Friday, November 02, 2007

Flying Sucks

Prepare yourselves for another rant. This one is about public transportation, which, let's face it, sucks miserably in this country. The highway system functions like clogged arteries and are unusable for large chunks of the day, buses are a joke, trains are slow and don't go where you need them to, which means the only viable option for most people is to fly. It's certainly the preferred means of travel for business, because most businesses would prefer that you spend as much time being productive as possible, instead of spending unproductive time crammed into aluminum cans of varying shapes trying to get to a place where you can be productive.

But air travel in this country is already pretty shoddy, and it's getting worse. The lack of viable alternatives is leading more and more people to fly, which means more and more flights at airports that are more and more outdated, which means more and more congestion, and more and more unhappy people when things eventually blow up. (I could go into another long rant about public funding of transportation, what we could learn from Europe, and just how miserable we're all going to be in a few decades if we don't do something soon, but that's a completely different post.)

So what brought this on, you might ask? My recent experience with USAir. I went on a recruiting trip to Cornell this Thursday and Friday, which has been pretty much an absolute disaster, as far as travel goes.

Richmond Int'l was ok, but the flight from Richmond to Philly was pretty bad. They've decided to "upgrade" some of their planes to have 4 seats per row instead of 3, with predictable results. After spending an hour like that, we finally got to Philly, which is a classic example of an airport expanding beyond its capacity. USAir has to operate out of two terminals in Philly: C and F. The only way to get from one to the other (without having to go through security again) is to take a small, cramped, slow, and woefully under-scheduled bus shuttle. They can't install an underground train, because that would disrupt service too much, and they can't afford that.


Well, the flight from Philly to Ithaca was delayed, delayed again, delayed again, and then delayed past the second flight to Ithaca, and then undelayed slightly. Seriously, they told us at 11AM it would be at least 12:30 before the plane was even on the ground. Then, at 11:20, people started boarding the plane. And when I say "people started boarding the plane" I mean just that. There was no announcement, no indication on the monitor all of a sudden people just started boarding the flight to Ithaca, with the ticket checker just ushering people onto the plane without really checking anything.

So finally we got into the air, and about midway through the flight the stewardess, for whatever reason, decided to get on the com and make sure that yes, everyone really was going to Ithaca. Why she decided to do this after we were airborne and not while we were still parked at the gate is beyond me, but she got results. Turns out that the girl sitting right next to me (who was half asleep and almost didn't hear the stewardess) was actually supposed to go to DC(!), not Ithaca, and had boarded the wrong plane. It wasn't entirely her fault; all things considered I'm lucky I didn't wind up on a plane for DC, and I KNOW people got left behind because they never announced the flight for Ithaca.

The part of the trip that I actually spent at Cornell I'll leave for another post. On to the return flight!

So, as I was riding the shuttle from the hotel to the airport, I overheard another asenger talking on his phone, saying that his flight had been delayed and that he didn't know what to do. "Perfect" I thought. Turns out that yes, my 5:55PM flight from Ithaca to Laguardia had been delayed by at least 2 hours, probably more. But not to worry, they said, there was a 10PM flight out of Laguardia to Richmond, so at the very least I should make that. I, being the analyst that I am, did some quick math. Flight was originally scheduled to leave Ithaca at 6PM If it's delayed by two hours, that means it will now leave at 8PM. It's a 90 minute flight, so I'd probably get to Laguardia around 9:30PM. That's doable if I'm trying to make a 10PM connection, but there was no way I'd make my previously scheduled 8:20 connection. So I asked if they could just book me for the 10PM flight and give me that ticket, since there the idea that I'd make the earlier connection seemed laughable. Well, no, apparently they can't do that, but it's possible that the earlier flight might be delayed enough for me to still make it. Oh, of course, how silly of me.

Ithaca is actually a rather pleasant small airport, and it has free wifi, but their "cafe", which serves sandwiches, chips and soda and nothing else, closes at 6PM, which leaves the vending machines. I was lucky enough to get a sandwich, but a lot of others weren't.

Finally the plane arrived, and it was time to go through security, where I got my first ever pat down search! More of a rub down search really, but hey, whatever. They inspected one of my bags but not the other, which is kind of weird in my opinion, but again, whatever. The whole process took less than a minute. I could have gone behind a private screen but opted not to, because really, what fun would that have been?

After my rubdown we boarded, went through the whole oxygen-is-flowing-even-though-the-bag-may-not-inflate routine, and then the rather terrifying part began. I've flown enough lately that I'm not anxious at takeoff or landing, but seriously, this time the plane sounded like it was going to fall apart. Loud, and I mean LOUD, rattling noises all over, the lights were flickering on and off, and the emergency exit door (in the row right behind me) startled whistling and shaking like it was going to fall off! The two people behind me (rather seasoned business travelers) were petrified. Eventually things settled down, and we got to NY.

Flight was delayed, delayed again, blah blah blah, surfed the net, boarded, flew, home. And now I'm tired so I'm going to bed.

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