It’s Gone South by Southwest

As a journal writer, I suck! I just struggle to provide any detail to the rather mundane details of my life. However, if I believe there is a possibility someone out there might actually read what I’m writing, I feel a pressure to add detail and description that would make my musings somewhat interesting. With that in mind, I’m harkening back to blog posts from yesteryear as I chronicle the recent 25th Anniversary trip Shannon and I took to San Francisco…just two and a half months after our 27th anniversary. (Thanks again, COVID-19!) With that said, bail now or forever hold your peace.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

3:47 p.m. – Since I am old enough to remember the events of 9/11 and the realities of air travel in the months and years that followed, for twenty years I have been diligent in following the TSA’s advice of arriving 2 hours prior to my flight time to ensure that I make it through security. Our flight to San Francisco leaves at 5:35 and I am feeling guilty that we are little late. However, I’m seeing the crowd levels in Sky Harbor and feel fairly confident that we have arrived in plenty of time.

3:56 p.m. – Aaaand, we are through security with approximately an hour and 15 minutes to kill before boarding begins. Twenty freaking years and I still haven’t learned that I don’t need nearly this much time to get through airport security. Oh well, it will give us time to find a good place to eat before we get on the plane.

4:43 p.m. – Having literally hiked the entire square of gates A through D in Terminal 4, Shannon and I realize there is not one airport restaurant we have any interest in. It’s fine! We should be landing in San Francisco on our connecting flight from Burbank around 8 p.m. We can wait and eat there. San Francisco is known for its restaurants and culinary options. Just be patient. That single egg and piece of toast I ate at 9 this morning will be fine. Everything will be fine!

5:05 p.m. – Boarding begins right on time. This is a good sign!!!

5:25 p.m. – Everyone is on the plane and seated and life is good. We even got seats right next to each other, which is never guaranteed on a Southwest flight! We are truly favored by the airline gods!!! My only question is should I be concerned about the wall of dark clouds forming in the distance? I shake off this negative thought. We will be in the air long before they can cause any problems.

5:30 p.m. – The dark clouds turn out to be no problem at all. However, the pilot that is supposed to fly our plane not being in Phoenix yet is a problem. A big problem! Yet the very jovial flight crew doesn’t seem to think it’s that big of a deal. They are yucking it up and having a grand time at the front of the plane. Meanwhile, several of us passengers in the back begin comparing notes and realize that several of us only have between 45 minutes to an hour to make a connecting flight. This concerns us a great deal.

5:52 p.m. – We finally get the attention of a flight attendant and ask about connecting flights. Now, I don’t think I’m out of line here, but I would think that someone in the airline business would have connecting flight issues at the forefront of their mind if a flight is delayed. Am I crazy for thinking that? Apparently, because we seemed to catch this flight attendant completely by surprise with this question. She walks to the front of the plane and suddenly the entire jovial crowd starts looking very concerned.

5:55 p.m. – A crew member gets on the intercom and asks how many of us are connecting to San Francisco. There are nine of us. They tell us we need to get off the plane immediately and reticket for the next flight that will get us to San Francisco. You know what’s funny? A direct flight for San Francisco left a few gates over from where we boarded at 5:50 p.m. Actually, that’s not that funny.

6:14 p.m. – We finally make it to the ticketing agent desk and commence to have a good news/bad news conversation. The good news? The next flight to San Francisco is a direct flight meaning we will not have to deal with any connection issues. And thus concludes the good news portion of our conversation. The bad news? It isn’t scheduled to depart until 10:55 p.m., which would then put us in San Francisco around 12:05 a.m. Oh, and we had to voluntarily separate ourselves from our baggage which is still headed to Burbank with no clear idea whether it will get to San Francisco at all seeing as it has missed the same connecting flight we did. I felt a twinge of sadness for our bag, all alone in an unfamiliar city, not sure where it is spending the night. Then I looked around and realized, at least our bag was closer to San Francisco than we were. At this point, it is very possible that I may have freaked out.

6:31 p.m. – Now that we are ticketed for the 10:55 flight, the first order of business…don’t let those Southwest jackals see you cry. Second order of business, deal with the fact that this is scheduled to be our first vacation in which we didn’t plan on having a car. Which means we need transportation from the airport to our hotel. Transportation that would be readily available at 8:05 in the evening, but at 12:30 in the morning? Not so much.

6:48 p.m. – Special shout out to MGL Limo Worldwide who worked with us and assured us that a driver would be waiting for us at 12:30 in San Francisco. We definitely had to pay for it, but they had us covered. Next up, trying to figure out how to deal with our poor lost baggage.

6:52 p.m. – I finally get a hold of someone in baggage services with Southwest in San Francisco. At first we are told that unfortunately, they close at midnight. But then they acknowledge that they don’t leave until the last plane arrives so we will at least get to file a report in the event that our bag has not arrived in San Francisco by the time we get there. Then, I open up a complaint report with Southwest. In this moment, I feel a little bad for the people on the front lines at Southwest. It has been a ROUGH year for them. On the other hand, I am still pretty hot so I try to be polite while letting them know in no uncertain terms how little joy I am feeling in that exact moment. To my credit, I didn’t yell once.

7:07 p.m. – As an afterthought, I realize we should probably call our hotel to let them know we are coming but will definitely be a little late…or a lot late. I get them on the line and let them know that we should landing a little after midnight and that we should be there by 1 a.m. I ask them to please not give our room away because we are definitely coming. I am informed that if we aren’t there by 1 a.m., their system automatically cancels all reservations for people not physically there and they can not guarantee our room. At this point, I am doing my best to keep it together and not say anything that will freak out Shannon because the act of holding my crap together while trying desperately to not lose it on some faceless Marriott worker on the other end of the line while having my wife freak out next to me is not something I believe I am capable of pulling off. In the end, the manager I am speaking with tells me he is not on the night shift but he will pass along our message. His suggestion is that I call as soon as we land and hope for the best. I agree to do this because…my options are quickly dwindling at this point. AND I HAVEN’T EVEN LEFT ARIZONA YET!!! I’m beginning to wonder if I even should. But then the thought of all that would be involved with cancelling everything and trying to get our lost bag back sinks in and so…onward and hopefully upward, eventually.

7:38 p.m. – With all of our phone calls made and all of our arrangements as in place as we can get them, it is time to acknowledge that the egg and toast from that morning is beginning to wane significantly. So, which of those exquisite restaurants that I was so hoping to try earlier should we go to? Apparently, none of them. They must have all heard me express my lack of enthusiasm to Shannon earlier because on a Saturday night, with an airport still full of people, 80% of the restaurants in the airport close at 7 p.m.

7:47 p.m. – Our first option of what remains open is a grab and go station that sells shrink-wrapped sandwiches. I turn up my nose in disgust and exclaim that there has to be something better. We then begin our second sojourn around the Terminal 4 gates in search of something, anything better.

8:29 p.m. – Shannon and I both settle for a shrink-wrapped sandwich.

8:48 p.m. – Sandwiches inhaled (as far as shrink-wrapped sandwiches go, I’ve definitely had worse) we settle in and realize we have…just 1 and a half hours until we are scheduled to board. Deja vu sucks!!!

10:12 p.m. – We have both walked, used the restroom, and are anticipating the boarding process beginning. But…something doesn’t feel right. The plane is already parked outside, the ticket agent has felt the need to let us know that the pilot for the flight is already there and everything is good to go. However, there is a lot of huddling going on at the actual door by the gate, then at the ticketing desk, then at the gate door, then as 10:25 approaches, everyone disappears. The entire mob of folks all now standing in anticipation of boarding this flight takes on an ominous feel. It doesn’t help that the flight one gate over headed to El Paso is already an hour + delayed. They better figure something out or crap is about to go down.

10:26 p.m. – For the first time in association with this flight we hear the two phrases, “we apologize for the slight delay” and “it will be just 10 to 15 minutes.” The gate agent gets on the intercom and explains that we are waiting on a couple of passengers coming in from Las Vegas who need to make this flight and that we will be boarding in “10 to 15 minutes” and that they apologize for the “slight delay.”

10:50 p.m. – After much standing and huddling by the gate door, the Southwest folks then get on the intercom and explain that their systems are down and that they are having to do everything manually and that we should be boarding within “10 to 15 minutes.” There also may still be two passengers coming from Vegas. They say this, but they don’t sound convinced. Again, they apologize for the “slight delay.”

10:59 p.m. – We actually begin boarding, and it is within the 10 to 15 minute time frame. Well done, you! We all get on the plane (Shannon and I are not sitting together this go round) and…we sit. The flight crew again seems to be content with just hanging out as the pilot comes out to chat with the stewardesses. It’s all very collegial with the only elephant in the room being that…THE PLANE WAS SUPPOSED TO LEAVE AT 10:55.

11:12 p.m. – After having been told that we are still waiting for two passengers from Vegas, we continue to sit until the original gate agent comes on the plane and heads into the cockpit for the next ten minutes. We are finally told that the delay is due to having to do all the paperwork manually without the aid of a computer, and…there were no passengers from Vegas. They conclude with “we should be getting you out of here in the next 10 to 15 minutes and we apologize for the slight delay.” It takes every ounce of restraint not to scream out at him that I hate him. That I hate all of them. That I have been at the airport for almost seven and a half hours and that I believe that no longer counts as a slight delay. Instead, I sit quietly and contemplate whether I truly want to be kicked off the plane or not.

11:55 p.m. – With no explanation as to why it has taken an additional 40 minutes to pull away from the gate, we begin to pull away from the gate. I look at the faces of the flight crew and realize they are just as annoyed as we the passengers are. I feel in that moment, a kinship. I feel that we should all join together and revolt against the man. But one, I don’t know how we do that. And two, any action a mob might take at this point would only serve to keep us out of San Francisco that much longer. I sit quietly and pray it won’t take long for them to serve that trail mix crap.

12:50 a.m. (California time) – We land and my first call is to the hotel. Come to find out, the night shift is totally fine with us arriving whenever as long as they know we are coming. We are good on that front. We hop off the plane and book it to the Southwest baggage office to discover that our bag is in…Las Vegas, of all places. We file a report and are assured they will deliver it to us as soon as possible. It’s 1 in the morning. None of us want to be there and we’re all annoyed. We say thanks, and don’t entirely mean it. They say no problem, and don’t entirely mean it either.

1:08 a.m. – We find our driver and we are on our way. We have been assigned a Mercedes S class car. After our day, it truly feels like a little bit of heaven. Actually, I think it would feel like a little bit of heaven even if our day had been perfect. That was a freaking nice car!

1:46 a.m. – We arrive at our hotel and they couldn’t be kinder. We make it to our room and collapse into bed. Thankfully, Shannon had the foresight to pack an extra pair of underwear each in a carry on and I had chargers for our phones. All we needed now was sleep!

1:54 a.m. – The room directly above us comes to life as the people staying there decide it is the perfect time to pick up every belonging they have in the room and drop it on the floor. Then they decide since it worked so well the first time, they try it again. This continues for about 20 minutes. I would have been livid and called to complain except…I just couldn’t care anymore. At some point, we fell asleep with the knowledge that our 25th to 27th Wedding Anniversary trip could only get better from here. Right?