Monday, May 24, 2010

Do you know the way to San Jose?

You may think this story is not true, but it really happened.

Sometime around 1990, give or take a few years either way (in other words, I don’t remember when exactly), the Information Technology team in our Atlanta office was involved in training new users of our warehouse distribution computer system (inventory control, order fulfillment, shipping, billing, the whole shebang) at several of our company’s warehouses around the country, including installing the system and being on-site during cutover week.

This was no Mom-and-Pop outfit I was part of. It was a big deal.

Anyhow, if I recall correctly, shortly before the cutover to our system at the Rocklin, California, facility (think Sacramento area), the team had installed the system in Phoenix or Denver or someplace. In another week the northern California cutover was scheduled. One of our team members, Tom Thornton, decided not to return home to Atlanta with the rest of us. He told us that he wanted to take some vacation time, stay out west, visit relatives in Los Angeles, and that he would meet us all the following week in northern California. He exchanged his return ticket to Atlanta for one to Los Angeles, and after arriving in Los Angeles he bought a ticket to Oakland. He planned to rent a car after arriving in Oakland and drive the rest of the way to Rocklin so that he could see more of California.

On the day he was due to fly to Oakland, Tom was walking through the Los Angeles airport toward a particular departure gate when he heard an announcement over the public-address system, “Last call for passengers for Oakland, now boarding at Gate such-and-such,” so he changed direction and headed for the new gate, thinking he would try to get on this earlier flight if there was room. This was in the days before the Homeland Security people hovered over every aspect of air travel.

Tom made it to the gate just before the doors were closing and, as luck would have it, there was plenty of room. Very quickly he was ushered onto the plane by the airline’s representative because they wanted to be on their way. He took his seat, the plane taxied out to the runway, and they were off.

The plane headed out to sea and Tom thought, “Oh, good, we’re going to fly over water. I’ll probably get some really good views of the California coastline on this flight.”

After a half-hour of flying west, however, Tom began to wonder when the pilot was going to make the turn to the north and bring the coastline back into view. After another half-hour, the pilot turned south instead of north, Tom rang for the flight attendant and asked, “Why did the plane turn in the opposite direction from where San Francisco Bay is?”

The flight attendant said, “Because this plane isn’t going to San Francisco.”

“I know that,” Tom said, “but Oakland is in the San Francisco Bay area.”

"Oakland?” said the flight attendant. “This plane isn’t going to Oakland. We’re going to Auckland. Our destination is Auckland, New Zealand.”

So the flight attendant went and talked to the pilot, and the pilot turned the plane around and flew all the way back to LAX and deposited Tom on terra firma and he finally arrived in Oakland and rented that car and met us all in Rocklin.

If I were Tom, I think I would not have told my colleagues that story, and he probably wishes he hadn’t either. We had many laughs at his expense for months and years afterward.

As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

The question of how the word “Oakland” on Tom Thornton’s ticket escaped the notice of the agent at the gate who allowed Tom to board the aircraft was never explained. It remains a mystery.


Katherine said...

Oakland/ Awkland ... *very* similar!!! But I have to challenge you...surely, SURELY they didn't turn around for him!!

rhymeswithplague said...

Katherine in New Zealand, they the inconvenience of a whole planeload of passengers! Unbelievable, isn't it? I think that Tom probably didn't even have his passport with him on what was originally a trip from Atlanta to Denver or Phoenix. Could have proved embarrassing to the two countries involved, not to mention the airline, I suppose. So they minimized any potential damage and bad publicity simply by returning him to his starting point.

jinksy said...

Another case of truth stranger than fiction, methinks...

Carolina said...

Great story.
Things like that can happen.
Last year a Dutch grandfather and his grandson went to visit family in Sydney, Australia. They had been saving up a long time to pay for the tickets. Only they ended up in Sydney, Canada. And at first the didn't even notice they were in the wrong country.
When that became clear, Air Canada, who had taken both of them to the wrong Sydney, flew them back to Amsterdam, free of charge.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Great story. It made me laugh but it would have seemed even funnier if you had made the error yourself. Sure you didn't cunningly transpose the name "Tom" where "I" or "Robert" belonged?

Up in the north east of the USA is a little fishing port called Boston but the real Boston is in Lincolnshire, England. So if I were boarding a plane say in Atlanta bound for Boston I would naturally expect to finish up on the coast of Lincolnshire or get my money back.

rhymeswithplague said...

jinksy, stranger indeed!

Carolina, isn't Sydney a suburb of Victoria? So they flew to Vancouver? How funny!

Yorkshire P., ever the cynic, eh? I have no relatives in Los Angeles, my wife's name is not Bessie, and I am definitely not Tom Thornton!

There is a place called Athens not far from Atlanta, and I understand they even have Greek fraternities there, but the bakhlava probably tastes more like grits, and the spanakopita tastes more like kudzu.