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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The glamour of air travel

For the past 5 days, I was fortunate enough to be attending the "Computers in Libraries" conference out in Washington, D.C. along with my colleague, Roberta Johnson, Head of Adult Services here at DPPL. It was hard not to love the conference - the presentations were lively, concise and, perhaps best of all, genuinely useful. This was my first opportunity to speak at the conference, on my experiences while creating online videos for our library, and I really had a blast doing that session. (I spoke along with Nick Baker, a librarian from Williams College who is doing great, award-winning and very, very funny things with video.)

And then the fun came to a screeching halt, as I went from being a busy and engaged librarian and conference speaker to being...a statistic. A very unpleasant statistic -- I became one of the hundreds of thousands of American Airline passengers who saw an airline reservation made many months in advance turn into meaningless electrons on an e-ticket. To paraphrase the gospel song, "Jesus Can Work It Out," I checked my flight status only to find BIG OLD RED LETTERS reading "FLIGHT CANCELLED." No explanation, no phone number to call, no online service representative. Just "CANCELLED." In case you don't feel some sympathy for me already, allow me to mention that by the time my flight was cancelled, I'd already been suffering from a migraine headache for well over 24 hours. I didn't stand a chance.

Two and a half hours of getting disconnected by American Airlines' customer service telephone line didn't do much to improve my mood. I caught the hotel shuttle (a wondrous marvel of free transportation in this over-priced world - thank you, Hyatt Hotels) to National Reagan and found a long line of irritated, flustered travellers, just like me. We were interviewed by a nice young man from the Washington Times, had our photograph taken by press representatives (that's one of them up above, from the Washington Times), and provided a fitting backdrop for a live TV report on the situation.

All the while we snaked through the line, wondering what awaited us at the counter. In my case, I wasn't offered much. A lot of frantic typing on a computer, a few dead-end phone calls, and then I was told a different airline could get me home at 7 am the next morning (today). I was also told hotels were booked solid, but if I had any luck finding one, American would pay for it. That was it. I've been reading newspaper articles today, claiming people were given free breakfasts, cookies, $500 travel vouchers -- I sure didn't see any of it. Don't feel too sorry for me, though. I did find a hotel, where I closed the blinds and slept through the rest of the migraine for about 6 hours, woke up, sent some emails back home, and slept until my 4 AM wake-up call. Thank you, Chicago's hometown airline (and our neighbors, just down the street), United, for getting me back home.

How about you? Did you get stuck in the American Airlines mess? Share your story with us - vent a little, it'll make you feel better. And, since we're a library, did you have a book, magazine, some good music or a movie to get you through your long delay? Share that, too. I so regretted not having a good book with me. Since I knew I would be speaking at the conference, a book seemed like a dangerous temptation. I did give in to the lure of several frivolous fashion magazines, Allure and In Style, in which I particularly enjoyed an interview with Mariah Carey and the annual "Best of Beauty" list, respectively. And thank God for my iPod, which soothed my soul once the migraine was gone. The real music to my ears, however, was hearing "We'd like to be the first to welcome you to Chicago's O'Hare Airport" coming through the speakers of my United Airlines flight at 8:01 AM this morning.

Want to share a comment about the state of the airline industry, the FAA, or just share a tale of woe about getting stuck at the airport? Click on Comments and start typing -- you can sign in with your Blogger account or post anonymously.

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