The past couple years have been really rough on my sense of security and personal stability. When I can't sleep (pretty much every night) I recite this, "No matter what happens, no matter how much farther my life spirals out of control, I know..." and then I complete the sentence with irrefutable facts about myself. The list of irrefutable facts about myself is exponentially smaller with each passing day of unemployment.
And just when I was certain that of at least one thing, the fact that Alec Baldwin and I would never have anything in common, we both flew on American Airlines on the same day and we both had, um, issues. Apparently Tuesday was American Airlines' Be Cranky to Passengers Day.
WARNING: Rant ahead.
My mother is on the mend and home recovering quickly. Yay. That's not the rant. That's a good thing.
The gentlemen callers abated for now. That's also not a rant. That's sort of a good thing. I mean, it's good for me because I don't want to think about things like step-fathers and my mother's romantic life. But if my mother wants to date that's okay, too. I'd just rather not know about it.
I had an opportunity to interview for a job. Yay. That's not the rant, either. That's a good thing.
The interview required a plane trip. This is where the rant begins.
Yes. It's an airline rant. Blah blah blah ad infinitum. I know, we've all heard it all.
I have logged a lot of air miles in my life. I have logged a lot of air miles in the past 15 years of my life. A lot of air miles. The sort of air miles one accrues when one has a job which requires often twice monthly cross-country meetings and when one is in a trans-Atlantic long-distance relationship/engagement for several years and when one has endured prolonged critical illnesses in parents who live over 200 miles away. I'm not in the million mile club, but, let's just say it's not that far out of the realm of possibility for me to qualify for membership. I flew a lot prior to 9-11 and I have flown a lot post 9-11.
I feel a need to preface my rant with those disclaimers because, with all of those air miles logged, I have a disproportionally low number of airline rants. And on the rare occasions I do rant, it's usually about other passengers, not the airlines.
American Airlines let me down big time. And that's not just a disgruntled flyer ranting because they didn't get their way. American Airlines screwed up so badly that even their flight attendant approached me, of her own accord, unsolicited or invoked by me, and told me I should contact customer service. She then proceeded to give me a "special" email and phone number for complaints. The "special" email and phone number they don't publish on their website.
Gosh, Trill, what the heck happened?
In order to get to this interview I had to make flight arrangements on very short notice. Many of the most convenient flights were sold out. So I opted to depart from a smaller regional airport on American Eagle. This was not a huge deal to me - I have flown on the smaller American Eagle fleet quite a lot between Michigan and Chicago. Not ideal in terms of comfort, but not awful, either. And since 9-11 I've grown rather fond of smaller regional airports and the comparative congeniality they offer.
My rant is not about the smaller regional airport. I stand by my opinion on smaller airports. Smaller airport = fewer travelers = shorter (nonexistent) security lines = friendlier, saner, smarter TSA agents = making the best of post 9-11 airport rules.
I didn't have easy or timely access to a printer, so I couldn't do the advance check-in. I'd have to suck it up and deal with airport check-in. But, not a huge deal because I was using a smaller regional airport.
Okay. So. I have a carry-on suitcase that I have been using for the past four years. A quick calculation culled from air mile logs and which flights the suitcase in question flew indicates that suitcase has logged at least 25,000 miles in the past four years. Yes. It's held up remarkably well. It's held up well because I only use it when I'm flying short distances for a couple days and I carry it on. But here's the thing about me and this carry-on suitcase: When gate-checking is an option, I gate check it. Always. I'm not a big fan of overhead bins. I'm even less of a fan of passengers who attempt to stow suitcases in overhead bins. I make exceptions for some larger planes, or when flying in first or business class.
I want to take this opportunity to mention that the suitcase in question fits into the size-check template thingy at the airport check-in lines.
Right. So. I rolled into the small regional airport with my trusty carry-on. It still had the red valet gate-check tag from previous flights.
I'm a self-check-in kiosk kind of gal. Especially when I'm not checking luggage. There was one person being served at American Airlines' one ticket counter. There was another person using the sole self-check-in kiosk. I queued up behind the kiosk. Meanwhile, a woman with two children and several suitcases, strollers, car seats and, I kid you not, a Coleman picnic cooler (the kind with wheels) queued up behind the singular ticket counter. The person at the ticket counter finished their business and the agent summoned me to the counter. Okay, yes, it was nice of him to offer to serve me before the woman with all the stuff, and technically I was there first, but like I said, I'm a self-check-in kiosk kind of gal.
I said, "Oh, that's okay, I'm not checking anything (glancing sympathetically to the woman with the kids and all the stuff), I'll just use the kiosk."
The agent took a more forceful tone and said, "Your bag is too large to carry on."
I honestly didn't realize he was talking to me. I thought he was addressing the other woman, the one with the kids and a ton of stuff including a picnic cooler. I continued to wait for the kiosk.
"Ma'am, you cannot use the self check-in kiosk if you are checking a bag and your bag is too large to carry on."
Oh. He's talking to me. He called me ma'am. I hate being ma'amed. My bag is not too large to carry on, I've been carrying it on for four years. I hate being ma'amed.
I made the universal "oh, you mean me?" face and accompanying pointing at oneself gesture.
The agent told me to step up to the counter to check in.
I smiled, brightly, and said, "I carry this on all the time, usually I gate-check it. See? I already have the official red gate-check valet tag on it. I'll just wait for the kiosk," again, motioning toward the woman with the kids and all the stuff to check.
"That bag is not regulation size, you have to check it."
It was at this point that my easy-going attitude turned, shall we say, less congenial. I've flown from this airport in the past, on American Eagle. I knew darned well that the overhead bins won't accommodate anything larger than a small handbag and all carry-ons are gate-checked. So in actuality the size of the carry-on is moot because everything gets gate-checked because nothing fits in the overhead bins.
I took a deep emotionally cleansing breath and said, "It is regulation size, but it doesn't matter, I'm gate-checking it, which I have done in the past, see? The official red gate-check valet tag?"
"Put it in the baggage sizer. Prove to me it's regulation size."
Okay, Mr. Smug Smarmypants, Mr. I Have to Wear a Nametag to Work, Mr. I'm in Charge Here, I'll "prove" to you that it's regulation size.
In order to get to the baggage template size thingy I had to get through the cacophony of stuff the woman with the kids had cluttering up the aisle. She had to move a stroller, car seat and the cooler in order for me to access the baggage sizer template thingy.
My bag fit into the template but there was a metal edge along the bottom that made one side of my suitcase jut up about 1-1/2".
The agent triumphantly yelled, yes, yelled from behind the safety of his ticket counter, "I told you it's not regulation size."
I said, "There's an edge of metal, a bar along the bottom that's making it protrude." I gestured to the bottom of the baggage sizer template thingy, and said, "See?"
He said, "I cannot come to that side of the counter. And I can see from here that your bag does not fit into the regulation baggage sizer."
"It fits, it's just protruding because of the metal bar along the bottom!"
He said, "I will not allow that bag as a carry-on. You have to check it."
I said, with a smile, "I'm gate-checking it."
And here's where I probably did a bad thing. The self-check-in kiosk was now available. So I picked up my carry-on, ignored the agent and proceeded check-in at the self-service check-in kiosk.
I know, I know, I shouldn't mess with "authority" at an airport. I know. Okay? I know. And I especially shouldn't mess with "authority" at an airport when I'm flying to a job interview.
And no, I typically don't have a problem with authority. For the record, I'm even okay with rent-a-cops, doormen, and the aforementioned TSA agents. But I do have issues with "authority." People who are not actually in positions of actual authority but because they're behind the desk wearing a smock/embroidered logo polo shirt and a name badge and handing out required tickets, receipts, change, whatever pittance is required to pass from one area to another, they perceive themselves to be authorities, in charge. Hand gesture of airquote *authority* hand gesture of unairquote.
Perhaps I was a bit too defiant. I'll admit that yes, I was acting a bit, you know, defiant. But. My carry-on was regulation sized. The stupid baggage sizer template thingy had a metal bar along one edge which caused my suitcase to protrude over the size allotment. Their fault, not mine.
But that didn't matter. I was on his turf and I had to play by his rules. I like small regional airports, but, the downside is that small regional airports are staffed by small regional people. Cue the Deliverance theme song.
Unfortunately that thought didn't occur to me until after I said, "I realize your employer is in bankruptcy and you're probably worried about losing your job, but extorting $25 from passengers by way of a baggage sizer scam is not going to get your airline out of debt or save your job."
Yadda yadda yadd the agent told me he was going to call security.
Yadda yadda yadda I told him to go ahead and call security because I'd like them to see the scam he's running with the baggage sizer template thingy.
Yadda yadda yadda it turns out the security guard and the agent are good friends.
Yadda yadda yadda $25 later I was relieved of my carry-on and escorted to the "special" security area.
However, it turns out the TSA agents don't think too highly of airport rent-a-cop security guards. Turns out TSA agents think airport rent-a-cop security guards are as Barney Fife as us civilians do. Turns out TSA agents enjoy exerting their actual authority over the rent-a-cop security guards who only have "authority." I was given the VIP, smiling, go on through, have a nice flight treatment from the TSA agents. They made a big show of congenially passing me through security without the extra security pat-downs the rent-a-cop security guard was craving.
I went to the gate without further incident.
And that's when I got really angry. The flight was full and there were many people waiting to board at the gate. I looked around for a place to sit. And quickly realized there wasn't a place to sit because bar none, everyone at the gate had carry-on suitcases taking up all the extra seats and space around the chairs. The carry-ons were all the size of mine or larger. Several college-aged kids had large rolling duffels at least 6" - 8" larger than my carry-on. What the...?
And this is when I got really, really angry. The woman with the kids, strollers, car seats, suit cases and Coleman picnic cooler arrived at the gate. She arrived with all her strollers, car seats, suit cases and yes, the Coleman picnic cooler. All of which had the coveted red gate-check valet tags. Double what the...? None of that crap was regulation sized. None of it. To keep myself from completely losing it, going insane and going postal, I'm forcing myself to assume that she's a medical courier with proper ID and official papers and the picnic cooler contained either a vital organ for a transplant or a crucial rare antidote serum for a child dying of a rare disease. Or it carried breast milk for her small child.
Sidebar: I'm unemployed. I'm losing my home. I have almost no money. $25 is a big stinking deal to me. $25 is my entire food budget for two weeks, often for three weeks. So the unexpected outlay of $25 was a source of anxiety and stress for me as well as a bona fide financial hardship. And yes, I know, if you can't afford the baggage fee, you shouldn't be flying. Believe me, I wouldn't have been flying were it not for a job interview in a distant city. An important job interview for which I wanted to get a good night of rest, hence my desire to not wait around the airport a second longer than necessary, hence my desire to carry-on my regulation-sized suitcase. The extra time spent waiting at the baggage claim was equally as inconvenient to me as the $25 fee. And equally unnecessary.
We boarded, I arrived at my destination, a very, very large metropolitan airport. I trudged to the baggage claim area and waited. And waited. And waited. I began to worry because even though the baggage claim monitor listed my flight number, I was the only person waiting at that baggage carousel. Eventually a flight attendant from my flight appeared. She smiled at me. I managed a smile at her.
And then she came over and said, "I recognize you from my flight. You know that you pick up your bag at the gate, right? The bags are gate-checked and when you deplane you wait on the jetway and they unload the gate-checked bags."
"Yeah, I know the drill. But they made me check my bag. The agent said it wasn't regulation sized and called security on me. I had to pay $25 to check my bag."
The flight attendant looked at me with increasingly furrowed eyebrows.
"No one checks bags on that flight. We gate-check everything. I had a long layover and did some shopping, so I have a few things coming on the baggage carousel but no one else checked anything to arrive here. A few passengers checked bags through to other destinations, but not here. I even saw a woman gate-checking a cooler! Are you sure they didn't gate-check your bag?"
I looked around again. It was still just me and the flight attendant. The baggage claim area was taking on a Twilight Zone atmosphere.
"Well, I dunno. The agent at the counter made me check my suitcase."
"Is it really large? You know, over-sized?"
"Nope. It's a normal carry-on sized. I've carried it on a lot of flights and never had a problem. But there was this metal bar along the bottom edge of the baggage-sizer template thingy that made my bag jut above the top of the template frame and the agent made me check it and pay $25 and called security on me."
"Good God. I'm so sorry. Here, let me write down a phone number and email for you. We have a special complaint line for passengers who were inconvenienced more than is acceptable. Tell them what you told me."
We both stood there in awkward silence waiting for the baggage carousel to spring to life. 45 minutes after our flight landed the buzzer squawked and the conveyor sprang to life. 10 minutes later the flight attendant's boxes appeared. She wasn't kidding, she did some serious shopping. 10 minutes after her boxes and suitcase appeared, my measly little carry-on came rolling out of the baggage abyss.
My issue ended better than Alec Baldwin's. I was only out $25 and an extra hour of time. I wasn't escorted off the plane and I arrived at my destination as scheduled. Other than the ticket counter agent and the airport rent-a-cop the airline and TSA personnel were friendly, efficient and helpful.
But now I'm back to square one regarding my sense assurance in at least one aspect of my life. Since Alec Baldwin and I now have something in common I'm back to square one with finding something, one certain fact about myself that I can
rely on cling to like a security blanket. I have to find another way to finish the sentence, "No matter what happens, no matter how much farther my life spirals out of control, I know..."
Labels: American Airlines, baggage fees