in Complain

Houston, Texas

“Oh, your Austin connection is leaving from C17 in in C Terminal. You have to take the inter-terminal shuttle to get there. Walk down to the end of this terminal until you get to gate A2. That’s where the shuttle is.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

Sigh. I know where the shuttle is. It’s right there under the blinking sign that says, “This is the part where you have an hour-plus layover, yet you still have to hustle to make your connection.” I’ve written before about what an unmitigated infrastructure embarrassment Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is, so I’ll spare you most (but not all) of my personal vitriol. It’s like an unindustrialized country’s “My First Airport.” Did you read that horrible story last week about the DC-9 in Congo that failed to takeoff and smashed into the crowded market at the end of the runway? That’s what the Houston airport is like, instead of innocent Africans being caught in the angry path of industrial deterioration, it’s big fat fucking fatasses from Texas getting caught, I don’t know, being fat and stupid in the path of me being cosmopolitan and judgmental.* Insert “Houston, we have a problem,” joke of your liking here. I’ll wait.

I approached the end of the terminal and encountered a large woman on a stool reading a newspaper. It was a typical gate, but all signs indicated this gate was set aside, out of the limitless kindness of Continental Airlines’ hearts, specifically to whisk travelers like me from one terminal to another. I would prefer an airport that was designed by people who design airports like people who are not idiots, but, you know, thanks, Continental.

“Is this the shuttle that goes to Terminal C?”

Looking up from her classifieds, “Yyyyyyyep.”

I stepped toward the jetway door. Let me rephrase. LIKE AN IDIOT, I stepped toward the jetway door. The resulting admonishment was administered in an incredulous tone not often heard outside the DMV. I swear this is a direct quote.

“Whoa there! No no no! You can’t walk down that jetway! In fact, you couldn’t even open that door if you wanted to.”

I could not walk down that jetway. I could not even open that door. Even if I were to have wanted to have. Thankfully, my expectations were already appropriately low. I took a deep breath.

“What am I supposed to do?”

“You’re supposed to wait over there until another bus gets here.”

“Oh, okay, thank you.”

I took my place over with the other three idiots who had dared try to transfer from terminal A to terminal C. We waited. A fellow idiot appeared on the horizon doing the Tight Connection Shuffle with a roll-aboard and a laptop bag. The other idiots and I said, “This ought to be good,” to each other with our eyeballs. It was good. The jetway door, which she had opened, was slammed closed in his face and she demanded to know just where he thought he was going. He needed to get to terminal C. Well, he can just wait for the shuttle with everyone else. You didn’t have to slam the door in my face. As he joined us, we all nodded sympathetically, eyes closed, teeth clenched.


“Is your connection to Atlanta on Continental or Delta?”


“Oh, you are flying out of terminal A. You have to take our inter-terminal shu-”

“Yeah yeah yeah. Thanks.”


Despite the fact that I had booked the entire itinerary on Continental (via my corporate travel portal), this IAH-ATL leg, like the ATL-IAH leg the day before, was being operated by Delta. Never mind my primary gripe about not earning points on other airlines with names other than Delta, this multi-carrier shit is just confusing. I can’t imagine a family who doesn’t travel very much on vacation with their kids trying to navigate this cluster. Why couldn’t I have just booked the flight through Delta? Oh, that’s right, because that would have cost $1200. I want to fly Delta because it’s where I’m comfortable and it’s where I earn points. And because they are based in my home city, I want Delta to succeed, yet here I am on a Delta-owned-and-operated jet and my money went into Continental’s pocket. HEY, SOMEONE SIGN ME UP FOR THAT MBA PROGRAM!!

Back on the shuttle [note to self: come up with word that captures phrase Business Traveler's Short Bus, over], I met a man in an oddly similar situation as myself. He got on the bus and told the driver he was headed to Atlanta. He took the seat next to mine and said, “You know, even with a long layover, you kind of have to hustle around here don’t you?” I imagined this must be what it feels like to make a breakthrough with a therapist. Many emotions flooded forth, but they came out as the phrase, “This is the worst airport I’ve ever experienced.” He agreed, though I could tell he wasn’t the type to join in on venting through vilification so I let it go. We talked a bit. He is from somewhere near Madison, GA. He was quite a bit older than I, but we were pretty much the same; Powder blue shirt, black slacks, black dress shoes, small combo roll-aboard bag, both heading home from one day in Austin.

We chatted as we walked toward the gate. His cell phone rang and he stopped to dig it out. We were being friendly, but we were still very much traveling strangers, so I kept walking. A few seconds later, I heard, “Hey.” Then again, “Hey.” I turned and it was him about a hundred yards back, waving me back toward him. I walked back and he motioned toward the Continental Presidents Club. “We’ve got about 40 minutes until we board. I could get you in here as a guest if you want relax for a bit.” Absofreakinlutelythankyouverymuch. Once inside, he said, “Make yourself at home,” and wandered off. So, for the next half hour, with my feet up, I sipped free bourbon while catching up on email via free wi-fi. I wanted to board early because the flight was on a small regional jet and carry-on space is a super premium, so I left a little early and thanked him on the way out. Never got his name.

When I arrived at the gate, I was dismayed to see that boarding had already started. My seat, I presumed, would be something along the lines of a middle seat in the back over which everyone on the plane would have to climb to reach the bathroom. When I handed my boarding pass to the gate agent, I expected her to laugh, slap me across the face, and shout, “GET ON THE PLANE, MAGGOT!” This explains my surprise and disbelief when the boarding pass scanner beeped the most magical and succulent of all beeps. “Here’s your new boarding card, Mr. Simon. Seat 1D.” There aren’t enough double-us in the entire English language to convey the AWWWWWWW YEAH that I felt.

I sank into my seat, sipped another bourbon, and played All Songs Considered: A Band to Call Your Own II. The first song that came on was Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.

* I’m really glad the worst places I have to fly through are places like Texas and not sub-Saharan Africa.

  1. Magical upgrades aside, that is a great installment of A Band to Call Your Own, and Five-Eight (the band I call my own) is on it.

  2. I moved from ATL to Houston almost 3 years ago, and I curse that fucking airport every time I have to fly out of it. Which is almost always.

  3. Heh, Kelly has to fly into Houston next week. She’ll be stoked.

  4. Coupla things:
    1) Totally agreed that IAH blows dead bears. My favorite part of navigating that airport is dodging the seemingly hundreds of Continental motorized carts that barrel through the pedestrian filled hallways of the terminal. “Narrowly escaping death: just another part of the IAH experience.”
    2) Not sure from your post if you are aware of this, but you can earn Delta miles on Continental flights – just use your SkyMiles number when you book the ticket. I’ve even earned Delta miles while flying on non-rev Continental tickets.
    3) Magical upgrades are beautiful little karmic gifts.

  5. Dave,

    I just checked my Delta account and I did get SkyMiles for the trip. I entered my Delta info when I booked, but just assumed I would get the screw in the end. Pleasant surprise indeed.

  6. I recently had to change airlines mid trip in both Phoenix and Orlando. In both airports, I had to go through security again in order to get to the proper terminal. Orlando required 2 seperate shuttles and a security line. If only I had any idea where to send my complaints.

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