So this morning I was scheduled to fly out of Cedar Rapids airport (CID), also known as The Eastern Iowa Airport. I never got one of the friendly Delta reminders to check in online 24 hours before my flight, but that was no big deal. I knew I was supposed to do it anyway. So I hopped on my iPhone and Cedar Rapids’ new 3G network (not scheduled to go into service until Dec. 1, but they got it up and running while I was in town – probably just for me) and tried to check in, but there was some kind of error with checking in online. Not a problem, I thought to myself, I’ll just do it at the airport.
Let me tell you a bit about CID. They have flights to thirteen cities, total. It’s a small little place, especially compared to Hartsfield. The Delta affiliate, ComAir, operates three to five flights a day – the last of these on Saturday is at 9am to Cincinnati. That’s the flight I was scheduled to be on. That’s the flight I showed up 29 minutes prior to. That’s the flight I missed this morning because nobody was at the ticket counter to check me in. I didn’t know this, but in smaller airports, there is apparently one person to work the check-in counter and to take tickets going onto the plane. Brent was that one person today. He also informed us that he’s the supervisor for both the ComAir and the United counters. That’s an odd mix since the two airlines aren’t exactly cordial towards each other.
I wasn’t the only person left out. A lady I’ll call Karen (because that’s her name) was standing there trying to find someone to help her when I went to use the kiosk. She was looking around for anyone to help her get to her flight, which was also my flight. So I knew I was screwed as I went through the kiosk menus anyway. Sure enough, the kiosk directed me to ask someone at the ticket counter for help. Since it’s physically impossible to be in two places at once, that one person has to leave the ticketing counter just a bit before he makes the call to start boarding the plane. So that’s why Brent wasn’t at the counter to help us. It isn’t his fault, it’s a flawed system.
So there we were, Karen and I, desperately looking for someone to help us. We heard Brent calling us over the intercom system and could do very little. I called Delta corporate and they had no power to do anything since they can’t communicate with the airport. I tried using the ticketing counter phone to call the gate and to use the intercom system, but being a modern phone it was all but impossible to use without a week of training. I felt like one of those people in the theater who yell at the people on the screen: I had no power to effect change but I was compelled to yell nonetheless.
Karen and I missed our flight. Brent came back to the counter. I’d like to say we were entirely civil in our tone. I’d like to say that I wasn’t shooting daggers from my eyes. But I’d also like to say that he was perfectly cordial and did everything in his power to help us. He admitted that he had the power to override the charges for changing our flights but that he wouldn’t. Rather than tell us that the system had failed us all, he stood by the party line. He and it will probably win an award.
For Karen and myself, our best option was to rent a car and drive to Moline‘s Quad Cities Airport and pay the airline change fees. So I went back to the Hertz counter and got a car at a discounted rate on account of our hardship (thanks Hertz counter guy!). We set out with directions from my iPhone and a map, as well as instructions from Brent – he’d become really sweet when he let go of a little stress from the boarding process.
Karen and I set out on our trip to Moline from Cedar Rapids. 100 miles of driving with a complete stranger who just happened to step in the same pile I did. But Karen had the same quirky sense of adventure I had and we got along really well. Along the way, she pointed out to me the Herbert Hoover Library and the World’s Largest Truck Stop. Following Brent’s directions got us slightly lost (FYI, Brent, coming from the west the sign labeled I-74 to Peoria takes you along I-80 until you’re past the airport) but it was nothing that our sense of adventure couldn’t handle. We also passed Rock Island, which Karen thought was a prison colony but it turns out to be the third most polite place in the country (though New York City is ranked number 1).
So the story ends at the MLI airport. We both made the flight. Karen went off the New York to meet her family for the holidays and I made it back to Atlanta. All-in-all I’d say it’s worth the extra $200 for the trip. If nothing else I got a good story to tell and got to know a good person. And isn’t that what life is all about? If it’s not then I’m living it wrong.