My 9(!!!) Hour Flight From Washington To Dallas

On Saturday I flew from Beijing to Washington via Chicago. On Sunday I was scheduled to fly from Washington to Beijing via Dallas.

I intentionally booked the 5:30AM flight out of Washington National, which seemed cruelly early, but then again I’d be jetlagged, so I figured it wouldn’t be too bad.

All was well. I was up at 3:30AM, on my way to the airport by 4:15AM, and checked in by 4:30AM. At 5AM boarding began, and we promptly pushed back at 5:30AM.

The first 2.5 hours of the flight were as you’d expect. At that point the captain came on the PA and explained that there was some weather in Dallas, and that they had a ground stop. Based on the fuel situation he decided it was best to divert to Houston so we could refuel and regroup. So we diverted to Houston, where we landed shortly before 8AM.

There we had a remote stand, and even though Houston is a United hub, it quickly started to look like an American one. One by one, more American planes pulled onto the tarmac next to us.

American-Houston

American-IAH-3

The captain was awesome about keeping us updated, and explained the situation. DFW Airport had a ground hold, so we’d refuel, and hopefully shortly after it was lifted we’d get clearance to continue our flight.

First one hour passed. Then two. The crew was phenomenal. The flight attendants were in great spirits, and the captain provided constant updates about the situation, even if the news wasn’t good.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same about the passengers. The flight attendants announced that they had no connection information and weren’t sure when we would leave. Despite that, every minute someone would totally flip out on them over the lack of information they had.

The funny thing is that three quarters of the first class passengers were headed to Beijing, so they were very concerned about whether they’d make the connection or not.

After nearly three hours the door closed again so that we could taxi to the runway, because apparently things were looking better.

We queued at the runway for close to an hour, at which point the captain came on the PA to deliver more bad news — DFW Airport was closed again. So it was back to our remote stand to once again top off on fuel and wait.

At this point they had to give passengers the option to get off the plane, per the DOT rules limiting tarmac delays. They were very clear in their announcements — “we are legally required to let you off the plane, but please understand that this may delay our departure time, because we could get clearance any minute, but if everyone isn’t aboard we can’t leave. So at least please stay close to the gate if you do deplane.”

American-IAH

Probably 80% of passengers deplaned, despite the very clear announcements. Literally five minutes after all those passengers deplaned they announced that we had received our departure clearance, but we couldn’t take it due to people choosing to deplane. So within about 30 minutes they got everyone back aboard.

While the passengers on the whole were irritating as hell, I nearly lost it on a guy who chewed out the flight attendant — “why would you tell us to get off the plane when we would get clearance a few minutes later?” Seriously, dingbat?

At that point it was a quick 45 minute flight to Dallas.

American-Delay1

All-in-all, it was a nine hour flight from Washington to Dallas, and including boarding time, we spent nearly ten hours on the plane.

Upon landing DFW Airport was a mess. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such chaos. Below is a picture of the line snaking around the terminal for the customer service desk, which two agents were staffing.

DFW

So of course we missed our connection to Beijing, along with the 10 other people in first class headed there. While the other passengers were much more concerned with their connections and one guy even kept probing the flight attendants about connecting information — citing that he was a travel agent — oddly they didn’t actually seem to put any time into researching alternatives or even calling American to see what they could be protected on.

DFW1

We, on the other hand… well, stay tuned for that… but let’s just say flying via Europe in British Airways first class on an American business class ticket doesn’t suck!

Bottom line

In my over four million miles of flying I’ve had a lot of crazy things happen, though this was actually the first diversion I can remember. While nobody likes sitting on a 737 for nearly 10 hours, the crew was spectacular, and I was sure to thank all the flight attendants and the pilots for their excellent communication and good spirits.

My biggest irritation was that we diverted to Texas on a Sunday morning, as they can’t legally serve alcohol before noon. That made for a very long delay. Though the second the clock struck noon, the flight attendants were generous with minis, to put it mildly. 😉

Flying isn’t always fun, but you’ve gotta make the best of it!

Was anyone else impacted by DFW Airport weather on Sunday?

Comments

  1. What? Now you are itching for a drink before noon? It didn’t seem long ago you wouldn’t even touch the stuff! 🙂

  2. A long delay sucks, but if it’s the price to pay to get rerouted in BA First rather than AA Business, I would suck it up!

  3. Wow. The creepy thing about this is that this is almost exactly what happened to me flying on AA from DCA-DEN via ORD about a month ago. I was on the 5:30 AM out of DCA, seemed normal enough, then we held over Indiana because there were storms in Chicago, and held so long that we were low on fuel and had to divert to IND which quickly filled up with AA aircraft. Sat there for about 3 hours and they had to let people off, eventually we got underway to ORD and I got to DEN around 6 pm instead of 9:30 am. One difference was the crew wanted to deplane everyone earlier than the 3 hour time frame because it was clear based on the storm track that it would be a few hours before we could get going, but the IND gate agents refused to let people deplane until they legally had to. The reason being, according to the crew, the gate agents didn’t want to do the work to recheck everyone. The crew was great and maintained high spirits, pax were peeved, but not as annoying as it sounds like yours were. It helped that the plane was half empty so people weren’t jammed into middle seats. I was traveling in Y so no minis for me 🙁 , but the crew did give out free snack boxes to anyone who asked to purchase one which was nice of them. When we got to ORD I heard the lead FA reaming someone on the phone from AA about the gate agents refusing to let people off the plane sooner than 3 hours. Overall, a very long flight to DEN, but it helped that the crew seemed to care. AA autorebooked me on the next flight out of ORD so no waiting at customer service for me.

  4. “We, on the other hand… well, stay tuned for that… but let’s just say flying via Europe in British Airways first class on an American business class ticket doesn’t suck!”
    I am curious as to who the rest are in the trip, since you use first person plural pronouns all throughout the post.

  5. I’m actually somewhat impressed they were able to push back post-deplaning only 30 minutes after they got clearance. If that’s all it takes I feel like they should have just let everyone off as soon as they landed in IAH.

  6. So in the end you earned a lot more miles as DFW-LHR-PEK is longer than DFW-PEK and you were booked on F.

  7. I was on that plane as well but I did not get routed on BA since BA was out. Instead I was routed on a CX F through LAX on the next day. I would have preferred BA but they were out unfortunately.

  8. If I paid full fare business and the person next to me paid a quarter of the cheapest business fare as part of a DOT monitored pricing mistake do I get preference for rebooking or does the inebriated softball blogger trump everyone else?

  9. How did you go about finding alternatives? Customer service desk, 800 number, Twitter? What are your tips for a situation like this where everyone is trying to get rebooked and the lines are insane at the airport?

  10. @Ivan Y
    Why prefer BA F? More miles or what am I missing here?

    I’d take CX F before BA F every day…

  11. I was rerouted “the long way around” on BA as well! Though they kept me in J. Question for lucky: I was crediting to Alaska, do I get credit for flying BA full fare “J” to Beijing (I was flying on the mistake fare)? Alaska gives different credit to different BA fare types, so how do they translate that from a paid AA ticket? Thanks!

  12. “Probably 80% of passengers deplaned, despite the very clear announcements.” Those 80% were probably also sitting in economy, not first. I think you would probably want to get off the plane too if you were sitting in economy middle seat for 3 hours…

  13. I’ll do you one better: I took a “flight” from DFW to OKC that took 10 hours in February. I earned a whopping 1.6 miles per minute. Sadly, even with multiple emails to AA and the national media attention, received no compensation. I wasn’t even asking for money, just a few miles thrown my way.

  14. And that is why Houston is way better than Dallas! 🙂

    I can totally understand people’s frustration — spending many hours in Y is no fun.

    ~ The Original Ivan Y.

  15. @ him — There was a nasty thunderstorm, though it didn’t seem to be that horrible in the grand scheme of things. Just about crippled the airport, though.

  16. @ Michael — Actually, 13 of the 16 first class passengers deplaned, and one of the first class passengers was the one who bitched about being “forced” to deplane.

  17. @ Daniel — It all depends which fare class you were rebooked in. The fare class should be reflected on the boarding pass.

  18. @ Alex — I hopped onto ExpertFlyer to find flights which actually had availability, and then phoned up the Executive Platinum desk to make the change.

  19. @ Dax — First come first serve. At the end of the day everyone is entitled to getting to their destination as quickly as possible based on availability, regardless of the fare they paid.

  20. @ Sunrise089 — Well the biggest problem was that we didn’t originally have a gate. We were at a remote stand, so there was no practical way to let people into the terminal. When we returned after taxiing out we got a real gate.

  21. Michael says: “’Probably 80% of passengers deplaned, despite the very clear announcements.’ Those 80% were probably also sitting in economy, not first. I think you would probably want to get off the plane too if you were sitting in economy middle seat for 3 hours…”

    I wonder if Lucky even remembers the economy section still exists. Maybe he’s simply forgotten what it feels like to sit there with today’s perpetually shrinking width and pitch. I don’t think the plight of the average coach traveler registers at all. Even if you signed up for every points card available to you before long you’d run out of points and return to the back of the bus where more and more seats are resulting in less and less space with every revision. If you’re tall then traveling in coach can end up causing substantial pain over the course of a long delay. How dare you leave the aircraft to stretch your legs and risk delaying the mistake fairy.

  22. Hi Ben,

    Great story! I’ve learned a lot from you reading your blog.

    When my flight diverted to Rio a number of months ago, knowing how you deal with these things, I immediately tried to do the same thing that you do — go on line and make some calls. However, from the plane, I couldn’t get an internet connection and I couldn’t get my phone to dial out.

    What would you have done if you couldn’t go online from the plane and call the EXP desk (for example, if the same thing happened in China or your were at a remote stand and couldn’t get any cell service)?

  23. @Dax, you make a good point about economy passengers needing the opportunity to leave the plane more than those in FC, but otherwise your constant sniping about Lucky’s posts is uncalled for.

    This is a blog about luxury travel. If you’re so outraged by the concept, the healthiest thing would be for you to find something else to read.

  24. @ Craig — Ugh, that’s really tricky, not sure what I would have done. Would have probably just waited till I could get a wifi connection, unfortunately. Guess it’s really time for me to switch to T-Mobile.

  25. That orderly line is typical for the US. I can imagine such line in another country in a similar situation may look different.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *