Sunday, March 8, 2009

flier beware, part 1

Last week I flew to Florida for a funeral. I learned that it's important to check the weather, not only at your departure city, but also the city where your flight originates. The plan: catch a US Air flight from Columbus to Charlotte and connect onto another flight to West Palm Beach, Florida.

Oh, yeah. I checked the US Air website right up until we left for the airport. All flights were showing on time. But how clueless could I be? A late winter storm had dumped several inches of snow across the Carolinas before it picked up steam and headed up the east coast. Therein was the foreboding of what was to come.

Arriving at my gate, I got a sinking feeling. First, the gate was crowded, and gates at Port Columbus airport are almost never crowded.

Second, all three flights posted were "delayed." The saintly US Air women working the gate, I am certain, would have flown the planes themselves if they could. They stood at their post for hours, consoling passengers, rebooking them and giving us the grim updates of our delayed flights.

As each update was announced, it was apparent that many of us were going nowhere anytime soon. Flights to and from D.C., Baltimore, and New York were all messed up due to weather delays. Further, a plane at the gate doesn't mean it'll leave the ground if the flight crew assigned to it hasn't arrived on other flights. What they had in Port Columbus, and many other airports, was a mess. A real big mess.

But what I had was an ideal opportunity to study people and their responses to the whole mess.

I opted not to stand in line at the counter right away. What was the point? My 5:45 p.m. flight was delayed indefinitely and I figured I may as well sit on my seat, eat my bag supper and relax.

The people around me had just come off a church youth leadership conference and they were riding a wave of enthusiasm and bursting with ideas for their youth programs. This alone raised my spirits during the long wait.

About two hours past my scheduled flight time, it was announced that they "couldn't find" our flight crew. This puzzled me, so I decided to get in line and learn my options. I figured I could have Bill come pick me up, go home and start over in the morning. Or, I could take a chance on my flight to Charlotte and hope to get a later connection to West Palm Beach.

As I neared the front of the line, things got interesting. A man behind me said, "it would help if those employees could take less than 45 minutes per passenger." Come on, buddy. Gross exaggeration. Then the US Air ladies were told they could put some Wash. D.C. - bound passengers on another flight. I am not kidding, this was their announcement: "if you were on flight 632 to Dulles and would like to get on flight 1198 to Reagan AND didn't check any baggage, please come forward."

A few minutes later, same announcement, only this time they ended with, "and if you checked baggage, come describe it to us and we'll try to find it to put on the flight with you."

I felt like I was experiencing the dawn of aviation, all rules thrown out the window.

Next, a family of three was told there was only room for two of them on the flight. A daughter, about 17 years old, burst into tears. Right there in front of the US Air ladies and about 100 other passengers. Wow, dramatic!

At 9:30 p.m., the stars aligned. My flight had a plane AND a crew and it was time to board. It was pretty clear that my four-hour-late flight would cause me to miss the last flight of the day from Charlotte to West Palm Beach. But I figured the chance might be good that flights out of Charlotte were delayed, too, so I hopped on the plane to Charlotte.

Next: Charlotte!


Anonymous said...

WOW what a patient woman you are - and always ready and waiting for a learning opportunity. you are a nice lady ... i'm glad i know you
and thanks for attending that funeral

barb said...

Why thanks, anonymous. If there's anything that 25 years of raising kids has taught me, it's that I can't control a whole lot. That includes weather and airplanes.

But I can control my attitude ...