Plane Problems Cause Flight From Purgatory

January 4, 2015

in Odds & Ends Stories

A few years ago my husband’s family bizarrely converged on St. Louis. I had been to St. Louis many years before, and he was unfamiliar with it. So, we decided to go “descend” on them for a week.

The first thing I learned was: You can’t get there from here. For some odd reason that probably has to do with the arcane hub and spoke system. The only direct flights from ANY DC area airport to St. Louis were at 8am on Southwest. Given I only get up before 7am if you’re paying me, and then reluctantly, I instead booked Delta through Atlanta.

I then made what turned out to be a very annoying mistake. My husband had enough frequent flier miles to pay for the trip. I didn’t. So I booked his ticket on miles and paid for mine. Pro tip: Don’t do this. It means the computers don’t link you as being part of the same party. Every time any flight update happened, we got moved to opposite ends of the plane. I’m sure there are frequent flyers out there who could have warned me if I’d been paying attention.

So… DCA to ATL on the hourly shuttle, fairly early in the morning. I think it was 11am-ish. Get there, check in and everything, board our plane. Plane backs away from the gate, starts to turn, stops. And sits there. And sits there. Fairly quickly I realize: Yup, we’ve got a mechanical. Right after that the pilot came on the PA to inform us that one engine would not start and he was taking us back to the gate.

Ground crew swarmed out to try and jump start the engine – this was a twin engine Embraer regional jet, so not a very big plane. Nope. The engine wasn’t going to start. Pilot: They need a part. At this point I was starting to figure this particular plane wasn’t going anywhere that day. Before long, my suspicion was confirmed.

Pilot: Uh… the starter motor disintegrated. We’re going to have to replace it.

Me to my husband: This plane’s going nowhere.

Prophecy right again. Flight canceled. We deplaned and were told we’d get the quickest rebooking service by calling customer service using the provided intercoms.

Remember my pro tip from earlier? Yup. The computer couldn’t rebook us together, just one at a time, and chances were we’d end up on different flights.

Between us trying this and discovering it wouldn’t work, the line for the actual agents had gone from about 6 people to, oh, about the entire population of the plane. Resigned, we waited in line, and as we did so we heard that every single other flight to Atlanta that day, yes, the HOURLY flights to Atlanta, was full. I know it’s a major hub, but it wasn’t a busy day. I dread to think what it’s like around, say, Thanksgiving. Then we heard them taking volunteers to go to BWI – Baltimore, over an hour away.

We finally get to the front of the line, and the gate agent was like, “You guys don’t need to go to Atlanta, right?”



As she’s rummaging, I turn to my husband, “We’re going to Baltimore.”

AGAIN I was right (I’m not even that frequent a flyer). Yup. We were going to Baltimore to be rerouted BWI – MSP – STL. Without our luggage, which we were informed could not be deplaned in time and which they promised to get to St. Louis as quickly as possible. Resigned to spending our first night there without our luggage, but relieved they had found a flight for us, we went downstairs to meet the shared van we’d booked. The agent down there asked about our luggage. My husband repeated what the gate agent had said. She rolled her eyes and said “I’ll get you your luggage.”

We had to wait in baggage check for ninety minutes, but we got our luggage. Success! Then we got in a shared van to Baltimore with a wonderful semi-retired Air Force colonel… who spent the entire trip semi-ranting about how they almost killed us and how that particular model of plane had a bad one engine flare out profile and if the engine had failed mid-flight and… yeah. He was not a happy camper. Nice guy, but he didn’t make me comfortable about the situation.

Got to Baltimore, got ourselves some food, and got on our plane to MSP. It backed up from the gate then… sat there. And sat there. At this point I was about ready to scream, but whatever the problem was they got it fixed. We finally got to STL about, oh, 10 hours after our original scheduled arrival time.

Honestly, it could have been a lot worse. They got us there late, but at least it was the same day. I do think it qualifies as at least a flight from purgatory, though.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chris January 10, 2015 at 10:20 am

I ran into a similar issue when taking a flight with my girlfriend. We booked our tickets separately (she had credit card points that helped her pay for her ticket, while I just bought mine) and when the flights got moved around, we ended up pretty far apart on the plane.

Sometimes, it's better to just bite the bullet and take the early flights. While I'm no morning person either and would gladly travel in the afternoon or evening, it just makes it easier to take that early flight. Typically, those flights are going to have a much better shot at being on time and efficient than later flights…since those planes are likely to be already in the departure city.


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