Early start next morning. Checked out of the hotel, got shuttle to Miami International Airport and paid my $5 for a trolley (Miami airport/rip-off city! – yeah, yeah, I know I hide it well, but I really resent that).
And then it was off to the American Airlines check-in. I found the correct desk and took out my bar-coded flight details and passport to swipe through the screen affair where you confirm your details, seat, etc. And then, flight details and passport still in hand I joined the queue and in a while approached the desk, pushing my (expensive) trolley in front of me.
Just a brief aside here. I can see the sense of these human-less stand alone swipe screens if all you have with you is a carry on bag. If you have confirmed and printed a boarding pass before you leave home or your hotel, it’s great, you save a lot of time and avoid the first of many interminable airport queues. BUT, if you have luggage to check for the flight, why do you have to waste time swiping everything through this screen affair, when you have to join the queue anyway and the person at the desk where you check the bags does it all again? Answers on a postcard please.
So I set the documents down at the check-in desk, said “Hello”, and as the AA girl was sorting through those and clacking away at her computer keyboard, I started to take my bags off the trolley ready to be weighed and tagged. (Notice I said “clacking” away, not “clicking” away, I don’t know whether it’s the acoustics of airports, or the keyboards they use, or what, but they have a completely different sound to one you would use at home. I think anyway.)
“And how many bags are we checking in today?” she asked eventually.
I felt like saying, “I don’t know about you, sweetheart, but I’m checking in three,” but of course, coward that I am, I just said the last bit.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “You can’t do that. There’s an embargo.”
“Embargo?” I replied.
Now I knew what an embargo was, and if I had been, say, the country of Cuba trying to get on a plane instead of just an ordinary ‘Joe’, or had had my bags sloshing full of best Iranian crude oil, I might have understood better why the word ‘embargo’ was being fired in my direction.
“Oh, yes,” she said, as if that answered my question perfectly.
“Look,” I continued. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” (I was beginning to suspect that applied to both of us), “What embargo? What does that mean?” I needed details.
“It means that you cannot check in three cases on this flight. There is an embargo this week.”
There was that word again. Talk about stating the bleeding obvious. I had already figured out, without her help, that an embargo meant I couldn’t take ALL my cases with me. What I needed were some details, like how many frigging cases could I take and any other ballax that the airline company had thought up.
So I asked again and she explained a bit more. It was the week leading up to Christmas.
I knew that. I have a watch that tells me the date as well as the time. It was December 23rd. That was why I had done all the shopping in Miami and why I had three cases to check-in. All my stuff would have fitted happily into one case with plenty of room to spare. The other two were full of gifts. I needed to take them all with me.
I in turn explained more to her. About Christmas, Santa Claus and the tradition of giving and hopefully receiving gifts and how disappointed the kids would be if I couldn’t get my stuff on to the plane.
But it was all to no avail.
Apparently, because they were anticipating a large number of travelers that week, some not-so-bright spark in the airline company decided it would be good policy to place a quota on the number of bags each person could take with them. The trouble was they didn’t tell anybody about the embargo. Certainly not me and they had my email, phone number and cel for text messages.
Now here’s both the problem and the solution. Aircraft holds are more than big enough for almost any amount of bags people care to carry. They are never full as regards the cubic capacity of the luggage inside them. What is a factor in aircraft flights, no matter whether it’s a super-jumbo jet or a single prop jobbie, is the weight of the cargo, be it humans, goods, or a mixture of both.
So after further interrogation of the AA girl, I found out that it was not the weight of stuff you could check that was the subject of this clever embargo, (that remained the same), it just applied to the number of bags. I could check two cases, but no more than that, BUT if one or both were overweight I could still check them on to the aircraft, just have to pay the surcharge. I was going to have to pay for the extra cases anyway so the surcharge was not an issue.
Let’s just run by that again. This embargo meant that I could, for example, if I so desired, take with me two suitcases full of gold bars (I wish) up to the airline’s weight limit of course, but I couldn’t take with me three suitcases full of feathers or those polystyrene bits & bobs that they fill boxes with, weighing next to nothing. Rules is rules, and stupid rules is stupid rules. And stupid rules are invariably made and enforced by stupid people. End rant…..back to story.
There weren’t too many at the check-in that morning, so I said I would sort something out and come back.
On the off-chance I asked a couple of people who only seemed to have one case with them if they would check on one of mine as theirs, not strictly within the rules I suppose but desperate times and all that. As it turned out none of them were on my flight so that was that.
Plan ‘B’ it was, and I headed for the wall opposite the check-in desk and dumped my three cases on the floor, opening up each of them in turn. I surveyed the contents, did a quick reckoning of what could go where and, by this time red-faced and perspiring profusely, managed to get all but one item from one of the cases into the other two.
I did get a few curious looks from passers-by as they surveyed the dresses skirts, underwear and so forth and then took a eyeful of me. But what the hell. It was still another of those moments of triumph over stupidity that I have spoken about before. But like before it wasn’t to last.
Back to the desk. Reintroduced myself, handed over my passport and started to take my bags off the trolley to get them weighed and tagged.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said.
“What is it now?” I asked irritatedly.
“I’m afraid you’re too late to check in for this flight now.”
I protested, said the only reason I was late was because of her stupid regulations that didn’t make any sense anyhow because instead of three bags I now had two bags with exactly the same amount of stuff in it, and I had to expand them to their fullest to get everything packed in, so the two of them were now taking up more or less the same room as the originally packed three had done. If there was a difference at all it was just whatever the now empty bag weighed, which was minimal.
It was hopeless. If there was still time for me to get to the boarding gate there was time to get my bags on to the plane. But not for them. When you hit a brick wall like this, they’re right even when they’re wrong.
But she must have taken some pity on me. She checked her computer and said, “I can put you on the same flight tomorrow.” Christmas Eve, I had no other choice, I agreed and she booked it. Nothing for it but go back to the hotel again and hope they still had a room available.
That was it for today.
Was it, hell.
As I turned around to go back for my other case, which so as not to confuse the airline girl, I had left by the wall clearly open and empty, there was a uniformed TSA Homeland Security, or whatever they’re called now, guy standing beside it talking into a microphone attached to his lapel. That was all I needed today!
Over I went, pushing my trolley that I had paid $5 for!
“That’s my bag,“ I told him, at the same time showing him my ID. “Nothing to get alarmed about. I left it open. It’s clearly empty, and (slight fib) I was keeping my eye on it from the check-in desk over there all the time.”
He checked the ID, radioed in the details, and then proceeded to tell me the regulations about luggage at the airport. There wasn’t much I could do but listen politely. I was clearly in the wrong and I apologized profusely.
I also told him my tale of woe with the airline and finished with, “You can arrest me if you want to, I need to find somewhere to spend the night anyway.”
But he didn’t. Maybe he too had taken pity on me. Maybe it was because it was Christmas week. But after he talked a while more to whoever was on the other end of his microphone he told me I could go. I gathered up my cases, including the empty one, slung them on to my trolley (it cost me $5, did I mention that?) and headed back to the hotel shuttle bus pick-up point.
I was destined to end today exactly where I had started it, instead of where I wanted to be.
What a waste of a perfectly good day!
Have you had similar experiences? Send them along. Let the world know what is happening before it is too late.