Saturday, December 16, 2006

On airport etiquette...

I believe airports, particularly the ticketing counter personnel, can turn otherwise normal, sane individuals into crazed, maniacal, screaming lunatics on a serial killing rampage. I’d go so far as to say that I think they just might be able to dishevel the bow tie of even the most obsessive compulsive, anal and piously well-mannered oncologist at the Breast Cancer Symposium I just attended. And a disheveled bow tie, for someone with OCD, is arguably worse than serial killing. (As long as the killing is done neatly and in multiples of three.) I’m happy to say, though, that I stopped short of doing anything that would deserve life in prison this morning at the ticketing counter. I understand that while airport personnel have control over many things (like which atrocious shade of blue eye shadow they wear or whether you’ll actually be flying anywhere on the day you expect to), I can also appreciate that there are things that are outside their control (like the weather in Salt Lake City or, apparently, the degree and authenticity of their politeness). For this reason, I always try my best to remain polite even when the airport staff “has no choice” but to be impolite to me. But the shit storm...oh the shit storm from the other equally frustrated passengers this morning! My eyes have not witnessed a flinging of feces like that since my last trip to the monkey exhibit at the city zoo which, incidentally, was a very long time ago. Unfortunately, much of it was well deserved, as the display of rudeness on the part of the airport personnel was nothing short of astounding.

For the sake of propriety, and because I’m just a good girl, I don’t care to disclose the name of the airline by which I was mis-handled this morning. (But just to give you a hint, it’s name starts with a “D” and ends with an “elta.”) I arrived an hour and a half early for my flight back to SF through Salt Lake City…a flight I picked specifically to make it back with ample time to help The Brit out with the last minute details of the holiday dessert and wine party we’re hosting tonight. As a side note, this is the third annual holiday dessert party we’ve hosted, and like last year, 100+ people have RSVP’d to come. The Brit and I usually spend the evenings of the week preceding the party in the kitchen together making ten different gourmet desserts. This year, The Brit had to fly it solo in la cocina due to this last minute trip I had to take for work…something that weighed heavily on my mind as I took my place in line to wait for a self check-in monitor.

My turn came up and I approached the monitor. Despite all my efforts, my flight number kept coming up as “nonexistent.” Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute….I checked my itinerary just to be sure. Yup. I had the right flight number. Hmm. I flagged down an attendant behind the counter, who rolled his eyes at the burden of having to take the three steps needed to reposition his corpulent self closer to my monitor. (In retrospect, the first sign that things would go badly wrong.) I explained the situation to him and asked politely if he knew why I couldn’t retrieve my ticket info on the self check-in monitor. He asked what my flight number was. I repeated it for him. Then he smiled smugly at me (you know the smile…the closed-mouth grin while the eyes are closed) and said, in a tone one might use with a kindergartener, “That’s because your flight to Salt Lake has been canceled. Go get into that line over there.”

And that’s how I became person #35 in line to speak to a ticket counter person for a new ticket…just in time to witness person #2 in line self-destruct into a hysterical, babbling buffoon. She’d apparently just missed her flight due to waiting too long in the line….and everyone was gonna hear about it if it was up to her. (And, apparently, she’d decided it was up to her.) Oh jeez. This didn’t look promising. I inched forward in line for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, after several close encounters with hurdling logs of feces from the growing line of unruly wanna-be passengers behind me, I got to the front. I stepped forward and explained my situation. I got another smug smile from the She-Devil behind the counter (seriously, does this airline pull these people aside and train them how to perform this?) who then told me that what I really needed to do was go get in line behind another 30 people to use a TELEPHONE to call an airline agent to rebook a flight. This was quickly turning into a moron-run circus. What was the friggin’ point of my waiting all this time in this line?

“You’re kidding right?” I asked her, genuinely confused. “Isn’t that what you do here at the counter? Book tickets?”

Smug smile. “Most of the time, yes. However, today, we’re asking that those who were booked on the Salt Lake flight that was canceled call the direct line to speak to a ticketing agent.” She started to look behind me, as if to call the next person in line.

“Well, Pam,” I said, after a cursory, but deliberate, glance at her name pin, “most of the time I don’t mind waiting in three different lines in one morning. But today, I’m going to draw the line at two, and ask that you find me a new flight to SF.” I smiled smugly back at her. Closed eye for a closed eye. (Mine without blue eye shadow, though.)

She-Devil threw daggers at me with her now opened eyes. She paused, opened her mouth as if to say something. Then closed it. Then hesitantly began tapping away at the keyboard. She produced a flight to the east coast that would connect to a flight to SF, getting me in just in time for my morning coffee tomorrow. The anger started to erode the epithelial lining of my stomach. Making it to my party was starting to look like a bleak possibility. She looked at me apathetically and began to nod, about to explain that this was all she had available…and in this moment, I summoned the teenager within me. The teenager who, primed by years of probing questions from a mother with a Hispanic brand of motherly curiosity, developed an imagination that inspired some world-class lying. (I have since outgrown the need to lie. My mother is still “curious”, but adulthood has equipped me with new methods for dealing with her questions. Honesty. But surely I could be permitted one little fib today…)

“I’m the maid of honor in a wedding tonight in SF. I need to get there before 5 pm. So, that flight won’t do…I guess you’ll just need to look for flights on a different airline.” My, how easily we fall back into old habits!

She-Devil sighed while nodding and smiling smugly, only momentarily unlocking her gaze from the computer screen to perform the fleeting closed-eyed grin. (She was really quite talented, in retrospect! Such swift multi-tasking!!) After many calls and lots of typing, she found a flight through another airline that would get me back into SF at 3pm.

And that’s how I ended up being person #45 in line at a different airline’s ticket counter…

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