Writing as catharsis

A Kafka-esque nightmare in LAX

Posted in Ranting and rambling by Lachlan R. Dale on June 12, 2014

LAX = primary U.S. jerkport

Welcome to a journey into the gruelling, spiralling bureaucracy of Los Angles airport.

We began our long-awaited holiday dazed and confused at a little after four in the morning en route to Sydney airport. Our path to Cuba was not a simple one. First we had to fly to Brisbane; then to LA; then to Cancun, and then, finally and after an overnight stay, we would fly from Cancun into Habana, Cuba.

Things did not begin well.

I’d heard many tales of caution and woe coming out of LAX; cocktails of excessive airport security and a complete disregard for the comfort, hopes or dreams of the humans who pass through it’s gates. This had me nervous. Despite numerous bored assurances from our travel agent, the timing of our connecting flights looked dubious. Our agent thought it completely reasonable that we would land (hopefully on time) in LAX, clear immigration and customs, collect our luggage, get to the transfers desk, re-check our bags, walk to another terminal and then board our departing flight within a ninety minute timeframe. What she failed to appreciate is the subtle but important difference between a flight’s departure time, and it’s boarding time. We were scheduled to land in LAX at 6am, and had to board our next flight a few terminals away a little after 7am.

Sensing forthcoming doom, I repeatedly asked ground staff at Sydney and Brisbane, as well as hostesses en route to LAX about our chances and best strategy to make our connecting flight. Certainly no one thought we could make it, but they told us we’d simply be put on the next available flight. That seemed no cause for panic.

We hit LAX at 6am as planned, but were forced to sit on the tarmac for half an hour (it turns out LAX Customs don’t actually start work until 6:30am). My sense of doom thickened. With increasing nervousness I consulted a hostess once more. She smiled knowingly and told us to look for ground staff in orange coats at the top of the gate – they would give us an Express Clearance Pass to get us through America’s ridiculous level of security as quickly as possible. Sure; splendid; gracias.

As we hurried off the plane I inhaled deeply to slow my heart. We reached the top of the gate only to find that this orange human did not actually exist. No one was waiting for us. Ominous.

We proceeded, by now slightly panicked, to immigration. Humans amassed like insects, creating long lines with which fate mocked us. Customs were absurdly understaffed. Perhaps this was all intentional; a strategy to sweat out the dealers and mules, to observe with unblinking and binary hawk eyes the body language of all who wished to pass on US soil.

We approached a stone-faced lady who bellowed out monotonous commands to jetlagged travellers. Her job could have been done equally well by a looped and especially obnoxious recording. We asked how we could better our chances of making our transfer. She barked at us to either get an Express Pass, or wait in the longer lines. She showed not single a trace of human empathy; her interaction with us was completely free of emotion. She offered only a stone façade coupled with a withering, bitter smile. Perhaps she was some form of android – or perhaps she is merely a simple human devoid of love of life and damned to the eternal hell of LAX customs.

What should we do? What should we do? We decided to try and run back up to our arrival gate to find the invisible orange coat, but halfway up the stairs were overwhelmed by a stream of new arrivals pouring down. We ran back towards customs, and approached the help desk bleary-eyed. They suggested we speak with the Android of Stone once more. When we protested we were smuggled into the express customs lane by our helper, earning her the ire of her fellow staff. Rule number one is to always follow protocol. Do not let weak human emotions stray you from The Path laid down by the most holy TSA. Your fleshly weakness sickens us meat-ape.

As another man ushered us through the line, I asked him if he thought we could still make our flight. Forgoing all tact he simply burst out into loud, hysterical laughter right in my face. Empathy and courtesy are apparently not in the American national character.

Brutalised and thoroughly disheartened, we waited for half an hour to clear the ‘express’ lane. Our flight had already begun boarding as we cleared customs. We picked up our luggage to walk through yet another visa checking point at the transit desk. This section followed an anarchic process; people swarmed chaotically while a single lady simply yelled and pointed at humans she deemed worthy of clearance. This did little to calm us. When we finally reached her, she refused to take our bags since all hope of making our flight was lost. She sent us trudging off a few terminals away to book ourselves on the next flight. By now it was 7:30am. Truly we were doomed.

We walked a good ten minutes to the terminal. After some stumbling around, we found the Delta Airlines service desk. Surely here we would find help and understanding? Not so. The blunt ‘customer service representative’ behind the desk told us we would have to get on the next flight to Cancun – which was in 24 hours. We did some calculations; this new flight would mean we would miss our Cancun-Havana connection, and would have to wait an extra three days in Cancun for the next available flight to Cuba.

When I asked whether we could simply book another airline to get to Cancun today, our Delta Airlines rep lost her temper and growled “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Not if you want to go home. We’ll have to cancel your return flight.” Surely this was a jest? Surely no airline would cancel expensive flights and strand us out of mere malice? I tried reasoning with the woman, but she was not interested. The answer is no – you’ve heard my threat, now please stop wasting my time sir.

Exhausted, dehydrated, and with mouths agape, we’d truly been battered by the attitude of staff at LAX. They were obviously completely unfeeling as to our plight. We were sleep deprived and slipping into a state of extreme despair, heavily cursing our travel agent for dropping us into this mess with unforgivable incompetence.

After a quick brainwave, I found us a United flight leaving at 10:30am for Cancun. We called our travel insurance provider to see whether we could reclaim these new flights (and resolved to worry about this whole “cancelling our $4,000+ return flights” bullshit later). Our insurer told us that missing a flight due to customs was a grey area, and could not advise us on whether we would be covered. I knew that if I told them the truth about why we missed our flight they would have rejected our claim on the grounds of travel agent incompetence.

We bought the United flights ($540), then decided to check one more time with Delta to see if they could not manage not be total jerks (though at this stage I was half expecting one of them to throw a powder bomb of anthrax in our faces if we dared challenge their Supreme Airportly Authority). We made sure we spoke to another rep; a severely confused geriatric who moved with almost comic slowness to complete each task. As we explained our situation to him once more he stared blankly at us; hands shaking, mouth open wide, half stuttering, before simply repeating our verdict of doom.

Alright, fuck these people: we are getting out of LAX today, and you aren’t stopping us. We left for yet another terminal change. While we were overjoyed when our booking registered at the United check in desk, our hopes were quickly quashed as a big error sign flashed on our screen. We were sent once more into yet-another helpdesk queue. After another twenty minutes of waiting, we were told that although the online travel agent had taken our money for our flight leaving in 2 hours, our ticket status was still pending – and that it could take up to 48 hours to be confirmed.

That is just fucking great. Thank you.

Somehow this saviour of a woman managed to con the system, get us our boarding pass and check our luggage. While we were given no explanation as to what exactly was done, we were too relieved to care.

We passed through yet another queue into yet another another scan and security checkpoint. Our fatigue was getting severe. We found an American style diner and got some greasy food. I rewarded myself for managing not to kill anyone with a giant beer. Our waitress looked at me strangely when I placed my order. It was 9am in LA.

The entire airport seemed to be filled with obese Americans waddling around in a half-daze, loudly and proudly proclaiming banalities;

“OH YEAH, LETS JUST SIT THERE, JUST SIT THERE. OH I’LL JUST TAKE THAT SEAT THAT LADY ISN’T USING IT — ARE YOU USING THIS CHAIR? OH GREAT, GREAT! THAT’S GREAT, WE’LL JUST SIT DOWN HERE. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO EAT? I DON’T THINK I’LL GRAB A STEAK THAT’S TOO HEAVY. I FEEL LIKE A COLA, MAYBE A BURGER…”

…and on and on and fucking on. It’s as if they need to constantly reaffirm that they are indeed sentient human beings — or perhaps they think the mere fact they can think will profoundly impress those around them. Well I can tell you that we are not impressed and we hate you; we haven’t slept in two days, and we would just love you to shut the fuck up.

Blissfully it came time to board. We made our way to our gate only to find our gate had been changed. We arrived at said new gate only to discover that our flight had been delayed by an hour. We wandered LAX aimlessly for a while before collapsing in a seat near the gate. Two kids behind us decided to serenade us with excessively loud video games on their phones, which I was supremely thankful for.

Time passed slowly until our gate was changed once more (just for kicks!). We sat down at the new gate, desperately fighting the urgent to sleep for fear that we would sleep through our boarding call. Right on cue our flight was delayed by another ninety minutes. Fate chuckled heartily. We looked at each other and held back tears. By now our tiredness was extreme; neither of us could keep our eyes open. We were sinking into a deep sense of hopelessness and futility. There were already a few points which threatened to break us. Right now all we dreamt of was boarding the plane and slipping into sweet, sweet slumber.

After an eternity it came time to board. We made our way through to the desk, and smiled an exhausted smile at the attendant. A loud noise bore into our skulls as our tickets were scanned. “Oh, sorry sir but it looks like your ticket has been cancelled.”

My brain could not process this. We were both overwhelmed and on the verge of tears. We were told we had about twenty minutes to buy new tickets before the plane left without us. We ran over to yet another service desk where we were informed the flights would actually cost us $870 (the failed travel agent apparently had access to a cheaper price). I shoved my credit card in his face, heart racing, soul sinking. We were finally handed our new tickets and boarded the plane — but not before receiving a courteous email from the agent notifying us that our booking had been cancelled for absolutely no discernible reason.

On the plane we immediately fell into a deep sleep, awaking only to find ourselves landing in Cancun, Mexico.

There was no relief to be found there. Cancun is a revolting capitalist playground. It is the embodiment of everything wrong with America and the crusts of the earth that it conquers and desecrates through cash; a sordid mixture of Disneyland and downtown Vegas which somehow manages to be tackier than both and is populated by frat movie caricatures; a full 28km strip along the Mexican-Caribbean coast crowded with monstrosities and monoliths with every building, every room and every speaker relentlessly blaring out trance music regardless of the hour while sheltered Americans strut along the streets loudly observing how “THIS IS JUST LIKE VEGAS MAN”.

Dear sweet Lord deliver me from this fucking agony; rain forty days and wash these jerks from my life.