Seething Hatred Strikes Again - Thanks, United!

-by Michael

(Confession up front: this is not a happy post about our trip. We had a great time, I promise, and we'll publish about it shortly. But we're venting. So... bear with me, here. Thanks.)

Travel is painful.

Under any circumstances, travel is uncomfortable. You sit, stand, or lie down in a space that is not your own, and either have to rely on someone else to move you from point A to point B or undertake the task of doing it yourself. While this can be fun, it’s not necessarily comfortable, especially when you are riding in a Japanese or Korean model car wherein the car seats were apparently designed for people roughly 1/3 your size.

Air travel is, of course, a far greater level of discomfort. Both the seats and the storage areas seem to keep shrinking, to the point that the seats now snugly contain human fetuses and overhead storage compartments can store up to twelve entire sandwich-baggies. (If they’re empty.) Since you now must pay roughly $9,000 per checked bag, this requires some creative packing on your part. The “food” that is served is not a choice between chicken or beef, but rather a single substance that could be either, depending on available coloring agents / your mood. (Not my joke- credit to Dave Barry.)

Then there’s the airport itself, wherein every source of electronic noise must, by international law, be turned on at maximum volume at all times; wherein dignity must be left at the security checkpoint along with your water bottles, belts, and shoes; wherein any and all food or coffee is so expensive that most of us need to take out a short-term loan to make a purchase.

But thanks to United Airlines, I will now view all other travel – all other flights – as pleasant and streamlined events showered by grace and ease.

Last Thursday night, Joanie and I left our hostel in Lima for the airport at around 6pm. Our flight wasn’t until 11:50, but we figured we’d get there early, breeze through security, have dinner by the gate, and get started on the “going to sleep on an airplane” process.

However, upon our arrival, we learned that United doesn’t have a permanent checkin area. Their Peruvian subsidiaries can’t check you in, even though they share employees, computer system, and counters. So we had to wait for about two hours before we could even get in line.

The line took an hour and fifteen minutes.

In the security line, our rolled-up paintings and carefully bubble-wrapped ceramics caused a great stir among the security personnel. The replica automatic weapon that somebody put on the machine right behind me, however, didn’t even earn them a second look. (Seriously, that happened. This was an automatic replica that fired darts – actual metal-tipped darts – and they just glanced at it and sent the guy through.)

Eventually, they opened up the gate for us – and chaos ensued. The orderly line was not really part of our cultural experience in Peru, and the process of getting from the holding area onto the plane was the apotheosis of this disregard for law, order, and visible democracy. People shoved. People shouted. United personnel gave conflicting instructions to bewildered, exhausted, and increasingly cranky passengers, who took out their frustrations by – you guessed it – shouting and shoving. It was madness.

But we finally got onto the plane, I popped my Dramamine, and we settled in to try and get some sleep on our seven-hour long fli-

Wait! It’s one in the morning! That means it’s dinnertime!

So, logically, the flight attendants turn on EVERY LIGHT ON THE PLANE and wake people up to inflict their BeefOrChicken upon us. I saw them actually shake people out of deep sleep as they made their progression down the aisles. This happened twice more – once for drinks, once for “breakfast” which consisted of brownies made of, apparently, year-old cake and sadness – so as to ensure that no passengers were at risk of getting a decent sleep on their flight.

During one of these torture sessions service opportunities, we asked the attendants about making it through customs  in time for our connecting flight, which United had changed at the last minute from an 8am departure to a 7:20. Since we were due to land in Houston at 6:20, we thought it might be a good idea for them to let the gate for our connection know that we were rushing through customs and would be there as soon as possible. “Sorry, we can’t actually do that, but you might make it! Talk to the desk clerk after customs, they’ll help you out.”

This would be the friendliest response we would receive from any United employee until we hit New Jersey.

Customs, surprisingly enough, was an easy process, rolled-up paintings and wrapped ceramics notwithstanding. We blew through in record time, and had twenty minutes to departure when we stopped at the United counter after customs.

“Hey! We leave on the 7:20 – do you think we’ll make it, or should we rebook for later?”

“Um… you can make it if you run.”

“Can you call ahead and let them know we’re on our way?”

“Nah, you’ll make it. Just go!”

It was downhill from here.

Two United-clad cart-drivers refused to help us get to the gate on time. One gate attendant at an earlier gate ignored me completely, while another said “Um, I can call them, but they probably can’t help you.” We arrived at the gate as they closed it – and guess what?

“I’m very sorry, but we can’t reopen the gate.”

At this point, we had asked multiple people for assistance, for communication with our flight, for anything at all to help us get through a problem that United Airlines created when they changed our flight in the first place.

Didn’t matter. Gate was closed.

So we went to the customer service desk, where a bubbly and cheerful woman informed us that we wouldn’t be able to make either the next flight or the one thereafter, but that the 11:45 flight had a couple of vacancies! Here’s a breakfast voucher for each of you – seven dollars a person, which will almost purchase bottles of water in this particular airport! And by the way, I’m not entirely certain which flight your luggage is on. If any.

Good luck!

She neglected to inform us that there was a standby list for both flights. We missed the first one entirely, and by the time we found out about the possibility of such a list it was far too late for us to squeeze onto the second of the flights offered.

As a result, we spent a total of five and a half hours in the Houston airport to board a flight that would leave Houston after our original flight had already landed.

Upon arrival in Newark, one of our bags was missing. Of course. This resulted in Joanie recounting every detail of our sojourn thus far to the lady behind the counter, who – largely to escape the mounting flames pouring from my wife’s mouth, I’m sure – offered to “check again, what does the missing bag look like? And what’s in it?” Thanks be to God, she found it, which earned her a sincere compliment:

She was the only United Air employee who was both competent and personable during our entire travel experience.

It was after six o’clock when we arrived home – since, of course, our delayed flights put us into rush hour traffic getting back. Upon our arrival, we forced ourselves to stay awake as long as possible in order to keep our sleep cycles somewhat on track. One of the things we discovered during this time awake was this video – it’s worth a listen, even if you’re not a country music fan (God knows I’m not, but this is awesome anyway).

So at least United didn’t break our guitars – but it’ll be a cold day in hell before I fly with them again.