4.45am, Wednesday – Milan
My reserved taxi arrives, on time, and I’m ready. The streets are empty and a trip that would normally take close to 30 minutes takes 15 and costs only 20 euros. I feel like I’m ahead already. My stepdad would be proud, arriving 2 hours before takeoff.
5.00 Having finally located gate information monitors, I scan them quickly for my entry, CDG, Paris. Where is it? Ah, yes. I took this flight out of Linate because the other one out of Malpensa would have been impossible to get there without a car. And it’s being operated by Alitalia, unfortunately, but after I’ll have beautiful Air France.
5.01 There’s something written next to my flight. Cancellato. CHE???
5.04 I wheel over to the Alitalia check-in desk. A single representative is manning the desks at this hour. He seems bored. The couple in front of me mention “Paris” and I start paying attention. A small line is starting to form to the left of the desks.
“He’s called the supervisor, we just have to wait here.” A few other flights are cancelled, but they are all national flights, and they are all Alitalia. I smell a strike.
Unfortunately for us, Air France entrusted this part of the flight to Alitalia and the line of people missing their connections in Paris is growing – Chicago, SF, Caracas, Brasile – everyone is getting screwed by this.
A woman in a red coat comes out from a back room, a walkie-talkie in her hand. She asks the representatives to move us to another set of desks. We form an awkward line, not knowing what the outcome or the circumstances are, or if there is even need for a line. But arriving at 5am has a way of making you feel proprietary about a thing as simple as being able to complain. The red coat flashes about but never lands on us, the unhappy customers.
5.20 It’s now clear the line is necessary as two representatives are starting to process the customers misplaced on their flights. I am fourth in line, yet this gives me no hope. My flight is surely lost.
6.30 “You’re on a flight to London, then to San Francisco.” …Ok. I throw my bags at her, and I take this carbon-copy piece of paper the size of a check and full of codes which is going to convince United to give me a seat in London. There are a hundred people behind me waiting to be re-routed.
7.50 My flight, which is supposed to leave at 7.30, is now getting off the ground. I realize that I have no idea what time my flight in London is leaving and how quickly I’ll have to run. I remember she said 10-something, so I’ll hurry but I should be fine.
9.00 We land in London, and I race for the connecting/transfer desk, which is located 3 sets of stairs, 4 moving walkways and 2 ramps away from where I landed. I need a boarding pass.
9.15 “May I help you?” A helpful United representative looks at me and takes my flimsy piece of paper. It’s working, I think.
“Alright, then. You’ve missed the flight. So you’ll have to go talk to the Alitalia representative.” He points down the counter to a darkened corner where a lone man sits.
“Missed the flight? But it doesn’t leave until after 10!”
“Yes, but we close check-in an hour before. Sorry, next!”
WTF. I go down to the sfigata Alitalia desk which is not actually a desk. It’s a guy named Luigi (yes, Luigi) with an Alitalia lanyard around his neck, sitting in front of a display for Air Uzbekistan (no joke). There’s a couple in front of me, but when I hear the words “San Francisco,” I decide to not wait my turn in line. Not keep to myself, and not to respect the privacy of others. I insert myself into their situation.
“Wait, I’m going there, too – why don’t you do mine as well?” I apologize to the couple, but I really couldn’t care less.
Luigi, our Alitalia representative, well, let’s just say that he is consistent with the level of Alitalia quality I’m used to. Which is, crap. He fuffs about looking for another flight before finally telling us we’ll be getting on the Virgin flight at 11.30. He takes a few moments to tell us about the amenities Virgin customers receive and it a moment’s pause would have begged the question “Why is one airline’s customer service representative touting another airline?” but then again, this is Alitalia.
9.45 We have a new, worthless piece of paper which is going to convince Virgin to bring us close to her bosom and let us board her luxury jet and go home.
10.02 We get off the shuttle and arrive at Terminal 3. I have forcefully befriended the Milanese couple I barged in on and we have already daydreamed about the luxury that awaits us.
“May I help you?” A smart-looking woman with an angular haircut holds her hand out for our ticket. We hand her the flimsy paper and I quickly explain the situation.
“Right…you’re too late for this flight.”
“Yes, we close an hour before boarding.” I’m sensing a common element here with flights in London.
“But the flight is at 11.30!”
“No, it’s at 11.” Clickety-clack, clack, clack go her fingers. “And…we don’t even have a reservation for you. Alitalia didn’t book anything for these names.”
“Right.” She recommends we go back to the transfer desk but I make my way over to another, non-Virgin desk and commandeer their phone to call back there. But I know it’s useless. Our useless piece of paper is even more useless without a flight on it that hasn’t departed.
10.30Back in Terminal 2. “Luigi, we missed you.” Cretino, I feel like yelling. “How is it that no one made our reservation or even called them to tell them to hold the flight for us?”
“Oh.” Luigi picks up the phone to call his “supervisor” but he could be talking to a dial-tone for all we know. Pass the buck, m’amico.
Luigi glosses over the fact of what happened, and again recounts the luxuries that we missed by missing the Virgin flight. “What a shame that you missed it.” My fingers are itching, for his neck. “There’s a limo for first-class passengers, and if you’re really in a hurry, they use a motorcycle. It’s so cool!”
Luigi, bless him, is easily distracted. But this time we’re not as happy-go-lucky as before. We’re now being booked into our fourth flight to SFO for the day. I wave a few fingers and snap to refocus Luigi. Ok, so no I don’t, but what I would have given for a doggie treat to dangle.
Luigi hangs up after the fourteenth phone call (including one to his roommate about paying the rent) and accepts my challenge to check with the United desk to this time to CONFIRM our reservation and get our boarding passes before we leave the area.
11.00 I press our luck by asking for some meal vouchers as we’ve all been awake since 4am. 20 minutes later, after being assured by Luigi that another set of useless papers are “in arrivo” any minute, we give up and thank him for the “gesture.” He’s getting off in 15 minutes so I’m sure he’s not too concerned. “If you see a woman with a green Alitalia vest….” avoid her like the plague, I finish silently in my head.
As we’re going down the escalator toward the shuttle, Luigi sticks his head over the railing and yells, “she’s coming, she really is!” We shake our heads and laugh it off, Luigi is such a typical romano, until he comes bounding down the escalator after us, taking two steps at a time, with three flimsy papers in his hand. “Look, look” – I feel slightly like I’m witnessing the retrieval of a frisbee by a retriever. So proud of himself.
He rides the last few steps down with us, and then smacks his forehead. “You’re going to Terminal 3? These are only good in 1 & 2.”
We take the vouchers anyway and board the shuttle. We won’t miss a fourth flight.