An unexpected detour

by Andrew Stein

A disclaimer: I will discuss the events that start our journey to Hanoi with a much calmer disposition than we felt while living through them.   That said, I wouldn’t mind if a couple of the airlines find this post so they can hear some of my frustrations with the events of today.  And with that, here goes my story.

We are so excited for our next adventure – Vietnam and Laos.  Bags packed, reservations made, itinerary printed, and we even get to the airport early.  That’s where the plan goes awry.

At SFO, Virgin American refuses to check us all the way through the Vietnam.  Something about being co-operators with China Southern, it being an international flight, and not actually listening to us when we try to see if there’s any way to help us.  We get to the terminal and all Virgin America flights are delayed (or cancelled).  They give some excuse about winds being stronger than usual, but we’re skeptical.  Flights coming in from all over (East, South, and North) are impacted.  It’s the merger – thanks Alaska Air.  The systems are so broken, they can’t even assign us seats until 30 minutes before boarding, which doesn’t happen until almost 3 hours after our scheduled departure.  The biggest cause of our delay is there’s no crew available.  It’s an operations nightmare, and we’re the unsuspecting bystanders.    

Only 50 minutes to LAX, but just late enough we can’t make our connection on China Southern.  And to add insult to injury, China Southern and Virgin America keep sending us back and forth as no one wants to claim responsibility.  I guess that’s what co-operators means.  Good to know.  The China Southern flight hasn’t taken off, but despite two-dozen angry passengers arguing with the check-in folks, no luck.  Apparently Virgin America had given out some boarding passes, but not to everyone.  And to those folks with boarding passes all the way through to their final destination, China Southern checks them in.  Reminder: getting checked-in to our final destination from Virgin America was something that Lindsey and I couldn’t get, and when we ask Virgin America’s customer service, it’s something that they say is impossible.  Oy.  I think the situation hits its climax when one very unfriendly China Southern attendant rips up a teenager’s boarding pass right in front of her.

We do find one person at Virgin America who is trying to fix everyone else’s mess.  After waiting almost three hours, she sets us up with flights on Korean Air for the next day.  We spend the night in La Canada (thanks mom and dad), and when we wake up the next morning, we find that our latest flight arrangement also delayed, meaning we’ll miss our connection in Seoul.  Not our day/weekend.  We head to the airport to work things out. When we arrive, Korean Airlines says that our flight was never actually was confirmed and that the plane we were supposed to be on is full. It’s infuriating. Mom has thought ahead and taken a defensive position in line at Virgin Airlines. Eventually we have the two airlines talking on our two phones (mine and Mom’s), duking it out. Both want to pass off responsibility and we’re not sure we’ll ever get to Hanoi, let alone in a timely manner. After over an hour of back and forth, we get seats on a plane to Seoul that afternoon and decide to make the most of our 36-hour layover.