Thursday, January 25, 2007

International air travel Published January 25th in Metro Eireann

Republican Politics, American Style
By Charles Laffiteau

Let's talk about what it's like to be an American studying abroad and International air travel. I flew back to Dublin on January 12th and I guess you could say the trip was "interesting". I got to the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) airport at 1:30 for a 3:05pm flight. My flight to Chicago was delayed to 4:20 so I switched to the 2:05 flight so I wouldn't miss my American Airlines flight #92 non-stop to Dublin. NOT! I also found out American charges $110 for extra bags and only allows 2 checked bags for "free". Delta allows me to check 3 bags for free and only charges $100 for each additional bag. So $220 later I pulled away from the gate at 3:20pm and sat on the runway till 4:55 when they "turned the airport around" and found out my plane was on the wrong end of the runway. I finally took off at 5:30 and landed at O'Hare at 7:30. Did American hold the flight for me and at least 4 other Dublin bound passengers (that I met and know of)? Nope.

American then put all of us on Flight #46 to London Heathrow leaving at 8:05 (but delayed till 8:30pm) with a connecting flight to Dublin out of Heathrow on Aer Lingus at 12:15pm Saturday afternoon. American's last flight to Heathrow that evening had plenty of available seats (#98) but was scheduled out at 9:55pm. So we opted for the earlier flight and got on the plane at 8:00 but then proceeded to wait until 10:05 for late connecting passengers. I get it now. If there isn't another flight that night for your destination, then they won't hold your flight for you. But if there is another flight 2 hours later with plenty of available seats, then they hold the earlier one to wait for the connecting passengers. Makes perfect sense to me, how about you?

We pull away from the gate at 10:05 only to find out we're 13th in line for takeoff before finally departing from O'Hare at 10:40pm. Luckily (for me but not my fellow Dublin bound passengers), I knew from talking to reservations that there were 2 open Business class seats and asked the American gate agent if I could upgrade to one of them. She said she wasn't going to do any more upgrades for coach passengers because she didn't have time, just before I boarded the flight. After flying over 3 million miles in the past 20 years since I got out of high school, I sort of know the ropes of the airline system. Plus, I figured that I had already paid for that upgrade with my $220 charge for 2 "extra" bags. In fact, that is just about what it would have actually cost me to upgrade from coach as an American AAdvantage Lifetime Gold Million Miler. I just proceeded directly to one of those 2 seats ,(acting like it was actually my seat), stowed my 2 carry-on bags and prayed that no one with a boarding pass for that seat would get on for the next hour and a half. Either I was very lucky in choosing that particular seat or God must have taken pity on me, because an Asian gentleman got on an hour later and took the other business class seat, but no one ever came to take mine.

We land at Heathrow at 11:15am and I proceed from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1 for my 12:15 connecting flight on Aer Lingus. Those of you familiar with London's Heathrow airport know that this is a journey all by itself. When I finally arrive at Terminal 1 30 minutes later, I am told that only one carry-on bag is permitted on flights out of Heathrow, even if you are only a connecting passenger. Good information for even a seasoned air traveller, but a bit late for me to be finding out at this point in my journey home to Dublin. Did I actually say "home"? Hmmm, that's interesting, that I feel that way. At any rate, now I have to go back and wait for 30 minutes in line to clear British Customs and Immigration, so I can check one of my 2 carry-on bags. Needless to say, I miss my connecting flight on Aer Lingus and am re-scheduled to leave on a later flight at 2:10pm.

After a very turbulent flight home from London to Dublin, I go to baggage claim wondering what the odds are that all of my bags have also made it to Dublin with me. If you figured slim and none, you would be a winner. The carry-on bag I checked at Heathrow is there and so are the 2 smaller bags I had originally checked at DFW airport. But those 2 "extra" bags I paid $220 to check at DFW are nowhere to be found. I guess they figure if you're paying "extra" for these bags, then you won't mind waiting a couple of "extra" days to get them. Makes a certain amount of sense doesn't it? Anyway, after giving my baggage claim check numbers to the Aer Lingus baggage claim agent, she tells me they have located both bags. They are still in Chicago. Getting "extra" special handling I guess. If you're thinking this is the end of my story, guess again.

When I arrived home and opened my mobile traveller bag, it reeked of cologne. Inside I find 2 new, sealed and rather expensive bottles of cologne have been opened and then put back in the suitcase with the tops barely screwed back on. Almost half of the contents of each bottle were spilled inside the suitcase. I guess someone didn't like the smell of my dirty laundry and thought they would improve on the situation. I hope my story has an ending someday but as I write this, I have only recovered one of those 2 "extra" bags I paid to check. It was just delivered at noon on Sunday. The gentleman from Aer Lingus who delivered it didn't know anything about the identical companion bag that was supposedly found with it in Chicago. Want to take any bets on when or if I ever get that bag? I thought not.