Monday, January 17, 2011

Four hours in the Portland airport to end up . . . in Portland?

I was all set to fly out of the airport on Monday morning (the 10th). My family had me to the airport a little over an hour before my flight. We checked my bags and then said a tearful goodbye (I'm becoming my mother's daughter!), as the security person called that those who wanted to go to the security entrance for terminals D and E would have no wait, but would have to walk back to their gate. We decided this wasn't a good option because my ticket clearly said 5a in large print. I was headed for terminal A. 

I departed from my family and continued to be a bit teary on my way to the gate. I wasn't ready for my time with my family to be over yet. I wanted more time. 

When I arrived at gate 5a, it was headed for Seattle, but was leaving at 10:30, rather than at 10, like my itinerary said. I asked the woman at the desk about this and she assured me that it was when they boarded and that I was at the right gate, so I went to sit in the waiting area. 

As I sat down, I was still thinking that it didn't sound right to me. So I looked at my ticket, to realize that 5a was NOT my gate, but my seat number. I was at absolutely the wrong end of the airport (PDX has 5 terminals A-E). I needed to get to E6 and FAST. My plane was to take off in 15 minutes. 

I went as quickly through the airport as I could with a backpack and carry-on. The only problem was the terminals aren't set up like Japanese train gates, you can't go through D to get to E, it splits between them. So I walked down terminal D before realizing my mistake and turning back. 

Finally I arrived at E and made good use of the people movers in the terminal. When I got off the last one, I spotted E6, it was downstairs, just like the flight I came home on. I went down the stairs as fast as I could. 

When I got down them, I saw there was a line and got to the front quickly and asked the lady at the counter about it. She said my last name as a question. I said yes. She said I had missed it and asked me to get in the line while she finished boarding the current flight - there were two other people in it. 

At that point, the water works started, I was already teary from saying goodbye to my family.

When she called me to the counter, I did my best to pull myself together and ask how to get on the next flight that would allow me to arrive in Seattle to catch my connection. She said she couldn't do anything for me, but that I could go upstairs and talk to the woman at gate E7. 

When I arrived I asked what she could do. She told me that she could put me on stand-by for the next flight out, but that it was full. I asked if she knew of any other flights flying out of PDX with other carriers. She looked up a horizon flight, leaving at 11:30 (the United one was going to leave at 11:15). I asked if she could book me on it. She couldn't, but she allowed me to use her phone - rather than my iphone with the spotty wireless connection. I called Horizon and booked a seat for $189. 

I had a flight! I wandered back through the airport, grabbed a chai in a coffee shop, and sat down to call my parents and let them know the latest updates. They were glad to hear I was going to make it on my flight. 

When I arrived back at A5 (the gate, not the seat :) ), I found that the 10:30 flight was half an hour late and was just about to leave. I asked if I could be moved up to that flight and the woman asked if I had any luggage, when I said yes, she said I had to stick with my luggage. So, I sat down to wait. 

I kept listening as I sat, to hear my name in case they had some issue getting my luggage transferred to my new connection. I wanted to make sure I was doing what I needed to. I began to check facebook or update someone else, still listening, when I heard that this flight was going to be half an hour late - the way it was booked, I was only going to have 20 minutes or so to run through the Seattle airport to catch my international flight. 

I realized there was no way this flight was going to get me to Seattle in time and I did not want to get stuck in Seattle for the night. If I was going to get stuck somewhere, I wanted to be in Portland, where I could hang with my family and sleep in my own bed. 

I went up to the lady at the gate and she was able to refund my ticket, except the $15 booking charge. So I went back to the United gates to see what could be done. 

As I walked back to terminal E (from A, I'd been all over the airport), I tried to skype my parents via my iphone. It seemed that every two steps I took, I got disconnected or had a spotty connection. Probably one of the most frustrating conversations of my life - between the events of the day and the connection. 

I talked to the nice lady at gate 7 again and she said that she had asked them to call me because there had been room on the stand-by flight. But I missed it. She said now, she could book me, but there would be charges and she didn't want me to get charged, so I should go back to ticketing (where I checked my bags), because she thought they’d be able to waive the fees. So out of security I went, again, trying to call my family. 

The woman at the ticketing counter did not seem happy to help me. She seemed mad that she had to help me deal with this mistake - as if I would have missed my flight on purpose! For the zillionth time that morning, I was in tears. She said she couldn't book me on the Delta flight leaving PDX directly for Tokyo because I had to stay with their carrier, but she would see what she could do. 
At first, she wanted to book me through Dallas and then out, arriving 24 hours after I would have arrived anyways. I asked if it was possible at all to be booked with the same itinerary I had that day, but 24 hours later. About this time, she started to have less of an attitude for me and by the time we were finished, she was down right nice. 

She was able to change my booking to that time, but because I had a non-changeable ticket, she had to upgrade my ticket and then I had to pay some other fees. They came to a total of almost eight-hundred dollars! As she booked my ticket, she was able to get them to waive the other fees, so I only had to pay the upgrade price - still almost four-hundred dollars - ouch! 

While booking, she did suggest that I get one plane earlier, because my bags had made it to Seattle and I was going to have to ask someone there to help me get them on my connection.

In the end, I spent 4 hours in the Portland airport and didn't make it anywhere. 

Despite all of this, I know that the Lord had it in his hands, and though I didn't leave on my schedule, I left on his. When I flew out the second time, I had a peace about the whole thing that I hadn't had the day before. He was with me through all the craziness.