Monday, March 10, 2008

On Airline Travel...

Nick blogged the other day about pain points. Well, I have a few of my own to share based on my recent experiences traveling on commercial airlines. It’s easy to let frustration get the better of you in the face of the increasing number of ways in which air travel can make you feel quite insignificant, but hey – most, if not all, of it is in the interest of safety or security and hence for the common good, right? Sometimes I wonder.

Like Ed, I generally consider myself a fairly patient person. Lately, though, it seems that every time I fly, my patience is tested. On my way to Embarcadero’s Product Advisory Council (PAC) meeting in San Francisco last month, for example, one of the screening personnel at the security checkpoint gave me a hard time about my laptop computer. Here’s roughly how our conversation went.

Screener: Is this your laptop?
Me: Yes.
Screener: It’s kind of big to be a laptop, isn’t it?
Me: Oh?
Screener: Yes. I’ve seen larger, but usually they have some kind of handle built into them.
Me: Sounds more like a portable desktop computer than a laptop.
Screener: Exactly. Haven’t you heard of the MacBook Air?
Me: Yes, I wish I had one.
Screener: Then why don’t you get one instead of carrying this thing around?
Me: I don’t make decisions about what hardware I use for my job – my employer does.
Screener: Your employer doesn’t like you very much, do they?

See, I told you that branding is everywhere. I just didn’t expect to have it waved in my face by airport security. Somehow I think that if I were the one poking fun, the conversation would have taken a sharp turn for the worse…

Coming back from the PAC, I had what was probably the most pleasant flight from San Jose to Toronto I’ve ever had. I got to catch up with my old university acquaintance, Donald Smith, and we even had a spare seat between us. That’s where the joy ended, though. Upon arriving at my connecting gate in Toronto, I discovered that the aircraft for my next flight was late arriving due to a “maintenance item” that required attention. After a while, the plane arrived, and by the time we boarded and were ready to push back, we were about 45 minutes late. But apparently we weren’t the only plane looking to push back at that exact moment, so we had to wait another 20 minutes or so until the congestion cleared. Finally on our way to the runway (or so we thought), the captain announced that before we could take off, the plane needed to be de-iced, for which, unfortunately, there would be a 45 minute wait. We waited, and at last the de-icing was done, so we headed down the runway… but just before take-off, the plane slowed down and turned back toward the gate. The captain announced that the “maintenance item” had re-surfaced and that we had to proceed to the gate for an inspection by a maintenance crew. Of course, the maintenance crew deemed the aircraft unsafe to fly, so all of the passengers were cast out and told we were on our own since the remaining flights to Ottawa that night were full. We were instructed to proceed to the baggage claim area to retrieve ours bags, where we waited… and waited… and waited some more, until finally there was an announcement that somehow a spare aircraft had been found and that we had a new departure time which turned out to be only five hours later than our original one. Of course the tipping point came when, as we were boarding the “replacement” plane, one of my fellow passengers observed that the new aircraft seemed oddly familiar…

I was supposed to arrive in Washington for the OMG technical meeting on Sunday (yesterday). But we had near-record snowfall in Eastern Canada this past weekend (52 cm in Ottawa), which wreaked havoc on airline flights. My original flight, scheduled to leave Ottawa on Sunday at noon was, of course, canceled. After an hour and a half on the phone, I was able to secure a seat on the 9:00 a.m. flight Monday morning. Naturally, that flight was late departing because of gate mismanagement, so when I arrived in Toronto, I really had to hustle to make it to the luggage claim area and through customs to get to my connecting gate for my departure time of 11:25 a.m.. I arrived with 15 minutes to spare, which turned out to be 45 minutes because, of course, there was a “maintenance item” that needed to be addressed. So, I waited in line to board the plane only to find out that Air Canada, in its infinite wisdom, had decided that since my flight from Ottawa was late arriving there was no way I could possibly have made the connection, so they gave my seat to someone else and re-booked me on a later flight… nine hours and twenty five minutes later, to be exact. I was offered the opportunity to try for a stand-by seat on the 3:55 p.m. flight, but was told that the chances were slim since most flights were full due to the cancellations over the weekend. I had to do a podcast interview at 3:00 p.m., though, so I decided to shoot for the 6:00 p.m. flight instead (can you see where this is going?). As luck would have it, I made it onto the 6:00 p.m. flight, only to be the “random” passenger selected for the extra security search half way to the plane (apparently flights to Washington require extra security precautions – go figure). I finally arrived in Washington, but, you guessed it, my luggage didn’t. So, here I sit in the hotel room waiting for a call from the concierge to tell me that my clothing has arrived. If it doesn’t, it’s going to be an (even more) interesting week…


Curtis said...

Having a MacBook Air might have caused you just as much pain.

Kenn Hussey said...

I assume you meant to reference this? Given my experiences of late, I think I'd still probably be better off with a MacBook Air, because chances are my flight will either be late or I'll have been bumped to a later one. ;)

Nick said...

If it makes you feel any better, I get to bring TWO Thinkpads to EclipseCON this year. One for work and one as a build/test/publish/mysql/apache/lighttpd server, for use in my tutorial. Here's hoping the false-sense-of-security personnel won't think the T40 is too old/ black/ chunky/ heavy to be a real laptop.