Sunday, May 07, 2017

it could have been worse

I could have been flying United. Or Delta.

Fortunately, I was flying my favorite carrier. Alaska. So, no heads were gashed on armrests and no children were threatened with jail.

But, you deserve an explanation here. And you are going to get it.

On Saturday afternoon, my friends Gary and Joyce dropped me off at the Manzanillo airport. Jorge, who was last a trainee when I encountered him for the first time in February, professionally checked me on my three flight segments: Manzanillo to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Seattle, and Seattle to Redmond, where I would arrive just after midnight. A full day of flying.

Through no fault of Alaska, the flight to Los Angeles was not the best flying experience I have ever had. And, in context, the slight inconveniences caused by fellow passengers was small potatoes.

I was not in the best of moods to face one of the worst parts of flying internationally through Los Angeles
-- the American immigration and customs process. In years past, it has taken me up to two hours to get from one flight to the next.

No more. Immigration has installed banks of kiosks that would make a Los Vegas casino owner proud. It is as simple as processing a boarding pass. Scan your passport. Answer a few questions about whether you are going to overthrow the American government or cause a plague. The machine then snaps an incredibly unflattering photograph, and prints a receipt.

After I collected my luggage, I rolled up to customs, handed over my receipt, and I was on my way.

Or, so I thought. I was the second person in line to board the Seattle flight. I gave the clerk my boarding pass. When she scanned it, her computer screen lit up as if North Korea had finally lit The Big One. She scanned it again. Same result.

She called for her trainer. Same result. A third representative showed up. I completely stalled the boarding process while the three conferred on what to do.

At this point, the trainer asked me to step aside while two of the trio started tapping away at the computer. This was the only point where Alaska's justifiably high reputation for customer service failed. I had no idea what was happening. It turns out neither did the Alaska employees.

Within minutes, one of them returned to tell me they were really confused. Someone had tampered with my reservation. My seat on the Seattle flight had been sold because the computer indicated I had not flown from Manzanillo. She assured me that even though the flight was full, she would find me a seat.

When she next returned, I knew she did not have good news. That was why I was confused when she told me I would be flying, but I would have to fly in one of the bulkhead seats -- staring for hours at a blank wall.

Then she dropped the other shoe. "Or you could spend the night in Los Angeles, and we can get you on a flight to Seattle and Redmond tomorrow morning." I knew then there was more to the story.

It turned out my flight from Seattle to Redmond had been cancelled due to "crew rest." In other words, there was no one to fly the plane. If I managed to get to Seattle that night, that would be the end of my flying for the day.

My choice then was to stay in Los Angeles or Seattle. Like any good citizen of the Pacific Northwest, I chose to fly -- even if it was in a bulkhead seat.

And this is where fortune shined on me. About 60 people failed to make their connections with the Seattle flight. That left the first class cabin only half full. Because I was patient, I ended up sitting wherever I wanted.

I give great credit to the Alaska employees who helped me. They kept me informed and made clear it was their computer entries that had almost kept me from flying out of Los Angeles. Alaska has even sent me a very kind email with a sizable chunk of remuneration for my trouble.

After my experience with AeroMexico, Alaska has just gone up several notches in my esteem. Both relatively and absolutely.

Best of all, I am now in Bend at Darrel and Christy's house. Tonight, our mother joined us for ham supper.

What better ending could there be to such a story?

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