Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The only crappy thing from Rome

2.44pm f*cking Rome airport

Question of the day: whose fault is it more, Alitalia's or mine? I have an opinion, but I'll just stick to the facts. You decide.

So this morning I arrive at Gate B08 for my flight to Barcelona, as instructed. The flight is delayed, but the screen at my gate says “Barcelona”—great. After the stress of checking in and what not, I had arrived; I sat down and put on my headphones and started reading about the EU. (God, this seems so long ago now.)
The next thing I know we are getting on line to board. I hand the lady my ticket and she tells me I have the wrong flight. This is Iberia, she says. I look up at the screen. It says Barcelona in bright letters as it did before, but now I notice the Iberia logo next to the time. She tells me the Alitalia flight changed gates.
Oh. Uh...what?
Sitting down, I’d looked up a couple times and everything had seemed normal, being that the flight was going to Barcelona. I admit I didn’t bother to look for Alitalia confirmation, given that I was at the correct gate number, and had been chatting with some Spaniards next to me about arriving late in Barcelona. Everything seemed oh so normal.
No time to waste, I run to the new gate. The flight is closed. I plead with the flight attendant, who does not give a shit because they made the announcement three times over the speaker. I should not have been listening to my headphones, she says. I ask why they didn’t put up a sign at the original gate anyway, given the ridiculous fact that the new flight was also going to Barcelona. Plus what about deaf passengers?! I cannot hold the plane for one passenger, she says. Please you must go to the Alitalia ticketing.
I run to ticketing, infuriated. I arrive, already sweating, and explain my situation nicely. I cannot help but imply it is their fault. It is not our fault at all, sir, 100 people arrived successfully at the new gate. I don’t bother asking what percentage of total passengers that was. I don't want to know (I kind of do, actually, but I don't want to argue with her from my weak position). I repeat that there are other ways to announce the changed gate, like perhaps putting a sign up at the former gate-- you know, in case people listen to music (not that people do that at airports), or in case a passenger is deaf (not that deaf people are allowed to fly).
She stares into the computer screen, silent.
I ask if I can please get on the next flight, because I have a conference this evening in Barcelona (a complete lie, but fun to imagine). She says I have to go back to the departures terminal, wait in line, and start over again.
I won’t have to pay more, will I?
Probably, she said, and consults with her partner in crime. Something about viaggeri pagare . Of course I will. I should, at least, she says.
I should? Excuse me? Look, I know your job obviously sucks and you probably hate your life because you can't do anything better than deal with an endless stream of viaggeri who have been fucked by your shitty employer, but still: I should have to pay? This must be a translation tick. I shouldn't be surprised that your English sucks, even though it's one of the few requirements of your shitty job, aside from looking pretty and entering data.
I ask her to call the departing flights desk for me to smooth things over as much as possible before I go all the way back there. She calls; nobody answers. Does that mean nobody is there to help me? She smiles at this question and calls again. I wipe sweat from various exposed body parts.
In the interim she asks me a hypothetical question. Say I was going to the cinema, she says. Say I miss my movie, and go up to the ticket window and ask if my ticket is valid for the next showing. Do I think they would let me in the next show?
Wow. Is this is a trick question, a joke, or is she trying to teach me a lesson?
Uh, they would probably let me into the next show if it isn’t sold out, I said. At least in my country.
She smiles and says “I doubt it. You need a new ticket.”
Maybe in Italy, you FUCKING IDIOT BITCH. I don’t say any of this. CUSTOMER SERVICE IS NOT THE ITALIAN FORTE, I’m thinking, as I smile at her, thank her, curse her under my breath, and take off for the departures area, which is very far away and to which I run at a good clip to work off the stress. As I run I think of my friend Zach, with whom I'd had a lovely breakfast that morning in our rented apartment. At this moment Zach was lounging around in Villa Borghese, taking in some last Roman sunshine before heading back to Bologna. I wished I were there with him, throwing the disc, drinking wine spritzers, like the good old days (like yesterday). I run faster. I am that guy at the airport, making the mad dash to catch a flight. But I am dashing the wrong way.

Back at departures it is a different story. The first woman, just coming off a shift, refers me directly to another young lady, with whom I speak Spanish.
Instead of treating me like an idiot, the woman’s first reaction is, literally, Oh, I’m sorry, I knew this would happen.
Taken aback, I am overwhelmed with hope that they will not make me pagare. I gently recommend putting a visible sign at the gate informing the deaf and headphoned passengers of the change, especially in the unfortunate case that the new flight has the same destination as the old one.
Yes, that is a good idea, she says.
Ha! A good idea! You fucking people should hire me.
On a roll, I apologize for making such a silly mistake. She laughs, No, it’s really our fault.
Wooooo! What's your name, cutie? (I don't ask this.)
Your flight is at 4.20 sir. Please relax. Go to the bar and relax for a few hours.
Are you going to buy me drinks, I ask. (I actually ask this.)
No, sir. I’m afraid we can’t do that.
Alright. But you probably should, after all I’ve been through.
Maybe, sir. You can write us a letter.
Exactly! That’s what I was thinking-- I’ll be on the lookout for the suggestion box! I like this girl. She speaks Spanish and appears to have a heart.
She carefully circles my gate, the time, and urges me not to use my headphones while waiting.
Back in business! Now I just have to kill 4 hours in the airport and miss my afternoon at work.
Passing through security for the second time, the guard looking at the X-ray screen notices my headphones. He says something about Bose. I laugh and tell him in improvised Spantalian that they are very good, very expensive, and were a gift. I pass them to him. Hearing Bjork in crystal clear noise reduction, looks up at me, impressed. If only you knew the problems they caused, amico! I laugh my way up the escalator.
Now to go back to the first ticket desk with the mean Alitalia women.
One of the same women is there, and she recognizes me immediately. I wanted to apologize for my behavior before, I say, trying to get on her good side.
It’s fine. You have a new flight?
Yes! And I didn’t even have to pay!
Really? I’m quite surprised, she says, slightly embarrassed.
Can I ask you a question?
Of course, sir.
Was I the only passenger who made this silly mistake?
She smiled. No sir, there were others.
There were! Why didn’t you mention that the first time?
Have a nice flight, sir, she says, smiling.

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