Rain happens. Planes don’t fly in thunderstorms. Weather-related airline schedule delays are inevitable, and I understand that a delay or cancellation of a flight in one city directly affects flights in other cities.
Yesterday, my work sent me off to Austin, Texas. I was booked on a United Airlines flight from Dulles (outside Washington, DC) to Austin. The flight was supposed to depart at 12:40 pm. I arrived at the airport at 10:40 am – two full hours before scheduled departure. At the self check-in kiosk, the video screen informed me that the flight was delayed & would be leaving at 2:00 pm. OK – not ideal, but not catastrophic either.
The delay allowed me to grab a hearty lunch – there’s a 5 Guys in the terminal. 5 Guys simply makes the best hamburgers – anywhere. In the early afternoon, a rain storm came into the area. Much of the east coast was bracing for thunderstorms. Flights were being canceled and delayed continually. The baggage crew had begun removing our luggage from the baggage cart. Once the rain began, the crew left our bags sitting on the tarmac, unprotected as the rain fell heavily. They sat for hours, as the rainstorm passed over.
The two United Airlines employees assigned to our gate area made only a few announcements as the hours passed. Neither employee spoke English well, and certainly not clearly. English clearly was not their first language. My flight departure time was continually pushed backward – hour by hour. The large cluster of plasma screens with flight departure routinely deleted flight, or marked flight as CANCELED – only to have them switch back to a delayed status later.
Finally, the thick-accented gate attendant announced that flight 7070 to Austin had been canceled. A group of us ran to the United customer service counter to see if they would/could get us on another flight. The line had several hundred people in it. After a wait for more than an hour, the customer service agent told us that the flight had been reinstated, and we were to wait at the same gate. It was perhaps 7pm or so now. The flight was still being bumped back, frequently disappearing completely from the video display for 10 minutes at a time.
Announcements ceased as the hours passed, and confusion & anger grew as the gate attendants spewed out excuses & lies regarding many flights. The customer service desk told us that they had made three announcements to alert passengers that our canceled flight had been resurrected. We never left the gate area, and all our ears were tuned to anything that came over the PA system. No such announcements were ever made.
During the afternoon hours, I met a grandmother and her two granddaughters. They were travelling from Chicago to Norfolk, VA. Their stop in Dulles was supposed to be brief. It turned out to be almost 10 hours. The girls (4 & 5) really became restless as the hours passed – this was their first flying experience. In my iPod was a video of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. With no way to have them both hear the narration, I recited the story from memory – it wasn’t very long ago that Peter wanted to hear this story every night, and it was still committed to memory. The girls were happy, their grandmother was grateful, and I was able to forget that I had been waiting to fly out of Dulles for over 10 hours at that point.
A pilot, first officer & crew was finally corralled well after 9 pm, and our flight actually took off for Austin. While in flight, the attendant announced that the 1st alcoholic drink would be offered for free, and I suspect everyone accepted the gesture. I requested a bloody mary. A cup of ice & a can of bloody mary mix was set on my tray, and the flight attendant left… and never came back with the assumed tiny vodka bottle. I had no fight left in me – I drank the mix and chalked it up as consistent with how United Airlines treated me & my fellow travelers.
I arrived at my Austin hotel at 1:30 am (2:30 am east coast time). After 4 hours of sleep, I was off to teach an Adobe Acrobat class. Ouch.
Weather happens – flight schedules are disrupted throughout the system. United Airlines’ staff, their inability to pass along accurate information, frequent passing of wrong information, the treatment of my luggage, lack of English language skills, lying and inept video displays have convinced me to never, ever fly on United Airlines again.