Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Take the train instead

Dateline: Idaho Springs, CO

I actually began this post a couple weeks ago as I was returning from San Antonio on a NW flight that had been delayed due to an inch of snow in Dallas. It was going to be an anti Northwest Airlines rant but I figured whats the point. After all, this is a Lake Superior related blog. But after flying to Denver this afternoon my loathing of NWA has been renewed.

First a short recap of San Antonio. We pushed off (so we could be marked as ‘on time’ of course)and sat on the tarmac for an hour because of a ‘radar outage’ at O’Hare. This made us miss our connecting flight. Two of us were in exactly the same position; my buddy was charged $25 to rebook and I was rebooked for free. Why? No explanation. On our return trip our flight got cancelled due to the inch of snow in Dallas. No available flights out that night so we were told to find a hotel, no compensation due to an ‘act of god’, and we would get booked the next morning. At 5am we arose and headed for the airport and an endless line at security. When we got up to the front of the line the TSA “boarding pass and ID” guy looked at our boarding passes and pointed to the Terrorist Suspect/Cavity Search line for “additional screening”. Apparently when we were rebooked the ticket showed up as a last minute one way flight. As did half the tickets in the airport. We stood in the slowest moving line in history with geriatric couples, women with babies, airline employees, and even a guy from the TSA trying to get to work. As we got to within sight of where we would have our privates fondled and carry on luggage savaged the guy behind us said, “Oh shit, Barney Fife”. Sure enough, there he was, adam’s apple bobbing, barking out orders, nervously eyeballing we suspected Al Queda sleeper cell members. As I stood with my arms and legs spread, belongings strewn, and Barney explaining my right to a private screening and that he would be using the back of his hand to check for blocks of C4 plastique taped behind my gonads, I turned to him and told him, “I’ll drop my pants and boxers right here it it will get me to my gate on time”. I was also thinking that I wished my hand was where Barney’s was on the NW ticket agent that rebooked our flight and got us into this situation.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I’d vowed to fly anyone else but NWA but they finally came through with a credit that I’d been battling them for after 10 months of haggling. My father’s warning was playing in the back of my mind as I booked the flight however. The Old Man crewed in A-20 and A-26 medium attack bombers in the ETO during WWII. After the war he had his private pilots license until we kids came along but he flew for about 10 years and was generally involved in aviation. His adage, born of experience, was, “If the tail is red, take the train instead”. The NWA trademark of course, is the bright red tail. He had another military phrase he used to refer to Northwest which began with the word ‘cluster’ but this is a family blog. Things went very smoothly on the flight to Denver. It was like old Westerns though; things were quiet, too quiet. We landed on time, headed for the baggage carousel and got our bags. Skis would soon follow…….right? Wrong. They put them on the wrong plane. When would they be here? About 2 hours. Could you deliver them? Sure, tomorrow afternoon after you waste a day of your ski trip. Apology? Compensation? Sorry, here’s a $5 food voucher so you can buy a doughnut in a place where everything is eight bucks. Five people you say? Oh heck, here are a couple more vouchers, go crazy! Whats that big pile of luggage over there? Oh that’s stuff that was on your flight that should have been on the flight your skis are on.

Is there a moral, some insight, or even a point to this diatribe? Not really, it just makes me feel good to publicly air this extremely soiled laundry. I am certain that there are many fine and dedicated employees at Northwest airlines and I know some of them personally. There are also fine, dedicated people that work for the Department of Motor Vehicles where you renew your license and tabs but that sure as hell doesn’t make it an efficient, accountable, well run, and customer saavy organization. In the past 12 months I’ve had 6 NWA round trip flights, 12 segments. Three of those segments have gone relatively flawlessly. Nine have had lost luggage, been late, rerouted, luggage rerouted, no crew, no plane, flight cancelled, etc. That’s a .250 average, decent for a defensive shortstop but really crappy for a service business.

I suppose I need to link this to Lake Superior in some fashion. Hence the picture, taken from the NW flight from Gatwick to Minneapolis (luggage delivered to my home the next day of course) over the Sibley peninsula north of Thunder Bay. It was late February and there was still plenty of ice on the lake and you can clearly see Tee Harbor down near the end of the peninsula. Fortunately I can load up my boat and drive there in about 5 ½ hours. Trusting my Feathercraft to the NWA baggage system however, is not something I’m prepared to do any time soon. Take the train instead!


Silbs said...

Nice post. It dove tails nicely with Derrick's report on trying to get a 3-piece kayak onto a plane. No reasons...just our policy!

Kristen said...

I had to laugh at your marvelous story, though I feel your pain. Last week we flew back from Miami to home (RDU) with AA, who told us that there was no 5.45pm flight. Turns out FliesWithKiwiBird had booked RDU to Miami and not the other way around. With the baby making the best eyes and smiles possible at the two women, who decided they didn't need to double check with their supervisor, they put us on the only remaining flight, no additional charge, and only three to four hours later. I have a feeling it's the individuals behind the counter at times, and not solely the airline that makes or breaks a reputation.

DaveO said...

I've covered most of the Feathercraft logos, etc, on my boat bag. I also carry photos of it in various stages of assembly and padding in case they do figure it out. What I have found is that if you check it at the curb and slip the baggage claim guy a 10 spot that it sails right through with no hassles or additional charges. Baksheesh is alive and well in the US!