Our Sunday trip began with what was supposed to be a 5:40am flight out of DCA, where US Airways is the largest carrier. We mention that last bit because you'd think, being the airport's largest carrier, that the airline would have things well in hand.
Apparently not so much. We took a pre-dawn bus to the middle of the tarmac, but the plane hadn't even been fueled. Then we watched the plane get fueled for 5 minutes, but the crew hadn't arrived. Then we watched the pilot and flight attendant casually trot up the tarmac, but the plane wouldn't work. Then we watched them try to get the plane to work, but it wouldn't. So everyone got driven back to the terminal.
Why were passengers driven out to the plane before the crew had even arrived? Why didn't the crew arrive early enough to give themselves wiggle room if the plane didn't work properly? Good questions. But instead of asking those questions, we approached a desk agent to request rebooking, since there was no way we were going to make our Charlotte connection. The agent insisted that we would make our connection, and put us back on the plane.
DCA Tip: if you have mathematical proof that you're going to miss your connection, don't allow yourself to be convinced otherwise. The universal laws of addition and subtraction still apply in airports, so if takeoff time plus flight time equals less time than you have for your next flight, you're not making your next flight.
Anyway, the flight landed in CLT about 5 minutes before the LAX flight was supposed to take off. As a special bonus, the incoming flight pulled in on the precisely wrong side of the airport, either because of bad luck or because someone thought it'd be funny to have people sprint awkwardly across the length of the building only to find an empty terminal. Which is what happened.
So we made our way to the US Air counter for new tickets, and this is wherein retrospectthings took a turn. There was apparently no way to get us from Charlotte to LAX before 9:30pm, but there was an itinerary that arrived in LAX at 7pm. It involved flying back to Washington, DC and then transferring to American Airlines for the five-hour LAX flight (middle seat, natch). That wasn't a problem but we wanted to make sureabsolutely, absolutely, absolutely surethat our luggage would make it to LAX. We conveyed the importance of said priority to the US Airways employee by emphasizing that if the choice was between staying longer in Charlotte or bouncing back and forth at the risk of losing our luggage, we'd rather stay in Charlotte.
The agent assured us that, between bar codes and the Star Alliance Silver tag on our bag and just the way airlines work, the luggage would "make it's way to LAX" and "be waiting there for us."
So we locked in the revamped DCA-CLT-IAD-LAX itinerary, went over to one of the restaurants, and ordered "a tall glass of water, a hamburger, and a double vodka on the rocks." That's when we were told that they don't serve alcohol in the Charlotte airport on Sunday mornings.
CLT Tip: don't get stuck at CLT on Sunday mornings.
Dulles sucks. It's impossible to get to and there's no free wifi. It took them 15 years to build a train system and then they passed on the overblown costs to passengers. It was repeatedly featured in the X-Files, because the X-Files was all about places that no one would ever want to visit. Plus the vodka is overpriced.
In addition to that, their baggage handlers don't seem to be very good at their jobs. Apparently our luggage made it back to the airport and just kind of hung out there for the day. It didn't make it to our flight, despite a two hour layover. We imagine that it just kind of sulked in a corner, and then limped into LAX much later that night. That's the third time in three months we've had lost or delayed bags coming out of IAD.
IAD Tip: carry-ons are your friends.
LAX sucks, and it sucks partly for many of the same reasons as Dulles sucks. Where LAX and Dulles differ is that while Dulles finally built a train to take passengers from terminal to terminal, LAX isn't really about helping you go from there to here. With the exception of shuttles that may or may not exist, going between terminals requires extensive walking. Outside. Across traffic.
We know that because when we walked from American's Terminal 4 to US Air's Terminal 1, we had to travel from one corner of the airport all the way to the other. Not "corner-to-corner" as in "from the top of the airport to the bottom of the airport."
Instead imagine a square. Now draw a linethe longest line possiblefrom the top right to the bottom left corner. That's the distance from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1, which we walked because that nice lady at Charlotte had assured us that our bags would be forwarded by the airline to LAX. That was...a fib. And so we walked back to Terminal 4 to see if maybe the luggage had come into American Airlines. That was...a disappointment.
LAX Tip: like everything else in LA, you need a car for even the most basic things.
Check back Friday to hear about our adventures trying to recover our luggage, which still hasn't happened. The tale involves magic like "the physically disappearing luggage" and "the lone baggage agent" and "the mysterious customer service rep," all woven into a tale that's decidedly more riveting than our 3+ hours of phone conversations have been
[Photo: Arsenikk / Wiki Commons]