Friday, June 11, 2010

Tough Crowd

Yesterday I flew back to Canada. I flew on a frequent flier ticket with United Airlines. The last time I flew United airlines was just over two years ago, and it resulted in a 3 day weekend delay in Washington DC (Dulles airport) due to a major snowstorm in Buffalo. My Friday night flight from Oklahoma City back to Buffalo, connecting through Washington, got delayed, delayed, delayed...and then canceled due to weather.

I remember standing in the line for Customer Service at Dulles airport, listening to the stories of the people around me - we all had reasons why we had to get back to Buffalo, and few were more important than others - although one woman had a very sick mother, so I felt really bad for her. Some people decided to band together and rent a car and drive, but I thought they were nuts. To drive with strangers, through the mountains, at night, with the amount of snow that had fallen? No thanks.

I remember calling Bennie while I was in line to ask him to help me with a hotel reservation, and he kindly got me all sorted out so that by the time I got up to the counter, all I had to do was get my new ticket for Saturday afternoon and then head to a nice hotel just a short distance from the airport.

The next morning I monitored flights before heading to the airport. I noticed that all prior flights to Buffalo were getting canceled, so before checking out, I ended up calling the airline to see if they really thought my flight would go. Of course they didn't really know, but their guess (and mine) was that it would be canceled. So we ended up changing my flight to one on Sunday at noon, surely by then the storm would be over and flights would resume to Buffalo? As it turned out, it was the right thing to change to Sunday, because that Saturday flight did get canceled and I would have been sitting in the airport for another few hours. Instead, I was cozy and content in my hotel room.

On Sunday I checked out and headed to the airport. The faces at my gate were familiar as most were from the Friday night flight and many had spent the entire time hanging about the airport; they were practically living there by then!

But we had a flight, so we were in a happy mood. Until the monitors showed our flight as 'delayed'. Oh no, surely they wouldn't do that to us?! And this delay was for crew reasons - they didn't have a pilot. Are you telling me that they couldn't have given us a pilot from another flight? We had already served our time, they should have delayed a fresh crowd of passengers and let us go. Buffalo passengers had suffered enough, was our philosophy.

But it wasn't to be, I guess computers can't perform the logic needed to feel sorry for us. So we waited and we waited and we waited for our flight crew. Finally we got our crew, finally we got on the plane, finally we pushed back. Everyone cheered. But wait!

The pilot announced that there was a small system problem, we had to go back to the gate to get it fixed. Groans from the crowd. The pilot said it wouldn't take long. It did, it took 1.5 hrs. And they wouldn't let us off the plane. If anyone got off, they weren't getting back on. A couple of people actually did get off. All huffy.

Finally the problem was fixed and we pushed back again. And then we got in line, there were a lot of planes ahead of us. We had been on the plane about 4 hrs, waiting for repair, waiting in line, waiting to go to Buffalo. But now we were #3, almost there. And...

The pilot came on and announced that he could not take us to Buffalo because now he had been working too many hours and he would be in violation. Oh my gosh! Talk about a furious crowd, that was us. We, who had spent the weekend hanging around living in the same old clothes and looking pathetic at anyone who would listen to our tale of woe, had had it. The natives were noisy in their anger and disbelief. But it didn't matter - we headed back to the gate.

By now it was midnight, no more flights, and no more pilots. We were doomed to spend ONE MORE NIGHT in the Dulles airport. And since my schedule had been to fly to Dallas the next morning (from Buffalo), I told United to just send me back to Oklahoma City, where I'd started from on Friday, and I would drive to Dallas. There was no longer any reason for me to fly to Buffalo. But I still had to wait until 6 am the next morning.

Since it was so late, I elected to spend the night in the Dulles airport rather than wait in line for a hotel and then have to get up at 3 am. I wandered around and found a stretch of seats that weren't separated by armrests, plopped down my pillow, covered myself with my coat, and tried to doze off. My bench was not flat and the ruts and ridges dug into my hips and sides, but I made do. And the next morning I flew an uneventful flight back to Oklahoma City, where I got a very nice rental vehicle (brand-new, fully loaded).

What did I get from United airlines for all my inconvenience? Nothing.

And so, I know that the Philadelphia flight 8080 passengers from last night who kept getting delayed are out of luck. They were supposed to depart from the same gate as me, so while I sat waiting for my delayed flight to leave, I got to eavesdrop on the restless crew who kept seeing new flight times get posted on the board. Their aircraft was in the hangar being repaired, don't know why. Their flight time changed by 15 minute increments, the moaning grew. Some people kept going up to the gate agent and asking for an update. Anything to give them hope that they would actually be flying to Philadelphia last night.

The gate agent got on the microphone with his update. "Is your flight going to take off tonight? I don't know, but if I had to guess, I'd guess that it will go. However, that guess isn't worth anything, because I really don't know. I don't know any more than you know. So that's the best I can tell you."

The restless crowd just had to laugh. The agent understood their frustration, and he knew how to relay to them that it was out of his hands. He had probably had lots of practice working angry crowds. Tough job, I wouldn't want it.

I wonder if they left at midnight as their last posted time said they would. I wonder if any of them got any freebies for their trouble. My guess is that they didn't go. But then, my guess isn't worth anything - I really don't know. Just like that agent.


Ann said...

We did something very similar a few years ago coming home from cancun. Checked our bags & everything, just about to get on the plane & they told us the airport here in CT was closed, so we could fly to Atlanta, but wouldn't be going any further! # days later we made it home! Should have just gone back to Isla for 3 days! Very stressful trip!

Jackie said...

I have never had quite that much trouble but after so many flights being cancelled your just want to say “You’re kidding me, no plane and no crew?”