My Bloody Romania: JFK unintended layover (part one) – Northwest/Delta policy: ‘Everything is God’s fault’

Dateline: JFK Airport

I’m an hour away from Try Number Two of getting the hell out of the United States.

In a dizzying succession of tag team worthlessness, Northwest (heretofore, because I’m bitter, referred to as ‘North-motherf*cking-west’) and Delta (A.K.A. ‘Del-$hiteating-ta’ – rolls off the tongue, no?) succeeded in stranding me at JFK homeless, bagless and costing me no shortage of cash in missed flight expenses on another airline between Madrid and Iasi, Romania.

This fantastic misfortune was due to my flight from Minneapolis to JFK being delayed four times, causing us to arrive four hours late. It went down like this: First haze in JFK roped us into a gate delay in Minneapolis, then Air Traffic Control (ATC) at JFK decided that they needed to change landing directions, a lengthy process, to correct the visibility problem (so it was only one-way haze?), then since North-motherf*cking-west had seen fit to keep a plane with no auxiliary power in service they couldn’t start our engines without some kind of ‘air truck’ that disappeared the minute we needed it, then we were put into a holding pattern above JFK for reasons they never felt compelled to divulge.

On a strange and frankly dubious side note, while all incoming flights to JFK were delayed by several hours all day long, outgoing flights were curiously leaving at the stroke of departure (actually, the Madrid flight I missed left 30 minutes late, but in the We’ll-Get-You-There-Eventually summer of 2007 air travel, a mere 30 minutes late is hailed as quite a feat at most airports, and a modern miracle at JFK).

JFK’s genuine surprise and coping deficiencies with the haze that has been appearing there every morning about this time of year since the last ice shelf retreated notwithstanding, North-motherf*cking-west’s ineptitude sparked an inconceivable chain reaction of increasingly dire consequences that I was condemned to suffer alone. But let’s back up to the beginning of this snowballing clusterf*ck.

My troubles actually began four weeks ago when I rebooked my Minneapolis to Madrid journey (a delay necessitated by my wretched exhaustion) through Del-$hiteating-ta, only to learn while examining my new itinerary that the Minneapolis to JFK leg was being ‘serviced’ North-motherf*cking-west, an airline that I swore to never fly again three years ago after I suffered through five consecutive inexcusably effed up flights. This bait and switch irked me. Apparently, since North-motherf*cking-west has succeeded in alienating every frequent traveler in the western world, the only way they can fill seats now is to bribe other airlines to sell tickets on their behalf.

Before we left Minneapolis, I expressed concern to the North-motherf*cking-west gate agent that our delays would cause me to miss my connecting flight in JFK (and my connecting flight in Madrid and my connecting flight in Bucharest). That person, wielding a courageous lack of compassion, essentially told me to bugger off and call Del-$hiteating-ta. Del-$hiteating-ta in turn happily told me that it was North-motherf*cking-west’s fault and they would do nothing and refused to discuss it for one moment longer. And so it went back and forth, me playing messenger boy, until we took off with no resolution.

On the ground at JFK that night, I stood in line for nearly two hours with a crowd of seething, raw-nerved travelers that had also been stranded by the combination of four hour late arrivals and on-time departures JFK was maintaining. When I finally stepped up to the desk, I was coolly informed that the delay had been due to weather and since this was an act of God, Del-$hiteating-ta was not at fault. This enraged and spiritually offended me – I’m a staunch Atheist. In my faith (The Church of Potty-Mouthed Heathens of Minnesota), explaining something away that was largely a case of gross mismanagement as an ‘act of God’ was comparable to blaming fairytale characters (e.g. “Although I was physically and solely present and involved when the window of your car was smashed, the engine was hotwired and the car was driven into a river three states away, technically it wasn’t my fault, due to it being an act of Peter Pan. Amen.”).

Furthermore, since weather was the reason for the first delay, Del-$hiteating-ta took the stance that the delays by the ATC debacle, the broken plane and the mysterious flying of circles over Buffalo were extraneous. That pesky weather was entirely to blame and no amount of logic and reality was going to change their minds.

Del-$hiteating-ta booked me on the same flight the following day, generous seeing as how it was all Pinocchio’s fault, but they were of the opinion that they were not obliged to do anything about the fact that I missed my flights on Tarom Airlines from Madrid to Bucharest and from Bucharest to Iasi, as this was on an entirely different airline and therefore it was somehow up to Tarom to cope with a screw up perpetrated by unrelated halfwits 8,000 miles away. And anyway this was all North-motherf*cking-west’s problem, so why don’t I go talk to them?

And boy did I ever.

Tune in tomorrow for further adventures into indignant curse words and wholly fact-based libel.

Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, co-authored the current edition of Lonely Planet’s Romania and Moldova. Visit his personal blog, Killing Batteries, for further musings about sleeplessness, first-hand injustices he’s suffered and smarmy airlines that he’s building a lavish case against for a landmark Better Business Bureau inquiry.

Leif would like to extend special thanks at this time to Willy and Justin at Gadling for allowing him to curse freely and extravagantly.