Sunday, April 22, 2007

One Very Funny Brit

I had a rare treat on Saturday night. John Oliver from the Daily Show performed at the Performing Arts Center at Western Washington University. Genny alerted me to this when I returned home from Tech Camp and so on Satursday afternoon, I called the WWU box office and bought tickets.

I don't think the show was publicized much outside of the university itself, because there were very few non-students at the show. It was open seating, however, and we managed to get seats in the second row (the first row being reserved).

Four regulars from Ryan Stiles' UpFront Theatre improv troupe opened the show, and did the best 30 minutes of improv I have seen in a long time. But we were absolutely blown away by John Oliver. This guy is funny on the Daily Show, but he was absolutely hysterical in person. Much of his comedy is self-deprecating humor, such as the story of how he managed to expose himself while running a race in a high school track meet.

He also admits that he is totally incapable of uttering the "whoop" that he says is so popular among Americans, as he relates in this short video clip from the show.

We also were amazed at the fact that he did nearly an hour of material and then stayed on stage for nearly another full hour answering questions from the audience.

If you ever get a chance to see John Oliver live, don't miss out. He is wonderful and deserves lots of success.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Happy Ending

I can at least report a happy ending to my long lost luggage saga with American Airlines.

A check arrived today along with a letter from Ms. Sara L. Anderson of American Airlines Baggage Service Office. The check, in the amount of $247.37, reimbursed me for the full amount I spent obtaining clothing and personal items from April 12 through April 17 while my luggage was missing.

Beautiful Mt. Baker

It's days like this that make me glad I'm a volunteer ski patrol at Mt. Baker ski area.

This was my final duty day for the 2006-2007 season, and what a day—34 degrees, sunny, blue sky, no wind, and probably no more than 100 customers—a really tough work day.

My only regret was that since I was patrolling on the Pan Dome side of the mountain, I couldn't go over to the Shuksan side and head out of bounds onto Hemispheres to get into all of that untracked snow. Obviously, some folks did get out there.

While there weren't too many customers to keep me company while I was on bump, the local birds came calling, looking for handouts.

I was certainly happy to oblige.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Be It Ever So Humble, There’s No Bag Like My Own

Here is the final installment in the great luggage saga. Bear with me here, because there is a payoff at the end.

When last sighted, my luggage was still in Ottawa. According to Ms. Stephanie McNeal at American’s lost baggage office in Dallas, Texas, my bag was scheduled to depart Ottawa at 6:20am this morning, Tuesday, April 17 and would arrive in Orlando, Florida at 10:20am. Once it arrived, it would be sent on to my hotel.

At a little before 1pm, I checked with the front desk at the hotel to see if my bag had yet arrived. It had not. I then called American Airlines’ lost baggage office in Dallas to inquire again about the status of my bag. The agent assured me that my bag had indeed arrived in Orlando. In fact, the flight arrived early at 10:05am. My bag would be sent within the hour to my hotel.

At 6pm, I checked again at the front desk before going over to the evening’s scheduled event. My bag was still not here.

At 10:15pm, having left the Autodesk party, I went back to the front desk at the hotel. My bag had not yet arrived. So I called American Airlines’ lost baggage office once again, and spoke with Ms. Kathy Taylor. I prefaced the conversation by apologizing in advance to Ms. Taylor in the event that I became irate. I then proceeded to explain to her the litany of my luggage:
  • I had checked my bag with Alaska Airlines at 8am on Wednesday, April 11.

  • My United Airlines flight from Chicago to Ottawa on April 11 having been cancelled, I was transferred to American Airlines, whose flight was also subsequently cancelled.

  • I spent the night at a hotel near O’Hare Airport at my client’s expense, then returned to O’Hare the next morning and boarded an American Airlines flight which was subsequently delayed more than 30 minutes.

  • I arrived late in Ottawa to discover my bag was missing, but could not leave the airport until filing a missing luggage claim. I therefore arrived 35 minutes late for my second presentation of the day, having already missed my first presentation entirely.

  • I then returned to Ottawa Airport to find that my American Airlines flight back to Chicago was delayed more than 30 minutes.

  • After arriving in Chicago 30 minutes late, the plane sat on the tarmac for an additional 35 minutes, causing me to nearly miss my flight to Phoenix.

  • After arriving in Phoenix late Thursday night, April 12, American Airlines located my bag in Ottawa on Friday morning, but failed to do anything about it.

  • On Friday, American Airlines confirmed that my bag was in Ottawa, but failed to ship the bag to me in Phoenix.

  • On Saturday, American Airlines again confirmed that my bag was in Ottawa, but again failed to ship the bag to me in Phoenix.

  • Having missed the last opportunity to get the bag to me while I was still in Phoenix, American Airlines “promised” that the bag would be shipped on Sunday morning to Orlando Airport so that it would be there when I arrived later that day.

  • After failing to ship the bag to Orlando on Sunday, American Airlines “promised” once again that the bag would be sent to my hotel in Orlando on Monday.

  • After failing to get the bag to me on Monday, American Airlines “promised” once again that my bag would arrive in Orlando on Tuesday morning.

  • My bag DID in fact arrive in Orlando on Tuesday morning, yet 12 hours later had still not arrived at my hotel.

  • At 10:45pm, after having just gotten off the phone with Ms. Taylor at American Airlines, a delivery person came through the front door of the Buena Vista Palace Hotel in Orlando, Florida with my bag. I was still standing in front of the Guest Services counter when he arrived.
I have no idea why it took more than 12 hours to deliver the bag. I have no idea why it took more than 5 days to get the bag from Ottawa to Orlando.

I know only this. I have my suitcase once again. I now have 10 days worth of clean clothes, although I’ll only be here in Orlando for 2 more days. And I will never fly American Airlines again.

But be it ever so humble, it’s my bag. And it appears to have had more fun than me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Letters from Camp

Enough about lost luggage. I'm now at the point of having to get some real work done again. The reason for the trip to Orlando is to attend Autodesk Tech Camp, an annual meeting for application engineers to learn about all the new Autodesk software.

Monday afternoon's sessions were all ab out soft skills to help us do a better job doing pre-sales. The sessions were interesting, particularly because I've never really thought that much about sales.

But the evening session was totally bizarre. Billed as a "Software Loading Party," nearly 1,000 people filed into a banquet room after loading a plate with salad and pizza. Then, for the next three hours, we loaded new software onto our computers so that we'd be ready to begin our classes the next morning. No one warned me that I'd need nearly 10GB of free disk space in order to accomplish this task, nor that it would take several hours.

After an all too brief night's sleep, the first event of the day was a motivational talk by NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. He was great. Funny. Inspiring. And totally entertaining.

Here are several short videos of Terry Bradshaw's presentation.

Now I've got a short break to check email before going into the first of today's technical classes. And hopefully, while I'm hard at work, American Airlines will finally deliver my suitcase. (Okay, I had to mention my luggage at least once, right?)

Monday, April 16, 2007

My Bag Must Like it There

When I returned from lunch, I had a message waiting from American Airlines. They were turning my “delayed bag” issue into a “lost bag” problem, the difference being that in the increasingly likely event that my bag is not found, I’ll be able to be reimbursed for the entire value of its contents.

But when I returned the call and spoke with Marina at American Airlines, she put me on hold and called the agents in Ottawa. She spoke with Kam, who informed her that my bag was still in Ottawa. The holdup it appears is her inability to clear my bag through Canada Customs. Of course, that’s what Kam told me on Friday and again on Saturday.

Perhaps my bag just likes it better in Ottawa. Maybe rather than trying to get the bag to come to me, I should just move to Ottawa…


I was told to call back later, so after I finished the first of today’s sessions at Autodesk Tech Camp (the event that I'm now attending in Orlando), I called American Airlines again and spoke this time with Stephanie McNeal in Dallas. She informed me that my bag was indeed still in Ottawa, but that it would be sent to Orlando early tomorrow morning. Of course, I’m not holding my breath any longer, particularly considering the news that American Airlines flight attendants are supposedly going on strike tomorrow.

How Do You Spell Incompetent?

Forgive me reader, for I must have sinned. It has been six days since I last saw my luggage.

I arrived at Orlando Airport last night at 12:30am after a delayed departure from Atlanta. God bless my wife for getting me my Delta Sky Miles Gold status. I had first class upgrades all the way from Phoenix to Florida. And I was actually hopeful that my suitcase would be waiting for me at the American Airlines baggage office when I arrived. After all, I had spoken on Saturday to Kam, the American Airlines agent in Ottawa, who was looking at my bag. And although she was explaining all the reasons why she couldn’t put the bag onto the flight she was about to load in Ottawa so that it could find its way to me in Phoenix, she promised that she would send it out on the first flight on Sunday morning so that it would arrive in Orlando at 3:20pm Sunday afternoon. It sounded so good.

But no. My suitcase was not in Orlando. And worst of all, both the very helpful Lawana (the woman at American’s baggage office in Orlando) and the very unhelpful man who answered my call to American’s 1-800 lost baggage help line confirmed my worst fears. American Airlines had managed to once again lose my bag. They have absolutely no idea where it is. To quote Lawana, “This is stupid.”

So, just to recap, I checked my bag at Bellingham Airport on Wednesday, April 11. Both American and United refused to even look for my bag when I was delayed overnight that event at O’Hare. My bag never arrived at my first destination of Ottawa, Ontario on Thursday, April 12. After speaking in Ottawa on Thursday, I flew on to Phoenix, Arizona. America Airlines supposedly found my bag in Ottawa on Friday, but then lost it again. Then they found it again in Ottawa on Saturday, but couldn’t send it out that day because the agent in Ottawa was too busy. But she promised to send it on Sunday so it would be in Orlando when I arrived here. It is now Monday, April 16, and my bag is once again completely unaccounted for.

And by the way, in case you haven’t been following the news, American Airlines flight attendants are going on strike tomorrow, effectively grounding the airline for at least one day. So I am not holding out much hope of my bag reaching me at all while I’m here in Orlando.

At this point, I am just praying that it eventually turns up and gets sent to me once I get back to Bellingham. Because as any of you who know me well enough can probably imagine, in addition to clothing, the bag contains lots of the electronic doodads that help me continue to live up to my wife’s description of me when traveling, “Like an entire family of Japanese tourists.”

Saturday, April 14, 2007

We Found Your Bag...No We Didn't...Yes We...Nevermind

I have come to the conclusion that American Airlines is like a big disfunctional family.

Yesterday I received a phone call from a very helpful American Airlines representative, who informed me that they had located my suitcase in Ottawa and would be sending it on to me in Phoenix. The bag could arrive as early as last night, or else would be here today (Saturday).

I checked at the front desk here at the hotel to see if my bag had arrived, and it had not. So I continued to check the automated service through American Airlines. It still reported that my bag had not yet been found.

This morning, during the mainstage keynote at COFES, my cell phone started vibrating in my pocket. The display indicated a 613 area code. I had no idea where that was, so I let the call go to voice mail. When the keynote session was over, I checked my messages. It was an American Airlines agent in Ottawa, inquiring about my bag. She said that they had a bag there that matched my description, but that since the bag was tagged on United Airlines rather than American, it might not be my bag. I immediately returned the call, but no one answered (I let it ring 50 never went to voice mail).

So I called the main American Airlines 1-800 number for lost luggage. The woman who answered pulled up my record, which indicated that the bag was indeed still in Ottawa. She then attempted to call the American agents in Ottawa, with the same results (no answer, no voice mail).

At this point it appears that my bag is still in Ottawa. If it leaves there now, it might make it to Phoenix before I leave here to go on to Orlando. Or maybe not.

It all depends on whether or not Ottawa answers its phone.

By the way. Here's what my suitcase looks like. If you see it, please let me know.

On a lighter note, I'll take trivia for 20

Yesterday, my daughter Emma participated in the annual Whatcom County Literacy Council Trivia Bee, competing against 30 other three-person teams, including one team with former Jeopardy winner Ken Jennings. I was of course unable to attend, since I'm off in Phoneix. But the event was newsworthy enough to make our local paper, giving me at chance to at least share in this a bit.

Here’s the photo and caption from today’s edition of the Bellingham Herald.

Emma Cohn, 17, left, and Julie Hunter celebrate after answering a question about which celebrity from Washington state had won a swimming title while in high school. Their team, “Pike for Mayor,” guessed the correct answer — Hilary Swank — and won its first round at the Whatcom Literacy Council’s 11th annual Trivia Bee

Weasels Ripped My Flesh...Nevermind

No, this isn't a photo of my latest misfortune. But it is the title of a favorite old Frank Zappa album. I was reminded of the title this morning when I attempted to use the razor provided to me by the hotel.

My luggage has not yet arrived. It has, apparently, been located, however. I received a phone call from a very nice woman at American Airlines yesterday afternoon, informing me that my bag had been sighted in Ottawa. There was some issue about clearning it through Canada Customs before they could forward it to me here in Phoenix, and she warned that just because they had found it, didn't necessarily mean it would ever reach me. But she offered hope.

By the way. Unbeknownst to me, my Wednesday night photo of the people on cots at O'Hare Airport could have included someone I know. My friend and fellow journalist Martin Day, enroute from the UK to Phoenix to attend the same COFES conference that has brought me to Phoenix for the weekend, was himself stranded at O'Hare. He says that he saw me dashing through the airport that evening. He ended up spending the night on one of those cots, an experience he doesn't wish to repeat any time soon (picture lots of crying children, arguing adults, loud snoring, and then alarm clocks going off from 2am on as people woke to go resume their travels.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

If This Is Thursday, What Circle of Hell am I In Now?

Well gentle readers, the saga continues. After a short, restless night at the Double Tree hotel, I took a taxi back to O’Hare for what I hoped was a short, uneventful flight to Ottawa. By the time my flight was scheduled to leave for Ottawa, I would already miss my first presentation, but I knew that last night.

The weather was better this morning in Chicago…better being a relative term. Checking in was simple since I had no bags to check. But I had neglected to consider that a one-way international ticket and no checked bags are the code words for “special treatment,” which translates into, “Sir, would you please step over here so we can do an additional search of your person.” At least he was gentle.

Expecting the American Eagle flight to Ottawa to be on time was obviously too much to ask. We left and arrived 30 minutes late, which meant I was now pushing my luck to make it to the hotel in time for my 1pm presentation. After quickly clearing immigration, I went over to the United Airlines baggage claim desk, still believing that United had sent my luggage on its earlier flight that morning from Chicago to Ottawa. After determining that my bag was not at United, I went back and waited for the luggage coming off the American Eagle flight. My bag wasn’t on that flight either. I had to wait another 30 minutes before I could talk to an American Airlines representative in Ottawa, because there are only two of them, two women who do everything. They sell tickets, they check bags, the work as gate agents, and they roll wheelchair-bound passengers to the curb for ground transportation, which was evidently what they were both doing while I stood there waiting.

After finally filling out the paperwork for my lost bag, I jumped in a cab and rode in from the hinterland location of Ottawa’s airport to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, site of the CAD Camp event. I got to the hotel at 1:30pm, 30 minutes after the scheduled start of my second presentation of the day. Amazingly, three attendees were still in the room, waiting for me. So I did an abbreviated version of my presentation.

Then, after doing my 2:30pm main-stage presentation for a larger group, I got back into a taxi for the drive back to Ottawa Airport. The same two women were at the ticket counter, checking passengers back in for the American Eagle flight back to Chicago, where I was scheduled to connect to a United Airlines flight to Phoenix. The woman politely informed me that she had not yet found my bag, and also told me that according to her computer, my United flight to Phoenix had already been canceled. But have no fear. She had found me an alternate routing to Phoenix: a seat on a Royal Jordanian flight to Las Vegas, connecting to a US Air flight to Phoenix, arriving at 1:14am. I would need to check with American Airlines once I reached Chicago.

For whatever reason, checking in for an international flight in Ottawa with a one-way ticket and no luggage did not trigger the same cavity search TSA found necessary at O’Hare.

The American Eagle flight was more than 30 minutes late leaving Ottawa, which meant that my 1 hour connecting time at O’Hare (assuming the American Airlines representative in Ottawa was wrong about my cancelled United flight) was quickly evaporating. The flight back to Chicago was uneventful, but after arriving in Chicago 30 minutes late, American had no gate for our plane, so we proceeded to sit on the tarmac for 20 additional minutes. The plane started moving again, but stopped 100 feet short of the gate, because now there was no ground crew available to position the jetway.

Finally, at 7:55pm, I was able to leave the plane. I quickly found a monitor and discovered that my United flight to Phoenix was indeed NOT cancelled. Not only that, it appeared to be operating on-time…obviously an anomaly considering the past 48 hours in Chicago. So here I was at gate G14 and I had less than 15 minutes to get to gate B19.

Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever changed planes at O’Hare, but it must be more than half a mile between those two gates. I ran. And ran.

And I made it. I actually reached gate B19 to find a crowd of people waiting to go down the jetway. But I didn’t have a boarding pass for the flight. So I made my way to the kiosk as politely as possible, panting and dripping sweat from the clothing that I had now been wearing for more than 38 hours. I explained to the gate agent that I needed a boarding pass and gave her my name. She typed a few keystrokes into her computer and immediately told me that the flight was oversold and they had “already released my seat.” To which I replied “unreleased it.”
Somehow, she managed to do just that. I boarded the United flight and had a totally uneventful trip to Phoenix, managing to finish the novel I had started that morning and even watching a DVD I had brought with me. We landed in Phoenix to find it actually cold and raining, hardly what I had expected.

The shuttle to the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, the site of the COFES conference I had come to attend, stopped running at 9pm, so I had to take a Super Shuttle to the hotel. Amazingly there was only one other passenger on the shuttle and I was the first one dropped off.

The first people I saw upon my arrival were Evan Yares and Lynn Allen. I had called Evan from O’Hare and asked him to please go to a store and buy me a pair of jeans, a couple of shirts, some underwear and some socks. So I could finally change cloths. I sat and had a drink with Lynn and her husband. Okay…several drinks, but I earned them.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Oh the Joys of Travel

Well, it had to happen. But who would have expected a snow storm to mess up travel on April 11?

Today I was supposed to fly to Ottawa, Ontario Canada where I'm scheduled to do several presentations at the AUGI CAD Camp event. But I knew something was seriously wrong when I showed up at Bellingham Airport this morning at 8am and was told that my United flight from Chicago to Ottawa, which wasn't scheduled to depart until 6:30pm had already been cancelled. Evidently United already realized that things were going to be seriously bad in Chicago.

Alaska Airlines rebooked me onto an American flight scheduled to leave Chicago at 8:10pm. That was probably a good idea, because Alaska's flight from Seattle to Chicago was delayed 3 hours.

Alaska Air took wonderful care of me, as usual. They tried to reroute me through Washington, DC, New York, and Boston, but to no avail. Since I am on a tight schedule (I leave Ottawa at 6pm tomorrow to go on to Phoenix), I couldn't afford to get stranded anywhere other than Chicago.
And stranded I am. When my Alaska Air flight finally landed at O'Hare at 7:30pm, my American Air flight to Ottawa was cancelled. American Airlines doesn't even have the courtesy of having humans manning any sort of customer service counter at O'Hare any longer, relying instead on a bank of three telephones at a "Rebooking Counter." I guess there is no longer any such thing as "customer service" at American Airlines.

But the wonderful folks at the Alaska Airlines MVP desk took care of things for me over the phone and had me booked on an American flight the next morning bound for Ottawa. Of course, it remains to be seen if I actually get there or not. If I arrive on time at 12:10pm, I will have already missed one of my speaking times. With luck, I'll get there in time for my 1pm presentation. Then, after my 2:30pm presentation, I'll dash back to the airport to head off for Phoenix for COFES, connecting of course through Chicago O'Hare.

But now, stranded in Chicago, the question became "where would I stay." A quick look at the airport did not bode well. The people at O'Hare were well into the process of setting up cots for other stranded passengers.

Not wanting this fate, I quickly got on the phone to Hilton to try to book a room at the O'Hare Hilton across the street. Good luck. It had been filled for hours already. I finally found the last remaining room at a Double Tree hotel 12 miles from O'Hare out in Wooddale, IL.

Next, I went to United to try to retrieve my checked bag. It was in United's system because my original flight to Ottawa was a United flight so that's where Alaska sent my bag when my Seattle-Chicago flight landed. But United refused to release my bag. Unbelievable.

Next, 20 minutes standing in a taxi line. Finally in the taxi, the driver immediately informed me that whatever the fare to my hotel, he would charge me 50% more...take it or leave it. My cab ride ended up costing $50, not the $25 the hotel originally estimated nor the $35 on the meter. But I guess I should feel good about it. Another person who showed up at the hotel while I was checking in told me that his taxi driver charged him the metered rate PLUS $50.

Anyway, now I'll sign off and head up to my hotel room and try to get some sleep before getting up, taking a taxi back to O'Hare, and throwing myself back into the airline service.

Anyone for a Passenger's Bill of Rights?