Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Ghost Ship of the United Fleet

It's beginning to feel that way. I have now had delays or cancellations on 5 straight legs of the Flight 857/858 pair, to and from Shanghai. Makes me wonder if this is system wide, or if there is something special about that route.

After bidding adieu to the Traveling Hillbillies and wondering how they would be feeling post-Bloody-Mary-binge on their longish haul to Hawaii, I got off the plane and headed towards the International Terminal. My regular routine is to go out and back through security and cool my heals until the lounge opens at eight. It was pointed out me that there is another lounge, right there in the United concourse which presents a better alternative, so there we went.

Hung out in there until about 9 when the shuttle started running, which allows you to miss another pass through the checks. My companions went off for the 3rd and 4th breakfasts, I being content with only my second went off to the bus.

I know I've mentioned it before, but it's a fun little ride - 20 yards out, turn left, drive 40 yards, turn left, drive 20 yards, turn left, get off the bus and allow the waiting agent to cram you into an elevator. I was standing at the front just behind the driver, the bus being crammed itself, no doubt to inure us to the upcoming elevator cramming, and I noticed a clipboard by the driver's seat that listed all the flights leaving the terminal. Right there about 8th on the list was Flight 857, my ride to the Inscrutable East. I also noticed that it showed a 14:20 departure, 40 minutes later than my ticket. The fun was just beginning.

So I went up to the lounge and got settled and started working on my 3rd breakfast when an announcement came over the speaker - all of those waiting to board UA857 from the day before should now be at the gate. A second sign that the apocalypse was coming.

Never a good a sign when yesterday's plane is still there.

Around about noon I headed out and found a nice Caprese sandwich and then went to the gate. The bus driver's estimate was still holding - 2:20, so I waited around. Until they changed the board to 3PM. And then 3:30. And then told us to go away until 3:15 with a 4PM departure "a sure thing."

While waiting, we moved into Internet Travel Agent mode and cancelled flights and hotels and rebooked replacements. The web has changed all that, if you have a laptop you can pretty much fix whatever disaster gets thrown at you, a comforting feeling that takes all the bad moods out of delays, cancellations and what-not.

At 4 we were told we would leave at 5 and that our plane was so broken that they would kindly commandeer the incoming plane from Frankfurt and give it to us. It seems cancelling the same flight two days in a row is really bad airlines mojo. Matt and I decided to go play "good cop bad cop" with the gate agent and so we walked down to the new departure gate. As Matt was demanding a nuisance voucher and the guy was arguing that they didn't do that any longer, it came over his radio that they were getting vouchers for everyone. That problem solved without any extortion, I asked at what point he was going to put me into Business based on my run of 5 straight delays. He asked if I had Premier Executive status, I said "yes" and he took our boarding passes. I had managed to snag a big upgrade for 3 of us.

A couple of extra delays and some hugging with the flight attendants (I was standing near them and they were all hugging each other so I asked "where's mine? and one of the women gave me a big squeeze as did one of the men who told me "hugs only, no kisses in the ear") we were given a final departure time of 6. We boarded and left at 7.

I have nothing to report about the flight because I was so tired from hanging out in the airport for 10 hours that once having eaten, I feel asleep for 8 or so hours. No crosswords, videos or books just sleep.

We arrived into a 30 degree swampy nightmare, cleared the airport and made our hotel at 11:15, 29 hours under our belts.

A decent night's sleep and here's the view out my window this morning, the Jin Mao Tower and the Pearl. The sun coming up behind the Jin Mao threw me for a second, until I realised I was closer to the river and so on the west side of these monuments.




And so it goes, more adventures in getting from place to place. We'll see what the domestic airlines bring us today.

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