My First Long Delay In A While

Last night I had one of those flying experiences that just leaves me cranky. Let me say upfront the two things I took away from this more than anything:

  • My travels have been so seamless lately. I really don’t remember the last time I’ve had a major delay. I’ve flown over 600,000 miles since the beginning of last year, and don’t actually remember a major delay in that time period. That’s amazing, and it’s not something I put any thought into until I had a flight which didn’t go smoothly.
  • Traveling longhaul is so much easier than shorthaul. Perhaps related to the above, a vast majority of my flying the past two years or so has been longhaul. While jetlag sucks, longhaul flying seems to rarely have any problems. Similarly, most of my domestic flying has been nonstop and on “mainline” aircraft, which might explain the lack of delays there. I think I’ve been on one regional jet in the US all year.

That being said, I still got a bit cranky last night, which kind of surprised me. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t turn into this lady:

When you’re a frequent flyer you mostly become immune to emotions at airports, I think. And you also become more understanding, since you know that stuff happens. But I did find myself getting irritated. Not at the delay as such, but rather the apathy of front line agents.

That brings me to the story of my flights yesterday from Tampa to Philadelphia to Toronto on US Airways.

Tampa to Philadelphia operated on time and the service was what I expected.

US-Airways-Delay-1

On arrival I headed to the US Airways Club. There I got into a bit of a kerfuffle with a fellow passenger/mass food procurer.

US-Airways-Club-1

My layover was almost four hours to begin with, though as long as I have an internet connection I don’t really care where I am, since I can work from anywhere.

About halfway through my layover I got a call from US Airways saying my flight to Toronto would be delayed by 30 minutes. Okay, whatever.

As the original departure time approached I went to see the agent in the US Airways Club and asked if she knew where the inbound aircraft was coming from. She explained it was coming from Detroit, and that the plane had a mechanical there. She insisted it would leave soon, since all the passengers were already aboard.

Okay, fair enough. Since I knew where the flight was originating, I could at least monitor to see when the plane actually left.

So I monitored, and the flight kept getting pushed back. And pushed back. And pushed back. At this point I went back up to the desk for an update. A new agent was working at this point, and she looked at the flight and said “it’s a mechanical, but they’re all boarded and should be leaving any minute.” Right.

I was Tweeting about the delay, and as seems to be the norm at the “new” American nowadays, whenever you even mention them on Twitter they Tweet you. Of course I wasn’t expecting them to actually have any insights.

US-Airways-Delay-4

After that I Tweeted them to (jokingly) ask what they thought the odds were of the flight leaving. They followed that up with the least insightful thing you could possibly say during a rolling multiple hour delay.

US-Airways-Delay-7

And when I told them that, they responded with this useful information.

US-Airways-Delay-3

Nothing beats being told a flight is estimated to depart… three minutes ago!

And then they followed that up by explaining that they mixed up timezones, because Detroit “isn’t on Central time today” (or ever).

US-Airways-Delay-2

In retrospect I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I’d rather not get a response than useless misinformation.

Anyway, the US Airways Club closed at 10PM, so I headed out to the gate. There were three agents working the gate for a regional jet that hadn’t even yet left the previous city, which seemed like an overkill. I figured “great, they’re trying to be proactive with customer service.”

My biggest question was where the crew was coming from, since I was wondering if they were going to time out. That’s a perfectly reasonable question, in my opinion, because over the years I’ve had more cancellations from crews timing out than anything else. Here we’re talking about a regional jet crew working the last flight of the night which is delayed by four hours. They’re usually already working close to the maximum number of allowable hours, so it’s useful to know if it’s the same crew, or if they called in a reserve crew instead.

So the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Excuse me, can you tell me if the crew for the flight to Toronto is the same one coming from Detroit, or is it a different crew? I just want to be sure we’re not going to wait here for a couple more hours only to have them time out, in which case I’d rather just get a hotel now.”
Agent: “Why do you want to know?”
Me: “Because I’d like to know if this flight is actually departing when the plane arrives, or if there’s a chance it will be canceled at that point.”
Agent: “Well whatever crew is scheduled on the flight wouldn’t be if they were timed out.”
Me: “You have a lot more faith in Republic’s scheduling department than I do. Could you please look it up?”
Agent: “It shouldn’t matter either way.”
Me: “I really don’t want to be a pain, but could you please find out?”

She huffed and puffed. Keep in mind there were three gate agents, and none were actually doing anything, so I feel like having her pick up the phone wasn’t too much to ask.

Apparently they gave out meal vouchers if you asked, though I only got one after I picked up food from the only place that was still open. Yup, glamorous jetsetter life, eh?

US-Airways-Delay-6

Anyway, eventually the flight did leave, exactly four hours late.

The looks on the faces of the people landing from Detroit were hilarious. A few of them stopped to look at our departure board and laughed, others looked like they just hitchhiked through the desert, while one guy in a suit walked past me and said “she’s allllllllll yours.”

US-Airways-Delay-5

The crew was quite lovely given the circumstances, and I thanked both the flight attendants and pilots for their work, since I realize their day was rougher than mine.

They had been working since around 12PM, so it was a 14+ hour day of flying for them. Apparently they can get their hours extended once per week, so this was that flight for them. Given what minimal rest they have to begin with I’m not sure about the safety implications of that, but fortunately the flight was uneventful.

Bottom line

The whole delay was a non-event and long overdue, though it did make me appreciate just how seamless my travel usually is. My issue with this situation was never the delay, but rather the misinformation and rudeness/indifference from all the front line agents I encountered. Not that it’s their fault, but would it kill them to make a single PA apologizing for the delay and thanking passengers for their patience, or answering their questions with patience and respect?

I guess the answer is “yes,” and also reflects how little I have to interact with front line agents nowadays. Between online check-in and how smooth my travels have been lately, the only time I interact with agents is when they scan my boarding pass.

Comments

  1. I get the sense that PHL in general is just an airport you don’t want to be at. I recently flew through there coming home from YYZ and was extremely underwhelmed by the utterly indifferent staff there for US. Thankfully I didn’t have any delays, but the US ground staff seemed to hate their jobs, and people in general, more than even UA staff (and that’s saying something in my experience).

  2. Imagine if there had been poor wx along the east coast yesterday; you wouldn’t have left PHL. We were 17th in line at LGA yesterday and the queue moved so fast. Love those rare clear-sky summer afternoons.

  3. I’m not sure a PA announcement is always particularly welcome. I find those “Sorry for the inconvience, thank you for your patience” announcements irritating. Unless you can give me concrete, helpful information don’t patronize me.

  4. If they’re going to give out food vouchers, shouldn’t this be for all not just the squeaky wheels. Happened to me before, someone who asked for one got one, I later found out about it, after I’d already paid cash for my meal. Especially with a delay of this length, seems like they should just announce on the PA, sorry for the delay, we’re giving out vouchers, line up and get em.

  5. Is it sad I figured out you were in Philly by the bullshit responses you tweeted last night? Every time I deal with people like that it reminds me I need to move. Also, this entire experience reminds me why I generally skip (avoid) US Scairways.

  6. Lucky, I agree that you are “Lucky” that you do not have to fly domestic flights very often. – Although rare, these events do happen (yes, moreso on domestic flights and even moreso on regional jets). I can’t believe that in all the flying you do that you’ve only had to fly a regional once! Wow. I do find it interesting that you were told the crew had been working over 14 hours, and can be extended once a week. I’m a crew member and with the new duty rigs, we can not work more then 14 hours (without proper rest).

  7. The US Airways apathy and lack of customer service is what kills me. We flew them out of LAX in July and it was absmyal. I appreciate your consideration for the crew though – it’s true – their days are tougher during times like that!

  8. Too much LH F for you, its about time you experienced how the rest of us travel. First off, last flight of the day on an RJ? You know better than that… Second, you are at a hub not an outstation, plenty of crew sitting hot the flight is going. It may be at 2am, but its going. Gate agents only do what the computer tells them, nothing more so no need to be a know it all. Your creating extra work. Why did you not ask to be rerouted at the first delay when it went mechanical? Finally, I have not seen a proper response from an airline on Twitter in the last 2 years. Those days are gone…

    Maybe the FF gods need to block you from F and J for a bit 😉

  9. I’ve only had about 3% of my long haul flights delayed more than 2 hours over the years. That said, when it has happened, it’s been quite memorable.

    Most recently, I had a 21.5 hour delay last month from LHR to PHX on BA when traveling with my wife and 3 kids ( http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-reports/1601498-trip-report-ba-cw-phx-lhr-zrh-fco-lhr-phx-family-irrops.html ). We spent more than 3 hours waiting on the plane with malfunctioning A/C (it made a long haul flight on an Asian carrier feel chilly). It was not my favorite flight experience, and certainly not BA at their best, but their service was still a lot more friendly and informative than what you received. That said, I would take your four hour delay over my experience.

    I’ve had a few other more extreme delays, e.g. US JFK-PHX that was delayed an hour at a time, and by the time it was canceled, it was 8 hours late and there were no hotel rooms available and then I took a taxi to EWR at 3:30am after my flight was finally canceled so I could standby on other flights. Or the great snowpacalypse at LHR in 2010 where two inches of snow delayed my flight back to the US for 4 days.

    I’m looking forward to reading your 6 flights in 6 days report!

  10. To anyone who has been going on about Lucky receiving special treatment when he travels…Here’s proof that he sometimes gets incredibly incompetent service, which makes it plausible that he doesn’t receive special treatment at all other times. Such as that time that everyone was shocked that Lucky got good service on SQ, the airline known for having the best service in the world! Shock horror.

    By the way, what is up with an airline customer service forgetting about time zones? Time zones were literally invented for transcontinental railway travel! And on twitter as well! How embarrassing.

  11. US employees in PHL are exactly why I wasn’t thrilled when I heard about the US/AA merger. PHL is absolutely the worst airport in the United States. If the “New American” were smart, they would shutter PHL like the did PIT and shift the US flights though CLT where the US agents are at least, pleasant.

  12. I remember a long time ago when the slogan used to be “USAir begins with U”. Every time I heard that, internally I’d thing “well, F*** u ends with U”!

  13. “In retrospect I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I’d rather not get a response than useless misinformation.”

    I agree with you.

  14. I’ve been on 91 flights this year, and only 12 have been on time. Some were delayed by <30 minutes, but 2 of my last 3 flights were delayed 4+ hours. There's nothing quite like getting home at 3am…

  15. Aw! Regional jets aren’t they so great? No! Here in the midwest, with very few exceptions, the Big3 only fly RJs. Uncomfortable to fly in, is one thing. But the constant delays and cancellations makes flying in the midwest, a HUGE EXERCISE of patience. I make sure all my connections are at least 2 hours. Which then makes getting anywhere in the US or Canada an all day trip.

    I don’t know why PHL has such terrible airport employees. All the airlines seem to have problems there. I used to live in Bucks County, so PHL was my home turf. It is a shame because Philly is such a great city.

  16. Sorry to hear about that, Lucky, but welcome to Toronto! Shoot me an email… would be more than happy to show you around.

  17. Don’t think you are going to get any sympathy here. Welcome to the real world. While you do fly a lot,you certainly don’t have a sense of what most people go through on a daily basis.
    This post makes you sound like a bitchy queen.
    I think some longhail flights in economy are in order for you.

  18. @ Louis — I usually use Flightaware to actually see if the plane is flying. Otherwise I use Flightstats.

  19. @ Brian — I think you missed the beginning of my post where I explained exactly what I took away from the experience. 😉

  20. @Sam – you’re of course technically correct lucky made extra work for the gate agent, but that’s part of (and priced in to) their job. He created extra work the same way a shopper making a purchase at a cash register or a patient waking into a doctor’s office does. I’d argue workers in customer facing jobs shouldn’t reasonably expect to have no customer interactions during their days.

    @Skylar – the argument isn’t that Lucky receives better service all of the time. But it might be true that a reservation on a premium airline long haul flight tied to a specific seat would be a bit more likely to receive preferential treatment than a domestic gate agent who lucky doesn’t identify himself to.

  21. I’ve used PHL on and off for twenty years. It’s awful. The US agents seem angry or disinterested quite often. And I have never, ever left on schedule. Ever.
    The gulf of difference between US and DAL is widening. A lot.
    I’m not sure why, maybe DAL pays their people more, but I almost always get a smile and thank you by name. Their agents and Twitter are proactive and honest.
    I’m no fanboy of any airline(CRJ’s make me that way) but I now go out of way to connect in either DTW or ATL.
    And by all means avoid PHL.

  22. The reality of air travel in America for people who travel by necessity rather than as a frivolous luxury is calamitously bad. There’s just no way to get from NY to Toronto, for example, that doesn’t entail a high likelihood of endless rolling screw-ups & ground delays. We could upgrade air traffic control systems to world’s-best-practice and move 30% more planes out, but Congress won’t do that. Most Americans, even top-tier elites and first class pax, are not flying exclusively international & flagship routes. What you experienced was the daily, third-world reality of air travel in America. Welcome!

  23. The vast majority of people experience this on a regular basis; and this is what flying is to most of us. Whenever you’re on a regional from a secondary city, this is what you get. Flights are delayed because the flights are numerous and delays occur on the ground somewhere, planes are small and flying an Embrear is the excitement one gets that they are not thrown on a Beachcraft 1900. Agents at the desk are exhausted by long days of frustrated and angry passengers who are exhausted by delays and being thrown into small 2/1 aisle regional that are delayed without anything more than a 5 dollar bottle of water.

    I remember the days of jets flying to secondary cities and getting served drinks and snacks enroute to a JFK while waiting for an international flight on a jumbo. Now, we have angry people with knee guards stopping us from reclining – or God forbid – we are put on flights that don’t have reclining seats ….

    As one friend who’s a FA for Jetblue said — “I we standing in the rear of the aircraft so tired in LA and we were pushing back to NY. This lady just looked at me midway up and asked for help and I just didn’t believe her and was too tired, finally a bag fell from the overhead and almost hit her, I felt so bad”. Love my friend, but that would never have happened before…… 🙁

  24. @Sunrise089 it would be more like lucky asking a doctor’s office what time the doctor came in today because he does not want the doctor to go into overtime. Or Mr Retailer, are your staffing levels correct in case I need to make a purchase after closing time. Its an irrelevant question because you do not know what the reserve levels are at the base. Gate agents put up with a lot of crazy questions. Give them a break. Stand at the podium and listen to the questions, how many people ask for a free upgrade? Or can I different seat on a full flight? Sure its there job, but be an easy customer

  25. @Sam, I would agree, except that airlines expose their customers to these problems all the time. If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ve been impacted by a crew timing out, so it’s a fair question to ask on a delayed flight.

  26. Nice post. Typical. It sounds like about every other flight I have through DFW. Oh and are you sure the us air club closed at 10pm as they aren’t sure how time zones work 🙂

  27. I was on a similar delayed PHL-YYZ flight in June that ultimately cancelled.. Actually missed my YYZ-MUC LH F flight the next day (it’s ridiculous that US couldn’t get me on another flight within the next 24 hours!). On the bright side, I was able to get UA to reroute on PHL-FRA in LH new F! Also, if you’re in Terminal A in Philly next time, try to swing by the BA lounge.. friendly staff and some good food/drink options.

  28. My girlfriend and I were on a TG flight from BKK to CDG a couple months ago. We were seated and the flight was pushed out. But then we had to wait for a few hours on the plane and finally were told the plane had a mechanical and the flight was cancelled. We ended up in the Novetel at the airport for about 12 hours. I think they got a replacement and finally we were en route after 20 hours delay.

    It wasn’t that bad since we were in business and we got a hotel room to rest. But… we only had 5 days planned in Paris, and that delay literally killed 20% of our vacation time in Paris… (The only upside was… less time for shoppin…)

    What’s worse, we were on a US award ticket so I don’t even know how to get any compensation (or from whom). If it’s a flight ex-CDG probably we were entilted to something but since it’s ex-BKK… It’s basically bad luck…

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