Devil’s Airline; the Extended Version

The other day when I wrote my previous post I realized that trying to write everything I had to say, on my iPhone would take forever, and run my battery down and I hadn’t even boarded my first flight of what would turn out to be a very long day.

So here it is, the extended version of my horrific experience with what turned out to be The Devil’s Travel Agency.  When I finally got word of the date of my grandfather’s funeral, I immediately set about the business of coordinating travel arrangements with CPA Sister who would be flying into Denver from the right coast (I, from the left).

It seems my grandfather had the unmitigated gall to go and die the night before Vengeful Mother was scheduled to fly into Albany, New York to visit CPA Sis and family for a week.  Vengeful Mother was informed of the situation and given the opportunity to reschedule the trip, but she opted to go ahead and visit and roll with the punches from there.  Apparently, Vengeful Mother has a rather loose definition of “roll with the punches” but if I follow that thread right now, I’ll go terribly off topic.  Needless to say that when Vengeful Mother found out the timing of the funeral she was upset that it was interfering with her visit with her grandyounguns.  (Ended up that Grandyounguns and Vengeful Mother stayed in New York together while CPA Sis and Jack O’ All Trades came to the funeral. 

In order to attempt to appease Vengeful Mother, CPA Sis and JOAT decided to wait until Sunday to fly out for the funeral.  There was to be a viewing and visitation on Sunday afternoon, but I was perfectly happy to miss that.  While it would have been nice to visit with some of the family members, I had no desire to see my grandfather’s empty shell.  I planned to coordinate my travel arrangements with CPA Sis and JOAT so that we could spend some one on two time together and I could benefit from her better financial independence and ride in the rental car that they were getting.

Once informed of their itinerary, I set about finding airline tickets that would closely match with them.  After doing a Google search for cheap airline tickets, I happened across a website called The Devil’s Travel Agency.  After putting in my requirements I found a listing for a $384.00 ticket listed on Virgin America.  I’ve looked at their website before and I’ve seen the luxurious appointments and opulence with which these planes are decked out.  I’ve wanted to travel on Virgin America for a long time.  Naturally, I pursued this option.  Once I clicked on the link I discovered that what The Devil’s Travel Agency was really showing me was an itinerary from US Airways (The Devil’s Airline) with only the final leg of my return trip being on Virgin America. 

I made my travel arrangements on Wednesday with a Sunday departure.  A) Everything was pricey because of the short notice, but this itinerary was not and 2) It may have been mostly US Airways but Virgin America doesn’t actually fly to Denver, and at least this ticket would give me the one leg on their airline.  So I booked it.  When I got to the final page of the booking I found out my $384.00 airline ticket was $500.50 after taxes and fees.  Oh, but Satan himself gave me a discount…  Ten whole dollars.  So the price was $490.50.  And that included the $14.00 they said they were charging to  2-day express ship the tickets via Fed-Ex because they said it was not an e-ticket.  I never received paper tickets and I have yet to see what amount will be billed to the credit card.

Travel day arrived and I reported to the San Francisco International Airport an hour and forty minutes prior to my 12:02 departure time.  I walked up to the curbside check-in because I learned a few years ago that far fewer people use Curbside and therefore it’s much faster.

Numb-nuts curbside guy:  Where are you traveling to?

Me:  Denver

There is a long pause while he punches computer keys.

Numb-nuts curbside guy:  Did you buy your ticket after July 9th?

Me:  [leery] Yeeeesssss.

Numb-nuts curbside guy:  That’s the problem.  As of July 9th, there is a $15.00 fee for your first checked bag and you can only check-in inside.

Ok.  Kinda pissed, what with this being the first I’ve heard about this $15.00 fee, but whatever.  I’m trying to avoid stress and the usual anxiety that I feel on travel day that lasts up until I get to the gate and see that they’re not yet boarding.  I go inside.  US Airways ticketing area at SFO is a fucking chaotic free for all.  No clearly delineated lanes or turnstiles just posts and straps here and there that mostly just get in the way.  I walk up to the counter where there is one agent and two kiosks.  I tell the guy, I’ve never flown this airline before and I’m not sure what I’m doing.

Bum-fuck Ticket Agent:  It’s easy.  Just follow the instructions on the screen.  (All along he is punching away on a computer and never actually looks up at me.)

I look at the screen and it says to touch anywhere to start.  Then it asks me if I’m checking in…  Um, isn’t that why I’d be at the ticketing counter?  I hit “yes”.  Then it asks me for the credit card I used for the transaction.  OK…  I don’t have that card.  M&M was gracious enough to lend me the money using her card.

Me:  OK.  It’s asking me for the credit card but I don’t have it.

Bum-fuck Ticket Agent:  (Still punching keys) You can also use your flight number or your last name. 

Ok.  I don’t know my flight number either but I know my last name.  I stand there, patiently, thinking (silly me) that he is going to help me now.  After 15 or 20 seconds I realize he’s not paying any attention to me and that he’s expecting me to handle this on my own.  I look down at the screen and realize that there is an icon to touch for other options.  I enter my last name and hit continue.  There is no perceptible change in the screen except that the continue button and my last name have disappeared.  I’m very annoyed at this point and I’m about to ask BFTA what to do next when I notice that where it did say to enter my last name, it now says to enter my first name.  I do so and it asks me for the state I’m traveling to.  I enter Colorado.  It then asks me for the first three letters of the city.

I’m moving from annoyed to irritated.  A ticket agent would have had all this information just by pulling up my name.  This pieceofshit computer should have been able to do the same thing.

I type D E N.  The screen changes. “Please select the city of your final destination.  Are you traveling to:”  Three buttons underneath that say:

Aspen, CO                                                       Colorado Springs, CO

Denver, CO

Garsh, let me think you numb-nuts pieceofshit computer?  You said, “enter the first three letters and I typed DEN, given the three choices you gave me WHERE DO YOU THINK I’M GOING!?!?!  (Have I mentioned that I have really hated the on-going trend to replace human customer service with computerized versions.  I have always resented the do it yourself credit card machine at the grocery – and just about every other kind of store.)

I hit the Denver, CO button a little harder than they’d probably like but I feel that they should consider themselves lucky that I haven’t toppled the damn machine and jumped up and down on it’s dead carcass.

Finally, it pulls up my flight information for the day.  First flight from SFO to Phoenix, AZ and connecting on to Denver, CO.  Yes, this is correct.  There is a button I can hit to view and change my seating assignment.  I don’t think this will be necessary because when I made my reservation I specified that I want an aisle seat first and foremost and an exit/bulkhead row if they can swing it, but I figure I’ll go ahead and verify my seat anyway.  Well, what do you know, they have me in seat 27E, A MIDDLE SEAT.  Oh but look, I can select my seating assignment.  After reading the color code I see that there are a couple of aisle, exit row seats open so I select one of those.  Then I push the button to check my seating assignment on the connecting flight.  The computer thinks on this for a second and then tells me that that information isn’t available.

No big deal, I think, I’ll check out my boarding pass and if I don’t like the seat I’ll check with the gate agent in Phoenix.  I indicate that my check-in is complete, but not before I have to put a credit card in the machine to pay my $15.00 for checking my suitcase.  Finally this pieceofshit machine starts spitting out my paperwork.  One sheet of ATM receipt paper, two sheets of ATM receipt paper, three sheets of ATM receipt paper.  I begin to examine the papers.  One is a receipt for my $15.00 fee.  One is my itinerary of my trip, because really at this moment, there’s nothing I want more from this fucked up airline than yet another copy of my itinerary that I already printed off the website the day I booked the flight, AND received in an e-mail AND forwarded to myself to a different e-mail address so I’d have it on my iPhone.  For those of you at home that are keeping count, that leaves me with only one more sheet of ATM receipt paper.  This is my boarding pass for my first flight.

I’m confused.  My irritation has turned to down right pissed offedness.  I look up at Bum-fuck Ticket Agent and say, “It only gave me one boarding pass.  How do I get my second boarding pass?”

Bum-fuck Ticket Agent looks up from his keyboard where he’s been punching keys this entire time and looks right past me at the person behind me and asks if he can help them.  Woops, blew right past pissed offedness and right on to angry.

Bum-fuck Ticket Agent finishes with what he was helping the guy behind me with and looks down at the luggage tag printer, picks something off of it and calls my name out (Because I guess I might have wondered off?)


Bum-fuck Ticket Agent:  What’s up?

Me:  HOW do I get my second boarding pass, it only gave me my first one.

Bum-fuck Ticket Agent:  It didn’t give you your second boarding pass?

(WHAT DID I JUST SAY!) and then he actually came around to my side of the counter and starts shoving his hand up the shoot, you know, because I just might really be THAT dumb!

Bum-fuck Ticket Agent:  Huh!  That’s weird.

Me:  It’s a little bit more than weird and I’m growing quite dissatisfied now.  This system sucks.  Your Customer Service sucks and I’m really beginning to regret having bought my ticket from you guys.

Bum-fuck Ticket Agent:  (As if I’d just told him a happy little bedtime story) Oh, here’s the problem.  Your next flight is on a different Airline.  We can check your bag through but we can’t issue your boarding pass.

Me:  What?!?  My itinerary (which I now have NINE copies of) says it’s US Airways.

Bum-fuck Ticket Agent:  Yeah, we just sold you the ticket but you’re flying on United.

Me:  You also sold me a ticket on Virgin America and it says Virgin America right here on my NINE copies of my itinerary.

Bum-fuck Ticket Agent:  Yeah, sorry about that.  So you want to go right down that way and too your left.  (And he grabs my suit case and walks away.)

Right about now, I’m hoping, steaming mad.  Possibly a little surprised not to be pulled out of the security check point and cavity searched for manure based explosives.  So I go off to the gate because once Bum-fuck Ticket Agent has walked away from me, what more can I do.

I get to the gate, gate 27, and approach the gate agent.

Not totally worthless gate agent:  Hi there, can I help you?

Me:  I hope so.  Bum-fuck Ticket Agent up front couldn’t do jack shit for me and I’m hoping you’ll be willing to try a little harder.  My connecting flight out of Phoenix is on United Airlines and BFTA told me you guys couldn’t give me my boarding pass.  Is that really true?  And if so, how do I get it because BFTA couldn’t tell me that either.

Not totally worthless gate agent:  May I see you boarding pass (Punches a few keys, rips my boarding pass in half and hands me two, count them TWO, traditional card stock boarding passes)

Me:  (my connecting flight is another middle seat) I hate to be too picky, but is there any chance you can change this to an aisle seat?

Not totally worthless gate agent:  Unfortunately, I can’t do that but the gate agent in Phoenix should be able to help you.

Fair enough.  It’s more than I got out of Bum-fuck Ticket Agent.  Not totally worthless gate agent also informed me that United flies out of a totally different terminal in Phoenix than US Airways does and that I’ll be required to exit the airport and reenter.  Great.

So I board the plane, only to realize that what was listed as an exit row on the kiosk computer screen wasn’t really (why am I surprised) but it’s one row behind the exit row.  Fortunately, the aisle seat directly ahead and across is not only an exit row but a bulkhead row and it is unoccupied so I moved to that seat.  The entire time that the airplane was taxiing, the exit door was rattling, eliciting visions of sudden vacuum decompression as the door gets sucked out mid-flight.  The engines, during take off and most of our ascent, sounded as if a bird were stuck inside and clinging to a hopeless battle for life.

Somehow we made it to Phoenix in one piece.  I exit the plane and start walking.  I’ve never been in Phoenix before and I have no idea where I’m going.  As I’m walking toward the exit I get a call from CPA Sis.  There are thunderstorms in Albany and Continental Air lines has determined that they need to lighten their load in order to ensure a safe departure, so they’ve evicted CPA Sis and Jack O’ All Trades from the plane along with their luggage.  Apparently the 600 lbs max, that they added to the load would be enough to plummet the ship into certain doom in a corn field in Nebraska.  The fact that they were winging their way to a funeral was of no consequence.

As reparation, Continental gave them each a $500.00 voucher for air travel, and put them in a cab to JFK, in New York City, where they would board a flight that would arrive in Denver at 9:55.  (Originally they were to arrive in Denver at 7:19, five minutes before my arrival.)  They cab ride would take about three hours and their flight was in 3 hours and 45 minutes.  That there is a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother post, and since I wasn’t there, the story may never be told, but suffice it to say there was shoulder driving, torrential downpours, thousands of returning New Yorkers (On a Sunday night)…  Oh, and a taxi to taxi car accident half a mile away from the air port.

So here I am in the Phoenix Airport, with no idea where to go, being told that I’ll have two and a half hours to kill when I get to Denver.  I get off the phone and walk up to a security guard this side of the security check point and explain my plight, fully expecting to be rebuffed by the very important man in uniform, sitting high aloft a platform and who, when I saw him, was checking out the cleavage of a big busted woman wandering aimlessly nearby.  He was actually quite nice, explained to me that United does fly out of a different terminal a mile down the road.  Fortunately, there was a shuttle.

I got to the new terminal and went through security yet again.  I found my way to the gate and plopped myself down next to an outlet to eat my lunch and charge my iPhone.  Neither that outlet or any of the other six I located in that waiting area actually worked.  The whole building was in disrepair, almost as if it’d been built in the 1960s and then promptly forgotten about (which is probably just what happened.)  It was 110 degrees that day in Phoenix and even an iceberg cooled blast of frozen air through the AC could not have combated the oppressiveness that filled the area, let alone the built in Air Conditioning System.  All in all, Phoenix (as a whole, as I see it) and the Phoenix airport in particular is a shithole to be avoided at all costs from this point forward.

The airplane from the second flight was in worse condition with thread bare upholstery and scratched up windows.  (The gate agent there was able to get me into a window seat, but all the aisle seats were taken)

**By way of a quick detour, I called CPA Sis again when I got to Denver and they had not yet boarded their flight.  It seems that their pilots were stuck in Cincinnati, and even though the plane was in New York they couldn’t board it until they had pilots and they couldn’t find any closer than Cincinnati.  The pilots finally arrived and they boarded the plane and pushed back from the gate, only to be advised that their flight plan had expired and that they had to file a new one and couldn’t be cleared for take off until the flight plan had been filed and approved.  This flight didn’t take off until after it was supposed to have arrived in Denver.  The arrival time was to have been 9:55 p.m. and I actually picked up CPA Sis and Jack at the Denver Circus Tent— er airport at 3:20.  We spent the night in a hotel in Denver and drove the two hour drive to the funeral the next morning.

Satan’s underlings’ busy work did not end there.

On Tuesday evening when I was heading back to the Bay Area, I arrived at the airport at the US Airways counter (’cause you know, that’s who I bought my damn tickets through) only to discover that I was supposed to check-in at the United Airlines counter ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BUILDING (fortunately, it was not as far as it sounded.)  Once again, they could only give me my first boarding pass.  They could see that my connecting flight was on Virgin America, but they were not able to give me my Virgin America Boarding Pass, nor could the check my bag through to SFO.  This is where The Devil’s Travel Agency is at fault.  Perhaps I should have known better, but having never experienced such a thing before, I had no idea to look for this.  The Devil’s Travel Agency compiled the flights for me, and rather than selling me a round-trip ticket from an airline, they sold me three one way tickets for a round trip price, two through US Airways and one through Virgin America.

The very kind and lovely ticket agent for United Airlines in Denver informed me that they don’t have an agreement with Virgin America and therefor they were unable to check my bag through, or give me my boarding pass.  “That figures,”  I told her, “Everything else about my itinerary has been fucked up, why should this be any different?”

Very kind and lovely ticket agent:  I’m very sorry to hear that, I wish I could do more.

Me:  Well, thanks, but it’s not your fault, you’re not US Airways.

VKALTA:  Well, we were for five years.

Me:  Well, I’m glad you’re not anymore.  I’ll never fly that airline again.

So hears the rub.  I have flown to Las Vegas five times now, always to go to LasVegas.  I greatly dislike flying Southwest Airlines, but you can get really good package deals with airfare and hotels.  Check out Southwest for excellent rates at hotels on the strip.  I fly to Las Vegas on Southwest, because that’s how you get the package deals.  Southwest flies into the main terminal at the Las Vegas Airport and I never even knew there was more.

I stepped off the jet way when my United Airlines plane landed in Las Vegas into a beautiful, modern, opulent terminal, I never knew was there.  I was impressed, dare I say it, maybe just a little bit in love…  And then it hit me.  The feeling of certain doom.  The realization that what was already a stupid arrangement in my mind was going to be even worse than I had suspected.  My United Airlines flight parked at gate D40.  I made the long trek to the opposite end of the terminal and onto the tram to the main terminal where the baggage claim area is.

(Sidebar), why does everyone have to crowd right up to the baggage carousel, as closely as possible to where the bags will come out?  I was one of the first people there, so I walked up and staked out my claim, but if I’d been one of the last, I’d have gone around to the other end of the carousel where no one wanted to be.  I hit an old man with my suitcase, as I hoisted it off the carousel with my gimp (recently operated on) wrist and oh darn it, he was standing on my shoes and talking on the phone and just didn’t move fast enough.  “Sorry old man, maybe next time you’ll think twice about climbing inside my pants with me uninvited and when I’m already pissed offed.”

So I grabbed my suit case off the carousel, layed out the old guy and made my way back the direction I came.  Only to realize that when I came down the escalators to the baggage claim I was exiting the security area and I had to find another way.  It took a few minutes and several wrong turns but I found my way back to ticketing (which was not clearly marked in anyway, from baggage claim.)

I walked up to the Virgin America ticketing area and there was NO line!  I walked right up to the counter where I was greeted by a lovely African American woman, yes woman, named Willis.  Willis informed me that the flight was very full, but that there were a couple seats open in First Class if I’d like to upgrade for only $50.00.  At first I declined but on further discussion, I decided it was well worth it.  This experience from the moment I walked up to the counter till the moment I picked up my bag at baggage claim in San Francisco was a delight!  An awesome resolution to an other wise ass sucky, FUBARed, screw over of a trip. 

An experience so worthy of further description, in fact, that I’m not going to do so now.  At this moment the counter in the corner says I’m at 3904 words.  It’s ten minutes till 7 p.m. and I’m still at my desk at work.  This has taken about an hour longer than I expected and I have a pork chop and  bottle of White Zinfandel at home with my name on them.  So I will fill you all in on the wonder that is Virgin America, in a very near future post.

But before I conclude this tirade, I almost bet you can guess what the final frustration was?  You got it, My United Airlines plane parked at gate D40 and my Virgin America plane departed from Gate D34.  I had to make my way, all the way to bagage claim so that I could get to ticketing, check-in and check my suit case again, and then go back through Security, back to the tram to get back to Terminal D three gates down from where I was in the first place.  So, I give “rave” reviews to the Devil’s Travel Agency AND his airline. (Insert rolling eyes here.)

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