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Thursday, October 23, 2014  |   Madison, WI: 39.0° F  
CITIZEN DAVE: Thoughts and ideas about city building from Madison's former mayor
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Citizen Dave: And hell is called United
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I was a bad mayor. I was a bad husband. I knowingly ate way too much of the bad kind of cholesterol.

As a result, when I died, I went to hell. And hell is United Airlines.

On the first leg of my trip through hell, a United flight attendant asked me to check my perfectly carry-on bag at the gate. Wanting to make a good first impression on the devil that is United Airlines, I readily agreed. That was the last I've seen of my bag. The last I've seen of my camera, which was in my bag. The last I've seen of my REI washable underwear. The last I've seen of two of my favorite shirts, and my favorite socks, and my hiking shoes.

My attempts to get any word on my lost bag were chronicled in my last post. Suffice it to say that the Devil United does not see much need to reunite me with my underwear, or to be helpful in answering questions about its whereabouts.

However, I was able to learn that United changed my frequent flyer number and managed to lose 20,000 frequent flyer miles along with my bag. I would be unhappy about this if United let me use my frequent flyer miles on anything but 3 a.m. trips to Toledo in January.

I descended into a still lower level of United hell on the next stage of my travels. They cancelled the first leg of my trip home, forcing me to rent a car and drive to San Francisco, arriving just after midnight only to find that Simon Cowell wouldn't let me have a room. It turns out that Simon Cowell has a show called The X Factor, which I swear I had never heard of until that very moment.

In any case, apparently what happens on The X Factor is that talented people are discovered and become the next Michael Jackson. Eventually they die of a drug overdose administered by a quack doctor in a lonely, creepy mansion. But that doesn't happen for years. For a long time they are just rich and successful, which means they never have to fly United. This makes it worth winning The X Factor and explains much of Simon Cowell's popularity.

Anyway, Simon Cowell was apparently bringing his show to San Francisco and so we discovered after arriving in town after midnight that there were no hotel rooms to be had within fifty miles of the city, because there are just that many talented people in the greater Bay area who just need to be discovered. They were all snug in their hotel rooms getting a good night's sleep before the day of their discovery. And we were out of luck.

On the bright side, when United cancelled our first flight, we were reunited with the very same light blue Crown Victoria that I will write about in my next post. The Crown Vic is it's own kind of hell, though it does grow on you, I have to say.

So we drove on through the night through some of the less fashionable parts of San Francisco, hoping to stumble on a hotel that aspiring Beyonces had not yet discovered. We had no luck in this regard.

So we turned in the Crown Vic and went to sleep in the airport. Ever slept in an airport? No, you have not. That's because nobody sleeps in an airport. With no flights coming in or out and a handful of poor souls trying to get a few winks the recorded voices continued to remind us about airport security tips. Okay, so technically that one's not United's fault, but at this point I'm blaming the "D" I got in German in 1981 on United.

Having stayed in the airport overnight, it occurred to us that we might as well catch the earliest flight home instead of waiting for the 10:44 a.m. flight that they had booked for us. At 4 a.m., when the ticket counter was supposed to open, we got in line. That line was yet a lower depth of United hell.

Employees of the Devil stood mute behind the counters. The computers weren't working. No United employee was speaking with any United customer. They just weren't in the mood, I guess. Meanwhile, in the less severe level of hell known as the "Premiere" counter, dozens of willing United employees waited on half as many important people. They were joking and laughing. I swear champagne was being served.

Those of us in steerage finally got a break when the computers started working. We were informed that we would not be allowed to talk with an actual representative of the Devil United, but we could now use one of the self-service kiosks. The kiosk allowed us to switch our flight to an earlier one… for $150. I looked at the chaos surrounding me. I looked in vain for a service agent anywhere near steerage. I paid the $150.

Maybe this was all just a bad dream. Maybe I didn't go to United hell after all. Maybe, instead, the forces of truth and justice prevailed and JAL, a wonderful Japanese airline that actually treats people who fly on their airplanes like human beings, has taken over all the planes that United had to give up when it went bankrupt and its CEO went to a very dark, very cold prison in Siberia. Or maybe, better yet, he was forced to sit through all the auditions for The X Factor.

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