Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cruise 2012: in which much goes awry

The first of several entries detailing my recent cruise to the Caribbean.  There are other pictures, featuring my giant stuffed traveling toad, on my Toad Purse Facebook page.

We did what we were supposed to do. None of it was our fault. Really. I never went to sleep on Friday night. I don’t think Will slept much either. So we were up by 2:45 a.m. and left by 3:30 a.m. for a 5:50 a.m. flight. We were at Bradley in plenty of time. Checked the big bag (remember that sad statement later) and got on the plane with the carry-on bags. See? Everything in its place.
Or not.
toiletries interlude: When we went through security in Bradley, I got stopped. They didn’t put me in the bomb box this time like they did in North Carolina a few years ago, but I got pulled aside and my bag searched. Why? I did an unforgivable sin. I packed my toiletries in a GALLON ziplock instead of a QUART. They decided that since it was toiletries for two, the gallon bag was okay just this once. I did not point out that a gallon contains 4 quarts not 2. But I got lectured by some 85-IQ guy in a fake cop suit. “THIS is a quart bag. THIS is your bag. THIS is a GALLON.” Well jeez I’m sorry okay, clearly I’ve totally ruined the airport for the day and it better shut down. I got off with just a warning, this time.
The captain comes on. Says that through a snafu of some sort (not his fault, either), we are on the wrong plane. At the wrong gate. The plane in which we are all ensconced is actually going to Newark instead of Washington DC. And it needs maintenance. Apparently it needs maintenance so badly that it can’t possibly go the couple of extra hundred miles to DC instead of Newark. So “they” (presumably the same “they” that put us on the wrong plane) won’t let us stay on this plane. Possession is NOT nine tenths of the law with planes, I guess.
We all get off the plane, collect our carry-ons from under the seat and the overhead compartments where nothing shifted because the plane never moved. We walk down the stairs, across the runway, up the stairs, across the concourse to another gate, outside, down the stairs, across the runway, up some more stairs (tiny planes didn’t fit the jetway) and get on the IDENTICAL plane. Meanwhile our baggage is doing the same, invisibly.
We’re on another plane, supposedly the proper plane, waiting again. Wondering why it was okay for the previous plane to fly to Newark to get serviced but another couple hundred miles to DC would have caused it to fall apart in midair or something. And what idiot flies from Hartford to Newark anyway?
And now this plane is out of gas. I can’t make this stuff up. We have to wait for the gas truck to come up and fill up the plane. Obviously this makes us very, very late. We’re in the air still at the time we’re supposed to board our next plane to Miami. Naturally we are very concerned about making that flight. We’re meeting a cruise ship, not merely checking into a hotel, so time really matters. And our friends were picking us up at MIA at 11 a.m. in their rental car so we could all have lunch somewhere fun before hitting the cruise ship at 1:30. Well, not HITTING it, that would be bad. Getting there.
The flight attendants assure us that they will hold the connection planes and if not we’ll AUTOMATICALLY be booked onto the next plane going to our destination and our bags will AUTOMATICALLY follow. Because clearly our one hour layover has been completely eaten by the whole wrong plane no gas debacle. 
They announce our connecting gate of D4 at Dulles. They announce our arrival gate of C18. We land. C18 is right near D4. Our plane is still at D4. And there’s a random plane at C18. That plane is injured in some way and can’t leave. Or maybe it’s in a snit, it’s an emo plane. I don’t know.
Our plane is going on a Sunday drive (although it’s Saturday) cruising at low speed around the Dulles runways waiting for a gate to open. We keep checking out D4. Plane to Miami is still there. The flight attendant tells us to tell the gate attendant as soon as we exit this plane to call D4 and hold the plane while we run. Gate C21 opens, even closer to D4.
The attendant at C21 is a major bitch. She doesn’t want to call D4. We beg. She is in a snit, probably related to the snit of the plane still crouched at our real gate of C18. She calls. We run. We are both sick, coughing and my lungs are falling out but we run and get to gate D4 and there’s our plane and the f*king attendant there won’t let us on the plane.
“We called ahead! We RAN.” We’re fat and sick. Give us a break. She was adamant. “We don’t hold flights.” “We called! We ran!” Nope. TFB, basically, go back to customer service at gate C19 and complain.
sick interlude: Tuesday night we had dinner with my mom. She works at an elementary school as a recess and lunch lady. She is always bringing home exotic kid diseases. She was coughing that night. Wednesday I woke up coughing and with no voice, and Friday I skipped the gym because I was still coughing, and of course Will started coughing too. I called my mom before we left and said she made us both sick right before our vacation and she denied it.
At this point my lungs started to bubble and burble, this means bronchitis. I could barely walk. No more running in my future. Will went ahead to get into line and get our AUTOMATIC new flight to Miami. Our whole entire plane was in line already. Luckily it was a small plane with few people! I called Expedia on my cell phone (I bought travel insurance). Expedia called United. They were on hold with United, I was on hold with Expedia and waiting in line at United. This is efficiency at its best, folks. Finally they arranged for us to take a taxi to Reagan International Airport 45 minutes away and switch from United to American and get to Miami at 1:40 which seemed like plenty of time to make the cruise ship which leaves at 5:00 right. Because there were no more flights on any carrier to Miami from DC that would get there in time to make the cruise ship. When we get our turn at the United CSR they give us a voucher for $70 for the cab fare to Reagan in Virginia and tell us to run and that we probably still won’t make it. “What about our checked bag?” “It probably made the flight to Miami, it will be waiting for you there at the United unclaimed baggage.” Now, remember that we got off the previous flight and RAN and didn’t make it, how the heck did our luggage make it? But they said it did so we had to believe them.
I text my friends that we aren’t going to be lunching with them or need a ride and to go to the ship without us. Dulles offers no golf carts. We have to run again, the length of the airport, not even any people-moving sidewalks. We have to find a specific brand of cab that will take our voucher. We find one. My husband offers the guy $40 extra in cash to get us there before 10 for our 11 a.m. flight (it’s 9:30). Hey, it works in the movies. The cab driver programs his GPS. That’s a little worrying but I try not to freak. He takes off sedately. The highway is uncrowded. He is going fifty in a fifty-five zone. I call Carnival and explain our predicament, and tell them that there are still about a dozen people from Hartford stuck at Dulles and no clue how they are going to make the ship. The cab driver, ignoring the cash Will’s waving, continues to poke along. I ask the Carnival lady, “What happens if we miss this flight?” because just then we hit a 2 mile traffic jam leading to exit 75 which is the one for the airport and now it’s 10 a.m. and we’re dead stopped. The Carnival lady says we need to “make our way to Cozumel” (the first port of call, on Monday) and meet the ship there. This sounds expensive. The next flight to Miami from anywhere in Washington DC leaves at 3:45 and we’ll need to be on that to collect our bag, which is waiting for us in Miami remember, so we can’t even fly right to Cancun from DC if we miss this flight. Which it looks like we are going to do. Because of this stupid cab driver who wouldn’t take a bribe and now we’re stuck in traffic anyway and it’s 10:00 a.m. and we need to be in line for the plane already and we have to go through security and get our boarding passes before we can get on the plane. So we are losing our minds. And coughing, don’t forget coughing.
We arrive at the airport at 10:15 and the driver, realizing finally that he’s a jerk, doesn’t take the $40 but he does make us come back into the cab and sign a bunch of paperwork after we've already collected our reduced luggage and are walking away. We try to do curbside check-in but we can’t because we only have vouchers, not boarding passes. We go into the e-ticket line (because that’s what the CSR at the other airport said we had) but we couldn’t get the machine to work with any numbers on our paperwork. The crabby lady there said we had to wait in the long line for unimportant peons. I’m almost crying and my lungs are burbling away. We’re in the long line. The curbside check in guy comes in with someone’s bags and sees us in line and gets mad. He says “I shouldn’t get involved, but you shouldn’t be in this line! You’re going to miss your flight. You should be over there!” He points to the e-ticket area. We tell him that dragon-bitch sent us away. Dragon bitch is glaring at us. The curbside guy pulls us out of line and past dragon bitch to some nice guy named Mike who takes care of us instantly and says the security line is short and we’ll make it but we have to get seat assignments at the gate.
And then I remember the stupid gallon bag and this is DC and 9/11 and all that and I want to kick myself in the head. I resolve to just abandon the toiletries if they give me a problem about my big bag. They don’t even notice the gallon bag, thank all the gods.
We run again. I’m wheezing and coughing. We get to the gate. The flight is boarding. I run to the desk and say “we have no seat assignments” and the woman, bless her lovely heart, hands us our tickets all printed out and waiting. We get on the plane! We make the ship! All is well! Well, no. Remember, way back at 5 a.m. in Bradley, 6 hours ago, when we checked our duffle bag? Yeah, that duffle bag. The one checked through on United to Miami that was going to waiting for us at United’s unclaimed baggage area when we got there at 1:40.
We get to Miami International Airport. We go to the baggage claim area for American and claim our carry-ons that got checked through. Then I go to the Carnival desk and ask for help and in exchange I buy 2 tickets on the Carnival transport bus since our friends are already on the ship, their rental car long turned in. The Carnival lady calls United. They have no record of the bag. They say that because we got moved to American, they have the bag. She calls American. They say that it’s a United claim tag and United has to help us and they have no record of the bag. I leave my husband at the Carnival desk with the bags we have and trudge about a mile to the United desk to find our other bag. I was there a very long time. They had no record of anything. By the time I was done there I wasn’t sure that I existed or that I had flown to Miami at all that day.
 Even though I was freaking, I let a guy go ahead of me because he was crying. They (the same They that can’t figure out what plane goes where, I’m guessing) had failed to check his luggage through to Bonaire and he needed to claim it and get back through security to his Bonaire flight and the baggage wasn’t on the carousel and he only had 48 minutes and basically they told him “we’ll find it and send it to Bonaire on the next flight” and he said “that’s in 3 days, the flight I’m leaving on!” and it was his scuba equipment (my friend goes diving there, I guess it’s gorgeous) and he ran to catch the Bonaire flight with no luggage at all and I felt terrible for him. Also in line were a pair of off-duty cops who said that the airline lost “seven bags of confidential police material” whatever that means and they were pretty pissed off too. And they probably had guns. I kept my distance. Apparently there was a cop and fireman convention in town.
When it was finally my turn (I wasn’t freaking out yet, we had 2 hours to get to the ship, it was a half hour away and we had a ride arranged on the bus) the guy was super nice and helpful but still could give me no information about my mysterious invisible missing bag. He made copies of my documents and filled out the form saying my black duffel bag, style 25 (oh yeah, this bag has been lost by airlines before), with my snorkeling gear and half our clothes and more toiletries and my tote bag and 2 umbrellas and a notebook and extra batteries and basically all kinds of stuff I packed because we NEED it, is missing.
 I had to write down every port of call and the ship’s shore times (provided thanks to the kind Carnival lady who called both airlines for me) so the bag might be able to catch up on one of them. The guy said that he was sure the bag made it onto the DC to Miami flight and they’d find it and send it to the cruise ship before it left the Port of Miami. Even though we ran and didn’t make the flight, our bag was evidently magical and did. We gave up on our poor missing duffel bag and got on the last bus to the cruise ship with two ladies.
 As we were (running of course) going through the port doing the check-in procedure, they asked us if we had any “flu like symptoms” and we lied without blinking an eye, holding in our coughs. We’re fine, keep moving, nothing to see here. 
Will was feeling worse and worse. I’d left a lung behind in DC. We had dinner with our friends and went to sleep after a long and stressful day, both feeling sick and with no sleep the night before. That was Day 0. Oh, and our bag didn’t arrive.

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