“I hope I was able to serve your travel needs today,” said the outsourced voice on the other end of the connection. His accent placed him somewhere in South Asia, certainly not in a stuffy LAX terminal where I was standing making the call. I had a sharp intake of breath allowing me a second to contemplate my hopefully resentful and sarcastic answer but then realized I was not in the mood for such biting humor.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” was my reply quickly adding, “You most certainly did not.”
According to an unfriendly United employee obviously unhappy with his unfriendly minimum wage position, I was late for my check in. United’s decidedly non-customer friendly policy states that check-in must occur at least 45 minutes prior to boarding. Doing so gives airport security more time with their secondary screening of white senior citizens.
The Asiana flight arrived late in LAX. My run from the far-away overseas terminal to domestic check-in almost proved to be successful. And here comes the second culprit in my personal blame game.
I was stopped mid-run by a smiling African-American gentleman wearing a light, comfortable-looking blazer. Apparently this was an airport employee; his photo was laminated to a badge hanging from said jacket. Thinking I was going to be informed to slow down – although outside of the Olympics and your neighborhood park, where else can one spy a significant number of individuals sprinting? – I stopped to listen to this man who asked me for my flight info. I easily procured this memorized information and he calmly told me I had plenty of time. He even went on to tell me exactly which terminal I need to head to.
Thinking I heard the starter pistol fire with his conclusion, I was just about to take off when he then – with that same smile – began to hit me up for money. You see, he wasn’t an airport employee as I am sure you knew from the beginning. I cite jet-lag for my error of judgment. He was collecting money for some sort of charity, although it was probably just for his own wallet. All I had in my pocket was one thousand won – probably worth about one US dollar – that he greedily snatched from my hand proclaiming in satisfaction that his charity accepts all currencies.
I gave up the last of my souvenirs and continued my dash.
But I was late. By 15 minutes. And no one at the United terminal or at their call center a world away was the least bit helpful. The next available flight included a ten hour wait, and with no business class equivalent, I was headed to coach. Stuck in LA, I decided to do what everyone in LA does – head for the mall.
The visitor’s center in LAX was productively-hidden next to the unclaimed baggage carousel and was staffed by a tiny man who more-than-resembled Mr. Miyagi. Unfortunately his wax-on, wax-off advice was no help to this Daniel-san. He told me I should go to the beach at Malibu. I had no intention of heading to a beach with luggage and a laptop so he pointed out two malls for me on a direction-less map. Thank God my taxi driver was much more helpful and dropped me off at the Howard Hughes Center, no more than four miles outside of the airport.
This outdoor mall was as perfect as the weather: a bookstore to waste time in, plenty of eateries to refuel, and a multiplex complete with an IMAX theatre. Even better, there was a bus that went directly to LAX for $1.75; much cheaper than my $15 cab fare.
I arrived back at the airport of my discontent two hours early with a belly full of popcorn and lighter attitude after seeing Little Miss Sunshine, an attitude which immediately became heavier.
United informed me that my 10 PM flight had been pushed back to 1 AM. Numb with wasted time, my first thought was to become even more numb by consuming massive amounts of airport-priced alcohol. Unfortunately, everyone else trapped in this particular terminal had the same thought. The tiny airport bar was packed. I doubt that even Mr. Miyagi could slip in and saddle up to the bar for his after-work hit of sake. Plus, baseball playoffs were about to begin and the Angels game contributed to the crowd.
I attempted to be entertained by the game from afar by peaking over patrons’ heads as I tried to get a buzz from secondhand alcohol fumes. I was successful in neither.
Looking back, I should have rented a locker for my bags at the airport. I should have taken one of those “Stars of LA” tours. I should have called the airport and checked on my departure time allowing me to catch a double feature. I should have changed flights back in the Philippines taking me to Tokyo instead of Korea. But limited sleep and well-more than 24 hours of wearing the same clothes can impair anyone’s judgment.
I find it unfortunate that an otherwise successful and interesting trip to a completely different part of the world – a brand new adventure – ended so dismally in Los Angeles. I also find it unfortunate that LAX is as unaccommodating for its patrons in function and support as Terrell Owens is in accepting critiques from the press. If Seoul Incheon International is the Taj Mahal of airports, then LAX is the dumpster situated behind Lincoln Financial Field. Midway, by the way, would be the living room of your crazy neighbor who owns five cats.
Back at work I was informed that I would be in South Dakota before the year’s end providing another demo. Here’s hoping such plans do not involve thirteen-hour layovers and that FSD’s service outshines that of LAX.