Friday, April 4, 2008

Restoration: A Wild Week - Part 1

This has been an amazing week so far, and it's only Friday! On Sunday I was in Florida with family for the wedding of a special nephew. The wedding was over and we were all going home.

On Sunday I spent the entire afternoon looking for an apparently "non-existent" motel where I had a reservation confirmation. It was pretty incredible! Every drop-by, every phone call ended the same: "That's not our reservation number." or "No, we don't have a reservation tonight for Holmes." I had my notes from when I made the reservation, but still we came up empty. As the day grew later, we finally gave up. Our grandson suggested (all on his own initiative) that we take his room in their rental condo and he would sleep on the couch. That's where we finally crawled under the covers in the wee hours of Monday morning!

Monday bright and early - though not quite "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" - we roused, dressed and hurried to Disney World to spend a number of hours with our son, wife and grandchildren doing the Disney thing. Our son and daughter-in-law should go into tour planning if their day jobs ever fall through. We kept up quite a pace, rode almost every ride (some more than once) and even managed a sit-down lunch before we hurried off to the airport to return home.

Then the fun really started! We had paper tickets which I thought had been charged against our AmX "membership reward points" - more on that later. The ticket agent had apparently never seen a paper ticket and wasn't even sure they were real. She fiddled with her computer, punched keys and finally said, "Where did you get these? - pointing to the tickets." After more than an hour standing there with her and eventually her supervisor (who also arrived with an attitude, having only heard one side of the story), we were dismissed with our luggage to carry on our own to the baggage check center. Meanwhile we learned that:
  • the first airline "didn't talk" to the airline for the final flight that night (It was a two-part flight.)
  • that we would have to recheck our luggage in Philly (which proved incorrect info and more on that later, too)
  • that we could only get boarding passes to the first flight and would have to walk to the exact extreme end of the terminal to the "other airline" to get boarding passes for the second flight.
  • and that I had made a serious mistake in booking the flight on two different airline and getting paper tickets. That certainly proved true! (And it cost over $30 to get the paper tickets FedX from Arizona.)

Another interesting detail is that the agent was holding both our paper tickets and our photo ID. At one point (and then again) she walked away from her station with both our tickets and ID out of our sight with no explanation for probably at least 15 minutes the first time and maybe 10 minutes the second time. I'm not sure that's legal, but I am certain that she should not have done so without informing me what she was doing.

Then when she came back the first time from wherever she went she very officiously informed me that we better not lose those paper tickets as we would have to pay full price all over again to get on the next plane if we lost them. Never mind that she had walked away out of sight with them already! I did calmly tell her that I thought we could handle that level of responsibility!

The pressure of all the paper ticket questions, boarding passes, walking away with our tickets and ID and even getting the luggage checked could have been defused with a single sentence from the first ticket agent. She didn't need to be familiar with paper tickets to know - and I am sure she did know from all her looking at her computer screen and punching buttons - that the first leg of our return flight on her airline was already being posted at the gate as delayed for more than five hours. That's all - just a simple sentence of info!

By the time she was going to walk away a second time to "see what she could find out about these tickets" (which she implied we must have produced or procured in some unusual or possibly illegal manner even to the point of telling me that I shouldn't have booked them through AmX and only through her airline), I was frustrated enough to say, "Well, hurry up! We are going to miss our flight!"

At that point, she stopped, folded her arms across her chest and said, "Don't you disrespect me or I won't help you at all!" I was stunned to silence! Whatever happened to customer service? Why didn't she just say we had time to sort this out due to the plane delay? Well, I guess that puts it back to customer SERVICE! And this was NON-customer service or worse!

Finally, we took our luggage to the checking point to put it into the system. The same ticket agent hurried up as we were trying to get the baggage check personnel to take our bags. They didn't want the bags because they didn't have proper routing stickers on them (which I already knew). The agent had some paper bar-coded stickers for routing she slapped on the side of each bag. Then they went into the system and we hurried to the other end of the ticketing terminal and secured boarding passes with the second airline for the second plane.

Now all that remained was getting through security with our carry-on bags and selves and getting to the gate. In the interest of hurrying the security inspection along, I had stuffed everything I possibly could into the checked luggage - BIG MISTAKE!

There was over an hour wait to get through the security lines. Still no one gave out the simple but significant information that our plane was on a 5-hour delay. That one piece of info would have made all the difference. We did finally get through security and without the hassle many others around us were experiencing with having their bags opened, inspected, personal items confiscated and disposed and even some who were having their bodies carefully inspected with various electronic gadgets.

After reading the news and seeing the news the following day about the guy they arrested in the same airport with all the necessary parts to make a bomb including full instructions - IN THE SAME AIRPORT, I have to wonder if that was part of all this picture as well. He hadn't shown up yet, but perhaps they were tipped off to his attempt to elude security. I'm just glad we were well back in PA by the time the "bomb guy" tried to get through security!

Of course, once we saw the posted 5-hour delay at the gate, the pace slowed considerably - slowed to stop and wait.

Finally we boarded the plane, took off and landed in another city. We went to the second gate in another terminal and waited again before boarding the second plane on the "other airline the first airline doesn't talk to"! All appeared normal as we pulled away from the gate and slowly moved back and began to taxi into take-off position. All of a sudden, the plane came to a complete stop on the tarmac. Finally the pilot spoke over the speaker system: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Pilot XYZ. We have not been cleared for take-off by air traffic control. Apparently the baggage people went home early today and failed to enter the weight of the baggage into our computer. We are attempting to get a weight for our on-board baggage so we can be cleared for take-off." We waited some more and then without explanation, the plane took off and landed in the second city.

Eventually we boarded the second plane (on the airline the first airline doesn't "talk to"), took off and finally landed back in Pittsburgh. The trip was over. ALL we needed to do was retrieve our checked luggage from the baggage carousel and meet the friend who was picking us up.

Only one small problem: the light and buzzer came on and the carousel revolved but only four pieces of luggage for an entire planeload of passengers came down the shute. NOW we understood: there was no baggage weight because there was no baggage! So now we got to stand in another line to get a claim file reference number so we could go home a see what would happen next!

The end of the story is that we did eventually receive our luggage intact. AND I certainly learned some VERY valuable lessons. I'm still sorting out exactly what they are but I can tell you they include more careful packing of checked luggage, more calculated travel plans including choosing airlines and connecting flights and even contemplation of never flying again! Of course, that punishes me as it precludes any overseas travel - at least until they build tunnels under the oceans which I don't expect in my lifetime.

Now today I get the "final" surprise: the American Express bill came and the tickets weren't charged against my "membership reward points" at all. They were charged to my AmX card for full price! That battle remains to be fought another day as this is Friday, but never fear - it will be fought! Amazing!

Where was God during all this? Where was my own heart? God was there: present and at work though clearly unseen and sometimes unfelt. My heart is another matter. I went from confident to frustrated to scared then harried and rushed to relieved to land at home only to discover we had no luggage. Because of all the "stuff" I chose to put in the checked luggage, I asked God to please find our luggage. I asked all my praying family and friends to pray with me.

God knew all along where the luggage was! No matter where it was, it was never out of His sight! God saw what happened at the first ticket agent's station, and He knew the rest of the story, too! Our tickets and photo ID's were never out of His sight! God knows what the result of the snafu with the tickets being charged in dollars rather than "AmX membership reward points" and He knows how it will all resolve. The problem is not with God! The problem is with my own heart: Can I trust him with things like suitcases and tickets and flight itineraries and even rude, difficult ticket agents? Can I trust Him with long lines and frustrations? In the end, it's a heart issue! I need Jesus every day to work in restoring ways in my heart because without His help I end up trying to muddle through on my own and then I get scared, frustrated, angry, more tired and all the rest.

So it's about restoration here in the South Hills. It's about restoration when we travel. It's about restoration when we are fearful, frustrated and whatever else AND God is still in the business of restoration. Jesus came to make us new from the inside out. It's a process. It may take longer and harder work for some than others - I happen to be a particular hard-core challenge apparently, but the promise is the same: "Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making His home with men and women! They're His people, He's their God. ... [Then God speaks:] Look! I'm making everything new!" (Rev. 21:4-5, The Message) It's God's sure promise, and He always keeps His word! Restoration is sure for all who give Him their hearts for Him to work at restoring!

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