Wednesday, February 06, 2008

foredoomed to fail

In the course of one day of (attempted) air travel, my fellow passengers and I experienced the following inconveniences:

  • weather delays;

  • a computer problem that caused every Delta employee and every person in the airport, with the exception of the gate agent and the flight crew, to believe that our flight was leaving at 3:30 rather than at 2:30, when it actually left;

  • gate agents who refused to reopen the gate or tell the pilot about the computer problem "because of FAA regulations," even though the plane hadn't moved and it was the computer glitch that caused people not to be in the boarding area;

  • a flight that was allowed to take off with luggage belonging to passengers who hadn't made it onto the flight, in spite of FAA regulations;

  • a several-hour wait for the next flight;

  • more delays;

  • flight information that disappeared from the screens throughout the terminal and in the boarding area more than an hour before boarding began, causing several passengers to fear that they had somehow missed this flight as well;

  • a paranoid passenger freaking out because there were some Middle Eastern men on board

  • seat changes for "security reasons"

  • a lengthy de-icing process;

  • knocking in the engine;

  • an engine de-icing and testing process that took an hour and a half, even though we'd been told that we couldn't leave the boarding area because it would take only 20 or 30 mintues;

  • the sound of an alarm going off a few minutes after take-off;

  • the smell of smoke in the cabin area;

  • the sight of a flight attendant sprinting down the aisle with a worried look on her face;

  • an emergency landing that took a really long time, apparently because they had to get fire trucks into place first;

  • gate agents who had no idea what was going on or when we'd ever be able to make it to Oklahoma City;

  • after 12 or more hours in the airport, a return to our own homes if we lived in Salt Lake City or an uncomfortable night in the airport if we didn't.

Other notes:

One passenger received an email and a phone call from Delta telling him that the flight had been pushed back until 3:30, and when he checked in at the curb at 2:00 or so, they told him that his flight was leaving at 3:30. The gate area was crammed with people, due to the weather delays earlier in the day, so he decided to wait in the lounge until closer to the departure time. And then the plane left without him, but with his luggage.

Another passenger apparently was actually in the gate area and still missed the flight. Around 2:15 or so (if I understood her story correctly), she asked the gate agent if this was the correct gate for Oklahoma City. The gate agent said it was, so the passenger found a seat nearby to wait for departure. About an hour later, she began wondering when they were going to board the flight. She asked at the gate, and the agent said, "Oh, well that flight already left. You missed it." The passenger pointed out that the gate agent knew that she was on that flight and that she hadn't left the general gate area, so the agent obviously hadn't tried very hard to announce the departure. The gate agent refused to care.

After our second deplaning procedure on the second flight, the gate agents told us that we definitely wouldn't be leaving that night and they didn't know what would happen with rescheduling. They said the morning flight was booked, but ExpressJet might book an extra flight in the morning to take care of all of us. However, if this happened, it wouldn't happen until 3 or 4 in the morning, so they couldn't tell us anything at this point (around 1:30 am). When I called at 6 in the morning to find out what was happening, the Delta employees I talked to thought I was making up all this stuff about ExpressJet maybe scheduling an extra morning flight. They said that the next available flight was the 7:30 pm flight that night, so they booked me on that flight. However, it turns out that at one point an extra morning flight was indeed scheduled, for 8:15 am. One guy who had paid for a hotel room that night apparently went back to the airport for the 8:15 flight, only to discover that it had been canceled. Another passenger, somewhat luckier, got woken up by a phone call from Delta at 5 in the morning to tell him that the 8:15 flight had been canceled. So, the flight was apparently booked and then canceled before I called at 6. They evidently cited "crew problems" as the reason for the cancellation. I'm not sure what kind of crew problems arose between 4 and 5 in the morning, but whatever.

Of course, the people who were just in Salt Lake on connecting flights had a much worse time of it than the Salt Lake residents did. One guy was flying from Boise to Oklahoma City and ended up getting stuck in Salt Lake for 36 hours because of Delta's incompetence and ExpressJet's smoking engines. In exchange for all of this inconvenience, Delta very graciously offered him a $7 food voucher. That's right -- one $7 food voucher to make up for a 36-hour layover. Supposedly, Delta has a quota for hotel vouchers every night, and they'd already canceled too many flights before canceling our flight at 1:30 in the morning. They did helpfully volunteer to bring some little airplane pillows and blankets out so that people could sleep in the terminal, although of course they wouldn't be allowed back in the terminal if they wanted to fetch their luggage so they could brush their teeth or something.

Delta basically refused to take any responsibility for any of this because it was an ExpressJet crew and plane. Well, here's the thing, Delta -- it was your company we paid money to, and it was your name on our tickets, and it was your ticket agents and gate agents we had to deal with. So don't try to shirk all responsibility for the fiasco. Don't do business with ExpressJet if they're not reliable, but don't try to place all the blame on them when you're profiting from the relationship and you're at fault too.

I was supposed to arrive in Oklahoma City at 5pm Monday night. Instead, I got there around midnight on Tuesday. And I had the great pleasure of hanging out in the airport for 15 hours or so, plus driving to the airport twice and boarding airplanes thrice. It was great fun.


todorojo said...

Oh my word

Meg said...

Wow Cindy! That is horrible! Airlines suck.

rosie said...

Remind me never to fly out of Salt Lake.

Cindy said...

It's not like this happens every time one flies out of Salt Lake. It would just be rather boring to read "Today I had an uneventful flight. Security lines were average length, we were delayed 15 minutes in leaving, and our luggage all made it." I've had several flights that were more or less like that.

This flight, though, seemed determined to make up for all those uneventful flights.

Crutches said...

Once, in all my recent trips, I had baggage trouble. First, I was told my bag would be on carousel #4. Then the announcement came that said it would be on carosel #6. After a number of minutes I heard a passenger say they found their bag on carousel #3. It seemed like forever (though it was probably only five minutes) before I found my bag on carousel #1. See!? You're not the only one with travel horror stories! ;)

Cindy said...

That does sound very traumatic. I hope you were able to willing to travel again after the debacle of the baggage. (Say it out loud. It's fun.)

Cindy said...

When I was in junior high, I commented to my friends that everyone has a dentist (or other tooth-related) story. They thought this was a crazy idea, so they asked a random person walking past if she had any stories about teeth. And she immediately launched into a story about getting a tooth pulled. From then on, my friends didn't question my sagacity.

I think one can see the same sort of phenomenon with travel stories.