Tuesday, February 19, 2013

SFO Airport and the Journey Home

Sometimes the best part of a trip can be when you get to go home. I know this sounds contradictory.  As exciting it is to visit new places and have some great experiences, after a week I start to miss the dogs and my daily routine. In fact sometimes after planning a trip and doing all the research, booking hotels and tours I feel almost satisfied not to go at all. Sure would save a lot of money! I have so much fun in the planning stages that at times the actual experience doesn't live up to the hype. There have been many high's and low's on this trip. We did our best to roll with the punches but I am very happy to be starting our journey home. Traveling with a cold has been a challenge during the tail end of this trip. Mother is not sick yet which I am very grateful for.

I appreciated a good night sleep and the Hilton beds were very comfortable. We woke up well rested for our early 7:45 am departure from SFO. We dressed quickly and brought the luggage down to the Hilton lobby to wait for the shuttle.

Being half awake I think there were about 7 other people waiting for the bus. As promised, the glistening shuttle bus arrived right on time. The bus interior was very luxurious with large leather comfy seats. We made a pit stop at the Marriott to pickup a few more passengers and then we disembarked at the first SFO stop which was Delta Airlines.

The bags were still wrapped from Hong Kong but we removed some of the tags. We had checked in with Delta online so just needed to deposit the two hardsided bags. We are traveling in business class for this segment to Atlanta.

I am down to two small bags plus a bag from the Ming Fook Tong tea store.

Tea Set

I definitely need to make a point of traveling lighter next time. Having multiple small bags is annoying. The combination of hot and cold climates made packing a little more challenging this time.  In addition, I  purchased a few items that I had to squish into already tight spaces.

Hungry and unaware of what Delta had in store for us meal-wise, we decided to try our luck with breakfast at Perry's in the airport. The restaurant was busy but they seemed to be well organized. We were seated at a table and after taking our order we were asked what time our flight was departing.

I feel like I am getting sicker by the minute and may have a temperature. I am very congested and it is amazing with the long flight from Hong Kong that I can still hear anything. I have become the "tissue queen" and have been collecting and disposing of them  like they are going out of style.

Breakfast was taking a while but we still had plenty of time and did not need to rush. The food finally arrived and I regretted not ordering something a little less colorful so early in the morning. If you ever wondered where the pink slime originates, it comes from Perry's at the San Francisco airport!

Corned Beef Hash

The corned beef hash was hot but not very tasty and was a little too unsightly to enjoy. I kept moving it around the plate with my fork hoping unrealistically that somehow it would improve. Mother had toast and coffee.

We "finished" breakfast and went to the gate around 7:10 am and boarded the plane shortly thereafter. I specifically chose this flight because it is a wide-body (767) and using a combination of miles and cash could sit in Business Class.

We have flown Delta regularly both domestically and internationally and prefer it to the other U.S. legacy carriers. However, perhaps due to our over the top experience yesterday on Cathay Pacific we were in for a bit of a let down. Apparently this aircraft continues on from Atlanta to Frankfurt but I was surprised how old it looked. The seats were weird and my mother's hardly reclined. The IFE was very limited and the screen was like a postage stamp. We did have more space than in Economy but for Business Class it wasn't so great. We have flown in Business Class on Delta to Rome, Barcelona and Madrid and I don't remember it looking like this.

There was a young couple in the center row near us who were flying to Atlanta and then to their final destination in North Carolina. Somehow the headrest of the girlfriend's seat became unhinged and she couldn't reattach it. Doesn't sound like a problem except for the metal spikes that were now protruding out. She sat on her boyfriend's lap while maintenance was called to assist. In the interim the co-pilot attempted to fix it before help arrived. After 10 minutes of fuddling with it the headrest was in place and we could now depart.

The safety demonstration was strange. We could hear it but there was nothing to look at. The flight attendants weren't even in the aisle demonstrating the life vest, seatbelt or pointing out the exits.

We taxied out but did not get very far. I could feel us slowing down and looked outside and saw we had pulled over to the side and were not headed to the runway. It was either a mechanical or security issue, neither of which would be good. The captain came over the PA to tell us that unfortunately the left engine (which I could see from my seat) was not working properly (he said it was line problem) and we would have to go back to the gate to see if they could fix it. It started to rain a little while we were parked at the gate.

Waiting for the engine to be repaired

While at the gate we waited anxiously to hear if we would have to deplane or if they could fix the problem. After about 35 minutes the Captain said they were going to test the engine again. We waited about 20 minutes until he reported that the problem did not appear to be occurring again. He said they had to complete some paperwork and then we could takeoff.

By this time the rain had stopped and the sun came out.

Cleared for takeoff

After the paperwork was done and we taxied again it was 2 hours later. This meant we and several other passengers would miss our connections. At least it is a nice sunny day and seemed great for flying. I thought it was odd that they did not conduct the safety demonstration a second time. We just taxied and took off.

Departing SFO Airport
I had inserted my Earplanes when the door was shut as I experienced some pain when we descended the night before on the Cathay flight. Using the Earplanes meant I could not hear that well or use the headphones for the inflight entertainment. Instead I spent time looking out the window at the beautiful scenery.

Beautiful view of California

The flight from San Francisco to Atlanta is 4 hours. It felt a lot longer though. With the exception of the pilot and co-pilot, the flight crew seemed very odd. There were two older ladies working in our section that were pleasant but it felt a bit like...well a nut house! The older granny-type woman was plying the young NC couple with liquor throughout the flight. They didn't look like big drinkers although the girlfriend definitely had a strong preference for Bailey's as evidenced by the 5 little bottles on her tray.

When the other female attendant asked my mother if she wanted something to drink she didn't ask if she wanted something alcoholic. I was pretty much oblivious to this and only heard about it later. I was trying to watch the limited offerings on the IFE. They announced over the PA earlier that you could use wifi enabled devices. However it was soon obvious that the wifi was not working. No one cared to mention that this was the case. I kept trying but finally gave up.

They served a meal which I declined and I just tried to snuggle into my seat against the window for the remainder of the flight.

About and hour before we arrived in Atlanta my mother and I talked about how we should get home. Our connecting flight to Florida was on AirTran. Delta was therefore under no obligation to compensate us or assist us with rebooking. I was worried that if we missed the flight our ticket was worthless and we would need to buy a new one. I have never missed a connecting flight before so this was a new experience. As it was Christmas Eve I was worried we would be stuck in Atlanta and might have to drive home or fly to an alternate airport. One of the flight attendants told us to speak with the Delta representative when we landed. If my brain was not so clogged and floating around my congested head I would have known that this was a waste of time.

My mother walked up to the flight attendants to ask about what do about our missed connection. She was also upset that she was not offered a glass of wine and mentioned that too. About 20 minutes later, the head flight attendant came to our seats and apologized for not mentioning that alcohol (wine) was included in the drink selections. She insisted she meant ANY kind of drink during the initial beverage service. That however was not clear at the time. My mother has dry eyes and they tear up when she is tired. While the flight attendant was speaking, mother's eyes kept tearing and the flight attendant kept apologizing and said "please don't cry!". My mother kept saying "that's okay". They attendant would repeat again "please don't cry'. Mother would say "that's okay". They were just going in circles and it seemed like it a very bad dream. I thought I was going insane.

With tears streaming down mother's cheeks, the flight attendant seemed a little shaken. She offered to give us both miles to compensate us for our libation grievance.  I said jokingly "okay 50K miles would be great!". That didn't fly but she did bring the hand held device and we each received 2000 miles. It was a pittance but was still appreciated. After we got home I wrote to Delta about our entire flight experience. I mentioned the improper safety demonstration, poor seats, missed drinks and no wifi. I also added that it appeared that one of the flight attendants was serving a young couple too much alcohol.  I received an apology and an additional 7,500 miles.

We landed in "Hotlanta" and after deplaning waited a couple of minutes to speak with the gate agent. Naturally, he immediately told us to to go Airtran. We looked at the monitor and our flight had not departed yet so perhaps we could still make it! Of course we would have to sacrifice our checked luggage and figure out how to get it home later. I did not look at the gate location on the monitor. I used what it said on the boarding pass. Unfortunately I realized too late that the gate number had changed and we needed to go to a different gate in the opposite direction. When we arrived, they had just closed the door and we missed the flight by minutes. However, we still needed to claim our bags so this was actually not that tragic.

We went to the AirTran customer service counter which was near gate C17. It turned out there was no need to worry as the agent put us on the next flight that would depart at 7:00 pm. Our original flight departed at 4:35 pm. It was now almost 5:00 pm by the time he printed our new boarding passes. He gave us great advice that mother should stay in the concourse with the little bags and I should go to baggage claim to get the two cases from the Delta flight. The agent advised that since it is Christmas Eve there could be a lot of people traveling tonight and I should hurry.

I took that advice whole heartily. I left the bags and my jacket with mother and just carried my small purse and boarding pass. The Earplanes worked great and I experienced no pain and could hear fine. I was worried about not having enough time, so sprinted  like the devil through concourse C to the train and then to the baggage area. I asked where the Delta luggage was and found the numbered carousel. Apparently we were not the only ones who had not claimed our bags as about 15 bags were on the now motionless steel belt. My bag was heavy at the beginning of the day, but adrenaline had kicked in and I quickly wheeled my bag and mother's simultaneously through the terminal like a speed demon. I arrived at an almost deserted AirTran counter to deposit the bags. I must have sounded like a babbling idiot because I was speaking rapidly to the agent on about checking two bags... that my mother was in the concourse...and we missed our flight, blah, blah, blah. The nice AirTran employee looked at the boarding pass and me and said "no problem you are in Business Class and can each check a bag for free". Phew! I was worried since mother was not there she wouldn't accept her bag. She tagged the luggage and I continued my run through the terminal and to security where there were hardly any people. Yeah! Whizzed through and called mother while I was on the train headed back and reported "mission accomplished". I looked at my watch and was amazed that it only took 20 minutes from the time I left Concourse C to when I returned on the train. I thought it would take at least an hour.

I called the petsitter and gave her the good news that we would be home tonight. I had called earlier in a panic when we landed in Atlanta and told her I did not know if we would make it home so if she could feed and "water" the dogs I would appreciate it. I didn't expect anyone to stay overnight since it is Christmas Eve.

Darlene, our petsitter was happy to hear we would be make it back but added that one of her helpers was willing to stay with the boys if we couldn't get a flight. We are so lucky to have such great petsitters. Extremely relieved, we went to the AirTran gate to wait for our flight. Mother was hungry and I really did not want to stop to get anything when we got home. We went to the Chik-fla counter and each ordered a sandwich which we brought back to the gate. I was very lucky my voice was still working. I would quickly find out the next day how difficult it would have been talking on the phone with the petsitter and in person with the agents as my illness worsened.

I have never flown on AirTran before or a 717 Boeing aircraft. So this was going to be a first. I was very impressed by the service from the moment we went to the customer service desk. The rep at the bag checkin was also very nice and I appreciated their efficiency. There were only 4 of us in the Business Class section (one was an employee). The windows were so dirty though that it was hard to see out. We took off right on time and had a very smooth flight. I had stopped taking photos once we arrived in Atlanta but wished I had a few to commemorate my experience in the airport as well as the flight.

We landed at about 8:30 pm and our luggage appeared about 10 minutes later. I think there were about 11 bags in total from everyone on the plane. Our driver was there to meet us and as it was Christmas Eve, I don't know if he or I were more happier that the flight was on time.  I was thrilled to be home and the boys were happy too!

Finally Home

Looks like someone needs a bath!
Siebren is very happy too!

I will next post a recap of the trip and list some of the high's and low's. I promise to focus more on the high points and not dwell on what was out of our control.


  1. Wow, if it were me, I would have to take to my bed the next day; & not come out until New Years. I realize this trip didn't turn out to be what you'd hoped; & I am impressed that you kept your sanity & were still functioning toward the end.

    I so understand your comment about doing so much research so that you are prepared for anything. The anticipation of everything going right; & it often doesn't meet our unrealistically high expectations. That's a tough pill to swallow. This trip was disappointing because of things that were totally out of your control. You & Mom are to be commended for soldiering through & maintaining a positive attitude. I don't think I would have been so generous.

    I certainly enjoyed tagging along; & look forward to whatever your next adventure may be.

    1. I appreciate your support! Despite several setbacks we did enjoy the trip, the voyage not so much! My love of Asian food and interest in their politics and culture helped keep me focused. I have a tentative plan for European travel this summer which I will post in my recap on the blog.