Monday, December 26, 2005

holiday travel

I'm back in Taipei again, and will be here for the next couple of weeks, with the exception of a few days when I'll be visiting Hong Kong.

I must have a really bad memory, or awesome denial skills. Every year I travel during the holidays, and it sucks. Then, by August/September-ish, I decide it can't have been that bad and book another trip. So, I have to brave the holiday rush, and it proceeds to suck, as I should have remembered it always did.

This year the suckage started early. We were booked on American Airlines from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and then on Delta (codeshared with China Airlines) from LAX to TPE. I had chosen this particular itinerary because it was insanely cheap for a holiday season ticket to Asia, but I probably should have known better than to book unnecessary connections.

The previous incoming flight was forced to circle SFO for 30 minutes due to fog. After the plane started to run low on fuel, air traffic control sent it down to SJC for refueling. Shortly afterward, we were told that the weather conditions had worsened, and that type of aircraft was not allowed to land in the now-super-dense fog. Another plane was located, also at SJC, prepped, and flown up, but the whole debacle took two hours, causing us to land in LAX 15 minutes after our connection flight to Taipei had departed.

While we were waiting for our plane at the gate in SFO, I called the Delta reservations desk and told them we'd likely miss our 2pm connection, so the agent put us on the next connecting flight, which was at 9:15pm.

I was pretty worried about getting to LAX at all, so I asked about direct flights. It turned out there were actually four SFO-TPE direct flights that day, but two had already left and a third was full. The fourth was an EVA Air 4:10pm flight that would have put us in Taipei an hour early. I decided it was worth it to trek out to the EVA counter to see if they could put us on it. After visiting the EVA, Delta, and American counters, and running in a circle around the airport, we were told that no one would pay for the reissue (I guess the only real possibility would have been American), and we'd have to stay on the 9:15pm LAX flight after all. So, we waited through security a second time, and got back to our gate just in time for boarding.

After arriving at LAX at 2:15pm, we tried to verify our passage on the 9:15pm flight at the China Airlines counter, only to be told that the morning shift was going off duty. After two and a half hours, we finally got to talk to an agent, who told us that we weren't in their system, the flight was full, and furthermore, our (paper) tickets were invalid, so they'd have to be reissued by Delta.

I called Delta again, and the telephone agent told me that we were on the flight, since Delta had made a reservation, but that since we had paper tickets, we had to go to the Delta counter and get them reissued.

At the Delta counter, another agent told us that since our late flight had been on American, we'd have to get American to do the reissue, since they were the ones who had to pay for our new tickets.

The American agent was pretty confused by the whole thing, and we had to explain multiple times that we had been on an American flight which had been two hours late, and that we needed a reissue of a paper ticket, and the flight might look full, but Delta had already made us a reservation. After some wrestling with the computer system, she managed to print us out our reissued tickets, and I pretty much grabbed them out of her hand the moment she took them out of the printer.

Back at China Airlines, we talked to yet another agent, who told us that we weren't in their system, and that our tickets were invalid because they had been issued by American. I got to brush up on my Mandarin as I spent several minutes trying to explain the situation, and we had to call in a supervisor to help us, but we did finally get our boarding passes, which even had seats assigned already.

It wasn't until we overheard some other passengers talking about it that we realized the 9:15pm flight had a stopover in Anchorage, which was somehow not mentioned anywhere on the itinerary, the paper ticket, or the boarding pass. So, after four and a half hours of flying, we touched down in Alaska, where we weren't allowed to get off the plane while they refueled and changed flight crew. I slept the whole rest of the way (9 hours), and was pretty awake upon our 6am arrival. This turned out to be useful, since we soon realized our luggage hadn't made it with us onto the second flight. We filled out the "irregular baggage handling" forms (third time in two years), and left the airport as quickly as possible. Total travel time: over 28 hours.

On the bright side, China Airlines had on demand movies (with pause, rewind, and fast forward), and I got to see The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Skeleton Key, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and about 30 minutes of Four Brothers. And, we did get the luggage back by midnight on the day of our arrival, albeit too late for our Christmas dinner party.

I'm still a little worried about our return flight, though. Delta claims we still have our reservations and are in the system, but China Airlines doesn't show us on the passenger list. I'll probably call back in a couple of days, but right now I'm pretty sick of dealing with airlines and their computers.

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