Friday, April 06, 2007

more travel woes

Have you ever gone out of Washington Dulles concourse A? If you have, then you know what a chaotic mess it is. I was traveling to New York again this week, but this time flew out of Kansas City. There are very few direct flights out of KC, except to hubs, so I took a connecting flight out through Chicago. I drove through a thunderstorm to get to the airport. The storm was moving towards Chicago, so guess what, O'Hare called a ground stop at the airport which basically shut down all incoming and outgoing flights. I had a 7:45am flight, connecting through O'Hare and arriving at LaGuardia at 1pm. Instead, I arrived around 5pm and missed all of my afternoon meetings.

This brings me to my flight back. Coming back I flew through Dulles. My first flight is 12:20 out of LaGuardia and makes it out on time. I have about a 2 hour layover in Washington so went and got a bite to eat. I'm scheduled out of concourse A but decide to go over to concourse B (the international concourse next door to A) to chill out and have some lunch. Concourse B is the polar opposite in terms of atmosphere. It's fairly quiet in the concourse. The gates are very orderly. Nice restaurants, Ben and Jerry's, The Tap Room, and even an area where you can get a massage, called the Massage Bar. My flight's already been delayed by an hour, so with about 45 minutes to go, I mosey back down to concourse A and wait for the flight at my gate.

Now concourse A is where they put all of the puddle jumper jets. They don't pull the planes up to the gate here, so all planes are boarded outside, climbing up the stairs into the plane. They board several planes out of each gate, sometimes in parallel. There are four gates down at the end of the terminal, so there's constant chatter over the intercom over flights boarding, flights delayed, calling stand-bys, and various other announcements. The chatter is at most times simultaneous, so it's nearly impossible to clearly get the entire message. To make matters even more stressful, motion alarms were going off every 10 minutes or so. Someone explained that it was when someone opened the doors from the outside to come back inside. I can't imagine a worse system. There were so many false positives that absolutely no one paid any attention to them. The flight had gotten delayed twice, so as I sat there I had struck up a conversation with a woman next to me. I heard them call my flight and something about "5pm" at the same time someone was shouting, "This is the Toronto flight, if you are not on the Toronto flight please step back from the gate!" I figured my flight had delayed yet again. Now, I should've gotten up to check, although the lines at the gate were about 30-40 feet long, but you guessed it, my flight had left without me. They had given up my seat without even calling my name. I was sitting 20 feet from the gate. Fortunately they had another flight leaving about an hour and a half after mine left and I was able to get on that one after talking to three different people, but it was an insanely frustrating experience. One of the people I talked to about getting on that next flight told me this happens all the time out of concourse A because no one can hear their flights announced.

Live and learn. Stay away from concourse A at Dulles. And, United Airlines, I expect better from you.

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