Monday, May 4, 2009

Perhaps It's Karma

I suspect every airline has bad days. But how about a bad week? I give you one week in the life of a poor traveling salesman and IBERIA airlines (the national airline of Spain).

Super Shuttle picked me up at home at 4:40 a.m., and after the typical last minute “can’t find something” crisis, the trip from LAX to Boston went smoothly….until American Airlines was done with me, and IBERIA took over.

Seven hours later, the flight to Madrid was cancelled and 400 angry people were directed back through security to the ticket counters to figure out how to get to Madrid. The Boston Airport police were called to deal with the unruly coach passengers (peasants!). All they needed were pitchforks and torches. Being in business class, I enjoyed IBERIA’s counter service which got my luggage rerouted to Barcelona (wait...I'm going to Madrid?) and a last minute ticket to London on British Airlines. Hopefully when I got to London they would figure out how to get me to Madrid. At least I'd be on the right side of the Atlantic.

Once the plane from Boston took off, I discovered that British Airlines had not expected me (or 12 other IBERIA “fortunates”), so there was no food loaded on the plane for me/us for a 9 hour flight. So the flight attendants ignored us, rather than fed us. We raided the pantry at midnight over Greenland for a nice dinner of potato chips and “biscuits”. Once in London, the forces of IBERIA took over again. It began with a delay on the lone flight to Madrid. Then they called me over the loudspeakers to ask where my luggage was (they're asking me??? You’re supposed to travel with your checked luggage apparently). Finally, 35 hours en route, I arrive at our final destination in Toledo, Spain.

My luggage? It arrived four days later--14 hours before checkout time. I was able to buy a shirt and a couple of pairs of socks, but it was basically the same clothes every day for five days. The upside? I looked like a local (unruly hair, unshaved, eau natural in wrinkled clothes). Seriously. I got asked at least 10 times in Spanish for directions. That, and I have memorized the in country lost luggage number at IBERIA.

The return trip wasn’t much smoother. IBERIA took off from Madrid for Chicago on time. (That should have been my first clue.) One hour later, the pilot comes on, announces a vague mechanical problem, and turns the plane around for Madrid and starts dumping fuel. Lots of it. 10,000 gallons of fuel dumped on Portugal. We landed roughly back in Madrid, and were quickly de-planed on the end of the tarmac with police, SWAT, fire and medical vehicles surrounding us. I think the “mechanical problem” was a ruse for something else, but I suspect we will never know what it really was.

Five hours later, IBERIA takes off again with a new plane, but now we’ve missed the flight connections in Chicago for Los Angeles…but thank heaven AA has a flight and the luggage somehow made it. So the return trip was only 25 hours.

Business travel. Not all it’s cracked up to be.

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