Down, but Not Under Yet

This started off bad and got worse.

AU NZ copyBack in March, when I was arrange to go to Australia and New Zealand for their romance groups’ annual conferences, I carefully (and tediously—it took about 8 hours on multiple calls) made reservations with enough time to have comfortable connections, including 1:35 in Houston.

About a month ago, United canceled my original flight and left me with a 35-minute connection through Houston… though, in fact, 35 minutes really means 20 minutes, because it has to be buttoned up 15 minutes ahead. And there was a terminal change, of course.

I talked to United 3 days before departure. Nicky assured me I would probably make Flight A out of Houston. Flight+1 hour later was sold out, but she had me on Flight +2 hours in biz as a backup.

This morning I began the journey for this fabulous opportunity to participate in the Romance Writers of Australia conference Aug. 21-23 in Melbourne, then the Romance Writers of New Zealand Aug.28-30 in Auckland.

I checked a bag for the first time in ages. I usually just do carry-on. Tried the kiosk, which said there was no such reservation. Then had to wait and wait and wait for help. My existence finally confirmed. Bag finally checked.

It’ll be fine from here, right?

Next, TSA confiscated my crunchy peanut butter as a gel. Really. First time I have ever been stopped by TSA. Ever. I had no idea they’d consider Skippy peanut butter a potential weapon.

Then I see that my flight out was delayed because the plane would be late getting in because it was late leaving from its previous stop (once we were onboard, the pilot announced the late cascade started because “of my rest.” I swear I thought he said “because of my arrest,” which would have been a much better story. But, no. It was because of rest.)

Agent at the gate says I have to be reticketed through Houston, but Nicky’s backup for Flight+2 is nowhere in the system. Best I can get is Flight+3 hours. Oh, but thunderstorms were predicted in Houston at that time of Flight+3 so there might be delays, delays, delays.

And if I didn’t get to LAX to get my flight to Australia on time it was going to be a 24-hour wait.

I said okay on the reticket, but I could still try to make Flight A? And he said yes.

We make up lots of time in the air. And nice flight attendant gives me my own bottle of water. I wait for my gate-checked bag (which we have to get from the tarmac in 100 degree Houston), then hoof it from end of one terminal to end of another and get to the gate while they’re still boarding … Hurray, everything’s going to be fine…

They won’t even check to see if I’m still on the list. They keep saying they’re putting people on who have tickets. I have a ticket. Not anymore. Because they’ve given my seat away and that’s that. Tough luck. Go see customer service.

I go to customer service. He says. Tough luck. You have the confirmed Flight +3… And, yes, thunderstorms are predicted for right when Flight+3 is leaving. You can go standby on Flight+1 and if that doesn’t work try Flight+2.

So I take standby seat on Flight+1. (And they clearly believe I should be grateful for it.)

Not so much.

The LAST row in the plane. Bounced around. Noisy. Bumped prodded and poked by people waiting for the lavatory. But I’m thinking that’s still better than gambling on being late into LAX and missing the flight to Melbourne.

But what turned out to be worse – far, far worse – was they took my rollaboard because they said there was no more room in the passenger compartment. Of course there would have been if I’d been in biz. But not for Row 35 standby types.

I get through that flight … having now flown almost 7 hours of non-biz class that I had paid for in miles AND cash co-pays.

Get to LAX. Looking for my gate-checked bag. I’m told it was checked through to Melbourne.

Nooooo.

This was the bag I so carefully bought for international carry on size, packed for the things I’d want during the 15-hour overnight trip, packed so I could get by a couple days in Melbourne if the main suitcase is lost/delay (nah, that ~never~ happens, right?) and was saving my shoulder from having to support the computer bag, because it hooked on to the rollaboard.

From here on shoulder is screaming at toting computer bag alllll over LAX.

Told to go see Customer Service.

Customer Service says if I go down to Baggage Claim they can pull the bag for me so I’d have it on the flight. Yes, it means I have to go back through TSA, but they already took my peanut butter 10hours before, so it’ll be a breeze, right?

Person 1 in Baggage Claim says my bag’s in the carousel with other Houston bags. This makes no sense to me, but when I try to raise the question I am brusquely dismissed. I figure I have to eliminate it being on the carousel before getting anywhere with this person.

LAX playfully only signs the baggage claims on the back and the farthest away from where you approach them. Check 3 carousels before find the one promising baggage from my flight.

Not on the carousel. Encounter a fellow standby-er from Houston whose shanghaied bag is also missing. Person 2 starts to lead both of us to stored luggage. That makes no sense, either. Bag would have just arrived. Then she says, no I first need to check a corral of luggage on the far side from where we are. Turns out it all belonged to a group who wondered why I was scoping out their luggage. Find Person 2 again and she says she’ll help me as soon as she’s helped someone else. Person 3 walking past and asks if he can help. Surprised I didn’t sob on his chest. Instead, I said, yes.

He scanned my claim check, said the bag was in fact checked through to Melbourne (NOT on the carousel, not in stored luggage, not with the now-very-suspicious group.) He also said there was no way I could get the bag and it was crazy to think I could (not quite his words, but that was the idea), to forget it until I get to Melbourne. And then pray that both bags make it.

I said I could wait a while because my next flight wasn’t for hours. He said TSA would never release it. I said Customer Service said I could get it. He said they don’t know what they’re talking about. … Guess I should have figured that out by then, huh.

So, I head to my next flight. With a 4-5 hour wait. But, of course, I’d gone out of the secured section to go to baggage claim, so I had to go back through security.

They might have been a bit suspicious because at that point I had to sort through 7 other boarding passes (I’ve skipped a few here) to get to my LAX to Melbourne boarding pass. But I’m pre-check, so I put the computer bag on the conveyer with confidence. They pass my person through just fine. Not the bag.

Really? They already have my peanut butter. NOW what? TSA guy pages “Patrick” to No. 1. Over the next 7 minutes he pages him three more times. Patrick, apparently has caught a flight out of here. Then he pages somebody else a few times.

By this time I’ve said, “Oh, God, it’s the water bottle the flight attendant gave me, isn’t it?” He won’t tell me. I explain about the water bottle. I explain about the 7 boarding passes. Every 3-4 minutes he pages someone else. And most of that time he has no one coming through his line. But no way is he going to check my bag.

TWENTY-plus minutes later a very nice TSA agent finally comes and looks through my bag.

It’s the water bottle.

I suppose I should be glad the bag is now lighter.

Meanwhile, of course, Kalli is home with the dog-sitter wolfing down treats. Is this fair?

So, now I’m waiting to get on the flight to Melbourne, which, everyone has told me, is the tough part of this journey.

I can hardly wait.

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