Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas in Oklahoma

My experiences flying have always been, well, unique is a good word. I don't know exactly what it is, but I tend to have the out of the ordinary trip every so often. Fortunately, most of these events have had little or nothing to do with the overall safety of the aircraft, but they tend to be so ridiculous, that they are amusing to me, and even more so to others.

Some examples:
  • I once flew from Hartford, CT to BWI next to a man with no stomach or spleen. He spent most of the 1 hour flight telling me of his woes that weekend, from his obvious health issues to his father pouring gasoline all over his car and threatening to light it on fire.
  • Flying out of LaGuardia, we had several members of the same family from some African country on the plane, all with the same name. The gate agents were ready to hold the flight because they couldn't tell who was who, and it didn't help much that their guide was Japanese and spoke less English than his group.
  • I saw a little old man punch a woman as our late-arriving flight from New Orleans taxied to the gate at Dulles.
  • I've even flown with turkeys in 1st class.
Typically, my fun has always been on United Airlines, as that's who I tend to fly, as one of their hubs is at Washington Dulles, which is also the absolute worst designed airport on the planet. Seriously - if you had the brightest minds in engineering sit down and try to come up with a worse designed airport, they would fail miserably.

Because of my United frequent flying, I naively always thought that other airlines had to be "better", and that this lunacy which I always got to experience was limited to just United.

Well, a great big Christmas thank you to American Airlines, who proved that they truly can be "something special in the air". I won't go in to how that our cab reservation was not really a reservation, but more of a suggestion for someone with a cab to pick us up, and that
at 5:30 AM, we had to pile in the car and drive to the airport, park somewhere in the next county, and take a packed shuttle bus to the terminal.

The flight was almost 100% full, just unlike the customer service rep told me a couple days before. Not a big deal, I've been on crowded planes before, and clearly if I only buy 2 seats, anyone else has the right to buy up all of the others.

We took off on or close to on-time, which was encouraging. After bumping through the clouds, it seemed like we were going to have a nice, uneventful flight.

About an hour or so later, the pilot came on and made some sort of announcement. I assumed it was the normal "Welcome aboard" message, with flight time, destination weather, and a reminder to keep your seat belts fastened. Immediately after the pilot's announcement, the flight attendant came on and re-iterated the captain's announcement, which so happened to include an additional morsel of information about us not having any water on the plane and that we were going to land in Tulsa, Oklahoma in about an hour to get some.

I looked at my wife and said, "Did they just say Tulsa?"

"I think so" she replied.

"Well, I've never been..."

So our non-stop to LAX instantly became what the airline industry refers to as a "direct" flight, meaning you're stopping at least once between here and there. After an hour or so later, we were on our way down, bouncing through the bumpy Oklahoma air, and after one of the longest approaches ever, on the ground in Tulsa, OK.

We were met by a bunch of maintenance folks, who at one point, spilled a bunch of water on the tarmac. After about 45 minutes, they managed to put the water on the plane and we were on our way back up to our cruise altitude.

All things considered, we were only about 1 1/2 hours late, give or take. We mostly just laughed it off, as it was, after all Christmas day, and heck, what else could we do?

If you've ever seen My Name Is Earl - or even seen Jason Lee on a Southwest flight, like I did while we were flying from Vegas to Burbank - you know a little bit about karma. We had the AA karma with us, as on the way back, they really came through, more so than I expected.

We had to extend our trip a couple of days, as our daughter had a bit of a cough. I called AA, and was given the standard "$100 each plus change in fare" line, to which I replied "Do you really want a sick, screaming baby on a Thursday night red-eye flight with all of your business travelers?" There was a pause, and then I was offered $30 each to change flights, no additional fees.

We jumped on that offer, stayed a couple more days, and then got lucky one more time when we were able to snag the entire bulkhead row. If you have ever traveled with an infant, you what a difference an extra seat in the bulkhead really makes.

All in all, I'll fly AA again. They tend to be a spot cheaper than United these days, fly non-stop (sometimes) from Dulles to LAX, and the customer service thus far has been more than I expected.