Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Outside Trip

I just returned from a week in Kentucky, where I did a clinical rotation with the Georgetown Scott County EMS in Georgetown.  For those new to this blog, my employer requires that I periodically fly out and spend a week running ambulance calls in a busier EMS system, to keep my skills sharp.  This is an important program to us, as otherwise we don't get many opportunities to practice crucial patient care skills that can be life-saving, but only when properly and effectively performed.

Travel frequently presents challenges, and all travel schedules in Alaska include the caveat "weather permitting".  My trip out was especially challenging as my flight was booked in an airline that is ill prepared to deal with Alaskan conditions.

Each summer American Airlines cherry picks the tourist trade, by booking flights to Alaska.  The rest of the year they don't bother with our state at all.  To manage the Alaska end of things, they contract with a major freight carrier, Northern Air Cargo.  This means that American doesn't have any support staff or, more importantly, maintenance staff in Alaska.

So, having arrived in Los Anchorage in plenty of time, I was delighted when my American flight boarded on time.  I was less delighted two hours later, still sitting at the gate, waiting for mechanics to repair an engine de-icer.  Simultaneously, a 2nd American Airlines flight to Dallas was also sitting on the tarmac, waiting for a mechanic.  The situation became hopeless when a fog bank rolled in, closing the airport entirely.

That's when the fun really begun.  While people displaced from Alaskan Airlines flights were rapidly processed and sent to local hotels for the night, those of us on the American flights waited in line.  Three hours after deboarding I made it to the head of the line and was offered a hotel voucher.  This was the same time that some of the first people to receive vouchers returned, telling the "agents" that when they arrived at the hotel they were turned away, as there was no room at the lodge.  It seemed rather pointless to ask for a room in a hotel that was already beyond full, but I was offered a voucher for food. 

That proved worthless as well, as it was only good in the airport, at restaurants on the "other" side of the security barrier - a barrier I couldn't cross with my checked bag in tow.  After all, my checked bag included a pocket knife, a leatherman tool and toe-nail clippers, all of which are forbidden.  We were told to return at 8 am and our flights would be rebooked. 

Well, at 8 am I was in line (first in line, I didn't get much sleep on that hard tiled floor), and was told the flight would board at 10.  When 10 rolled around we were told the flight would board at noon.  When noon rolled around we were told 2pm.  This crap continued until we finally did board the flight at 5 pm.

Of course on arrival in Chicago things didn't improve much.  A single American Airlines agent had to process the rebooking needs of over 100 passengers.  I endured the line and finally, at 3 in the morning, was rebooked onto a flight that would leave in about 5 hours. 

I actually reached my destination only 24 hours late, and totally exhausted. 

The contrast between Alaskan Airlines, who diverted additional aircraft from the Lower-48 to Alaska to manage their issues and American Airlines, who did less than nothing to help, was marked.  Throughout the ordeal no one associated with American Airlines offered so much as a condolence, let alone any sort of offer of recompense. 

I would describe their performance as second-rate, based on Third World standards and will do anything in my power to avoid ever flying on one of their aircraft again.  Given the level of competition in the industry I would suspect they aren't far from Chapter-7 bankruptcy, and the sooner they arrive the better off the traveling public will be.

The remainder of the trip was pretty much routine.  I ran some good calls, got in some good practice, met some fine people and enjoyed a visit with my friend Janece Rollet.  The return trip, booked on Delta and Alaska Airlines, had an opportunity to go south due to bad weather in the Minneapolis area, but they were able to reroute my earliest flight to arrive in plenty of time for me to make my connection, and everything went as smoothly as a day of airline travel can.  I think if I had been booked on American I'd still be stranded somewhere in the Lower-48.

All of the dogs are healthy and happy.  Ted has been doing a great job caring for them and it shows.  They are all in good weight and good spirits. 

Our truck is still in the shop, and I've been unable to contact the mechanic, who is apparently on vacation.  Tomorrow Ted and I will go fetch the truck, because we need it to get fall training moving along.  Once I can get ahold of the mechanic I'll make arrangements to finish up any more work that it needs and to settle up.  I'm not too terribly concerned about that. 

I only have a couple of days free before I have to travel back to Anchorage, and then to Willow for the Willow Dog Musher's Association symposium where I'll be speaking on the history of dog mushing in the Canadian fur-trade.  I'm very much looking forward to that trip and I'll let you know how it goes once it happens.

1 comment:

  1. What a nightmare of a trip to the lower 48! Glad you made it back on some real airlines! Have a good time at the Dog Musher meeting.