Bitch about air travel : LUSENET : like sands : One Thread

I know that everyone has an air-travel horror story to share...

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000


A flight on a Southwest jet from coast to coast. 0 meals served. Hope you like peanuts...

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000

My worst flight ever was not this last one, but it was on United.

I was in college in Chicago, and I was going home to Massachusetts for Spring Break. The flight was to leave at around 11 a.m., and the trip usually takes about 2-1/2 hours.

I wasn't too worried when it started snowing early that morning--I figured that of all airports, surely O'Hare should be well-equipped to handle snowy conditions.

Well, I was wrong. At that time, the airport only had two de-icing machines (it may have more now). Anyway, this meant that the busiest airport in the country could only have two planes taking off at a time. However, flights were coming in on their normal schedule, so to open up the gates, outbound flights were being boarded at their normal times and then sent out into the field to wait in line for de-icing.

We waited, and waited and waited. The captain and the crew were actually pretty good about keeping us updated on the status of things, so we heard about it when one of the de-icers ran out of gas in the middle of the airfield, effectively disabling it for an hour or so.

I hadn't eaten anything that day, and after a few hours, I was starting to get really hungry. It was only a short flight, so the only food they had on board was pretzels, and after a few hours, they'd run out of drinks, too. Meanwhile, I was trying to call my parents on the Airfone to let them know I'd be late, but apparently, everyone else on every other stuck plane had the same idea, because I couldn't get a signal.

Finally, after about 7 hours on the runway, the pilot announced that they'd been sitting with the power turned on for so long that we probably didn't have enough fuel to make it to Hartford, so the flight was being cancelled. At this point, the news came as almost a relief-- at least I'd be able to get off the damned plane and get something to eat. But it was not to be--although the flight was cancelled, there were no gates available for us to return to! They told us we'd probably be waiting for several more hours.

But then, about 30 minutes later, we'd made enough progress in line that the flight was un-cancelled! 8 hours after we were scheduled to leave, we finally took off, and had an uneventful flight.

I got in just after midnight. You know how the flight attendants usually stand at the front of the plane and say "bye" to you? Well, at the end of this flight, they all ran off the plane and into the terminal and lit up cigarettes. To make matters worse, nobody was there to meet me. It turned out that my mother had called the airline during the time that my flight had been cancelled, so she thought I wasn't coming in that night. I had to call my parents, wake them up, and then wait for them to make the 45-minute drive to the airport. On the way home, I still hadn't eaten all day, but nothing was open at that hour, so I had to wait until about 2 a.m. to eat. Ever since then, I ALWAYS bring food with me when I fly.

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000

Southwest coast to coast??? Man, that's a circle of hell Dante deliberately left out of the manuscript so as not to frighten people overmuch....

Having said that, I must add that I don't mind Southwest, although that's because I only fly it when going from Chicago to southern California to see my folks, and hence they are paying for the ticket, and free travel is like unto gold to me. Also, they fly into Burbank, which is much more convenient than LAX, and no major airline flies O'Hare-Burbank direct (not even United), so I'd have to put up with one change of flight anyway. The last few times I flew them, they often had mini snack packs for the longer hops (Kansas City to Las Vegas or Phoenix), so I even escaped the all-peanut brigade.

Actually, I have no horror stories to tell. A five-hour delay at Washington National is pretty minor. But I shouldn't say that, because I'm about to fly Bucharest-Paris-Chicago with excessive luggage and an untranquilised cat, and the Airline Deities might figure that my turn has come....

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000

Air travel is evil. You're in a metal tube full of squalling brats and genetic defectives, held aloft only by the power of mathematics-- a subject in which I never ever did well, a subject which is actually Black Magic: some geek who does not speak English as a first language drawing arcane symbols on a blackboard and saying, "As is obvious by inspection--"

Bernoulli... Who the hell was Bernoulli and why should I trust him?

You're aloft in a Death Machine, held up by math, subject to the whims of a corporation committed to maximizing profits and "cutting fat"... just waiting to die horribly every time you feel any rough air or hear the engines change pitch.

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000

I've been on dozens of flights all over the planet and never had a problem. I've never had my luggage lost. I've never had a flight cancelled. I've never had a flight delayed more than 30 minutes. A couple months ago I was late to the airport and missed my flight but United put me on another flight that left an hour later free of charge. I have a bad feeling my luck is going to run out!

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000

Last month, I attempted to fly from South Bend to Albquerque with my wife and twin three-year-old stepsons. We arrived the recommended hour early for our flight.

"At least we have plenty of time before our flight," my wife said as our cab pulled up to the terminal.

"You probably have more time than you know," the cab driver said. "Half my fares from this airport are going to Chicago because their flight out of here has been canceled."

We chuckled and went into the terminal. As we got in line to check in, I noticed on the monitor that our flight had, indeed, been canceled. That meant, first of all, that we'd miss our connection in Chicago. Then we found out from the ticket agent that the flight we were going to miss was the last flight of the night from Chicago to Albuquerque. The next one was at eight the next morning, and to make it, we'd have to take a 5 a.m. flight from South Bend.

After some discussion, we decided to take the next flight to Chicago that evening (which was at 8:30). We didn't want to take a cab back home, and we didn't want to have to wake up for a five o'clock flight. The airline agreed to put us up in a hotel in Chicago that night.

It wouldn't be much of a horror story if it ended there. But after the ticket agent made a call to get us a hotel room in Chicago, she hung up and told us that all the hotels in Chicago were full. Not a room to be had anywhere.

"If we take this flight anyway," my wife asked skeptically, "do you think they'll be able to find us a room when we get there?"

"I would think so," the ticket agent said.

So, probably unwisely, we decided to fly into to Chicago and take a chance on getting a room. Anything to get out of South Bend.

The airline (American) graciously offered to buy us dinner at the airport restaurant while we waited (two hours) for the 8:30 flight. While we were eating, I got a premonition of doom. I excused myself and went out into the terminal to check the monitors. Sure enough, the 8:30 flight to Chicago had been canceled.

At this point, we were absolutely desperate to get out of South Bend. We would have ridden on the backs of geese if we'd noticed any flying toward Chicago. American had one more flight going to Chicago that night, but they gave up on us; they got us on a United flight. It was supposed to leave at 9 p.m. We checked in and went to the gate to wait.

And we waited. The incoming United flight from Chicago, the plane we'd be taking back to O'Hare, was delayed. We waited. Finally, forty- five minutes late, we saw the plane's lights emerge from thunderclouds in west, lightning flashing behind it. It came to the gate, we got on board, and we taxied out to the runway.

"We've been cleared for take-off," the pilot said, "and we should arrive at O'Hare in about 40 minutes."

We reached the end of the taxiway, and we stopped.

"I spoke too soon," the pilot said. "Air traffic control is reporting congestion at O'Hare. They're keeping all flights going into Chicago from all over the country on the ground to avoid traffic problems. It looks like we're going to sit here for awhile."

So we sat. For about half an hour.

"We still don't know how long we're going to have to wait here," the pilot said finally, "but we have to get this plane back to Chicago sometime tonight. You're welcome to stick it out and go with us, but if you want to go back to the gate, we'll let you off."

None of the seven people (including the four of us) on the plane wanted to get off. We were finally on an airplane, and we wanted to travel. Another half hour went by.

"There's still no indication that they'er going to let us go anytime soon," the pilot said. "We're going to head back to the terminal. There will be an agent at the gate to help you figure out your next step."

Our next step was unclear. During the time that we'd been sitting on the taxiway, that 5 a.m. flight to Chicago had filled up, so we wouldn't even be able to make the 8 a.m. flight from O'Hare.

American Airlines' solution was to put us up in a hotel in South Bend, then pay for us to take a cab, 80 or so miles, to Chicago to make the 8 a.m. flight. So around midnight, eight hours after we arrived at the airport, we checked in to a hotel room, having managed to travel less than one mile, and in the wrong direction, no less.

We got up at 5 a.m. the next day, got in a cab and rushed to O'Hare. We had plenty of time because the 8 a.m. flight to Albuquerque was delayed. Seems that one of the plane's seats was stuck in a reclined position, and FFA regulations require that all seats be upright before take-off. After about 45 minutes' work by the airline's crack maintenance team, we were allowed to board.

After all that, we made it to Albuquerque only about 14 hours late.

The return trip was entirely different horror story.

The positive side of it is that I spent two weeks between 7,000 and 9,000 feet in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, and I felt not a hint of altitude sickness.

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000

Scott's comment about baggage reminded me of a story you guys may have read in my diary a few years back. I've actually had my luggage lost three times, but only one was really bad. It was when I was flying back from the Neuroscience Conference in New Orleans. I got to the airport (that was a story in and of itself--the cab I took there broke down on the highway) checked my baggage in and then went over to wait for my flight. However, about 30 minutes after checking in, I happened to look at the baggage claim check stapled to my ticket envelope and noticed that it had someone else's name on it. Apparently, my bags were going to a place called Wichita Falls.

The flight my bag was on hadn't left yet, so I found a gate agent and pleaded with them to take my bag off the plane. They wouldn't do it. All I could do was fly back to Boston and fill out a lost baggage form there, which I did. It should have been a trivial matter for them to retrieve my bag, because I knew exactly where it was, but this turned out not to be the case.

The baggage office called me the next day and claimed that nobody in Wichita Falls could find my bag. I presume that this was because it wasn't checked under my name. My bag was "lost" for several days, until it finally turned up in Wichita Falls. What a surprise!

Unfortunately, Wichita Falls, which is in Texas, is such a podunk little town that this airline only operated flights out of there twice a week, so I had to wait another few days for the airline to actually get me the bag after they found it.

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000

Oh, and in response to Lohr's comment, at least with air travel, you don't have to worry about falling off the edge of the earth.

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000

I've had a few minor problems - nothing so bad as compared to the ones I just read...

Diarrhea. It's a very bad experience to be on a plane flight with an upset stomach. I am very careful now with what I eat before a plane flight.

I've been to Colorado twice. The first time I didn't feel any sickness, but the second time I did. I felt very lightheaded and lost my appetite. I did feel better after a few days of being there. I think it just takes time to get used to it.

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000

I took turns with other passengers sitting on a belligerent drunk the last half of a flight from England to Canada.

-- Anonymous, August 08, 2000

This is not my story, but my mother's. I myself haven't had a really terrible flying experience.

Anyway, my mother's conference in Birmingham was over, and so she took a flight back that involved a conneting flight to Paris. On arrival at Charles de Gaulle, she discovered that her flight to Manila had been cancelled and she had no option but to stay there overnight.

The airline (I'm not sure if it was Air France) said there was not much they could do. Mom can be very authoritative and when she started getting angry, they relented and said they'd get her a room at some nearby hotel.

Fine. So my mom attempts to leave the airport. At the gate, two security people ask for her visa. Of course, mom doesn't have one. To their credit, they were very courteous and accomodating, which in my experience is unusual in French officials dealing with foreigners. They said the airline should provide her with an overnight visa.

She walked and walkway-ed back to the airline desk and got them to do the overnight visa thing, which involved some more red tape. Finally, she had the visa, and stopped to make a call home. After getting off the phone with my dad, a South African guy asked her how she'd managed to get all that done. Apparently, had the same problem and hadn't thought to ask his airline for help. He was intending to spend the night in the airport itself.

The next day, my mom made her flight and finally arrived here. No sooner does that happen when she finds out her luggage had taken a different flight to Hong Kong and might possibly take an extra day arriving.

The luggage did arrive in good condition, fortunately.

-- Anonymous, August 09, 2000

The Eastern/PanAm/Trump/Delta/whoever Shuttle was one long horror story during the years I regularly flew it for business. (If it was me paying, I took Amtrak or the Dog.) The worst episode involved a snowstorm in Washington that closed National for 24 hours.

When I finally got on a plane, they hadn't de-iced it properly. So at the end of the flight we circled LaGuardia for what seemed like hours, and finally the pilot got on the PA and admitted that the flaps on the wings were frozen in place, so we'd be landing at JFK because the runway there was longer (but there was still a chance we wouldn't be able to stop and would crash straight into the Arrivals building, he implied). All the believing passengers said their prayers. We landed safely, and then all the passengers started cursing because they were now at the wrong airport.

My pet peeve about air travel these days, besides the obvious one of having no room to breathe, is that every airport in the world has added so many gates you need an hour to make a transfer, and still every flight I take seems to not rate a gate. You have to go to a pseudo-gate and be run out to the plane on a standing-room only shuttle bus. This is just insultingly bad engineering, like trains-to-the-plane that are actually trains-to-the-bus-to-the-train.

-- Anonymous, August 09, 2000

I generally fly Delta, and they have a decent safety record. But nonetheless-- the more I think about flying, the less happy I am. Flying is about being in a metal tube, buffeted by unseen forces, and held up by the power of math. And you're packed in with all sorts of appalling people and told to sit still in some cramped seat.

Given any kind of choice, I'll take a train.

-- Anonymous, September 09, 2000

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