I'm supposed to be in California right now

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Most people who know me do not know that I have pretty dang good luck when it comes to air travel. I don't miss flights, my flights are on time, my luggage doesn't get lost. Was there a trip where I was permitted to board an entirely wrong flight? Yes. Was there a trip where a plane caught on fire? Also yes. Was there a trip where a plane was lost between the hangar and the jet bridge? Yes, but why are you bringing this up? That was in the past. For the last ten or so years, I've been too blesst to be stresst.

Right now, this is either coming off as bragging or tempting the fates. And dear reader, I want you to know that neither is true because my personal golden age of getting from one place to another quickly has ended. I am in collapse era. Burning down my house from the inside. Other metaphors as well!

It's Tuesday, May 9, 2022 CE. You're doing something, and I'm in my house frantically packing for a trip. I'll be gone three days, how many socks do I need? Better take ten pairs, just in case. Same with underwear, pants, and shirts. In these uncertain economic times, you can never be sure. I've checked in with coworkers about travel schedules and agendas. I'm even more certain that we're going to have a great few days at headquarters. I'm coming up on my first anniversary and I'm ecstatic about meeting my coworkers in person.

I join another call, and someone asks if I'm excited about the trip. Heck yes I am. This is when I make my first mistake.

"I'm a little nervous because I have an early flight, but it will be fine!"

If you're thinking this means I overslept, check your assumptions and look at my alarm schedule.

A screenshot of 5 iOS alarms, running every 15 minutes beginning at 4:45 am.

I have trouble sleeping, and I have even more trouble waking up, so I do not play around.

No, I woke up on time and made my flight. That flight was on time and I made it onto my connecting flight, too, where I happened to doze off a little as we waited to leave. I snapped awake and thought "Huh, we've been sitting here a while, haven't we? I wonder what's going on--"

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, I have some news. It's not great."

Our plane was grounded due to a major maintenance issue. Deplaned, updated my team, and took a seat. Minutes pass.

"If you are waiting on an update concerning [flight number redacted], I have been informed the flight is cancelled. We do not have any available planes, and we are sorry but the flight is cancelled. Please go to the customer service counter to make alternate plans."

Grumble grumble. But off to the counter we all ran.

Unsurprisingly, the line was long. A full flight on a big plane, ya know? So I open my little app to see if they can rebook me while I wait. They offered me a much later flight, I said thanks and I will check with the counter just to be sure. But guess what they heard? "...thanks, BUT I will check with the counter..." so that flight disappeared within minutes.

But then the app dinged to tell me I was auto-rebooked on a flight leaving in an hour. Wonderful! Walking to the gate, because surely the flight would board soon, I found no such events transpiring. There was no crowd. The display had a different flight listed. But I was at the right gate, I even checked the terminal displays. What was going on--OH. YEAH. The airline had rebooked me on a flight leaving the next day for the flight they cancelled today. Checking the app again, the date of the flight was in fine print under the airport codes and the departure time.

THE DATE FOR THE FLIGHT.

WAS OBSCURED.

BY DESIGN.

FOR AN EXTREMELY TIME-SENSITIVE USE CASE.

Back to the customer service line. The person who helped me did the best they could, which means I kept my next-day booking and was put on standby for three same-day flights.

So to update the game board here:

  • I was due in town at noon, with events starting soon after.
  • Regardless of what flight I got on, I'd miss that day's events, including dinner which was heartbreaking because I knew where we were going.
  • The odds of clearing standby were low, and my next-day flight would make me miss the entire day and make me late for that day's dinner, too.
  • Worst case, I'd be in town late Thursday, attend one event Friday morning, then leave early to come home.

I Slack my team. Every option failed. Other airlines didn't have anything, and the usual standard backup didn't even fly into or out of this airport.

I got back in line and eventually had all of my flights cancelled, replaced with a same-day trip home. Walking back to my car, through my home terminal, I wondered if my fellow passengers could see that the wax of my wings had melted, that I'd finally flown too close to the proverbial sun, and that I have no regrets about using this image in the context of air travel? It didn't matter, as I put my luggage back in my car 14 hours after taking it out of the same spot.

Listen, the app is poorly designed, and airlines are far too big to offer anything other than drink vouchers, and other people in that airport were having much worse days than me--their ruined plans were much more ruined than my ruined plans. I was going to my job's HQ to meet and rally with my coworkers, and also eat some food. A lot of good food. And there was a hike around the bay! But families around me were in chaos, some folks were Big Mad and not afraid of sharing those feelings. That perspective helped me stay level--I was disappointed but what good would anger do? Move past that anger and see the ridiculousness of the situation: I'd woken up at 4:30am to fly to Dallas to get a 10-piece chicken McNugget.

Imagine what would have happened if I tried to order a McFlurry, too.