So here I am, finally home after a nightmare trip that took more than 24 hours instead of the two it was supposed to last. Alitalia has been doing its best and more to make me wish they could die the horrible death they deserve as a completely fucked up airline (hope this is the beginning of a nice Google bombing).
Alitalia managed to piss me off on my way to Dublin already, with an aircraft change, two hours of delay and a flight that turned out to be free-seating given the different layout of the new airplane we got, but this was nothing compared to what happened yesterday. I went to the airport with more than two hours to kill and a smile on my face after a great Apachecon. The smile turned to a grin when I read the big “CANCELLED” sign on the timetable, and I noticed the line of people at the Alitalia desk. The bad got worse, though, given that the line was painfully slow: despite having maybe just fifteen people ahead, it took me more than two hours to finally reach the desk, where I was welcomed by smiling people that told me I had no chance to fly and I should have stayed overnight.
The problem is we were all well aware of what could have been the reasons for the cancellation: given the legal boundaires to airline strikes, the Alitalia personell has got the habit of calling in sick at the last minute so that the airline is unable to find someone to fill in, and the flight just can’t take off. As an alternative, Alitalia has the stupid custom of cancelling underbooked flights, not giving a damn about their customers of course. Whatever the reason was, though, I wasn’t willing to stay in Dublin since this would have meant having again a single chance of catching a flight back (the one and only that Alitalia flies every day), so I asked politely yet firmly for an alternative going through a larger hub. At 2.15PM the neurons of the desk attendant incredibly started to work, and I had a new route on a BMI flight leaving at 5.30PM, landing in London with more than an hour to spare before I could get my flight to Milan.
I went with Andrew, who joined me at the airport, to the BMI check in where we were puzzled about the line we should take. Choosing the one in front of the London-bound flight desk turned up as a bad choice, since that was supposed to be the line for business class travelers, while the line for the London flight was “of course” the one in front of the bag drop desk. Oh well, 30 minutes later I finally had a boarding pass and more than two hours to kill before I could start traveling, so I went to grab some food. After a quick pass at the usual airport junk, some shopping and the last Guinness at the airport bar taken as an excuse to watch a bit of the Argentina-Germany world cup match, I marched to the gate, to discover that my flight was going to be at least one hour late, which meant I was going to miss my connection. Panic kicked in: given that no one was attending the gate, and there was no such thing as an airline desk past the security gate, I rushed to the airport WLAN to find some number to call.
And no, it was not quite over: the WLAN gladly accepted my 5 Euros but constantly refused to log me in, which meant I had to resort to my wife from Italy to assist me in getting in touch with Alitalia. I called the Dublin offices, to no avail. Tried London, same result. Spoke, finally, with two italian operators from their customer service, who turned out to be (un)trained monkeys, the tell-tale sign being the “hmm… I can’t find your flight, can you please spell Heathrow for me, sir?” question I was asked. I was then told to go to the Alitalia offices since no one was picking up the phone but they were confident someone was manning the booth: this meant I had to get off the airport (of course the only way out was at the opposite end of the terminal, quite a hike away) and back in again.
The Alitalia desk was manned by the stupidest sample of a human being I met so far, who basically told me their computer system was down, and he had no way to get in touch with Heathrow to find an alternative for me, so the only option would have been flying to London anyway and take my problem to the London Alitalia offices in person. It was time to rush to the gate, so I went through security again and walked through the airport once more. The gate was finally manned when I got there, so I asked if the could help me somewhat. They called the Alitalia desk, and the idiot answering the phone asked them to send me back to their front office to find a solution, which meant I would have missed the London flight altogether. I figured out that statistics would have been on my side, and given the consistent lineup of idiots I met in Dublin to strike an even balance I might have had a chance to meet a Nobel prize at the London desk, so I decided to leave anyway and forget about Dublin altogether.
Of course we got to London with more than an hour and a half of delay, and when I switched my phone back on and called my wife who was monitoring the situation on the web for me, my Milan flight was just pulling off the gate (the one and only Alitalia flight who left in time, by the way). I went to the Alitalia offices, then, when I found someone who wasn’t quite a genius but could at least count to ten and seemed to have at least a vague understading of complex concepts such as “you screwed up my trip, now what?”. Since there were no other flights for the night, the only option I had was to sleep in London and leave the day after. Problem is it took more than an hour for the attendant to sort me and an another guy in the same situation out, and a good twenty minutes on a taxi to get to Brendford where we were supposed to stay for the night. At the hotel, we were told than being on an airline protection program, we were supposed to have dinner, and we should have been able to get some food in twenty minutes. Brendford must definitely be in some time-warp zone, since their twenty minutes turned out to be more like an hour and a half, which meant we had a fish and chips platter at midnight, with the wake-up call set up for 6.30AM the next morning.
You know, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings, so after an uneventful night with just too little sleep, I went to the airport and everything seemed to work just fine: I had a boarding pass, and I was able to get through Terminal 2 security in less than five minutes, which is something to remember indeed. We also were boarded a mere five minutes late, so everything was nice and dandy. Then the “ladies and genteman, this is the captain speaking…” thing happened: we missed our slot, and we were supposed to wait for another 40 minutes at the gate. We finally pulled from the gate with more than an hour of delay, and it took us another half an hour to finally take off. Bottom line: I left the Burlington Hotel in Dublin at 11.30AM the day before, and I opened the door of my house at 3PM today. No less than 27 hours instead than the expected 6. And a lot of hate for Alitalia: it’s going to take a while before I fly with those guys again (say a couple of reincarnation cycles, to say the least).
Oh, did I mention I’m off to London on Monday with a flight at 6.35AM, which means I will hit the road again some 27 hours from now? Luckily enough, it’s not Alitalia this time, but I expect to crash back home on Monday night and spend the rest of the week recovering from hectic travel. Gosh, I want videoconferencing, and I want it NOW.