The life of a travel writer involves a lot of travel. Over the years I have had flights delayed, cancelled, even airport changes. But it’s rare to have two serious delay situations; one coming and one going. Yesterday, well, actually really, really early this morning (as in I landed at midnight) I managed to have miserable flight experience both ways.
Flying planes at full capacity is great for the bottom line and understandable. Except when the system breaks down travelers are stranded and the airlines can’t do very little to fix the situation. Weather holds, and mechanical problems not only delay people on the flight, but create a snowball effect that cascades across the country.
On my most recent trip I experienced this dysfunction both ways, in two different airlines.
Trying to Get to Tennessee
Outbound, I took American Airlines from Albuquerque to Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) and then on to Chattanooga (which, by the way, is a great city to visit – but more on that to come). Bad weather over Dallas delayed the plane making it into Albuquerque by two hours, and the continuing bad weather created a ground hold as the packed plane sat on the ground for an hour. I was okay with that. I don’t want to fly in a thunderstorm any more than the airlines.
After sitting on the tarmac for an hour, we didn’t have enough fuel to make it to DFW. We need to stop in Lubbock. And that’s where things went awry. The crew ran up against the limit to the number of hours they can fly without a break. In other words, they didn’t have enough hours left to make it to DFW and we all were going to stay in Lubbock until the next morning.
I was okay with that. Not happy, but it makes sense from a safety standpoint.
As the next step, we all lined up to be rebooked on other flights since our connecting flights were all going to be missed. We also needed hotel and food vouchers. But Lubbock isn’t really an American Airlines hub and they don’t have a lot of staff. The people they did have had to get passengers onto their flights.
Hours went by and no one was helped. The ticket agents were all busy. We waited. And we waited. After the very last flight of the day departed they began to help those of us stranded, standing patiently in line because no one told us it would be hours.
How many hours? At midnight we crawled into the hotel. A total of seven hours after we left the plane. Standing on line because American Airlines didn’t have enough staff.
The Long Trip Home
On the way back from Chattanooga, it was Delta that failed in the customer service department. Mechanical problems on the trip from Chattanooga to Atlanta delayed the plane for an hour. But the time between flights was … an hour. As I landed the plane that should have been taking me to Albuquerque took off. It was 11 am.
Rebooking? Of course. The next direct flight to Albuquerque took off at 8:20 pm. But, oh, sorry, no seats – fully booked. We can reroute you to Salt Lake City and there’s a 3 pm flight into Albuquerque. Yes! Oh, no. No seats. Fully booked. But we can get you on a 7 pm flight into Salt Lake City and then onto the last flight of the day into Albuquerque. Of course, it lands at midnight.
What about food? I’ll be at the airport all day and all night. No problem I was assured by the agents. Find a person in a red jacket – they have food vouchers. No, not any more. Very quietly, Delta stopped giving vouchers to those they have stranded. Pay lots of money for the tickets, accept hours and hours of delays, and pay for your own food.
Anyone for a road trip?