Tuesday, December 20, 2011

American Airlines - 2 Thumbs Down

After three poor nights of sleeping due to noise, we are moving onward. The circles under my eyes looked like hillside tiered gardening. If there were a inevitable harvest, I wouldn’t mind, but it is ruining the last of the good looks that I am desperately trying to hold on to. Getting to the airport was a snap. The metro station is almost outside our hotel door and under it is the station for the train. One train ride for one stop and then on to the metro connection and we are at the airport within twenty minutes.

American Airlines has a self-check in process in Madrid Airport. We could have printed our boarding passes at the hotel if they had a printer we could use, but there are also machines in the airport to do it for you. You punch in the reservation number, scan your passport, put in the number of pieces of luggage you intend to take and then gasp in all of the O2 when you see the additional cost if you have 2 pieces. One piece is free; a second is an additional hefty charge. Carry-on is limited to one piece, but the instructions are unclear whether this means in addition to a purse or briefcase or if this is the one piece. With boarding passes in hand, all we had to do was drop off our luggage at the designated drop off desk. It seemed like a simple task, but it turned out to be lengthy, making us miss any chance of using the Diners Club lounge.

Before shedding ourselves of the luggage, we had to go through a series of security questions, but the woman would not allow both of us to be there at once. Only family members are allowed to be joined at the hip. I corrected her and after a moment’s hesitation, she proceeded. Spain allows same sex marriage and all the rights therewith, so why should we be excluded? The list of questions was the usual, “Who owns these suitcases?; Who packed them?;  “Has anyone given you any gifts?”, but the differences were she genuinely seemed interested in the answers.

Once she put our clearance stickers on the bags, we had to drop them off at the counter. Although this was supposed to be a drop off only, the line was slow and tedious, because people are arguing over what they intend to check and what is a carry-on. It took us over thirty minutes after we had already printed out our boarding passes. Then we were told we had to be at the gate 1 hour before boarding or they would unload our luggage, plus there was a warning that the travel time to the gate from where we were standing was thirty minutes away.

It took moving escalators, moving sidewalks, elevators, and an airport sky train to get close to our gate; the balance of the distance was old-fashioned walking. When we were in the gate area, there was a lounge nearby, but they were not the Diners Club lounge. We were informed there was another lounge upstairs, but she wasn’t certain who they catered to. Being paranoid about time, we went to our gate.

The flight from Madrid to Miami is 9 hours and 40 minutes. One would think that in this day and age, a modern plane would be flying this route. It wasn’t. We were held up when the back-up generator failed. They had to complete the paperwork, but there wasn’t a word about fixing it on this old 767 equipped with a single row of monitors running down the center row of seats. Passengers not only did not receive any choices in entertainment for this long flight, but those who were stuck on the sides had to stretch their necks to view the videos. Although we had center seats, I skipped over the poor choices of entertainment and read my book instead. When drink service started, they announced that beer and wine would be available for $6.00. After hearing that, I tuned out on the cost of liquor. It was incomprehensible that a major airline would charge for the first drink on an international flight when one considers the cost of the ticket. Meal service was typical airline meals, but they service of the staff was excellent. The steward who gave me my meal asked if I wanted a bottle of wine gratis. I was not sure why, but I seem to think it was because I wanted chicken, but they only had pasta left.

Going through Miami was another nightmare. We were transiting through, but still had to go through Passport Control and Customs. Why are we wasting resources on that when we were already in a secured zone?  This took up a good 45 minutes of the 2 1/2 hours we had to spare between flights. Then we had to do the security thing all over again. They wanted to put me in that XRay machine where there is a see all-tell all view of your nakedness. I don’t even like seeing my naked body; I am certainly not going to parade it for strangers in Miami. Well, what a hullabaloo that was. I had to stand aside and wait for someone to be available to give me an hand examination. I waited so long, I felt like it was punishment for not getting the photo shoot done and over with. Ron went the same route, but his exam was faster. Not having been to the US since January 2003, it really irked me to have to deal with all of this. I had hoped that being a transit passenger, we could just slip by unnoticed and unharassed. 

American was the airline from Miami to Guatemala City. People were jamming with their carry-on luggage. How they managed to get as far as the boarding gate without being stopped by someone, is beyond me. There were full sized suitcases that would not have fit in an overhead bin during the most generous days of flying. Airline personnel were waiting at the gate, and stripping these people of their luggage and handing them an ID tag to pick it up in the luggage area when we arrived. This may have been smart, because I am not certain how the airline could then charge them for excess luggage once they made it to the door of the plane.

Flying time is 2 hours and 40 minutes. They had video monitors on this plane too and video service. If you wanted to watch the television shows they played, it would cost you $2 for earphones. If you had your own, they still wanted the $2. If you want anything other than soda, coffee or tea, there is a charge. One guy behind us ordered a couple of scotches. $26. The person on the other side of the aisle got some potato chips in a can. $3.29. If I were the flight attendants, I would be humiliated to ask for the money.

We arrived in Guatemala City, but we are staying in Antigua. Ron had arranged a taxi to meet us. Sure enough, there was a guy with a sign, which I pointed out to Ron. After we drove for an hour, I had this horrible thought. Having been traveling at that point for 26 hours, I was not certain I had read the driver’s sign correctly. I did see Ron Sc, but you know those visual tricks where your mind fills in what you think should follow. There was never a word spoken with the driver, making me hope for the best. Fortunately, we did arrive in Antigua after 1 ½ hours and he did drop us off where we had reservations. Time for a long winter’s nap or at least until 10am tomorrow.
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