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Posts Tagged ‘exceeding authority’

Although I love traveling, preparing for a trip is a pain in that well-known location where pain seems to reside. But on this trip, I completed the preparation process relatively pain free. The beginning of the trip, however, was another matter.

We arrived early, checked our bags, and cleared the security checkpoint without a hitch. From there, we found a seat in an airport eatery overlooking the runway and waited. After thirty minutes of watching airplanes land and takeoff, we walked the few remaining steps to the gate and boarded our plane, I in the business section located behind the flight deck on a Boeing 747, and my friend in Economy Plus. I pitied him, but that’s fate.

The equipment originally scheduled for our flight was a Boeing 767, but because of a glitch somewhere down the line, the 767 was delayed or something and the company substituted a 747, which is configured for international travel, meaning that its business class is located upstairs in the bubble behind the flight deck. My seat was directly behind the flight deck and I could easily see the flight crew as they worked through their check lists. They finally finished and closed the door. We were off. I thought.

We taxied and taxied and taxied and taxied to the runway and turned onto it, lined up and ready to go. This is a part of the flight I love, feeling my body sink back into my seat as the plane speeds down the runway and lifts off. But on this day, something happened to delay that feeling.

I thought things were going wrong when, instead of taking off, the plane swung around onto a taxiway where we waited as incoming planes landed and taxied slowly past us to the terminal. Finally, the Captain announced, “We’re sorry ladies and gentlemen but we’ve encountered some sort of cargo error and have to return to the terminal. We anticipate just a very short delay.” Well, of course, he was lying through his teeth but we didn’t know it at the time.  I bet even he didn’t fully anticipate subsequent events.

At any rate, the Captain finally swung the plane around and we taxied and taxied and taxied and taxied back to the gate, which now was swarming with baggage and cargo vehicles. As soon as we docked, men who looked like loadmasters or something flocked to the flight deck and began reviewing paperwork with the Captain, who nodded sagely as he munched on a dinner the stewards had brought him as soon as the plane docked.

The review process went on for about an hour and a half before the Captain finally announced our imminent departure. As fate would have it, imminent happened about two hours later because, in the hour and a half the Captain and the loadmasters worked to square away whatever glitch was causing the delay, the legal amount of time that the cabin crew is permitted to work at one stretch had expired. The company had to call in an entirely new crew and, again, as fate would have it, the new crew was onboard an incoming flight that wouldn’t arrive for about an hour and a half.

In the meantime, I decided to walk downstairs and talk to my buddy. At the head of the stairs a really friendly stewardess ask me if I needed any help and I told her why I was going downstairs. She said, and I’m recording her words as near as I can recall them, “You have an empty seat next to you. Why don’t you ask your friend to sit next to you?” I thought she was really nice and helpful and a few minutes later, my friend was ensconced next to me. We chatted and waited for the new cabin crew to board at which time we would be up up and away.

God has his her its reasons for punishing the excessively optimistic. The overly officious male steward, whose legal time hadn’t ended with the other members of the cabin crew, approached us and asked if my friend had a ticket for the airline’s business class service. I explained why my friend was sitting next to me but he didn’t buy it. He said, “She (the stewardess) doesn’t have the authority to upgrade someone. Only an agent can do that.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, I thought about the movie The Natural. Roy Hobbs is signed to a baseball contract by the team’s chief scout. Roy dutifully reports to the manager who denies that his chief scout has the authority to sign Roy. I started to ask the Chief Steward if he’d seen the movie, but better sense overcame me in the nick of time.

By now, my friend was getting a little antsy so he stood up and went back to his assigned seat. Sadly, I realized that, after almost four hours at the gate and an additional four and a half hours in flight, I would have to be content with an empty seat as a seatmate.

I’m not sure this incident has a moral. Perhaps if anything, it illustrates the hazards of going over the boss’s head. Be very cautious about stepping on the toes of authority.

I’ll finish the tale of my trip in the next installment, in which I’ll cover our late arrival at SFO and our ultimate end-of-flight experience at Dulles International Airport, where everyone seemed twice as officious as our in-flight steward.

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