Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Misadventures of Samantha: Blame it on the T-T-T-T-T-TSA

(please sing the title of this post in the style of "Blame It")

So there was this one time...I had a flight leaving to Tbilisi through Dubai at 955 pm. I had rushed to get everything shoved into two suitcases and a carry on, and given rushed goodbye hugs and kisses to my sister, and my superstar mom rushed me to the airport. More kisses goodbye, check in, send the bags off, and rush to the gate. Just enough time to grab my last American cup of coffee for a while, then I'm in line at the gate, ready to board. I reach into my bag for my passport and boarding pass, but...IT'S NOT THERE.
With 20 minutes until boarding ends and they close the gate, I'm clearly panicking. I knew I had to have had it to get through security, so it was somewhere in this part of the airport. My first thought is that I left it at security (à la Riyana, Miami 2008), and (luckily?) there was a TSA agent standing at the gate, so I asked him to radio the security checkpoint for me, but they said they hadn't found a passport. So I thought it must be at Starbucks- I rushed over there, and nope, they hadn't seen it. So I rushed over to the United Customer Service desk and at first was told the standard "for lost items, please call this number," but after some pleading was met with a little more sympathy. The agent told me that I had already missed my flight, but I might be able to make the 10:30 Lufthansa flight through Munich if I could A) find my passport in the next 20 mins, and B) call United headquarters and get them to approve a ticket re-issuance over the phone while I power walked to find my passport. So I tried that. I retraced my steps, going the wrong way through one-way corridors- of course I was flying out of the furthest concourse and the way back to security included 4 escalators, 2 moving walk ways, like a mile of ramps, and a train. All the while, I was calling United, mostly on hold. When I finally spoke with a person, they told me that since I had booked with a third party (and who doesn't these days?), that party would have to reissue my ticket, not United. So, frustrated and still rushing, I called the company I bought the tickets through, and they told me that once I had checked in United was solely in control of my reservation and they released all liability over it. So basically I was screwed. At this point I had reached security, and panting, back straining (did I mention I was carrying 25 pounds?), and almost in tears I explained my situation. Of course, this was not the checkpoint that I had come through, so they had to radio the other one and, lo and behold, THEY HAD MY PASSPORT THE ENTIRE TIME.

The dog helping me pack
So yes, here is where I blame the freaking TSA for all of my woes. I calmly and kindly explained why I was so frustrated by the lack of communication, the failure to know what they had in their lost and found closet or wherever, the structure of the system clearly not optimized for efficiency, and I was told I could fill out a comment card. A COMMENT CARD. What was I going to write??
"One of your agents either was too lazy to check, is incompetent, or just sucks at looking for stuff, and failed to relay correct information, resulting in me losing $800. I will accept a check by mail."??????????
The airport.

100 little things could have happened differently to prevent this situation: I hadn't been running late, I hadn't stopped for coffee, I had checked for my passport earlier, I hadn't left my passport in the first place, the airport had been smaller, my flight had been delayed, people inside the airport (customer service, gate agents) had been able to communicate with TSA, TSA had relayed corrected information, etc. but none of those things happened, and the situation ended up as it did.

By the time I got my passport back, if I had run to to gate of the Lufthansa flight to Munich, I would probably have made it, but because United hadn't reissued my ticket over the phone, they wouldn't have let me on the plane. So, I dragged myself back to the United Customer Service desk, where the guy helping me earlier literally stopped the person he was working with mid-sentence to check on me haha
But basically, the next available flight to Tbilisi was 24 hours later, on Lufthansa through Munich.
It was a flight I had deliberately not chosen because it involved a 9 hour layover in Munich and arrived in Tbilisi at 3 am, but it was now my only option, so I took it. This part of the saga was nowhere near as straightforward as I've made it sound. It involved a lot of checking, double checking, "maybe"s, begging Ben from downstairs to make an exception and allow my ticket to be reissued instead of having to buy a new one, etc. Keep in mind that throughout all this, I am constantly on the phone with my mom trying to explain the situation, she's turned around on the highway to come back to get me. We tried to contact my aunt who lives in the area, but it was late and we couldn't get in touch. So, the customer service agent helping me was calling hotels. I think she called 10 places, and there was only two vacancies- a smoking room in a motel in Manassas, or a $300 two bedroom suite...

Thankfully, my mother is a super hero and she pushed her way through traffic in both directions to come back and pick me up. We ended up driving out to Woodbridge and found a hotel there, after trying about 20 places in the Northern VA area to no avail. We spent the next day shopping, seeing a movie, and hanging out. It was so great to have an extra mother-daughter day, especially because I was only home for a few days and we didn't get to spend much time together.
at least I got to fly Lufthansa! Such a nice plane <3

I managed to not mess anything up the second time around, and successfully made it to Tbilisi. On the up side, I spent a cool, sunny layover in Munich, so that was cool (although, not anticipating a layover like that when I packed, my backpack was way too heavy and my back is still killing me), I flew Lufthansa which is miles ahead of United, had some success shopping, and I spent an extra day with my mom. On the down side, we had to pay for a night in a hotel, plus the gas from driving in circles so much, I had to travel for 3 days instead of the expected 1.5, I had to wait 3 hours in the Tbilisi airport until I was picked up at 6 am, and I lost a day in Georgia.
Overall, if I were to re-do the situation, I wouldn't have lost my passport, but all in all I would say it turned out alright.

Expect a post soon about my first day in Tbilisi, my house, and all that excitement!
To tide you over, here are some pics of my first day:
girl's gotta eat
the park across from my house

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