(An edited version of this column originally ran in Key West the Newspaper April 1, 2011)
Me and four guys I didn’t know 24 hours ago, heading to Key West in an ancient sedan. Thank god I’ve got shotgun, because the Bulgarian sure does like his cigs.
This could have been the intro to what would eventually be a screwball comedy, but it was actually the final leg of the horror story I’d been living for the last 15 hours. I should have been home from Paris, waking up in my own bed for the first morning in almost two weeks. Instead, there I was on the road with the men I call Alpha Male (Aggressive Type-A), Fish (heading to Key West to, you guessed it, go fishing), Bulgaria (the Bulgarian), and our driver, Ricky Ricardo, on account of his laugh. And he liked me because his daughter and I share the same name. That’s why I got shotgun.
The day before, I was at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris at roughly 8:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m. ET), being politely whisked through security as an Air France Premium passenger, and then sitting in the peaceful terminal (yes, peaceful!) wondering why American airports couldn’t be half as civilized.
I even had a lovely nine hour flight with good food, champagne, wine, and three French films. Once in Atlanta I’d have a three and a half hour layover until I boarded my Delta flight home to Key West, and by 10:00 pm tops I’d be home sweet home.
Well, a girl can dream.
Thoughts of home, and seeing my cats, even got me through the painful dinner at a Mexican restaurant where I sat next to three girls who each asked the server every single time he came to their table, “the chip refills are free, right?” He finally brought them their own individual giant bowls, overflowing with chips. I couldn’t take it anymore and went to my gate early.
I thought the worst of it was the grandparents with an excitable child who practically sat on top of me. Yeah, I wish. It was when the gate agent asked for volunteers to take a $400 voucher and the next flight out that it started to drizzle on my parade.
Of course there were no takers and soon the agent listed off the names of 18 passengers who needed to see him immediately. Yours truly made the list.
He explained that due to the wind in Key West (a quick Facebook query confirmed that there was nary a breeze) and a “weights and measures” issue, none of us would be boarding that plane. We would be put up at a hotel in Atlanta until the next flight out. Which was in two days. They could not guarantee that we wouldn’t once again get bumped, what with the wind and weights and measures. There were flights scheduled to leave the next day, but you know, there was no room for us since those flights were sold out and they would inevitably be bumping passengers off those lists too.
How am I so sure? Because the Delta Red Coat agent told us that this happens every single day on their flights between Atlanta and Key West. Every day on almost every fully booked flight.
I pushed my way to the front and explained that I was not one of these fancy vacationers. I am a Key West resident who has a job, and responsibilities, and cats that needed attention, and I’ve been travelling since 2:30 a.m and I’m tired and desperately need a shower and thus I MUST BE ON THIS FLIGHT.
You’d be surprised, but the only ones moved by my story were the ones who wanted to punch me in the face because I live in Key West. Redcoat stared at me blankly. I thought about spending the next two nights in Atlanta with no guarantee of ever getting out and I started to cry. Except I was so dehydrated that I had no tears in me. Not a one.
I wanted to fling myself down on that nasty airport carpet and start pounding my heels and fists into the ground and scream until I got my way, but instead I just slumped over the desk. Then someone tried to make me feel like a jerk by interjecting, “well this guy’s from Bulgaria and he’s on his way home from his dad’s funeral and he’s already been travelling for 37 hours.” Fine, he wins. But I claim second place prize at the pity party.
Then Red Coat tried to tell us we were only going to get $200 vouchers and I lost it. Two hundred for this clusterfuck? Sorry sweetie, but gate guy already announced $400 and that’s what you have to give us. And we got it (and I’ve already misplaced it).
Alpha Male is about to incite a riot by announcing that in the Crown Room he overheard Delta employees mention there was a lot of cargo on our flight, and that was really why we were being bumped. I believe him. We implored them to take us and leave the luggage behind. They wouldn’t even give us our own bags back.
Red Coat is trying to get us out of her hair by booking those of us who are interested on an 11:00pm flight to Fort Lauderdale. And if we have enough takers she might be able to arrange a shuttle to Key West for the next morning. No, not an airplane. A bus.
Some people complain that they’re only on a three day vacation and have paid hefty non-refundable deposits to Key West resorts and so getting in on Saturday will do them no good. Even getting in on Friday sucks. And they were pretty much told, well, that sucks for you, doesn’t it?
So after literally two hours at the desk we’ve all been given meal vouchers, booked back home or on different flights, and for those of us going to Fort Lauderdale, we’ve also been given hotel vouchers. We are assured that a Delta agent will greet us at our gate and lead us directly to the airport shuttle that will drop us off at a Hyatt five minutes from the airport, and pick us up at 6:30 a.m. for our 7:00 a.m. shuttle. Awesome.
But then we arrive in FTL at 1:30 a.m. and the gate agents couldn’t really care less about our plight. They had no advance knowledge of us. They said our hotel vouchers weren’t valid and so we had to hang out another half hour and have them rebooked.
We were assured by the smiling (or was it smirking?) Redcoat that the shuttle attendants were waiting for us curbside and if we had any problems, just call. Problem is, none of us thought to get a phone number (and when you call Delta customer service after midnight, helpful is the last word I’d use to describe them).
Naturally the shuttle people had no knowledge of us and said we’d have to get in line behind the other 20 people also waiting for a shuttle. And we do, because there is not one Delta employee left in the whole terminal to help us. When we finally get to the hotel at 2:15 a.m. for a couple hours of rest, we are informed there are no reservations in our names and that the hotel has been sold out for days. As have all the hotels in the area. Like, haven’t we ever heard of spring break?
I’m pretty much willing to just sleep in the lobby at this point but Alpha Male yells at the front desk clerk until he calls around and finds us a hotel. He came up with one in a scary Hollywood neighborhood for $175/night which would naturally not be covered by our vouchers but we called a cab and went anyway.
At this point our group has whittled down to four: me (gorgeous after a shower with no makeup remover, moisturizer, makeup, or hair product to primp with, feeling fabulous in my dirty clothes, now sans-underwear), Alpha Male, Fish, and Bulgaria. I’m a little disappointed in Alpha Male because once I honed in on a Red Coat when we were back at the airport, he stood back and let me be the bad guy. Although when I gave Red Coat some slack Alpha jumped in and took over, and in the end we got refund checks for our hotel, and the shuttle to get us home. And Red Coat admitted that nothing that was supposed to have been done for us had been done. It was a matter of just getting us out of their faces.
Will I fly Delta again? Not if I can help it. And not through Atlanta. We pay good money for our flights and the least they can do is fulfill the service we’ve paid them to provide. But bumping passengers off this same route every single day says to me that once I’ve paid, they could care less where I end up (by the way, I was forced to pay for a first class seat out of Key West as there were only two seats left on the plane. As anyone who’s flown this route knows, there is no first class. Two days later I received a notice I’d been downgraded to coach, but of course I was not refunded any money).
Delta is sending its customer service reps to “charm school,” but if anyone I came across is a graduate, it basically means smile until you make the customer someone else’s problem.