An early “Happy Thanksgiving” wish from the air travel industry


Originally uploaded by nordseemix.

Well, it’s already 4am here on the East Coast and I am finally getting settled in after the obnoxious travel ordeal I’ve been through today (today still wasn’t as bad as the time I got stuck in St. Louis for eight hours during holiday travel season). This picture was taken apparently at Newark Aiport (for you frequent travellers to the New York area, that’s EWR, Newark/Liberty), but that’s basically the view I got for about two and half hours while stuck on the runway at Dulles Airport in Washington today.

When I was buying my ticket for my Thanksgiving trip home, I made the mistake of breaking one of my most sacred rules for air travel: always fly direct. (One of my other sacred rules is to avoid checking baggage as much as possible, but our recent War on Liquids has made that virtually impossible for me.) But given how expensive flights were, I had to compromise and decided to fly from San Francisco to DC and then take a puddle jumper up to Newark (the second leg is only about a 35 minute flight). I even kicked in the extra money to upgrade to Economy Plus for the cross-continental leg of my trip.

Unfortunately, the tiny Dulles to Newark leg is where it all fell apart– by the time I landed in DC, the flight was already delayed and our departure time got pushed back from 8:40pm to 10:30pm– of course, this delay was announced in 30 minute increments, pushing back again every time each successive departure time rolled around, so you couldn’t even really stray to far away from the gate area. We finally boarded the plane at around 10pm, but this is when the real fun started– we sat on the plane for the next two and half hours with announcements coming about every half hour that we would be taking off soon. Do you understand what I am telling you? At 10pm, we would be leaving at 10:30pm. 10:30pm would roll around and then it would be announced that we would have to wait until 11pm. 11pm would roll around and it looked like it would be more like 12:30am. Oh wait, we got moved up in the schedule, so it looks like we’re going to be able to leave at 11:30pm. 11:30pm rolls around and we’re back to waiting another 20 to 30 minutes, so we’re looking at a midnight departure. Midnight rolls around and just kidding, we’re looking at that 12:30am takeoff time again. Eventually, we took off around 12:38am, but at that point I think we had little choice– at some point, they do have to close the airport.

In any case, the hold up was because of “gusty winds” blowing at EWR and causing arrival delays exceeding 90 minutes throughout the evening (according to my Orbitz Travel Brief Update, an unexpected and surprisingly useful service) and of course, that caused a huge backup of air traffic, especially considering the amount of air traffic on the day before Thanksgiving. So, I realize that weather conditions and the realities of air traffic control and holiday travel can’t be blamed on the United service crew or pilots (although people on planes, mine included, seem to think somehow yelling at the flight attendant is going to make something happen), but jerking people around constantly is probably one of the worst customer service things you can do. Personally, I think they– and by “they,” I mean everyone, from air traffic control to the flight crews to the customer service folks– should have been more realistic about the backup at Newark and should have avoided boarding passengers before they had a more concrete departure time. You can’t control the weather and the pilot can’t control whether or not air traffic control gives him clearance to take off/land or not, but I feel like there’s probably a little more power out there to make better choices about estimating when things will happen and perhaps more importantly, won’t happen.

But of course, the whole thing that really tied up the night nicely was that when we finally got to Newark and went to baggage claim: our bags weren’t there. There was a weight restriction on the flight (who knew?) and the majority of the passengers’ bags for our flight were actually put on another flight from Dulles and we had to wait another 20 minutes for that flight to get in and for the luggage to be unloaded.

Oh, what we do to defy gravity and take to the skies!

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