fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,
fauxklore
fauxklore

Worst Travel Day

This past weekend I had the worst domestic travel experience of my life.

I am qualifying it with “domestic” because of the 17+ hour mechanical delay in New Delhi which was followed by BA permanently losing my bag. (They did eventually send me a check. In British pounds. Insert rant about American banks.) And the missed connection in South Africa with unhelpful and surly staff whose inability to provide rebooking information led me to spend my 50th birthday in the Johannesburg airport. Those incidents were, however, both international.

I was supposed to fly to Denver on Friday afternoon at 4:39 p.m. on UA 467 from DCA. A huge storm passed over a bit before 4, when the plane was arriving at the gate. I figured there would be a delay since nobody was going out there on the ramp to handle bags and, sure enough, they changed the time to 5:15.

We boarded and sat for a while. Eventually, the captain announced that no westbound traffic was leaving due to weather, but that we also had a mechanical issue with lack of power for fueling. And that he would not be surprised if the plane got taken out of service.

At about 6, they confirmed a mechanical issue, and said the part would be driven over from IAD, which would take about 40 minutes and there would be about 20 minutes for the installation. The next update claimed we would depart at 8 p.m.

There is free wifi at DCA. However, due to other planes having weather delays, the airport was crowded enough that the wifi was completely overwhelmed and I was unable to connect. I did manage to call one of my friends in Colorado to tell her what was going on and have her relay the message to folks at the party I was going out for. I also changed my hotel reservation to stay near the airport Friday night so I wouldn’t have a long drive when I was tired. (I did eventually get the wifi to work a few hours later, after they had finally gotten the Chicago flights out.)

At about 7:45 p.m., we heard (via someone who asked one of the staff, as there was no announcement) that the part was not actually there yet because the weather had caused a massive traffic jam coming from IAD. I should note that the captain had been very proactive with announcements but the gate agents were not. I realize they were busy trying to rebook people, but it really helps if the other 200+ people know what is going on.

At maybe 8:15, they said the part was there. Departure time got updated to 8:30, then to 9:05. The lack of information was deafening. At somewhere around 9, the board changed to showing 9:40 and one of the agents announced that the mechanics would make a decision "in a few minutes, maybe 15." Actually, he had to make the announcement 3 times because he forgot to turn on the microphone, but that's how things go.

At 9:30 they cancelled the flight. Right after that I got the latest update (via cell phone), which claimed it was departing at 9:40. They announced that they would work on the plane overnight and everyone was rebooked onto an extra section which would depart from DCA at 8 a.m. There was pretty close to a riot around the gate as people were swarming to get their hotel vouchers (which I was not entitled to as a local). I am not entirely sure how bad things got, but I saw at least 3 police officers dealing with passengers. I did the most practical thing and left.

Of course, this being a weekend, the metro was fucked up. I waited 35 minutes for a Blue Line train (which is supposed to run every 20). Fortunately, my side of the Orange Line was not shut down this weekend (which it is at least once a month) and I had only a 12 minute wait at Rosslyn, unlike the 20 or more I was fearing. The train was, however, as crowded as rush hour, though I managed to get a seat at Clarendon. While waiting for the metro, I changed my car rental reservation. I also called United to try to change from the extra section to a flight from IAD, since I was returning into IAD, but they claimed nothing was available from IAD until 4 p.m..

When I got home, I checked on-line and saw the new flight in my reservation. I also saw that the seating chart was wiped out by the change, so I selected a new seat. I expect a lot of people did not realize they would need to do this and there would be a hostile crowd the next morning. I then tried to get a boarding pass, but only got error messages saying I’d have to do it at the airport. The problem with that is that the metro doesn’t run early enough on Saturdays to get to DCA for an 8 a.m. flight. Needing to allow time for the risk of a check-in kiosk not working, as well as the large hordes of people whose travel had been screwed up that night (there were, for example, flights to EWR that had been cancelled due to weather), I was not looking forward to an early morning expensive taxi ride.

But wait, there was a “change your flight” button on the check-in page. I clicked it and while it incorrectly showed a fee for doing so (well, actually a refare) it showed availability on UA 652 at 8:17 a.m. out of IAD. I picked up the phone and succeeded in getting changed onto that. And I was able to do the on-line check-in.

The net result was a 15+ hour delay. Now, I don’t want the plane to fly in unsafe weather (the first 40 minutes of delay). And I really do want them to fix mechanical problems. My issue is with the poor information flow during the delay. I mean, I am pissed off about the delay, of course, but I understand those things happen. I should be able to get compensation, e.g. reimbursement for the hotel charge for Friday night since the flight cancellation was too late for me to avoid getting charged for that. There is, however, no excuse for the lack of announcements or for every single update I got on my cell phone (and email) coming after the delay had already advanced another half hour or more.

Anyway, the flight on Saturday was fine, except for a reminder of why I like aisle seats. (I was in the window, and the self-absorbed jerk in the middle refused to get out or move her bag, making me climb over her to use the restroom. She then whined for a long time when I tripped over her bag and stepped on her foot. Some people!)

The rental car experience was interesting. There was a bit of a line at Hertz (booked because of a bonus miles plus good rate deal). They said I could avoid the line by using one of their kiosks. This works via a video chat system. I assume the agent is in a call center in India. It actually worked fairly well, but it was weird.

Anyway, I had a good time during the weekend. Getting home involved about a half hour delay leaving (due to weather to the east) and, again, I got my update after the board had already changed to an even later departure time. When we arrived, there was allegedly lightning in the vicinity, so we had to wait 20 minutes or so for the gate. I was glad my car was at IAD, since I would have missed the last Washington Flyer bus.

I’ve sent in a customer care complaint. But I also wanted to document things here so I have all the information if things take further communications.
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