0430 CST and I am still in OKC. After the strangest incident trying to get out of here last night and my worst travel adventure yet, I have sworn off of Northwestern Airlines. Fuck'em and their appalling lack of customer service. They were the cheapest way in and out of here....guess I got what I paid for.
What was it? Never found out for sure, but my plane to Memphis was quarantined 10 yards from the gate. I happened to look out the window about 45 minutes before I was supposed to head out and saw a scene right out of "Outbreak" on the tarmac. Dudes in silver suits and self containted breathing apparatus were all around the plane and this whole hing was surrounded by a phalanx of flashing lights. Marked cars, unmmarked cars, HAZMAT fire trucks, ambulance....if you had a light bar on your car, this was apparently the place to be.
All the gate attendant could tell us was there was a suspicious substance and the plane was quarantined. "Odd" methinks, especially when we are told this will result in a 20 minute delay. I have almost a 2 hour layover in Memphis so that is ok....but I am wondering if I really want to be on that particular plane.
Eventually we are told that we will need to rebook our connections because they are erring on the side of safety. Fine with me, I avoid the line at the desk of what turned out to be the only NWA employee left in he airport and call the 1800 number they posted on the board to reschedule flights. It turns out that it is impossible to have me in Cleveland hat night, the best they can do is get me to Detroit or Columbus. That will not really work, so the agent on the phone suggests I could do the 0600 flight (the TripJax special) out the next morning and I will be in Cleveland by 1113. This sounds like the best overall option as it was not garaunteed that I could make my connections in Minn/St.Paul or Detroit or Memphis if I could get ou of here that night. I ask about accomodations at the airport (don't want to inconvenience GCox with another 0400 jaunt to Will Rogers) and he advises me to see the gate attendant. Back in line I go. I am in touch with SteelerSteph throughout this process and the frustration I am feeling is cushoined by the fact that I could be worse, I could be one of the 50 poor bastards stuck sitting on the quarantined plane breathing in this suspicious substance and sweating their asses off. The engines were not turning on the plane, I don't imagine the AC is running. I finally get to the front of the line and ask about a hotel voucher. I am very surprised to hear that I am on my own. Unless a flight is delayed for mechanical reasons, if NWA can get me to my destination within 24 hours, I am on my own. I protest, "but you cannot get me to Cleveland until tommorrow, I have to sleep somewhere!". "Policy sir, you are allowed to sleep in the airport"
It is not this lady's fault so no use arguing with her and there are 15 more people behind me so I just ask about my checked bag to make sure that we can reunite. "Yes sir, baggage claim 6". Ok. In retrospect, the conspiracy theorists and I suspect that this baggage claim 6 was a ruse to get me out of the presence of what was apparently the only Northwestern employee in the whole friggin airport. I pass through TSA and head down to baggage claim. I am not happy with NWA right now and my plan is to make my case with the ticket agent or the highest ranking NWA employee I can find. Is it worth the $50 hotel voucher for them to lose a customer for life? I suspected not. I arrive at the baggage claim 6 and stare at the single lonely bag making the circuit. Not my bag. Ha! The NWA luggage office is locked and closed while its neighbors United, Continental, etc are doing a booming business. Ha Ha!
I eventually decide this is a lost cause and go to the ticket desk to see what I can make happen. The answer is not much when it is not staffed and the check in is all self service now. 5 pm on a Sunday and it appears that the only NWA employee is protected from me by TSA. With only a boarding pass for the 6 am flight the next morning, I don' like my chances of getting back to her. I pick up a piece of the NWA propaganda titled "Customer Guide: Customers First Program" because I need a good laugh and I still have the stupid hope that if I could just explain this situation to a rational person, I can get it taken care of. I find the number for the ombudsman Lynn Pahl, "Director - Customer Care and Sales Support". I call and get a recording telling me they are closed on weekends and to call back between 0730 and 1630 on a weekday. I guess customers do not require care on a weekend. Way to go NWA.
Admitting defeat at this point, I weigh my options. I can get a cab to a hotel and save my receipts and try to fight the good fight later this week. I can call Gary and see if I can crash at his house for one more night. I ultimately opt for the latter since I would be pissed with him if the roles were reversed and he did not call me when he was stuck at the airport less than 20 mins from my house. I would not be excited about the 0400 wakeup the next morning would require, but that is a minor annoyance. Gary picked me up, we got some pizza to take back to the house and I got to enjoy some unexpected OK hospitality for another 10 hours.
Thanks again GCox for hosting us and taking me to the airport, twice. A hearty "FU" to NWA and its "Customer Care".
I hope my checked bag is waiting for me in Cleveland. We will see.