Friday, September 10, 2010

Fun with commercial aviation

I scheduled my flights back from Philly yesterday with the idea of getting back in time to spring my dogs from the kennel. Also, by leaving Philly very, very early, I figured I was minimizing the amount of things that could go wrong. I got to the airport at 6 a.m. (and my brain was still on West Coast time, so it felt a heckuva lot earlier than that) and got on the plane to my Minneapolis connection bright and early.

We left the gate on time and were taxiing for takeoff when the plane suddenly slowed and stopped. The pilot came on and said "Folks, we have a warning light. We're going to turn the plane off, then on, and see if that fixes it." Seriously? Most of us passengers weren't too confident in that proposed fix. And, alas, it did not work. So, it was back to the gate, but they wouldn't let us off the plane. "Oh, don't worry, you'll still make your connections. We're tracking it!" said the cheerful gate agent who came aboard. After an hour, the chipper announcement was "Don't worry, we've already rebooked those of you with connections!" Then, a slightly less chipper announcement: "Those of you connecting in Minneapolis, please deplane. We'll give you a card with a phone number that will solve all your problems!" Wait a minute, if I'm already rebooked, who am I calling? Doesn't matter, because no card was forthcoming. We trooped off the plane, and standing in the jetway I heard the announcement: "OK, we need everyone to deplane."

I guess there were about 200 of us on that flight, and they had us all form a line at the counter next to the gate. I was about tenth in line; the rest of it stretched all the way back down the jetway. No one appeared at the counter for about ten minutes. Then, one agent arrived and started helping the first person in line. I guess that took about five minutes. Then he started helping the next person. After a couple minutes of frowning, he left the counter and went somewhere. I don't know if he ever returned. Perhaps twenty minutes later, another counter agent arrived and helped the third person in line. Then, she left (the second customer in line was still waiting for the first agent to come back). There were still 198 of us in line. I finally said "frak this," got out of line, and called the airline on my cell. A nice man rebooked me on a flight to Atlanta leaving almost immediately. I found a different staffed counter with no line, and that nice man printed my boarding passes.

The rest of the day went similarly, although it never reached the heights of ridiculousness of that first flight. You'd think this airline had never had to cancel a flight before! If I'd followed their advice, I'd probably still be standing in line at that unstaffed counter. I'm not going to name the airline, because they did get me back home (albeit late), and I've had similar experiences on almost every airline. What I have learned is not to trust a single thing they tell me, and to use my own best judgment to handle getting myself where I'm going.

I believe Willow is off to Louisiana this weekend to begin some jumper training! I hope they'll send some pix/video. If they do, I'll be sure to share!

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