American Airlines will get you there in time to return
I took one of those horrid Facebook-based surveys a few weeks ago — the kind which are usually completely useless clickbait whose questions and results are weighted to offer only the most self-congratulatory of results, because no one wants to be told they're Dudley Dursley when asked "Which Harry Potter Character Are You" despite the fact that they so clearly must be. The travel survey I took, however, was actually tough. I've traveled a lot, thanks to my work, and despite the frankly ridiculous number of countries and continents I've visited, I scored only 56 of 100 possible on "places you should see before you die."
Still, this clear "F" put me in the top 2% of responders to the quiz, so I passed. It got me thinking about just how lucky I've been. Not because of my travels, but lucky in avoiding the more common pitfalls which plague many travelers of any level of experience.
Oh, those were happy, naive times.
3:30 p.m.: I get in the car with a friend for a ride to ICT.
3:45 p.m.: I check in at the traditionally suggested amount of time before my international flight, a ridiculous exercise when flying out of Wichita as you NEVER need this amount of time. My flight is at 5:50 or thereabout, via American Airlines, to meet a Qantas flight to Sydney after a four hour layover. Plenty of time all around, all is well.
4 p.m.: I sail through the ridiculously easy, efficient security line and still have an hour and 45 minutes until my flight. I grab a coffee in the lounge and go online to kill time. Before too long my phone buzzes to alert me: my flight has been delayed 20 minutes.
4:45 p.m.: The delay alert has happened a few more times. The earlier AA flight to DFW was delayed quite a bit, but eventually got out. I thought of trying to get on that flight, but I had so much extra time! Why would that be necessary?
6:45 p.m.: My flight should've left almost an hour ago. I'm in line to request a rebooking with another airline, because based on the current ETA I'm going to miss my connecting flight despite the fact that I'd begun the trip with a huge layover at DFW. The phone of the gentleman in front of me buzzes. He looks at it and has a kind of quiet explosion, like an underground nuclear test, and mutters that our long-awaited, short flight is now cancelled.
7:05 p.m.: After another 20 minutes in line I reach the counter to learn that it is now 30 minutes too late to rebook tonight to make it out to anywhere helpful. Yes, feel the hatred flowing through you, making you stronger.
On-the-ground employees of your airline can be your best friend or your worst enemy, and it pretty much hinges on how you treat them, relative to how the people before you have treated them. Lucky for me, the two people in line before me have been absolute douchebags — so all I have to do is be halfway decent in order to get the guy behind the counter on something resembling my side.
He expresses the appropriate amount of frustration at the staffing problems that had led to the snafu — up to this point I'd thought it was a weather issue, but I was wrong. He apologizes and proceeds to help me rebook. He puts me in a "nice" hotel and gives me meal vouchers. Why don't I just go home, you might ask — well, being that they owe me a hotel and meal vouchers anyway, I'm not about to pay for cabs and such. I just want to get out ASAP. Anyway, a nice night in a decent hotel with a free meal will at least be relaxing, right?
7:30 p.m.: After retrieving my luggage, I waited for the airport shuttle, and soon realized my mistake. Do you remember the Wichita presented in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? Well, the hotel I am in, and the bar/restaurant inside, are from that universe, not the universe that you and I live in.
11:15 a.m.: Took the shuttle to the airport, checked through and got coffee again, and just like clockwork my phone buzzes to indicate a delay.
12:30 p.m.: Delays again, and again. I get in touch with American Airlines customer service only to receive platitudes such as "We'll get you there!" in lieu of any genuine response or help. My flight ends up leaving so late that I will almost certainly miss my connecting flight which, because it was not American Airlines, is probably going to leave on time.
2 p.m.: Once we finally arrive, I have to wait 10 extra minutes for my gate checked luggage despite my genial attempts to indicate my rush. While waiting I get on the phone with United — my next airline — and tell them my situation. They will try to hold the plane a few minutes for me, but advise me that there is some sort of issue with my luggage due to an error by American Airlines. If I can find someone to double check about it, before boarding, that would be advisable. I do that, with a baggage handler as I gate-check my carry-on. He says all should be well as he radios about my bags with all the flight numbers and relevant information. I try to contact American Airlines again and get nothing beyond more generic responses attempting reassurance.
THURSDAY (AUSTRALIAN TIME)
8 a.m.: After making my connections, it's a full day later when I reach my destination in Melbourne. I await my bags before customs, and slowly everyone gets their bags but me. Mine? Still in Dallas, turns out.
I contact American Airlines immediately, demanding to know what they are going to do about it. Nothing, apparently — it is United's problem now.
7 p.m.: It is another day and a half before my bags arrive, thanks to customs and couriers and such. Attempts to reach out to American about these several ruined days have been met with no real response.
United, on the other hand, got me my bags. They also paid for a new set of clothes and toiletries in the meantime, and kept in touch via phone and email until they knew I had my bags.
Why did I need a new set of clothes? Because, like an idiot, I didn't have an extra set of clothes in my carry-on. In two weeks time, I'll be flying the last leg of my return on American, so I'll see you all in 2017.