Here’s a fun fact - I lived in L.A. for four years without a car.
Here’s a fun fact - I lived in L.A. for four years without a car.
I've been flying Virgin America domestically for a while; I love the inflight experience, from the order-at-your-seat refreshments to personal entertainment screens. The flight attendants seem capable and friendly (and took care of me most recently when I got sick on a flight). Virgin America has also always had a bit of a sense of humor when it comes to safety videos.
VA's previous animated video was jaggedly drawn, a bit jarring and edgy, chill and sarcastic, featuring a bullfighter who didn't know how to use a seatbelt and a nun who was traveling with more devices than you might think a woman of the cloth might acquire. And then a few months ago, a new video dawned on Virgin America - flashy, with choreography and different styles of music to drive the safety messages home, with karaoke-style subtitles to encourage people to sing along (and hopefully remember the instructions in a way that didn't induce the panic that comes with realizing that those safety instructions are supposed to guide us in the event of a catastrophic air event, but I digress, and yes, I do have airplane anxiety, why do you ask?).
Tonight I just viewed a new safety video that must have been created to compete with (or perhaps, "pay homage to") the Virgin America style. The unlikely airline challenger? El Al, Israel airways, with a video with a kitschy, near-nonsensical vibe, that doesn't even attempt to rhyme and is so weird that I can't believe this is the first time I'm seeing it. (Video embeds and more discussion after the jump.)
I'm not generally the person who makes a federal case out of delayed flights and travel troubles - this is the cost for modern airline travel. But last weekend, I flew back from New York on a flight that was severely delayed. And the fun didn't end there. This is the letter I wrote to the airline, submitted via their customer service form for Comments or Complaints - name of airline redacted for now - with a few literary flourishes added for my discerning blog readers. - EK
Dear Major Airline,
Look, I get it. I understand that flights get delayed, that equipment malfunctions and needs to be fixed. And just to be clear, I want you to fix the equipment malfunctions, and if it even remotely looks like it can’t be fixed, I also definitely want you to switch to an airplane that actually works. I’m even willing to wait until there’s a plane that flies properly.
So when I write to you about Flight # R5-D4*, which had been scheduled to depart at 9pm on Sunday July 28, I’m not writing about the delay of 45 minutes, which turned into 2 hours, which turned into 3 before any of us stopped counting. I’m not writing about waiting in the airport, or the crew’s behavior up to that point – staff members were apologetic and responsive, giving us $25 vouchers for shopping to ease the discomfort of delay, and some people received meal vouchers too (I had already eaten on my own dime, so I didn’t track down those meal vouchers). The trouble started once we were loaded onto the smaller plane.
After we boarded, someone realized there wouldn’t be enough seats on a smaller plane -why this only happened after our full flight from the bigger plane boarded the smaller plane, I just don't know - and the flight crew asked for volunteers to deplane. I really, really wanted to get home as soon as possible, and wasn’t inclined to volunteer for deplaning, until they announced the benefits package: a first-class seat on the first flight out in the morning at 7am, an overnight hotel stay with transfers to and from the airport, as well as 600 airline credit dollars, good on flights anywhere with the airline. If I took the 7am, I could fly in first class, a kind of comfort only dreamed of, be at work at 11, and have “earned” some money toward a vacation or family reunion at a future date.
I rang for a flight attendant: “Do you guys still need volunteers?”
“I think so,” she said, “go to the front to ask them directly before you get your bags.”
Following instructions, I walked to the front of the plane, asked them, they said, “Yes, we need you, go get your bags and come back.” So I did, walking back to the back of the plane quickly, grabbing my stuff as the flight attendants had instructed me, and exiting the plane at the front.
At the airplane door, I reported to claim the first-class seat I’d been offered, only to be told by the agent that there were no first-class or business seats on the 7am flight, only coach. (The reason I stepped off the plane, if you recall, was the promise of flying back to LA in first class.) “What about the 9am?” I asked. Only coach, he responded. Fine, I agreed. I’d take an aisle seat in coach on the 7am. No aisle seats were available, only middles, he told me. A nervous flier to begin with, I couldn’t face flying in the cramped middle seat. I sighed. So much for getting to work at a reasonable delay. “What about the noon flight?” The noon had first class seats available, so I was booked onto that. Seat 2D. It wasn’t what I’d been promised, but it would do. I'd be able to get some sleep tonight, and relax and work on the plane in the morning.
I walked the long gangway back up to the terminal gate, and when I arrived, a gate agent glared at me and sneered, “What are you doing here?”
“I gave up my seat and was booked onto another flight tomorrow,” I said.
“Why are they still sending people up here?” she barked. I understood that it was a frustrating situation, and that it was around midnight at this point, but her frustration was now squarely centered on me.
“I have no idea, but I was told that you needed volunteers, so I volunteered, and was rebooked onto a noon tomorrow,” I said.
Then she took my ticket, and threw it away. “You’re going back onto that plane,” she said. “They shouldn’t have kept on sending people up here.”
“Well, they did,” I said. “I gave up my seat a while ago, and was booked onto a flight tomorrow. I’m not going back on the plane. I’m tired and I’m going to the hotel to go to sleep.”
“You’re going back on the plane.”
“This is not acceptable,” I said.
“Fine. Take this drink ticket.” Into my hand she had thrust a card the size of a business card entitling me to a free drink.
“I don’t want a drink ticket.”
“Fine. Take two.” She shoved a second card at me.
“I don’t drink on airplanes. It makes me sick.” (If you've flown with me, you know this is true.)
“Just use it for snacks, then. You have to go back on the plane. We can’t fly with that seat empty.” (Because as we all know, a plane NEVER flies with 32E empty. </sarcasmfont>)
A guy at the counter pipes up, “I’ll take the seat! I need to get out of here tonight.”
“You don’t have a ticket, you’re not going on the plane,” the gate agent said to him.
“Look, what I don’t understand is that you needed me as a volunteer five minutes ago and now you don’t. What changed?”
“There was a couple that was traveling together, so we gave them priority. You’re single, and because you’re alone, you need to get back on the plane.” (She might have said, “because you’re traveling alone,” but it was late, and – as a former singles columnist – this is the language I remember.)
After nearly three hours of delay, I didn’t want to be the person who held up the plane, so I picked up my stuff, and with one last line from me about the treatment being unacceptable, I returned to the plane, promising that they’d be getting a letter from me. The gate agent who had booked me followed me out, and gave me a consolation prize - a $100 voucher for credit toward a future flight, which forces me to spend more money on this airline before I can claim it, something I am not inclined to do based on this experience.
When I relayed this story to others, they asked me if I had taken the names of the people who had told me to step off the plane, or the person who had verbally abused me at the gate. I hadn’t: I was extremely tired, and it didn’t occur to me that a company like this one would dangle one offer and substitute another, or that a gate agent would take her frustration out on me. I fly often between New York and L.A., and as airlines usually note, we all have a choice in air travel. Based on this experience, the airline has proven itself untrustworthy and I am extremely unlikely to choose this airline in the future.
It would help as a gesture of goodwill if you would follow through on the original promise - a first-class, transcontinental ticket on a future flight and 600 airline credit dollars – or at least credit me for the cost of the flight that the airline botched so badly. It has been suggested to me that I send this letter to the head of customer service and the president of the company, but I thought I'd try this channel first.
Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.
*In the original post, I referred to this flight as TK-421, which was an inside joke for Star Wars fans, but which apparently led some readers to believe the errant airline was Turkish Airlines, which - of course - on a domestic flight JFK-LAX, it was not. You'll see if you follow the above link, that TK-421 famously left his post to check on some equipment on the Millennium Falcon, at which point he and his co-guard (TK-422, if I'm not mistaken) were attacked by Luke and Han who donned their uniforms to save Princess Leia. I have now changed this fake flight designation to R5-D4, a malfunctioning little red droid with a bad motivator, which is not entirely inappropriate, given my experience. Are we okay now, internet people?
Pitchfest! Jewish Stories Go Hollywood!
Join G-dcast's Producer, Screenwriter, and a panel of celebrity judges in an interactive Hollywood style pitchfest. Each team gets a (very) colorful Jewish story that we promise you've never heard before and develops its own red carpet, scene-stealing pitch. (We'll coach you on how the experts do it.) Then send your best rep up on stage to dazzle the executives and convince us why YOUR story should be turned into an animated film. Big sunglasses provided. (Session produced by Sarah Lefton, with supporting cast turns by Sean Mandell, Josh Walters, and Esther Kustanowitz)
Since I'm the "celebrity judge" who lives and works closest to Hollywood (geographically, Beverly Hills ain't far), bringing the celebrity glamour will undoubtedly be my responsibility. So, who will I be wearing? Stay tuned to this blog for details about the televised red carpet coverage. (Jewels will of course be by Harry Winston - some traditions you just don't mess with.)
You can check out my new TribeFest speaker's bio here.
I'm sure that the food at TribeFest will be perfectly fine. But that won't stop us from complaining about it. For instance, when the Jews left Egypt - a place where they were enslaved - some of them wanted to go back because the food in Egypt was better. Also, let us not forget the great Hadassah Chopped Liver Incident of 1998. Those of you who were there remember what I'm talking about.
But all of this is preamble for the fact that as I type this, Jews ages 25-45 are converging on (if not already weekending in) Las Vegas, schmoozing, networking, dancing and getting their Jewve back. (That's a new word, people. Jew+groove. Combonyms are fun.)
Tomorrow the content begins, with sessions on various subjects, big musical performances, and the undisputed headlining component of the program, my session on "Passion to Paycheck," undoubtedly will be mobbed by folks wanting to crack the complicated, challenging world of Jewish communal service. So if you're going out in Vegas Monday night (the last night of the conference), prepare to hear this a lot: "OK, I'll go out, but I have to get up early Tuesday for 'Passion to Paycheck' at 9:45am."
I'll be there, representing all the organizations I usually represent at such conferences, and hoping to have some time to socialize with some friends old and new visiting from locations like Denver, San Francisco, New York, DC, Boston and Ann Arbor, MI.
I'm not sure how much time I'll have for blogging, but in the interim, you can get your fix from Twitter: follow the #tribefest tag, or check out my Tweets at @EstherK. If you're interested in how my first time in Vegas went, check out this vintage video from the Israelity Tour in 2008.
And remember the adage: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, as long as you don't bring 1200 members of the tribe with you.
And now, a slightly mad, but slightly comedic interlude:
20 THINGS TO DO IN AN AIRPORT DURING A SNOWPOCALYPSE
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when I realized that our flight was never taking off.
Indications came early, as snow swirled light and fast en route to JFK, and intensified as I arrived at an airport with what seemed to be no designated area for my airline. A customer service desk, unmanned, bore only a sign with an 800 number to call for more information. Calls to that number went to an automated system which was never answered. I reached out to @VirginAtlantic on Twitter and was informed that the staff would be available to help us slightly in advance of check-in, so we sat and waited, talking with fellow passengers about their long road to the airport. Many of them had been stranded by the previous closures at Heathrow – their New York vacation extended because they couldn’t get home.
As we sat there, the rumors started about a potential airport closure on the horizon, which – to any rational person – seemed, frankly, like the right thing to do. It would be annoying to go back to the beginning, but we’d understand. Snow every which way meant zero visibility and high winds. But that was a decision for the airline – and there were still no Virgin Atlantic staff members in the terminal. Nothing we could do.
The VA staff arrived, put up the signs, and started processing us in that long serpentine line that at the end of it you hope there’s a log flume or some sort of other lineworthy attraction. And honestly, we thought there was – it was called VS004, and it would carry us to London. That was our light at the end of the long check-in process – getting to where we were going, for some of us, after days or weeks of delays.
And so we moved through the line, like links in a centipede, processing our checking and our seat assignments and our baggage. We took our bags to the drop point, passing them through a machine that scans for – what, exactly? – whatever it scans for.
As I moved toward the security line, I realized that I had forgotten to remove my neck pillow from my luggage and I sensed a mild disturbance in the force. I’d buy a new one, I thought, quickly followed by “hey, the flight’s going to be canceled so if I buy one, I’m going to have two the next time I fly.” The thought was fleeting, like the sleet, I hoped.
Then I joined the security process – even with no line, it is a process. Haven't flown in a while? You'd be shocked. All outerwear – coat, scarf, gloves, hat, sweatshirt – removed, in a bin. In a separate bin, the computer. In a separate bag, the liquids that are dangerous if their containers contain more than a collective several ounces. Oh, and shoes! Don’t forget our dangerous shoes! In some airports, you must put them in a bin. In others, you must under no circumstances put them in a bin! They are wily creatures, those shoes, which apparently present regionally specific issues when it comes to security scans.
That sleet turned to snow, the ultimate powdery white cliché covering the horizon and blotting out everything in sight. How would it be possible for us to fly in this weather?
As you may know, I was among those stranded at JFK Airport when a blizzard prompted the cancellation of hundreds of flights on December 26 of last year. My Virgin Atlantic flight - which had been cancelled on the 19th due to a blizzard at Heathrow and rescheduled for the 26th at 6:05pm - was cancelled after we sat on the plane for two hours because of a blizzard at JFK, and was rescheduled for 6:05pm the 27th, then delayed to 7:30, then to a boarding time of 8:15 that didn't happen, and eventually, after great protest from the passengers, finally took off after midnight on the 28th.
Virgin Atlantic still denies that passengers were due any compensation for the experience, even as JetBlue once again proves its menschier status by giving their stranded passengers 10,000 points, scoring customer satisfaction points among its inconvenienced passengers.
What's the problem? Why won't Virgin Atlantic make compensation to the 250 of us who were on VS 004? According to USA Today, Virgin Atlantic (via spokesperson Greg Dawson) claims that "monetary compensation is not due" to the people on our flight - who "had to sleep in the airport terminal because all hotels nearby were booked" - because the snowstorm was an 'extraordinary occurrence.'
Travel writer and the main Twitter voice of our Virgin Atlantic experience Jason Cochran hasn't given up on the idea of compensation, and continues to battle the customer relations and public relations departments via email.
But apparently, Virgin's petulant behavior extends far beyond our particular flight - according to Bnet's Brett Snyder, "Virgin Atlantic has decided it won’t pay Heathrow Airport’s owner BAA anything until an inquiry into last month’s days-long shutdown is completed. Virgin Atlantic is acting like an impatient child here, and runs the risk of making relations with its most important airport even worse."
This preposterous experience just doesn't seem to end. And least of all for writers. Because Jason is still on this situation - it's his job to be. And as for me, while I'm not spending every day fighting about it, I definitely have more to say. Because all the elements of this experience combined into something resembling a psychological experiment in how far people's patience can be stretched before someone cracks and goes postal.
Look for the first part of my recollections to appear later today.
Some scenes from the snowpocalypse of December 2010 at JFK Airport. Taken around 7am, the morning after we were stranded at the airport. No additional music was added (except in the intro and outro) to preserve the eerie silence that we were all trudging around in.
Stuck at JFK (or any major airport) overnight thanks to a Virgin Atlantic or other airline flight cancellation? Put off by a hard, dirty floor that's probably crawling with human germs and rodent feces? Well, get down off your high horse and embrace the inevitable - the human body can only take so much walking around an airport before you need to catch forty winks. Plus, if you ever get to that conference in the UK you're supposed to present at, you'll want to make sure you don't sleep through your own presentations! So here's how to get comfortable when there’s no comfort able to be found!
Step One: Scan & Select Your Space
As soon as it becomes clear that you'll need a place to sleep, the prime sleeping spaces will go quickly, so scan the terminal like you're the Terminator, assessing the potential spots for their potential comfort based on your internal programming: Are you seeking solitude? Heat? The company of others? Find a piece of floor that reflects your preferred sleeping sensibilities: if you stake out your own space, people may give you a wide berth, resulting in your own island of space in a crowded terminal. Or, if solitude is threatening to you (single females, you may wish to consider this) or is in a dark location away from the public eye, you may wish to seek out a trustworthy-looking group of similar-age individuals - this selection may be a bit rowdier or more brightly lit, but may appeal to your sense of safety and community.
Want to recharge as you recharge? Make sure to locate the "sleeping spaces" next to electrical outlets: if you have a power strip with you for some reason, now's the time to use it and become very popular.
Step Two: Sterilize Your Space
Make sure your chosen space is clear of obvious garbage that will muck up your sleeping experience - steer clear of sticky patches of spilled Coca-Cola or snowy wet boot tracks, for example. If you have 3 oz of Purell in your Ziploc bag of allowed liquids, now's the time to use it to sterilize the space. (Or save it, to clean yourself once you rise up from your nap.)
Step Three: Build Your Bed
Then spread out a blanket and – what’s that? You don’t have a blanket? Wrestle one away from one of the airline staff members (they claim they don’t have them, but they DO!). If your airline doesn't have blankets, you may go to another airline with a cancelled flight. They don't know who's on which cancelled flight, so the important thing is to get a blanket from someone before everyone runs out. You can then use it as a mattress (recommended for comfort and hygiene reasons) or as a first layer over your shivering body in contact with the near frozen floor. and build a nest out of that and whatever you have on you: your coat, scarf, a hat pulled down over your face to block the light, an extra pair of pants stuffed into a laptop sleeve and used as a pillow: be inventive. It’s like Project Runway, only - let's face it - you are probably never going to get to the runway.
Step Four: Tweet Your Position
Step Five: Secure Your Stuff - To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Once you've built your bed, now's your chance to lie in it. But before you close your eyes to enjoy the wrenching back pain of sleeping on a rock-hard airport floor, make sure your valuables are secured to your person: this may entail things like using your computer bag as a pillow, threading a bag handle around your arms or legs so you'll feel it if someone tries to nick it, or trusting a virtual stranger who says he or she will watch your bags whilst you sleep. There may be a price for generosity like this - like your photo ending up on Twitter - but it's a small price to pay to greet the morning (or the later part of the morning) having had 20 minutes of sleep, isn't it? When you wake up, it will be time to battle with the rest of the hungry airport zombies for food at airport eateries with dwindling supplies, so you'll want to have had that 20 minutes to fuel your attack strategy.
We at My Urban Kvetch hope that you've enjoyed this practical travel guide to sleeping at international airports. Stay tuned for other helpful guides about overnight airport bathroom survival and use of nearly useless food vouchers at eateries that don't accept them or have 200-person lines and minimal supplies.