Tuesday, January 12, 2010

When an Apparently Good Idea.....Isn't

Those of you who have traveled through Heathrow in the past 10 years know that Heathrow just plain sucks, even on a good day. Even if you're traveling 1st Class with all the perks, you get off the plane and go into a passport queue and then a security queue with a few thousand of your best friends. It takes forever before you can head to the American Admiral's Club for a hot shower, and that is the last thing your red, sore eyes want to deal with after flying, say, 10 hours from Dallas. Since I'm an American Airlines Executive Platinum, I have to tolerate it, because on AA you almost always have to go through Heathrow, and connect to British Air, to get anywhere in Europe. Trust me on this, a free upgrade to First Class on a 10+ hour flight is worth transiting through what may possibly be the civilized world's suckiest airport.

I thought I'd try to get the best of both worlds, bypassing Heathrow by taking AA OneWorld affiliate IBERIA through Madrid. Free upgrade included. Madrid's airport is reputed to be very good. Instead of a 777 from LAX or Dallas, I'd ride an Airbus A340 from Chicago or NY to Madrid.

This time, Smart Guy outsmarted himself.

I was due, no, I was overdue, for a travel disaster...and I got one.

Sunday Morning to Sunday Evening

Leaving Salt Lake City after visiting with my good friends Gary and Sue and skiing Snowbasin, I arrived at Chicago ORD to a bitterly cold afternoon. Spent a 4-hour layover in the AA Flaghip Lounge downing half a bottle of California Shiraz, then staggered onto the IBERIA A340 around dinnertime and plunked my ass into a First Class lie-flat seat. Then I sat. And sat. And sat. We went nowhere, as the pilots struggled with a mechanical problem. One of the technicians walking through the cabin mumbled something about a frozen fuel pump on engine #2. But basically, like a balky '58 Buick on a cold winter morning, the A340, a $150,000,000 piece of Euro feces, wouldn't start.

After about 90 minutes spent sitting at the gate, First Class was told to get off the plane. Cattle Class continued to sit. IBERIA gave us each a $20 meal voucher, and said to be back in two hours. I headed back to the Flagship Lounge and started working on the rest of that bottle of wine. Fuck dinner.Two hours turned into three. We eventually trudged back onto the plane and left Chicago about 6 hours late. Meanwhile, it was snowing like hell all through Europe.

I thought I'd seen the worst of post-menopausal, snarly, ill-tempered flight attendants flying The Menopause Route (DFW-Hawaii and LAX-Hawaii) on AA, but those American FAs on The Menopause Route are Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm compared to the senior FAs on that Iberia flight. They were all somewhere between crabby & nasty. Since I declined dinner, apparently they decided to ignore me the entire flight. They didn't even serve a round of drinks. To anybody in First Class. Their douchiehness was somewhat tempered after I started talking to them in Spanish rather than English, but with one exception, they were the worst FAs I've seen since I flew Aeroflot from Moscow to London a few years ago.

I wrangled about 4 bottles of agua con gaz out of the various waddling Mauds, hit the recline button on the lie-flat seat, and went to sleep. I slept like a rock from Pennsylvania to the Spanish frontier. I awoke to a small breakfast, and while eating, I scrolled through the IFE unit's menus. I found absolutely nothing worth watching. I finally started watching a really lame chick flick called "He's Really Not That Into You", or something close to that. A really dumb, really bad movie with a pretty good cast, wasted. And just when the first and only good part started (Jennifer Connelly stripping down and grudge-fucking her filandering husband on his office desk) the pilot cut the IFE, and we landed.

Monday, Early Afternoon. Same trip.

It was weird seeing Madrid covered with so much snow on the way in. Madrid had more snow than Salt Lake City, which I'd left behind the previous morning.

Madrid's airport terminal is completely open from end to end and side to side, about 400 meters X 40 meters, with towering ceilings about 25 meters high. You could easily fit 40 or 50 indoor tennis courts inside each floor, and even a very defensive lob wouldn't hit the ceiling. You could fire a laser pointer from one end to the other without hitting anything. Add marble floors and you've got yourself a skateboarder's dream.I wonder if a really good bowler could throw a 400-meter strike down the length of the entire terminal. He'd have a chance to try at Madrid Airport, at 3AM.

The place was a wreck. Snow had paralyzed central Europe, so thousands of people were stranded and dozens if not hundreds of flights had been canceled. There were people sleeping on the floor and perhaps 500 people in line at the IBERIA desk. I headed for the IBERIA VIP Lounge (a perk of being Executive Platinum) only to find at least 50 people in line THERE, and the lines weren't moving at all.

I waited in line for a half-hour to see an agent, and the line did not move one inch. Gazing off at the huge flight info board nearby, I noticed that my original connection from Madrid to Munich, which should have left 5 hours previously, was still at the gate. So (mistake) I walked out to the gate, waited an hour through an additional delay, and boarded. Or more precisely, attempted to board. I was flagged by the ticket validating machine. Although I had a confirmed First Class seat and a boarding pass, IBERIA's shitty software had removed me from the flight once my ORD-MAD flight went late past the connection's original departure time, and then gave my seat away.


It was around 16:00, and I saw my chances of getting out of Madrid that day slipping away. It had already been well over 24 hours since I'd left Gary's house in Salt Lake City.

The IBERIA GA was actually very nice and apologetic about the software fuckup, so the fantasy that flashed before my eyes of clubbing him to death with my military-grade, hardened Dell ATG laptop, walking down the jetbridge and plunking myself down in the pilot's jump seat, didn't actualize. I just sighed, hung my head, and trudged back to the VIP Club. I usually know when I'm defeated, and I could see this was one of those times when I could flash my Executive Platinum / OneWorld Sapphire / 3 Million Lifetime Miles ID all I wanted, and it would get me nowhere.

The line at the VIP Club had dwindled to five lines of about three customers each. After I worked my way up to the front, I got another 55 apologies from the GA, who clacked on his computer for a while and handed me a boarding pass for a MAD-MUC flight at 20:00. Three more hours to kill. Again, he was so nice and gracious that I felt guilty for fantasizing about shoving his ticket printer through his teeth. He even mumbled something about getting my luggage on the flight, which I doubted would happen.

As I finished up with the GA, I glanced to my left and saw two of the tallest, slimmest, most gorgeous women I've ever seen in person standing next to me. I was initially prompted to look at them not because of their jaw-dropping gorgeousness, but because they were screaming at the top of their lungs from 3 feet away. I discovered that it is possible for a 20-year-old, drop-dead gorgeous, 6-foot supermodel to look worn, haggard, and ugly. Evidently they'd had a day and a travel experience not unlike mine, and unlike the resigned sigh I emit when I get fucked by an airline, they were Russian supermodels used to getting their way, and both proceeded to throw a rather impressive tantrum right there at the VIP desk. Like 5-year-olds whose GameBoy has been confiscated, they both burst into tears and started cursing their GA in a mixture of French, Russian, and English at about 130 decibels. They were accompanied by a large, slimy-looking guy, a younger version of disgraced Formula One empressario Flavio Briatore: scraggy beard, bad teeth, solid gold anchor chain, $50,000 wristwatch. As I turned away and headed for the bar, Flav Jr was adding his two cents to the cacophony. I'm sure that got them far. Let me know how that goes for you, Vladimir.

I headed for the free internet hookups in the back of the VIP Lounge. For some reason the IBERIA VIP lounge is not allowed to offer WiFi, but they do offer hard-wired router access, and I had a couple of Cat5 cables with me (don't leave home without 'em). Realizing that even if my flight left on time I'd miss the last train from MUC to Kitz, I got on the internet and reserved myself a room at one of the MUC airport hotels, then called the angel of mercy known as Herta at Villa Mellon in Kitzbühel (my ultimate destination), and told her not to wait up for me.

I had a chance to use and appreciate my fast-booting, handy dandy little Lenovo S12 IdeaPad, which is great for airports and airplanes and was more fully described in this space in an earlier post.

My flight to MUC left about an hour late, but I was grateful because outright cancellations still filled the departure display boards, and I finally got to watch Madrid Airport disappear into the distance, albeit > 12 hours later than originally planned.

I sit here on an Airbus A320 en route to Munich. It's 23:00.I should be at the hotel by about 1AM, and my luggage will almost surely not accompany me. Total trip time will have been about 36 hours, and I won't even be in Austria yet.

I asked the GA at the VIP Lounge if IBERIA would give me a hotel voucher, since the hotel at MUC is on my dime and was 100% their fault. Predictably, he said no, they were getting me to Munich the same day as my original ticket promised, and any plans beyond that were not their problem. He said I was welcome to write IBERIA's customer complaint people and plead my case, but not to hold my breath.

Since the Russian supermodels were in full afterburner right next to me, I just smiled weakly through my 36-hour shadow, thanked him for his help, and moseyed off toward the bar.

Tuesday Evening

Things started looking up when I arrived in Munich. When we landed in MUC, one look out the window told me just how lucky I was to get out of Madrid at all. There was snow on the runway and piles of plowed snow everywhere. On final approach, it was snowing so hard I could barely see the wingtips.

My baggage, of course, didn't make it to MUC, which meant (law of unintended consequences working in my favor) I didn't have to schlep it to the hotel nor on the train to Austria today. At the Holiday Inn Express MUC, the hottie at the front desk explained that over 60 of their rooms were filled with stranded fliers, and that's why she didn't have any emergency razors left.

MUC is in the same complex as the train station and a shopping mall, so I stopped this morning on the way to the train and picked up a razor, some floss, fresh undies, and a few other necessities. Riding the excellent, on-time, comfortable ÖBB train from MUC to Kitzbühel, I observed that Austria was white like I've never seen it. GREAT racing conditions. Even the sunny side of Kitzbühel (Kitzbühelerhorn) was totally white.

When I showed up at Villa Mellon looking (and feeling) like hell, the Angel of Mercy (Herta) had a room ready for me; then she brought me green tea and cookies, which was heavenly beyond words.

I just talked to Iberia on the phone, they tell me my luggage has been located and will be delivered to me in Austria on Wednesday.

I wonder how the Russian supermodels made out.

1 comment:

Mike W said...

Wow, it DID finally catch up to you. Coop and I meet up in MUC tomorrow morning at 10am. See you for dinner.