Friday, November 19, 2010

Planes, Shuttles, and Busted Air Conditioners

The classic John Hughes film "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" details the travel nightmares of Neil Page and Del Griffith, who suffer a series of mishaps while trying to get from New York to Chicago. Their situation was at times frustrating, infuriating, desperate, and after all was said and done, hilarious. Maybe you've had a few such excursions yourself. And although I did not end up with my ass looking "like a big Whopper" or have to hitch a ride to Stubbville in one degree weather with a hick named Owen, my trip to New York in the summer of 2008 would nonetheless qualify, to put it politely, as "obstacle-ridden".

Theresa and I had been planning our NYC vacation for several months. I grew up in Jersey, so I'd obviously been to New York on many occasions, but it was to be T's first visit to the City that Never Sleeps But Frequently Takes a Dump. And since I'm a die-hard Yankee fan and it was the last season for Yankee Stadium, the timing was perfect.

We organized our trip well in advance, deciding to fly out of Las Vegas rather than Los Angeles to save a few bucks, booked our hotel and double checked our reservations, bought our Yankee tickets and planned other activities to enjoy. We had our itinerary all set, no detail overlooked, and we were ready to go.

"What could possibly go wrong?" he asks foreshadowingly.

Our flight was scheduled to leave McCarran Airport in Vegas at 7:25 in the morning. I like to give myself plenty of time when I travel, so we arrived at check-in at 6:00. We checked the "Departing Flights" board and, lo and behold, there was the first sign of trouble. Our flight was listed as "delayed". Okay, no biggie, we were scheduled to arrive at JFK at about 3:00, flying non-stop, so another hour or two wouldn't be that big a deal. When we went to check our luggage, though, we saw a sign taped to the roped-off check-in line that said "Flight 261 passengers only".

Yeah, that was our flight number.

I'm not going to reveal the airline so as not to besmirch their stellar reputation, but let's just say it rhymes with "Schlamerican".

As we got closer to the front of the line, we overheard the lady at the counter tell a passenger, "We've booked you on a 10:00 flight that stops over in Atlanta, and it'll get you to JFK by 10PM."

Booked him on a flight?  This was sounding less like "delayed" and more like "cancelled".

When it was our turn, we learned that yes indeed, Flight 261 was cancelled due to "routine maintenance." Okay, I'm no airplane mechanic so I could easily be wrong on this, but wouldn't it make more sense to schedule "routine maintenance" for a time when, I don't know, the plane wasn't supposed to be taking passengers somewhere?"  We'd been re-booked on a different flight so now instead of leaving McCarran at 7:25 and flying non-stop to JFK and arriving at 3:00, we were now leaving at 11:00, stopping over in Dallas, and arriving at JFK at 9:30. That killed our dinner plans in the city, but we'd still have a little time to get settled.

We had breakfast (I had a McCarran McMuffin, which wouldn't be worth mentioning except for the fact that this turned out to be my last meal for about 16 hours), found our gate, and relaxed with a couple magazines. All right. At least we got the travel snafu out of the way early.

Little did Theresa and I know, this was only the beginning.

We arrived in Dallas without incident, and had about 45 minutes to kill before our connecting flight was scheduled to leave. T picked up a couple cheeseburgers at the airport McDonalds, but I wasn't that hungry so I decided to wait till we got to New York. This was not a great decision.  Five minutes before we were supposed to board, the gate attendant announced that our flight was being delayed about an hour. But wait, that's not all. Since they needed the gate for another flight, we were going to board the plane, taxi out to the tarmac, and wait there until it was time to take off.

So now we were sitting in a metal tube in 104 degree Texas heat with the engines (and therefore, the air conditioning) shut off to conserve fuel. Being wrapped in a blanket and rammed up the ass of a feverish llama would've been only slightly less comfortable.

I'm assuming.

We finally arrived at JFK at about 11:00 PM. We went down to baggage claim frustrated, exhausted, and in my case starving. I said to T, "You know that our luggage is somewhere in Manitoba right now, don't you?" Well, our luggage wasn't in Manitoba, actually our bags were the first ones down the chute, (What? Something went right? There must be some mistake!) so now all we had to do was catch our shuttle to the hotel and this day from hell would be over.

Ninety minutes and three phone calls later, the van from Steaming Pile o' Shuttle arrived.

Traffic leaving JFK was pretty much a fustercluck, so we arrived at our hotel at about 2:00 AM. I was absolutely famished, so we went up to the room to put our luggage away so we could go eat. When we got to the room, the thermostat read 92 degrees. Okay, we figured, the room had probably been vacant for a few days so if we crank up the AC and go grab something to eat, when we get back it'll be all nice and cool.

We walked across the street to the Carnegie Deli, and I had a roast beef sandwich that, I kid you not, was the size of a bowling ball. It was T's first experience in New York, so the atmosphere was perfect, if not our dispositions. We boxed up the substantial leftovers and headed back to the hotel. When we got back to the room, the thermostat now read 93 degrees. Beautiful.

I called the front desk, and asked if, you know, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, could they maybe send up a guy to keep the bed linens from bursting into flame.  I mean, the room wasn't merely hot, it was equatorial. About ten minutes later there was a knock on our door, and we welcomed Gustav the Repairman, he of limited English skills. After taking apart the unit, he managed to form the sentence "Ees broken, get new part in zee mornink."

After about four hours of sweat-soaked semi-sleep (Theresa told me she actually had a dream that she was melting), I went back to the front desk and said to the hotel manager, "Look. We had a miserable night. We're going out for a while today, and when we get back at about four o'clock, we'll need for the air to be fixed or to have our room changed. Will that work?"

The nice lady assured me that, yes, that would be fine. We went sight-seeing, had a nice lunch (is there anything better than New York pizza? I submit that there is NOT!), and when we returned to the hotel, it was nice and cool.  Three cheers for Gustav.

Thankfully, that was the last of the problems. The Yanks thoroughly abused the Twins on both nights we were there, we saw Wicked on Broadway, had dinner at the famous Elaine's (where they seemed to be hosting the Corleone family reunion) and in general had a wonderful time. Once we got that first day behind us, it was smooth sailing.

Until the trip home, when our flight was delayed three hours.

But I did use that extra time to buy a really nice set of shower curtain rings from a chatty fat guy.


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Eva Gallant said...

This is why I refuse to fly anymore. If I can't drive there, or go by limo (fat chance!), I'm not going!

00dozo said...

Vat? You didn't get the pastrami?? Oy! Damn meshuggenehs.

Heff said...

I'm flying in a week and a half.

Still preparing for my "junk" to get scanned.

KaLynn ("MiMi") said...

I'm so glad the rest of the trip went better than the beginning! What a nightmare!

Fred Miller said...

I was laughing like I did at the Adam Corolla rant in Playboy this November. "Steaming Pile-o-shuttle" and "rammed up the ass of a feverish llama." That's how it's done, people.

ReformingGeek said...

Never pass up a chance to get something to eat when traveling on Schlemerican....or any airline.


Traveling is great blog fodder! said...

Hey Knucklehead,

Long time no blog. Not sure if you booted me out for being an awesome Philly fan, but I'm back. great story as I head up to NYC for weekend with the preggo wife. She was supposed to by wicked tickets herself - but threw me a bone with Lombardi. Regardless, I'm hoping we don't end up in a rental van.

J.J. in L.A. said...

My worst plane trips were...

1) sitting alone in the Minneapolis airport for 4 hours while thunder and lightning raged. I hadn't eaten since breakfast and got home at 4 am where the only place open was a Del Taco. Yes, you WILL eat anything when you're starving.

2) the plane taxi'ing from the gate 5 minutes EARLY. We had to stay in Connecticut (with relatives) an extra day but got $100 vouchers after bitching up a storm to the airline once we got home.

Quirkyloon said...


I'm still stumped with "rhymes with schlamerican."


hee hee hee

Well, sounds like all that trouble was worth it, wasn't it?

After all you got new shower curtain rings! And I desperately need some new ones. You doin' a giveaway?

hee hee

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