I've done a lot of business travel for my current employer for more than 10 years. I travel from state to state within different regions to litigate federal employment law cases. Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis, New Orleans, Houston, and other cities became places where I have favorite hotels. I know their airports well.
I retire at the end of the month, and I finished my last hearing, in Indianapolis, yesterday. I returned by air this morning. There will be no more trips like this. I think maybe that is why I paid more attention to the events of this particular trip as they unfolded. On reflection, I realized that it might be an interesting, if small, story.
Follow me out into the tall grass if you'd like to hear it.
I left Tuesday. I spent a full day in conference with witnesses and another conducting the hearing. All the witnesses confirmed what I already knew. I was fully prepared. Consequently, I had a lot of time to kill. Like many of my business trips, and I'm guessing from what I see, like much business travel by many people, there can be a lot of time to kill.
I started doing a lot of this kind of travel in 2003 when killing time was a totally different proposition than it is today. I had an iPod. It looked like this:
Getting into mischief, i.e. bars, casinos, etc. gets very expensive very fast on the road and, thus, impractical. I go to a movie sometimes. Hotel TV is better today than back in the day when Sony still built TV's that looked like this.
As my career ends, I had a poignant reminder of another kind of end from a billboard on an Indianapolis freeway informing me that if I remembered when classic rock was just rock, it's time for me to have a colonoscopy. Come to think of it, I am about due for one. Sigh. Just what I need the month that I start on Medicare and Social Security.
Fittingly, the business trip at the end of my career, at its own end, provided its most memorable moments, moments truly reflecting the experience of airline consumers in the early 21st century.
Sad to say, since 2007 my home airport has been ORD, Ohare International, Chicago's sprawling Northside airport. Once upon a time, Dallas Love Field, quaint DAL airport, was my home airport. I could actually see planes on the ground there from my office window, just a few minutes away. Southwest Airlines went everywhere my employer wanted me to go and it was a pleasure to do business with them. Barring weather emergencies, flights generally came and went entirely as expected. Everything seemed under control.
ORD is different. The sprawling monster, gathering in and spewing out aluminum tubes full of people over two thousand times a day, seems, to me, barely under control sometimes. Today was a fitting and good example.
The regional jet was slightly under capacity when it boarded quickly and departed sleepy Indianapolis International on time this morning. So far, so good. Judging from the connecting gates that the attendant read, most of the passengers were booked on longer hauls out of Chicago.
Many of them had short connect times and started to get antsy when the normally 26-30 minute airtime flight began to loiter over Lake Michigan. That happens a lot to short haul flights connecting to the hubs at Ohare. Sometimes such short haul flights are even held on the ground at take-off to ease congestion in the waiting pattern at ORD. This morning our fight couldn't get into the landing pattern.
The delay cost us our gate.
It was a really good gate, right near the exit to baggage claim. Speaking of ends, I have a standing joke with Mrs. Left about how I have a knack for getting on flights that board or deplane at the very ass end of some goddamned airport concourse, which my bad back and I have to negotiate dodging unsupervised children and other obstacles, human and commercial, dragging a case that my employer won't let me check with anyone. I thought about that old joke when the attendant first announced our arrival gate: No. 1, the best possible gate on that particular concourse. So, today, after our flight lost that very good gate, we ultimately deplaned at the very ass end of the concourse, and down one level to boot.
But before we could even get to our remote and forlorn gate, so reminiscent of a bus station, they first parked us out on the apron in what the pilot himself described as the "penalty box" where they apparently sequester gate-less fights. I could see two other planes stuck there, same make and model as mine, from where I sat. We sat there thirty minutes.
By now, a lot of passengers were really worried and speaking up about it. People asked about connecting flights being held for them. When we finally got out of "the penalty box", to our really crappy gate, the attendant asked everyone to allow those with the tight connections to line up first to get off, and that happened.
So, we got to the really crappy gate and the worried people were all lined up and, whoops! The airline wasn't expecting us. There was no one to operate the jet bridge. For another fifteen minutes. As anxious passengers stood in the aisle the anger and angst in the cabin was palpable. Pheromones, I suppose. Eventually, the airline set all the hostages free.
They did OK with my checked bag. Except for difficulty communicating the African emigre ESL driver about the best route, the taxi ride home was uneventful.
I shall travel no more on the business of others, and I shall not miss the end of that.