Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mick McKellar Update -- Day +1654

Travel Agency

A business that attends to the details of transportation, itinerary, and accommodations for travelers. Also called travel bureau.

Michael & Stefanie

I suggested we book our trip to Seattle/Tacoma for the wedding of Michael and Stefanie, and a visit with our children and grandchildren, through a local travel agency. Fear of mistakes and bad bookings forced my hand, and I ponied up additional dollars to guarantee no circus of horrors or the absurd on this special trip. Oops

Stage One: Get to SeaTac

Our route to SeaTac was a bit circuitous, connecting via Chicago and San Francisco. Dressed for Summer, we loaded into the Skywest plane at Houghton County Airport and literally chilled for about 55 minutes to Chicago O’Hare. It was cold on the plane, but one can be stoic, I thought. Why not tough it out?

We scurried to make our connection to a United Airlines flight to San Francisco, making it just in time for boarding, and leaving me wheezing and honking enough to frighten folks into offering aid. As we clambered aboard, I noted with dismay a small pillow and blanket upon each seat. I never used an airline blanket, so I gave mine to Amanda -- a decision I later came to question. We waited to be pushed from the terminal, and waited, and waited. The captain’s disembodied voice came through the loudspeakers to announce a slight delay, to repair a broken arm rest. In about 15 minutes the plane began to move until a “crunch” was heard and it stopped. The tug driver cut the wheel too sharp and bent the push/tow connection to the plane. It would have to be would have to be replaced...more time was lost to mechanical delays.

As the refrigeration units came online, our chariot of the skies leapt into the morning sun. I shivered mightily for more than four hours, until we landed in San Francisco -- just as our connecting flight to SeaTac was taking off. The captain’s reassuring voice floated over our heads as he mentioned connections missed (ours included) and quickly rattled off a phone number for UA customer service. I fretted about having no pen or paper handy and a good samaritan handed me a PostIt note with the number. Thank you anonymous nice person! I called UA CS while afloat in the chaos of deplaning humanity and they booked us on another flight, leaving in about two hours. Great! I asked about our luggage. “Oh, you have to call Baggage -- Click!” Panicked, I cornered a hapless target -- the Customer Service agent at the gate through which we deplaned. He kindly followed up on my questions, and an hour and a half later, we journeyed on, with our luggage, to SeaTac Airport. Once again, our boxcar in the sky was a refrigerator car. Flash frozen, I shivered my way to join our luggage and Michael en route to the home of my daughter and her family.

Stage Two: Get Home

Despite the criticisms of my use of a travel agent, I considered the foibles of our flights as accidents and coincidences that could happen to any traveler, whether booked by agent or online. Enter the Trip from Hell.

We arrived two hours early at SeaTac for our red eye flight home to Hancock and points North. The line at the American Airlines counter (American Airlines? Yup, that’s what the itinerary says!) was longish, but not frightening. What was frightening was the look on the ticket agent’s face when I presented our receipts, all of which said: United Airlines. First she looked at the receipts. Then she looked again, quizzically. Then she mumbled, “I cannot accept these, they are from United.” Fear touched my spine (and other things) and my Scottish eyebrows went into scowl mode. I glared at her from under their canopies. She called her supervisor over, and both listened to my explanation.

More than an hour and four frustrated agents later, they had survived professional phone tag with United and reissued our tickets and our boarding passes. They also waived our baggage fees ($75) and marked our passes TSA Pre-checked, which saved us precious time. Once again, we arrived at our boarding gate just in time -- with me wheezing and wobbling about.

The plane felt cool, but not cold as we settled in our assigned seats for our midnight ride in a meat locker. Once the air started, triggering my goosebumps and shivering -- I asked for a blanket. The attendant replied: “We don’t provide blankets on this flight. I’ll ask the pilot to warm things up a bit” (He did warm it slightly. Note: as we later deplaned, we noted blankets scattered about in Business Class.) I quaked and quailed, shivered and shook, for nearly four hours in a dark aluminum tube. I could not sleep and read until my eyes were sore from reading in a dark place. No sleep was found in my vicinity. We arrived in Chicago just before 6:00 AM, perfectly chilled.

Our layover in Chicago was 4 hours and 41 minutes -- almost long enough to establish residency. At 10:00 AM, we started boarding our Skywest flight to Hancock. I was cheerfully optimistic because I finally had my window seat for a daytime flight. Then the cockpit door opened and the captain said, “I have bad news. Hancock has thunderstorms and heavy fog. Visibility is below our minimums. We can’t fly there now.” He said it would take some time for the weather to clear, so we deplaned and went back to warm our seats in the terminal. Eventually, things improved, and we arrived in Hancock at 1:58 PM instead of 12:50 PM. Safe and sound.

Oh, and did I mention that the wedding was wonderful, the visit was a total joy, and I would do it all again to see everyone I haven’t seen in so long...and thought I might never see again.

Good night, and God bless!


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