Fortunately, I was home for Christmas and not among those sleeping on the polished hard floor of an airport, with the echo of a disembodied voice repeatedly warning not to leave your bag unattended. I would not say I am a regular flyer, but Southwest has been my frequent flying choice for many years. I have experienced unavoidable delays due to weather, even once held up by what I can only describe as a strip search flying from Buffalo to Washington, DC, in 2006. As it turned out, my comfortable pair of Timberland brand walking shoes had a metal reinforcement plate that supported the shoe’s arch, and it set off the metal detector. Just before removing one’s shoes became mandatory, I found myself sitting in a small glass booth, shirtless and barefoot.

Eliminate my strip search and a flight with a group of financial graduate students in a driving snowstorm,  among them a twenty-ish-year-old woman—her nails digging into my bicep, with each air bump and her other hand nursing a drink. My Southwest experiences have been good until last August.

On my trip home from Ohio to Pennsylvania, I flew from Columbus to Chicago’s Midway Airport, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, not by choice, incidentally. My flight left late from Ohio, making me late for my connecting flight. I got to Chicago just past 3 pm, and my connecting flight left around 2:30. Sadly, that was a similar appetizer for an awful taste thousands have had shoved down their throats with Southwest the past week. I was still confident Southwest would resolve the snafu. I stood in a long line of disgruntled passengers who had also missed their flight, waiting my turn to plead my case with increasingly exasperated agents. Pleasant beginnings devolved into hand-waving shouting matches all around me.

A stranger who was my seatmate and I made our way to the counter. The agents told us the next flight to New York—his destination and Philadelphia—mine, was at 4:30. “ Oh, that’s not bad,” we said in unison until the agents followed up with 4:30 tomorrow afternoon. So, what do you do for what was essentially 24 hours in an airport; find a hotel, of course. I asked about the nearest hotels, and the answer came back,  “we won’t pay for your hotel.” Next to me, the gentleman I flew into Chicago with was getting a different story. He was offered a three-hundred dollar flight voucher to compensate for his inconvenience, directions to a shuttle bus, and a list of hotels for an overnight stay. However, neither of us was offered money for the hotel stay.

Oh yeah

There was another hitch; they could not tell me where to find my luggage. They believed it was on its way to Atlanta and then to Philadelphia. I asked why I was not offered the same voucher my seatmate received, and the agent offered two hundred; I asked for three. I was approaching the hand-waving stage. With my hard-fought 300-dollar Southwest voucher and no luggage, I booked a hotel room while on the shuttle bus. I got to the hotel after six that same evening., gave the hotel clerk my reservation number, but she looked dumbfounded. “Sir, this reservation is for one of our other locations, about a half-hour away,” she said. “Can you just transfer it here?”  I asked. “Oh, we are booked up. It seems the airport is backed up,” she said. My eyes narrowing, I replied, “I know.”

I asked when the next shuttle bus came. “the bus does not go there, she said. I called a Lyft, got to the hotel, checked in, bought an overpriced bag of chips and a soda, got a complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste from the desk, and went to bed. I showered the next morning—by the way, you have not lived until you use a broken piece of dry soap for deodorant, hoping it last until you get home. The four-thirty flight from Chicago to Atlanta did not leave until 7. Finally, I got from Atlanta to Philly around 11 pm. Being one of the last two people at the baggage carousel is a helpless feeling, only to realize someone else hit the bag lottery, not you. The baggage attendant came out of his office to tell me, “no more bags are coming up.”  I told him my bag might have arrived earlier. He told me he would check once he finished sorting lost and misplaced luggage. I told him I had a long day, had a piece of medical equipment in one of my bags I needed, and wanted to go home (back to hand-waving).

He proceeded to lecture me about the airline’s policy on packing medical equipment. At that very moment, I spotted my bags on a shelf in his storeroom. “ Stop,” I said. “My bags are right there.” He said, “let me check the computer.” I walked into the storage area; my bag was clearly marked with my name and phone number. Both are hands waving; he confirmed it was my bag (according to his computer). Finally home, I peeled off my clothing, including my more than 30-hour-old underwear, jumped from the shower to bed, and slept for the next 12 hours. The voucher still sits on my desk at home with an expiration date of August 2023; maybe by then, I can talk myself into getting back on a Southwest flight.

Happy New Year      

  • December 30, 2022