As I mentioned last time, we spent a little more time in the Dallas airport than originally intended. All seemed fine during our scheduled two hour layover and even while we boarded the plane. It was only after every single passenger was comfortable in his or her seat waiting for the doors to close that the pilot came over the intercom to tell us we all needed to get off, taking our things with us, because our plane was “out of service,” and they were going to look for a new plane. We were never told why, although Rodolfo asked one of our flight attendants the next day and was told something about an electrical fire.
As we filed back into the terminal, I called my dad to ask him to please e-mail my coworker. We had been scheduled to get in at 8:30, which would have gotten me to the office only a bit late, but since even finding a new plane within 5 minutes would involve a significant delay as they prepared it for flight, I knew I’d be getting in much later than planned. I didn’t, however, know just how late. As I was still on the phone with my dad, the news came over the speakers that we would be spending the night in Dallas, leaving at 10:30 the next day. We were all told to line up for hotel and food vouchers, and since I was on the phone and we were already going to be behind about 100 people by the time we were ready to get in line, we decided to just stay seated and let everyone else go first.
Which is why I can tell you with certainty that the line did not move for half an hour – the two blonde girls who were directly in our line of vision remained there for thirty minutes until I gave up and went to the Admiral’s Club, American’s lounge. The lady there tried to help me but was thwarted by the computer’s refusal to let her access the vouchers. She called down to the gate and was told they had printed vouchers there, so she went to grab ours only to come back with food vouchers but no hotel voucher. Apparently the computer problem was affecting agents at the gate too. If there’s one time it would be great to have a functioning computer system, it’s at 10pm when you’ve got 200+ people who haven’t had dinner yet and have just been told they will be held hostage overnight at a Dallas airport hotel. Luckily also in the Admiral’s Club was a guy who did have his hotel voucher – apparently the computer malfunction was a new development – but wasn’t going to use it because he was trying to get rerouted, so he generously gave it to us.
Off I went to grab Rodolfo, who’d waited at the gate in case that looked more promising, and get in the shuttle to the Westin. Before we left, I realized I wasn’t sure where to use the food vouchers. The airport restaurants were all closing, and I wanted to confirm that we’d get food at the hotel before going there. Luckily, or so I thought, there was a man handing out food vouchers to the people in line. I said “excuse me, I have a question,” to which he responded “no more questions!” not so much to me as to the entire plane, which pissed me off. I get that your job has just been made tougher, and I know it’s not your fault we’re stuck here, but it shouldn’t be all that complicated to continue handing out pieces of paper while also answering me. So I asked anyway: “but where do we eat?” Somehow he managed to reply “I will answer all your questions later” but a simple “you can use that at the hotel” was too hard. Lovely. I stomped off to find someone who would answer me, and off we went to wait for the shuttle. And wait. And wait. Apparently a mass exodus of people from the terminal all needing hotel shuttles at once is no reason to provide any more shuttles than normal, so we had to wait in the hot, humid Dallas night for the fourth shuttle before we found seats.
At this point, we made friends with three Chilean brothers who’d been visiting their dad in Seattle. We checked in just behind them and heard the oldest brother ask for a room for three people. When the Westin lady said she didn’t have any rooms with three beds and asked why he hadn’t gotten a second voucher, he explained that American had told him he only needed the one voucher for the three of them. They ended up with a suite, with two of them in the king bed and one on the couch – hardly a crisis, but not the ideal situation either. We decided to go to the Denny’s across the street for dinner since a $20 voucher for the two of us would get us far more food there than in the hotel restaurant and arranged to meet the brothers there after going up to our rooms.
We only had our carry-on luggage, which presented a problem. I usually pack an extra pair of underwear in my carry-on just in case. This time I remembered in the car on the way to the airport that I didn’t have one and reasoned that it didn’t matter because even if my bags got lost, I had more underwear in Santiago. Obviously I forgot to account for the possibility of an impromptu sleepover. I found myself in jeans and a t-shirt, the same clothes I’d been wearing the whole day and would have to wear for all of the next day, with the following wardrobe items in my bag: three cocktail dresses, two pairs of heels, and one pair of flats. So I did what any resourceful girl would do: I washed my underwear in the sink and left it drying in the room, put on the least formal of the dresses and the flats, and headed off – commando – to my first ever meal at Denny’s.
At dinner we discovered that although we had $20 for the two of us, our new friends had $20 each. I think it was an honest mistake on the part of the lady who was helping me, and luckily $20 for two goes plenty far at Denny’s (plus the guys shared their milkshakes), but it was just one more little organizational failure on the part of American. After a nice but short sleep, we headed back to the airport at 8 for our 10:30 flight, leaving time to finagle another voucher to pay for breakfast and time to eat it. Which turned out to be far too early since getting the extra voucher took all of 5 minutes, and our flight had been delayed to 11:30. I ran off to brush my teeth with toothpaste from the Admiral’s Club since the Westin had run out of both toothpaste and mouthwash before I called down to ask for some, and then we killed time chatting with fellow passengers and spending every possible cent of our vouchers so that American got as little back as possible. We bought cookies and waters we didn’t even want and ended up giving one voucher away, but at least we felt like we were sticking it to the man in some way.
The fun hadn’t quite ended, however. DFW, like any airport, has handy dandy TV screens all over the place telling you what time your flight is departing and which gate you need to go to. We weren’t on there, and despite my requests to two people to put us on there, we never showed up. Another little thing that, while not a big deal, represented a certain breakdown in communication with passengers. Plus it can’t have been efficient to have all of us wandering around constantly asking if we were still on for 11:30. That omission, however, paled in comparison to what we saw when we went up to our designated gate shortly before 11. The TV screens there, which should have displayed our flight number and departure time, were blank, and I was sure that we’d been further delayed. Until I noticed a small piece of paper taped between them with something written on it in fine pen. Apparently they couldn’t get our flight to show up on those TV screens either, so they just wrote the flight number in normal letters with a normal pen. No marker or block letters to make it actually visible?
Luckily for me, although less luckily for them, my dad and Jane’s flight the next day was also canceled. They got on another flight, but the incident inspired my dad to write an e-mail to higher-ups at American complaining about both of our experiences. And because my dad actually flies a lot and is kind of important, unlike me, I am now the recipient of a mileage credit for my troubles. I’ll take it. The fact is, I’m going to keep flying American. With how much I fly, it’s unfortunately a given that sometimes bad things will happen, whether that’s lost bags or forced overnights in random corners of the world. It doesn’t mean that American is overall a bad airline. I do think they handled the whole situation poorly, and that’s what upset me most as we wandered around confused and hungry, but I have enough miles invested with them that they’d need to do something worse than that to completely lose my business. It’s just another example of how US airlines as a whole seem to be going downhill lately, and I hope they improve sooner rather than later.
But in the end we got here, even if we did have to have breakfast for dinner because the food had been planned for an overnight trip. At least I got a blog post out of the deal.
PS. I am sorry there are no pictures of my Denny’s ensemble. I remembered my camera when we were already there, and since by that point it was midnight I couldn’t face the thought of going back to the hotel to get it. Just think of your favorite dress that would work for a summer wedding or nice luncheon and then pretend you’re at Denny’s in it, and you’ll have the idea.