There are airline travel horror stories and there are passenger complaint letters, and then there's this classic, written long before Congress passed airline passenger protections. It was addressed to “Anyone Who Will Listen” at the airline once known as TWA.
The date is illegible, but according to a faded photocopy provided by Cristine Crine, who once worked at TWA public relations and kept it as perhaps the most memorable customer letter she ever received, it appears to be from 1980. The writer is David Stone, then of suburban Philadelphia.
I received your long-awaited bill today, and I am taking this opportunity to respond.
It is indeed a response I have thought about for weeks, one of temperance, indignant pap, and remarkable patience. Pap and patience. Sounds like Dickens, doesn't it?
To the matter at hand.
I was aboard Flight 563 on Wednesday, November 26th, heading from Philly to Indianapolis. I don't know if any of you people realize it, but we didn't quite make it. Not on schedule. We were forced by the weather to land and spend the evening in wonderful Downtown Columbus, Ohio.
I totally understand the reasons for landing in Columbus. I have nothing but praise for those decision-makers of the air that you people hire to transport unsuspecting consumers all around the world.
My complaint — my loud screeching bitch of the year — actually begins the next morning, Thanksgiving Day, as the phone rings in my semi-tolerable Hotel Hogan room, circa 1931:
“Good morning, Overly Cheery Hotel Lady, what's the story?
“Your bus is leaving for the airport in one hour.”
“Terrific. Happy Thanksgiving.”
My mind is now racing with the wonderful thoughts of still making it to Indianapolis by noon, in time for a little football, a little turkey, a little drink, a little sex, a little something other than Columbus, even a little Columbus.
As the bus pulls up in front of the hotel, we learn that indeed it is a bus to the airport. The Indianapolis airport.
All right. I'll buy that. I figure we'll still make it my two o'clock. OK, I'd have to forget the little sex in order to catch the second half of the football game, but in emergencies like this, some sacrifices have to be made.
Then I made the fatal move. The one that I would curse for weeks. It was just about the stupidest thing I have ever done. If not stupid, regrettable.
I STRODE ONTO THE BUS. I ACCEPTED MY FATE.
Because you see there was one little problem with the bus that TWA put me on, that miserably cold November day: THERE WAS NO HEAT. NONE. ZIP. ZERO. THE GODDAM BUS WAS FROZEN INSIDE. DO YOU CLOWNS HEAR ME?? FOR FIVE INCREDIBLE, RIDICULOUS, NEVER-ENDING HOURS I RODE A BUS — ON THANKSGIVING DAY, MIND YOU — THAT WAS SO COLD I COULD SEE MY BREATH. EVERY MINUTE, EVERY SECOND, EVERY MOMENT OF THAT FOLLY YOU PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO BILL ME FOR I COULD SEE MY BREATH!
I couldn't even read the newspaper. It's real hard turning pages wearing mittens.
Upon arriving at the beltway that surrounds Indianapolis, the most remarkable thing was said by our driver, Admiral Byrd. This gentleman, that TWA had hired to drive this disaster down the straight and narrow road called I-70, turned to the seven of us on this particular bus and said (are you ready for this, Charles Tillinghast?) “Does anyone know where the airport is?”
It was a play. Beckett. Possibly Ionesco. Probably The Three Stooges.
I turned to the only other passenger that had figured out a way to produce a sound from bright purple lips and said, “Let's get off. Anywhere. Now.”
So at the next gas station, which turned out to be a Marathon Service Station, which only seems funny now, we got off, called our respective friends to come pick us up, and that ended an awful experience with Trans World Airlines.
But I can't help but wonder about those five people in that bus. Like those poor people in Lost Horizon, they could still be rambling around hunting for a kind old Sam Jaffe to save them.
So I ain't paying a chunk of that bill, folks. Also please find unused ticket from Washington-Indianapolis-Washington.
Credit that, please.
The worst part of this whole thing is trying to get you people to take me seriously. All of this really happened.
What also really happened was a noticeable decline in my health and happiness over that holiday weekend. I got a cold, sore throat, a horrendous cough that screamed in my lungs for weeks.
Now I'm not a crybaby, mind you. I'm not talking about filing suit or anything nasty.
BUT ALL OF THIS IS THE TRUTH. AND YOU PEOPLE HAD BETTER KNOW IT.
If I would have had a child with me on the trip — God, if there would have been an infant on that bus — then your ass would have been in court for a whole long time, maybe as long as it would take hell to freeze, or your bus to thaw, whatever comes first.
Picture, once again, a man who thought he would be in Indianapolis Wednesday, on a bus Thursday noon, still hours away from his destination, extremely cold because your vehicle has no heat, and with a bus driver who has no idea where it is exactly he is supposed to be driving!
And with that thought, cough, cough, Merry Christmas, and good luck getting my check.
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