Ted Leung on the air
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Sun, 27 Mar 2005
Getting home from PyCon 2005

I think I've recovered enough from the trip home to write about it. I suppose I should just accept that this is going to be an annual ritual.

Our car trip from GWU to Dulles was reasonably speedy -- we only made a few minor wrong turns, and we learned a few things about Washington D.C. from bear, who seems to know something about everything. So we arrived at Dulles with plenty of time to spare, made our way through security without any problems, and walked to Concourse B, which is where all of us were flying out of. PJE and I were flying from adjacent gates, and Alec was flying from a gate down the hall a bit. I was originally schedule to fly from Dulles to Pittsburgh on United/US Airways Express and then pickup a United flight from Pittsburgh to Seattle. The problem arose when the US Airways flight was cancelled due to mechanical trouble.

The agents at the gate immediately got to work at trying to get people onto flights. There was a Dulles to Chicago to Seattle flight which the guy next to me managed to get onto. Alas, it looks like he got the only remaining seat on the Chicago to Seattle flight. All the rest of the combinations were physically impossible (I wouldn't be able to get to the appropriate concourse in time), so the agent told me that I didn't really have any choice but to fly the next day. The thought of going all the way back to D.C. and coming back the next day was definitely unappealing, and we did manage to find a hotel close to the airport. Unfortunately, I could not persuade them the issue me a voucher for the hotel. There was also a problem "getting control" of my United ticket (the whole thing was purchased through United.com) to issue me a new ticket, so I was issued a hand written ticket (a Flight Interruption Manifest) and sent on my way.

Before leaving the gate, I sat down and called United, since I had purchased the ticket through them. The woman that I spoke with looked at her computer and saw that the flight had been cancelled due to a mechanical problem, and told me that yes, United would issue me a hotel and meal voucher in this case. All I had to do was go to the United customer service desk in Concourse C.

So, information in hand, and feeling slightly less grumpy, I backtracked and took a mobile lounge over to Concourse C, where I discovered that the customer service desk was swamped by a late Orlando flight many of whose passengers had missed connections. So I stood in line for about 90 minutes, talking with a the fellow in front of me in order to pass the time. When I arrived at the counter, the agent told me that they couldn't help me and that they wouldn't issue me the voucher. Apparently, the claim is that United wasn't responsible since it was a US Airways flight. The flight also had a United flight number, and United certainly didn't have any problems being responsible for taking all of the money when I bought the ticket. I was pretty unhappy. I was even more unhappy when they told me I had to go back to US Airways. The did advise me to go to the US Airways luggage desk (which is outside the security zone, so if you leave you pretty much can't get back in).

By now it was almost 9PM (we had arrived around 4:30PM), and I was hungry, cranky, and tired. I had to go to the luggage desk anyway to get my suitcase, so I took the mobile lounge (again) back to the main portion of the airport and went to the US Airways luggage desk, where I got my bag (at least they got that right), and was told that I could not be issued a voucher because my flight originated in Dulles. Apparently if I was connecting in Dulles, they would have issued me a voucher. So now I had both airlines flim-flamming me, and I was out the extra money for a hotel stay and the time lost due to having stand in line, etc. At that point, I just gave up, and caught the shuttle to the hotel, where I had dinner (at 10PM) and went to bed early (11PM) to be ready for the next morning.

On Saturday I got up at 4:45AM for a 7:35AM flight on Alaska Airlines. (I didn't know Alaska even flew to Dulles, not that it mattered. Julie and I had a bad experience with Alaska many years ago, and I've avoided them whenever possible ever since. This weekend's misadventures are making me reconsider that.). I bumped around Dulles for a little while trying to find the Alaska counter (it was small and out of the way), and I was hoping that I wasn't going to have any problems with the handwritten ticket bit. Thankfully, there was no hassle over that, although I found it odd that I was assigned my seat by the agent asking another agent what seats they had left. While I was there (there wasn't anybody else in line) I asked their opinion on what was proper for the previous days situation, figuring that they didn't have any stake in the matter. Their opinion was the the originating airline (US Airways) was at fault. I suppose I'm going to try to call them on Monday, but I have low expectations at this point. The only other odd thing that happened was that a fellow took the bag I was checking and asked me to follow him and watch the bag go through a large x-ray machine. After that, I was directed to the gate.

Of course, before you can get to the gates, you have to go through airport security, This time, I was the winner of a special screening, so I was wanded up, down, and sideways, while another TSA employee picked her way through my bag. The search didn't get any worse than having to loosen my belt, so I considered myself lucky. This was followed by yet another ride in the infernal mobile lounge.

I arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare, and settled in to wait. I found a power outlet and plugged in the Powerbook and my phone and was sucking down my e-mail when I heard, "Is that Ted?". I looked up and discovered Anna Ravenscroft and Alex Martelli coming into the gate. Alex is starting at Google on Monday, and they were flying to San Jose (via Seattle) to get settled. I was glad for the company, and we talked about the conference, Chandler, Google and various other topics. Then it came up that they were sitting in the emergency exit row, which they considered a benefit. They were in seats 12E and 12F. I was in seat 12D. Remember I told you that my seat was assigned in an unusual manner? So we spent the entire flight together, talking, napping, etc. I knew Anna a little bit from last year's PyCon and being drafted into their wedding toast at OSCON, but I had never really talked much to Alex. Alex is one of those people whose reputation precedes him, and I had been in a few of his sessions earlier in the week and learned quite a bit. I also learned a decent amount from the Python Cookbook, which he, Anna, and David Ascher edited (the new second edition has just come out). So it turned out that I got a really pleasant surprise to take some of the sting out of the previous day's events.

We landed in Seattle 5 minutes early, which was good because Alex and Anna had a tight connection. I bade them farewell and made my way to baggage claim. My bag came up really quickly, so I dashed out to the garage and grabbed a cab. I was expecting to miss the 11:25AM ferry and having to wait for the 12:20PM ferry, but the efficient baggage handling meant that I actually caught the earlier boat with a few minutes to spare. I spent the boat ride uploading the last of the PyCon SubEthaEdit notes and posting yesterday's entry. Julie needed to get the girls off to a rehearsal, so I grabbed a cab home. I didn't even mind when the cab needed to stop along the way to pick someone else up -- I was just so happy to be home.

I'm still not sure what travel lesson I should have learned from all of this. I am definitely going to try to avoid flights with connections, but I already try to do that. Certainly, I'll work to avoid connections between different airlines as well. I've "punished" a number of airlines by trying to avoid flying on them, but all the other airlines seem to have problems as well. Anna suggested that I try Frontier Airlines -- she and Alex are heavy travelers, and she recommended Frontier highly, so I'm going to give that a try the next time I can. At the end of it, I'm highly distrustful of both US Airways and United. That's especially bad for United, since I supposedly have some kind of relationship with them as a frequent flyer. Not that it made a bit of difference this weekend. All it took was a few hours to destroy a few years worth of goodwill.

[23:35] | [misc] | # | TB | F | G | 4 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
United didn't lie to you, they just didn't have the guts to tell you that you were stuck.  Check out page 34, bottom half.


The second you hear about a delay which would affect your connection call the airline's reservation desk. Some airlines allow you to protect yourself on the next flight out. I've done this about a dozen times and beat others to available seats.  Standing in line is the last thing you want to do.  99% of the time, the changes can be made over the phone and you can get a new boarding pass as a kiosk or any gate agent.

I think the best you can do is call, complain and see if they will give you a voucher for your delay or a bucket of Mileage Plus points.
Posted by Dan at Mon Mar 28 04:17:19 2005

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Ted Leung FOAF Explorer

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