I spent the Thanksgiving holiday in the Midwest, which was pleasantly uneventful. There were few notable intances of Assclownism, other than the fact that I had to remind them that the that the Pilgrims didn't actually invite the Indians to their double-wide to cook meth and that stuffing the turkey requires trousers at all times. (I have emphasized the last concept because I have grave doubts about some of you.)
No, the trouble began yesterday. Before I left, my employer realized that I was going to be within 100 miles of a customer that was having problems. Consequently, I agreed to stay an extra day to help the customer. On paper, this seemed like a clever move. I'd not only make my employer/customer happy, but I could expense part of my vacation. The service trip went like clockwork; the customer had a brain and I was in and out in 4 hours. As they say in the Midwest: I was happier than a three-peckered man in a doughnut stacking race. (I don't comprehend the mechanics of it either, but it makes a solid case for avoiding rural Krispy Kremes.)
My elation was to be transient, at best, because I was doomed to battle one of the sinister most forces of Assclownism: _______ Airlines. In order to limit my exposure to legal liability, I have omitted their actual name. From here on, I will simply refer to them alternatively as: Delta or CrackAddledAssclownsSportingFreshLobotomyScars. As you may know, Delta is undergoing massive restructuring in an effort to return to profitability. As part of the restructuring settlement, they have agreed to lose billions of dollars annually and to change their corporate motto from, "Oh, Shit. Where Did The Ground Go?" to "We Kiss You First."
My first inkling that I was screwed was when I changed my ticket to return on Monday instead of Sunday. After getting past the onerous automated menu system and an outsourced Indian screener, I found myself talking to someone with a distinctly southern accent. She was the model of politeness while informing me that the new fare and change fee would be an additional $376. The original ticket was less than $350 and it included a return to BWI on one of the busiest travel days of the year. The new ticket had me returning on a less travelled day and it allowed them to sell my old seats for an outrageous sum or use them for standby passengers, whose connections Delta had screwed up. In other words, they should have paid me for the change and, maybe even, let me fly the plane for a little while. Instead, the new restructured Delta had me over a barrel and decided to profit from it. It wasn't even the CSR's fault. Delta has programmed their pricing software to exploit such situations and I had tripped the PassengerGouge() algorithm. Had it actually been my $376, I'd probably be mighty bent right about now.
My second clue came when I arrived in Atlanta to connect with a flight to BWI. The gate I arrived at was packed with people. When I stopped to check my boarding pass for the flight number, I happened to spot a Delta pilot waiting with the passengers. There is nothing extraordinairy about this except for the fact that he was passing his time by solving a book of Word Search puzzles. The puzzles consisted of circling adjacent letters in a grid of random letters to form hidden words and are typically geared towards 8 year olds. I had a disturbing vision of this guy, in the cockpit of my plane, poring over a navigational map:
Pilot 1: "Hey! I found a B."
Pilot 1: "Woohoo, there's a W and an I!"
Pilot 2: "Good work, Pilot 1. Now we can land."
My next clue came when I checked the departure board. Most of the flights on were shown as late. Earlier in the day, there had been thunderstorms in Atlanta and the airport had been temporarily closed. At this point, it was about 4:30 P.M so these delays were understandable. My flight was scheduled to leave at 9:15 P.M, so I figured there was plenty of time for Delta to catch up. I thought I might even be able to fly standby on an earlier flight. Wrong. As the day went on and the weather improved, the delays got longer and more frequent. My flight wasn't even listed on the departure board until 8:15PM and it had an estimated departure time of 10:45PM. This was irrational exuberance on Delta's part, because we left at midnight and arrived at BWI at 1:30AM. I left BWI at 2:10AM and after retrieving my car, I arrived home around 3AM. In other words, I could have driven home in the same time and for 1/3 of the cost of flying home.
I was talking to a woman, in Atlanta, who happened to be a travel agent. She explained the situation with perfect clarity. She told me that under Delta's Contract of Carriage , the airline is not liable for compensating anybody who has their flight cancelled due to weather. So Delta uses a thunderstorm at 2PM as an excuse to cancel underbooked (nonprofitable) flights all day long, without repercussions. If you get stranded, too bad. Delta doesn't have to provide you lodging, meals, or ground transportation. She said that "Delta is the worst of the worst," and I'm inclined to agree.