The first time I encountered Deputy Doofus was a week last Saturday at John Wayne airport in Orange County, California, after flying in via Atlanta. It was around 10pm local-time, despite the insistence of the little clock in my brain that claimed it was actually 1am. The previous 12 hours (time-zone be damned) had involved various forms of travel, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t in the best of spirits as I waited by the carousel for my bag to appear – yes I checked a bag – no I won’t be doing that again on a domestic flight.
My plane-mates and I stood in languid silence as we watched the bags proceed on their perpetual journey around the carousel whose name, if it had one, was “Atlanta”, according to the monitors above. Occasionally a lucky passenger would recognise a suitcase and react for a brief moment as if they’d won a life-altering sum of money until they managed to regain their composure and wrestle their bag away from the scene and re-commence their journey. As we waited, Deputy Doofus lumbered into the scene to offer his valuable insight into the situation. He was about 50, adorned in a loose representation of the airline’s uniform and clearly appeared very happy with his role in the business of facilitating air travel. He approached some passengers standing nearby and asked them in a loud friendly voice if they were from the Atlanta flight. They affirmed his suspicion and he replied:
“Well, the baggage has all been unloaded and it’s coming on to the Carousel right now!”
They expressed mild gratitude for the information and continued to hunt for their luggage on the now busy conveyor. He walked two steps away and addressed me, with exactly the same question:
“Are you from the Atlanta flight?”
“Well, the baggage has all been unloaded and it’s coming on to the Carousel right now!” he enthusiastically repeated.
“Ah, OK.” I said, desperately trying to sound like this was even vaguely helpful, and he went on another two steps, then repeated the procedure for the benefit of the next group of people. It struck me as a very peculiar service for the airline to be offering, after all we obviously had some inkling as to why we were standing here. Perhaps he thought we were confused by the sight all of those big lumpy things going round and round?
Once he was satisfied that everyone in the general area knew exactly what was going on with the bags and our relationship to them, he changed gear; the work was over, it was fun time! He had been accompanied all this time by a short female colleague who had wisely decided to let him do the talking.
“And it’s Jane’s birthday today isn’t it Jane!” he announced, pointing at his colleague. “It’s her birthday!” he repeated to the next group of people standing nearby, as if they couldn’t hear his shouting it the first time around. “I’m embarrassing her!” he continued, and Jane did indeed look embarrassed while she followed him around the assembled crowd. However her look also conveyed a resigned weariness that suggested she had spent time with her colleague in public before.
A week elapsed. Hotel, work, food, drink, nice weather, etc.
The journey home was due to commence with a flight at 6:45am, and so in preparation I arranged with the hotel desk to order a cab for 5:15am.
At around 10pm, as I was preparing to go to bed in advance of the early start, an email popped up on my laptop. It was from the airline and it explained that my flight would be delayed until 8am. So, I put on enough clothing to allow me to schlep down to the hotel reception without causing a scene and travelled in the elevator to the desk. The guy was extremely friendly and understanding and I returned to my room with a comfortable feeling, partly derived from the knowledge I had an extra hour of sleep ahead. Obviously, I’d left my access card in the room and so had to return downstairs to ask the guy, who was slightly less friendly now, to give me another one. But eventually I got to bed and slept.
The lovely, lovely sleep was broken by the harsh sound of my mobile ringtone at around arse-o-clock, or 3:45am whichever is more accurate. On answering the call a robot announced that my flight had been rescheduled. It wasn’t clear whether this was the reschedule I knew about, or an entirely new reschedule so I reluctantly climbed out of bed and investigated the situation, after negotiating the hotel’s crappy wifi captive-portal for the umpteenth time. The airline’s website indicated that my flight was leaving at 6:45 as originally planned, with no indication as to whether the 8am rumour was ever true or mattered any more. Wide awake (that ringtone is really jarring) I acknowledged that the only solution was to aim at the earlier of the two deadlines and stay on the safe side. So, I showered, put on some clothes and returned to the lobby where a new assistant was in attendance. This guy was older, grumpy looking, and wearing an ill-fitting suit jacket over a hawaiian shirt. I explained my predicament and he sighed. “I’m not even supposed to be working now,” he explained without my asking. “I’m haven’t had a day off in four weeks.” Restraining the temptation to quote Monty Python and ask him if he knew his statement was irrelevant, I asked if he could reschedule the cab. Several heavy sighs and a couple of unnecessarily long phone calls later I went back to my room to spend the last fifteen minutes of my time in the hotel rapidly stuffing a weeks worth of dirty clothes into my rucksack. Up until that point I’d be overjoyed with the hotel and genuinely wanted to give them a 10/10 on the customer survey – so much so that while I was waiting in the lobby for my cab I asked the guy if they had my correct email address on file. He faffed about on the computer for a minute or two before saying “I don’t know what you want me to do – send you an email or something? There is no email, it was a web booking.” I was tired and suddenly lacking in enthusiasm for the rest of the conversation and so sat down and waited for the cab.
We got to the airport very quickly – for some reason the roads were relatively clear, who knows why? After taking part in the surreal interactive security theatre the TSA had put on, I put my clothes back on, collected my dignity and went to look for my flight. Consulting the large screen containing details of all upcoming departures I located my flight and was irritated to discover the 6:45 departure time had been amended to…8. It was 5:30 and I had been up, and in a grumpy mood, for 2 and a half hours already but the tiredness was successfully beating down the anger and so I staggered to the departure gate where the departure time was still listed as 6:45, so asked the lady at the desk what was going on. “Look, let me announce this over the PA, because everyone is asking” she said. She announced that there were in fact two flights, one at 6:45 and one at 8. All of the assembled people looked as confused as I felt. I tried to explain about the email and the contradictory phone-call but she looked incredulous and continued to repeat the same story. But whatever was to happen, there would be a way out at either 6:45 or 8 and so I sat down in a sleepy-haze and waited. Many of the other passengers looked non-plussed, and overheard conversations frequently included snippets such as “did you get woken up at 3:45 too?” and “is it 6:45 or 8 that this plane is leaving?” The desk clerk only once offered a suggestion and it was that perhaps whoever had been in charge had managed to obtain another plane and switched it…or something. No-one looked convinced but waited patiently, or more accurately sleepily, for something more concrete or someone who knew what was going on. We had nothing to fear, because the airline had called in the A-Team to clear up the mess: Deputy Doofus!
Wasting no time, he headed straight to the PA microphone and turned on the magic.
“As you may have heard we had to swap out the plane for your flight this morning and although it’s the same type of plane, a 757, it’s a slightly different model and so the seat layout is different. If you confirmed your flight last night and have an electronic boarding pass, your seat may have changed and so you should approach us and we’ll take care of it for you.”
Immediately after he’d finished speaking, a planes-worth of unhappy passengers left their seats and mobbed Doofus’ poor colleague who, up until that point, had been doing a reasonably good job of keeping tempers at bay. She began frantically tapping away on her terminal and before the full wrath of the crowd was upon her she started yelling to anyone who would listen, “it’s alright – everybody’s seat is safe. No-one is affected!” Doofus re-engaged the microphone, repeated his colleague’s announcement and the bitter mob slowly dispersed back to their holding pattern in the seating area.
Eventually the boarding commenced and within a period of around twenty minutes, everyone was on board. A further twenty minutes elapsed during which nothing happened – the most notable instance of nothing being the movement of the plane. We were still attached to the gate and certainly not about to take off any time soon. There was a growing air of disquiet on board which was interrupted by the sound of Deputy Doofus over the plane’s PA system.
“Well, as you probably know there was a whole lot of bad weather in Atlanta that caused a whole lot of disruption to flights going in and coming out, and that’s why we originally moved this flight to 8am, and then found another plane that could take off at the original time. Well, it seems that this information didn’t make it to the pilots, and that’s why we can’t take off. Hopefully, if they believe the flight is due to take off at eight, they’ll actually be here any moment now and then we can take off.”
So the airline had done everything to salvage the flight except arrange for someone to fly the plane. Either Deputy Doofus had been given way too much responsibility or the airline is actually run by Laurel and Hardy, I thought as I desperately tried to sleep and make it all go away. Another twenty minutes of bugger all dragged by. Cue Doofy.
“Well we’re still trying to find the pilots, and right now there’s someone at the gate waiting for them. As soon as we find them we’ll be able to take off. Now, for those of you with a connecting flight at Atlanta, we have representatives there who know the situation and will be waiting for you. If you’ve missed your connection you’ll have been rebooked on another flight. You may know that Atlanta is the biggest airport in the world, that’s the world! They have 750 flights out of there a day! So you will get another flight, and there will be people there to help you.” Then, with a flourish that could only be matched by Alan Partridge he added, “And in case you were wondering what the second largest airport in the world is…it’s Frankfurt.”
Obviously when we reached Atlanta the airline reps didn’t have a bloody clue what was going on, and the only advice I was given was “you betta run!” I did.