? The plane is right there! Please don't do this. It's Christmas eve!"

And D was angry. "I want to see your supervisor! Get your supervisor over here immediately! They let us get on the wrong plane. We were not late. And our plane is sitting right there. We must get to Chicago tonight! It's Christmas eve!"

The begging, the yelling, and the crying continued. We stood and watched our plane sit there for a full 15 minutes while we begged, yelled, and cried for them to let us on that plane.

They refused.

We gradually lost our wind. Gave up. And sat down. Eventually, we watched "our" plane fly away, along with our luggage. We consoled the girls the best we could. We assured them that Santa would wait for us. That he would make us his last delivery of the night. We hugged them and waited.

"Our" plane was scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 8:25pm. By the time we'd get our rental car and drive into the city and check into our hotel, it'd be 10:00pm or later for sure. We had planned, we checked this out in advance, that D would take the kids to the hotel pool for the last hour that it was open, while I would quickly wrap the gifts. We had it all planned out. We had even packed some Christmas lights, two stockings, a milk box, and some cookies into our carry-ons so that we could "set up" for Santa.

The next flight? It was scheduled to arrive at 12:20am Christmas Day. By the time we would arrive, shuttle over to the car rental place, drive to the city, and check into our hotel, it'd be the wee hours of the morning.

We were not pleased.

D expressed his anger somewhat appropriately and had demanded first class seats on the next flight and some sort of "repayment" for their mistake. The agent had calmly asserted that the mistake was half our responsibility since we boarded at the wrong gate. Not the right thing to say at a time like that! It had only made us more upset.

The mistake could have easily happened to anyone. The gates, 47 and 49, were right next to each other. There was not even a desk or anything in between them. The plane to Charlotte was scheduled to depart at 4:08. The plane to Chicago was scheduled to depart at 4:02. They were boarding at the same time. We had walked over, only noticing one line, and got into it. We were juggling two kids, 4 pieces of carry-on luggage, and all of the stuff we picked up at the shop and food stand. It was an easy mistake.

When we approached the attendant and handed him our boarding passes, he was supposed to check them. There were four of them. How did he not see that they were for the plane to Chicago and not the plane to Charlotte?

The longer we waited, the more numb we became. Finally, the attendant supervisor approached. He admitted that the attendant who let us on the wrong plane would be seriously reprimanded, if not fired. He told us that post-9/11, these types of mistakes were not taken lightly. He also told us that there had been a supervisor on her way to the Charlotte plane to pull us off just as we were exiting on our own accord. He assured us that there were checks in place to make sure these kinds of things didn't happen. And he apologized. He gave us first class seats on the next flight, plus vouchers for dining in the airport while we waited. He also gave us vouchers for a future flight. He did all the right things. And we began to feel sorry for the attendant who let us on the wrong plane. Would he be fired? We felt horrible for him. It was Christmas eve!

In any case, we were determined not to let this setback ruin our moods. We had all been in a very festive mood, excited for our trip, and thrilled that we had planned so well that there were no mistakes. Until we boarded the wrong plane, that is.

So we took our vouchers and ate a huge Mexican meal. D and I each drank a margarita. They were delicious. Then we boarded our plane, checking over and over that it was headed for Chicago, and sat in our luxurious first class seats. There we were served more food, more drinks, and free headphones for the movie. We each got blankets and pillows and we were comfortable. Very. We all decided we could get used to this.

But it was late. Very late by the time we got to our hotel. Luckily, we are blessed with night owls for children and everyone remained in a festive mood. We missed swimming in the hotel pool, of course, but we managed to set out our things for Santa, tuck the kiddos into bed, and stay up to wrap gifts. The girls were asleep by about 2:45am, and D and I by about 3:45.

And then we woke, bright and early at 9am, to the magic of Christmas. Santa had made it to our hotel!

We all breathed a sigh of relief for we had successfully survived our airplane debacle!


Candy said...

I can't believe you waited two weeks to vent that all out. But good for you, on the upgrade. Takes the sting out, I bet.

Crystal said...

Oh my goodness what a debacle! So not your fault and how unnerving on Christmas eve. I am so happy it all worked out and you got upgraded to first class. That does take some of the sting off.

Jen M. said...

THIS is a story for the record books. My God - I was so frustrated for FOR you (and I've even heard the story before) when I read how stubborn the airport personnel were to bend an iota. This is the same airport that killed the woman in detention, no?

painted maypole said...

wow. and it amazes me when people refuse to do a small thing to help. arg

we once had my SIL convince the people at a gate to hold the plane for my hubby and I - we were all meeting up on our way a big birthday celebration, and our connecting plane was late. as we ran through the airport we saw her standing at the gate, with the airline folk, all them yellling "here they come!" it was a hoot.

Sue said...

Can I just say my blood was BOILING reading this? Stupid, freaking airline people. I hate that they think they can treat you however you want, just because they can. And they CAN, that's what sucks.

I'm glad they made it right in the end, but still. STILL. ARG!

Family Adventure said...

You know...I have a friend who did the same thing, except she didn't realize she was on the wrong plane until much later, when the plane landed in Denver instead of L.A!

It is shocking that this type of thing happens so often. Why can't they scan those boarding passes before letting you onboard like they do other places...it's an easy fix.

I'm glad you managed to pull through, high spirits intact. And YEAH for mommy and daddy - I mean SANTA - for organizing everything anyway, for a perfect Christmas with the kids!


Lisa said...

Wowzers. I would have been so horribly mad. I don't know if I would have been able to get over it...the kind of mad that would have ruined my night. So glad that it all worked out for you & after reading about your trip it really does sound like everyone had the most amazing time :) The lady who wouldn't let you on the plane and was such a b*tch is the one who should have lost her job....

Kudos to you for being so organized too. That in and of itself was amazing!

jakelliesmom said...

Unbelievable. I'm glad the airline took you seriously and made efforts for a better travel experience the rest of the way. Glad you survived it and had a lovely holiday with your later arrival.