Missed Flight And Other Maladies

September 17, 2009

in Delay/Cancellation Stories

Flight 83 is a “direct” 12-hour flight from my airport to Hawaii. That’s quote-direct-quote. It carries the same flight number for the full trip but it has a “plane change” in LA.

I’m up at 5 am Eastern and at the airport a little before 8 am for the 9 am flight. The departures board has a Microsoft Windows error message in the middle proclaiming that it’s low on virtual memory. This is a harbinger for the day.

First problem: they have to reseat me. I printed my boarding pass yesterday but apparently its more important to put someone else in that seat. Not too bad; they put me in a nice exit-row seat for the hop from the east coast to LA. Past the first problem.

We get in the air and the pilot comes on the intercom. “Sorry folks, the jet stream is in a bad place today. We’re going to fly around it to the north, adding an hour to the trip.” Right. There’s 40 minutes between the scheduled landing of flight 83 at 12:20 pacific and the scheduled takeoff of flight 83 at 1:00. Will we make it? Will we be stranded in LA? No information.

By the way, this is one of the “new” economy class flights where in five and a half hours they serve sodas twice but no meals. Not even a bag of pretzels.

We get near LA and the pilot comes on the intercom. “Folks, you’ll see some ocean because LA is having a rare western approach to the runway today. We have to fly past it and turn around.” Sure enough, we fly past the coast. Hrm.

“Folks, LA has switched directions on the runway back to an eastern approach. We’ll have to fly past it and turn around.” Gah!

“This is your flight attendant. We know some of you have incredibly tight connections. We don’t have any information about them. But we ask anyone who doesn’t have a tight connection to remain seated and let the folks with tight connections get off the plane first.”

Flight 83 pulls into the gate at exactly 12:58, two minutes before flight 83 is supposed to take off. *Everybody* gets up and starts reaching for coats and bags. So much for courtesy to the folks with tight connections.

I get off the plane. Nobody is waiting with directions for folks with connections. I can’t find flight 83 on the departures board. The gate staff is busy with folks getting ready to board the flight I just got off.

I finally get the staff’s attention. “I just landed on flight 83. Where does flight 83 take off from? Is it still there?” “Gate X. Down that way and to the left. I don’t know if it has left already.”

I take off running. Down the hall. Turn left. What the! I’m standing in a hallway that must be half a mile long. No tram. No moving walkways. I’m a big guy hauling an extra 75 lbs of luggage. I’m not gonna to make it at a run. So, I fast-walk and get to the gate around 1:15.

Flight 83 is gone. So are the airline staff.

I wander over to another boarding flight and finally get the attention of a lady there. “Did flight 83 leave?” “Yeah, it’s gone. You have to go to customer service.” “Okay, where’s customer service?” “Down the long hallway and take a right.” ‘Doh!

So, I walk the half mile hallway back to the customer service counter which, it turns out, is all of 50 feet from where I first got off the plane. Four of the folks from flight 83 who missed flight 83 have reached the line ahead of me. The other 20 or so slowly collect up in line behind me.

Five minutes pass. Ten. Fifteen. It’s the same two people standing at the customer service desk. Finally another staffer comes over and says, “Okay, folks who are here about flight 83, please form one line and everybody else form another.” Of course, the way they’ve tied the line ropes, there’s no way to physically do this.

I call my travel agent. It’s Monday, a federal holiday. There’s an emergency number to call. I call the emergency number. “I’m stuck in LA. Can you fix this?” “You have to talk to the airline’s customer service. If we book you on another plane you’ll have to pay for it.” The heck you say! What do I pay you for if not to act as my agent when things go awry?

So I wait in line. Ten more minutes. Twenty. The lady working on the flight 83 folks is arguing with someone on the phone. It’s 2:00. 2:30. Finally, she announces, “Okay, folks I think I have it figured out. I have to break up flight 83 in the computer because it has all of you listed as already on board. Then I can rebook you. Our remaining flights out for the day are full, so I’m going to give you tickets on another airline.”

The line starts to move. I get to the counter around 2:40. Here’s my ID and boarding pass. “Here’s your ticket for a 3:40 flight.” “How do I get seats and a boarding pass?” “Go down the hall and turn left [Nooo! Not again!]. At the end of the hall, exit security. Go to the other airline’s ticket counter.”

It’s 2:40. The new flight leaves at 3:40. I don’t have a boarding pass. I move off at as brisk a pace as I can manage.

Back down the half-mile hallway. Past security. Down the escalator. “Where is the ticket counter?” “All the way at the end, after the luggage carousels.”

Another half mile later I’m at “the end.” Where’s the ticket counter? “You have to go outside and down the sidewalk.”

3:00. I reach the line for the ticket counter. There are 40 people ahead of me. It’s an hour line.

I walk around the line to the counter. “Excuse me please, I’m one of a group of 25 people which your competitor just rebooked on your 3:40 flight. If we wait in line, we’ll miss the flight. Can you quickly take care of us as a group?” “Sir, you have to wait in line.” “You don’t understand, if we wait in line, all 25 of us are going to miss the flight.” “Sir, you have to wait in line.” “Can I speak to a manager?” “I am the manager.” “Can I speak to your manager?” “There is no other manager.”

I stood there flabbergasted. I didn’t know what else to do.

I guess she found her brain after all, because several minutes later someone came over and got me a boarding pass along with the rest of the group.

3:10. I’m at the security line. I have to throw away my water bottle because I wasn’t expecting to leave the security area in LA and I didn’t dump out the water. At this point I don’t care.

3:20. I’m through security, running for the gate.

3:30. Puff puff puff. I reach the gate. I look for the 3:40 flight.

It’s been delayed to 6:00.

I haven’t eaten anything for a good 9 hours now, so I find a restaurant, eat, wait around. Look for a place to plug in my laptop.

I find a socket. It’s a twistlock, not a regular socket. I find another. Another! I find a cell phone charging stand with four two-amp outlets. Two guys are already there charging their cell phones. I plug my laptop in. Nothing. One of the guys says, “Yeah, I don’t think those are working.”

I find another charging stand. All four plugs are in use. Another. I find one that nobody’s using. It’s nowhere near a chair or even a wall that I could sit against. I keep looking. Finally someone leaves one of the earlier ones and I use my laptop for a while.

I wander back to the gate around 5:15 and check the screen. Delayed until 6:45.

The plane finally leaves the gate at 7:20 pacific (10:20 pm eastern where my 5 am day started). I’m exhausted but the seat is narrow, uncomfortable and barely reclines. Naturally, I’m in an aisle seat next to the galley and the restroom. Bump. Bump. Bump. I put on my headphones and try to make the best of it.

Something touches my butt. Again. I loosen my seatbelt and reach back. There appears to be an opening between the seatback and the the bottom cushion. Something touches my butt. I reach back and grab. I come away with a sock.

I turn around and ask the eight year old behind me to please refrain from putting his feet through the seatback.

Something touches my butt. Again. Again. I turn around and explode, “Will you please stop it!!” The boy and his father look most surprised.

We finally land around 11:00 Hawaii time. I reach my hotel around midnight. That’s 5 am eastern, a full 24 sleepless hours after my trek started.

Adding insult to injury, the airline fails to credit my miles account with the 2500 miles from the second leg of the trip.

Sadly, that was the better flight. On the return flight, Sir Hacksalot behind me coughed and coughed and coughed. I was off work sick for a week.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

saw September 17, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Well… that sucked. BUT… I want to know where the airlines get off inserting "plane changes" into direct flights? This happened to me last year. I get on a plane with a boarding pass to NY, and suddenly, we land in Cleveland. I ask the gate attendant.. she says, "use the same boarding pass, same flight number, 2 hours later"… Direct my ass!


Bruce Weatherby September 17, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Direct flight is different than Non-stop in airline speak. Direct just means it goes from one city to another, but maybe include stops. Sometimes there's a plane change even though the new aircraft carries the same flight number. Non-stop is what most people think of as a direct flight. One city to another, with no stops in between.


Julicans September 18, 2009 at 4:41 am

Thank You Bruce! For explaining the terms, this is a situation that I wish people would work for the industry so they would understand what's going on. Would be helpful in the restaurant business, too.

The reseating was due to change of A/C after he checked in the night before-new A/C, new seat map. I can't tell you how many times that screwed up my numbers (pax count). I've had to go on board and tell a pax he didn't have a seat b/c of change of gage (went from a 50 seater to a 44 seater-fun fun!)


Demotage September 18, 2009 at 8:12 am

I'm sorry, but if you have to change planes, it is not a direct flight. I think most people understand the difference between between a non-stop and a direct flight. The direct flight has a stop in it, but the plane goes all the way to your listed destination. If you have to change planes, that is not a direct flight. It is a connecting flight.

There is also something a little bit insidious about keeping the same flight number through a connection. They only give you frequent flier credit as if it was a non-stop. It may be 1000 miles farther to go from SFO to DCA if you have to stop in DFW (not to mention the extra hour and a half minimum added for the stop), but they will only credit you as if it the plane flew directly from SFO-DCA. All the disadvantages of a non-stop, and none of the advantages.


saw September 18, 2009 at 5:18 pm


You're absolutely right – it's the airline's way of screwing you out of FF miles.

Also, when I book a flight, I can see if there's a stopover… It specifically says – Number of stops. In my particular case, there was absolutely NO hint that the plan stopped anywhere, much less, went somewhere else afterwards causing me to change planes and wait 2 hours. It's BS.

COMAIR sux… for those who don't know already… NEVER fly Delta Express…


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