Colson: More proof that flying is for the birds | AspenTimes.com

Colson: More proof that flying is for the birds

Well, I didn't die last week in a fiery ball of hot gasses, melted plastic and shredded metal thanks to a plane crash, a fate I considered in a previous column.

But I must say that United Airlines did what it could to make my recent flight, to Madison, Wisconsin a memorable one, and not in a good way.

I flew out on a Tuesday, from the Eagle County airport near Gypsum to Denver International Airport in Denver, with a four-hour layover at DIA that I used to write up a couple of stories for the paper I work for.

My plan was to get to Madison that afternoon, sleep at my brother's pad, and the next morning, at about 4 a.m., get up and take my brother to a hospital for his second knee-replacement surgery.

As departure time approached at DIA, I grabbed a quick meal from one of the airport cafes and was heading to the gate when my stomach turned sour and I had to take some time out for a quick run to the facilities, thinking I still had plenty of time to make the plane at 12:30 p.m.

But when I got there about 10 minutes before takeoff, the door to the boarding runway was shut and locked, and there was nobody around the gate to let me through.

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A guy finally showed up and told me I couldn't get on the plane, which was still sitting there and not moving, because of a relatively new policy that called for the door to be closed 10 minutes before takeoff time — some TSA-inspired bit of madness, no doubt.

I got a little hot under the collar as the guy stonewalled me, seeming to enjoy his ability to exercise a little power at my expense, and I slammed my hand down on the counter to emphasize a point I was trying to make.

The guy jumped and his hand slid under the counter, making me wonder if he was a member of the NRA who had a Glock 9 under there and was just waiting for some outraged and insulted passenger to give him a chance to use it.

No gun appeared, however, and I soon walked away, headed for the "customer service" counter to be abused a little bit more when I was told the earliest flight I could get would be 7:30 that evening, getting me to my destination at about 11 p.m. local time in Madison. That meant my brother and I could look forward to maybe three hours of sleep in between my arrival and rousting out for our ride to the hospital.

Some fun, eh?

As I wandered around the airport, fuming about the stupid airline and its illogical policy, I ran into a number of others in a similar predicament. They, too, had gotten to their departure gate a short time prior to takeoff, only to be informed they couldn't get on the plane even though it was still sitting there.

I listened as one couple, irate because their closely timed connection had made them late, argued with an airline employee about the policy. The employee, who grew increasingly agitated, actually threatened the couple with barring them from getting on any plane, any time that day, if they didn't behave.

A four-pack of guys headed for Louisville, Ky., told me they, too, had been hampered by a tight connecting schedule and had been locked out of their plane.

All of this, I should point out, involved United Airlines flights and personnel, at a time when the airline is making record profits, largely thanks to cheap fuel, the death of in-flight meals, rising ticket prices and added charges for carry-on and other baggage, and a tendency to engage in monopolistic practices. One might think this would lead the airline to be a little kinder and gentler with its passengers, but no such luck.

Instead, the reverse is true. United seems not to care that it is making it more and more difficult to perceive them as having anything to do with "friendly skies."

For instance, at DIA, as I argued with the gate clerk past the scheduled departure time, the plane sat there and actually was late in getting off the ground. And my flight later that day took off a half-hour late, with no apologies to the passengers. So much for lame excuses about needing to keep to a schedule.

In addition, on one of my flights back from Madison, we passengers were given exactly 10 minutes to board and then sat there past the scheduled departure time, awaiting the arrival of some late luggage.

I guess baggage is more valuable, or perhaps just more tractable than people. At least a suitcase doesn't raise its voice and get red in the face when mishandled.

I hope I can keep to the ground for my future travels, whether it means trains, buses, automobiles or a horse.

Flying truly is for the birds, in my opinion.

jbcolson51@gmail.com

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