Monday, July 02, 2007

Scenes from an Airport

(Image Credit: U.S. News & World Report, July 2, 2007)

Quiet, kids, the moms are asleep. They fell in the door about 4 this afternoon, after being held hostage for 8 hours yesterday in Austin's Bergstrom International Airport and then having to hoist their weary selves back there at 6:30 this morning to try to figure out how to get home to your favorite dog blogger. We'll have a happier post in the next couple of days on their wonderful trip and their visit to the last true honky-tonk joint in America. For now, I offer a couple of timely links to reports on the nightmares of this summer's travel season from U.S. News and the New York Times as well a transcription of the strange notes I sniffed out of Moose's backpack after they stumbled off to bed. Fortunately, she had her laptop with her, so the notes were typed. All I had to do was cut-and-paste them into Blogger. Any errors likely resulted from keys that got stuck because of the plastic cheesy sauce on Moose's fingertips. Or beer. Or coffee. Or enchiladas. Or beer. Or breakfast tacos. Or beer.

Scene One: 11 p.m., July 1

We've been here since 3 p.m. Our flight was supposed to take off at 4:15, but when we checked in its departure had already been bumped to 6. We looked into re-arranging our flights, but weather in Dallas was complicating things, so we decided to hunker down and enjoy the amenities of Austin's cool airport -- cold beer, T-Mobile internet connections, and the best darn canned music you ever heard. (Seriously, we heard most of our favorite Texas musicians over the course of our long day's journey into night.) We're usually pretty good at making the best of trying situations, but as the hours wore on and the delays pushed our arrival home further and further into the middle of the night, we began to lose patience. We had gone through the post-mortem that follows any visit with family and moved on to speculating about recent developments in a friend's personal life, but we agreed we needed fresh evidence to make that line of conversation any fun. We had read snarky reviews of the super-hyped iPhone and agreed we could safely hold off on spending $1200 for new toys we don't really need, however sleek and adorable they may be. Desperately bored, I took to re-loading the American Airlines web site every 15 seconds or so to check on the status of our flight, while Goose kept an eye on the monitors in the airport, replenished the beer, and phoned American to try to get clearer answers than we were getting on the ground.

(By the way, we'd like to emphasize that every single American Airlines employee we dealt with by phone or in person was polite, efficient, and eager to be of assistance. The real problem in this situation was that the folks who were dealing with customers didn't have clear information to communicate in a timely way. We all understand the "act of god" elements involved in air travel, but airlines really need to do a better job of managing information when things go wrong. Their employees deserve better, and lord knows their customers do.)

Anyway, having waited all those hours for a plane to arrive and then waiting for that plane to unload, we were then told the pilots had just "gone illegal" and so could not fly us to St. Louis after all. The flight wouldn't leave until 8 the next morning, and it wasn't clear whether it would continue on to Washington or not. I was puzzled by the strange phrase "gone illegal,"which I had never heard before. I wondered if they had some sort of visa problem, but that didn't seem right, given that Texas has not been an independent nation since 1845, much to the chagrin of Texans. Before I got too far in my musing, I noticed that Goose had a frozen look on her face that seemed connected to the realization that "gone illegal" meant that we were, for the time being, going nowhere. "Snap out of it," I wanted to say. "You have to figure out what we're going to do. Call your brother and tell him we may be in need of a bed."

(Editorial aside: Regular readers know Goose has a knack for figuring out what to do in such situations, while Moose is adept at long-term planning. That's why Goose handles most travel-related emergencies [unless they require proficiency in French], while Moose takes charge of massive home-renovation projects and invasions of small countries. It's a division of labor that generally works well in our household.)

Fortunately, Goose quickly snapped out of her coma and did what she does best: Flipped open the cell phone and punched in the number for American Airlines, again. I have to confess this move baffled and annoyed me, because I was focused on the not insignificant issue of where we were going to sleep and how we were going to get there and because we were standing in a long line of tired people who could hear every word of her conversation.

(Editorial aside: Goose is one of those people who talks on her cell phone in an unnaturally loud voice. This is acutely embarrassing to Moose, despite the fact that no one has ever accused her of being, um, soft-spoken.)

While the gate agent for American distributed $10 food vouchers to the weary masses, I kept shooting Goose my "what the hell are you doing?" look while she persisted in torturing the poor soul stuck with the job of answering phones on a lousy night for the airline industry. She ignored me and executed her strategy with the calm precision of a master. "You've been lovely, Rae -- it is 'Rae,' isn't it? -- and I realize that none of this is your fault, but I have been an American customer for more than 20 years, and I am very unhappy. We have not been served well by American tonight, Rae. Isn't there something you can do to make me happier?" The brilliance of Goose's strategy is to have the nerve to repeat this same basic speech in an absolutely even voice (no sarcasm or vulgarity allowed, which is why I am not the one who makes these calls) until the person on the other end of the line finally capitulates and gives her something -- anything! -- to get her off the phone. My impatience gives way to amazement as I hear Goose say, "Why, yes, Rae, I do think an upgrade to first class would make me feel a little better. Thank you, Rae, and have a pleasant evening."

There were thousands of unhappy American customers stranded all over the state of Texas on Sunday evening, but somehow Goose managed to score first-class upgrades for our return trip! I bow down in awe before her genius. We rented a car and headed back to brother Bobby's for a few hours of sleep. We had no luggage and no reason to believe the next day would go smoothly, but we had the satisfaction of a moral victory, which for the moment was sufficient.

(Editorial aside: For a previous example of Goose's deft handling of customer service agents, click here.)

Scene Two: 6:30 a.m., July 2

The American ticket counter is a zoo by the time we get there, despite our flying trip through the nearly empty streets of a sticky Austin morning. We look with pity upon the long line of people assembled before the "Main Cabin" signs and make a bee-line for the much, much shorter "First Class" line. Within moments, we are at the counter talking to our new best friend Leslie, who appreciates the suffering of the sad refugees of flight 1536 and vows to get us home as quickly as possible. Feeling a little punchy and perhaps a little ornery, I ask Leslie how her night was. "Good," she replies. "Short, but good." "Yeah," I counter, "but at least you got to change your underwear." To her credit, Leslie laughed and acknowledged that, indeed, she had gotten to change her underwear. With that, I decided I could trust her and Goose to come up with an itinerary and went off in search of our luggage. By the time I returned, they had found our flights, but Leslie noted that we wouldn't be able to sit together on the Austin to Dallas leg of the trip. "Hey, that's okay," I said. "Remember that underwear thing? It's probably best that we not sit too close together." With that, we were off with a smile for the long trip home.

Many hours and 1500 miles later, we were still cracking up every time somebody said the word "underwear." And one of us kept saying it over and over and over again, because we drank champagne on the flight and one of us has a nasty habit of being inordinately amused by her own crude jokes.

(Editorial aside: And that, dear readers, is all you need to know to solve the enduring mystery of what ties Moose to Goose and vice versa.)

Sweet dreams, tired moms. Sweet dreams.

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