Travel Catastrophe

July 28, 2019

in Delay/Cancellation Stories

My profession requires frequent air travel. Perhaps ironically, my most recent travel “experience” was specifically for the purpose of meeting with officials at the FAA (though on the topic of exo-atmospheric transportation between points on the globe, as opposed to now ubiquitous airline travel).

The trip began innocently enough: fly from LAX to DCA on a Wednesday afternoon for a series of meetings with a variety of FAA officials in Washington DC on Thursday and Friday, then stay in the district over the weekend to enjoy the various commemorative activities and events for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Alas, it was not to be.

Before even departing LAX, my direct flight was unceremoniously cancelled by American Airlines and rebooked to an itinerary with a single stop in Phoenix. Great, Phoenix has a nicely laid-out airport, I had a couple of hours to kill in the terminal, and I’d still arrive early Thursday morning, ahead of my meetings.

The leg to Phoenix went without a hitch, in spite of the Airbus 321 N/X being on only its third flight with paying passengers. However, immediately upon deplaning, an airline agent was repeatedly announcing, “If you have a connecting flight, please go directly to the customer service counter for your vouchers.” Uh oh.

My connecting American Airlines flight to DCA had been delayed to at least the morning due to mechanical issues during the preceding flight, and a new aircraft was being flown to Phoenix to resume the route in the morning. OK, crappy, but not catastrophic; I only needed to reschedule morning meetings to Friday. I (and many other passengers) were provided with vouchers for a night’s stay at the local Marriott, along with the cab rides and meal vouchers. Again, not great, but still not a catastrophe.

The short night’s stay in Tempe was uneventful (if discounting the drunk college students streaking through the hotel, pursued by security; a fellow passenger couple that persisted in asking me to join them for a threesome during the unplanned hotel stay; the 3 AM fire alarm in the hotel; and the car that was driven over the curb and onto the hotel grounds, with police in pursuit).

Before my agreed-upon wake up call, my phone exploded with a cacophony of sound. My flight had been rescheduled from early morning to noon. This definitely wasn’t good, but still not catastrophic.

The morning’s newspaper in the lobby caught my eye at breakfast: “Airline travelers marooned as American faces unprecedented delays.” Did this signal the beginning of a travel catastrophe?

After breakfast, arriving back at Phoenix Sky Harbor and waiting in the customer service line for approximately 30 minutes to confirm my now mid-day flight, the agent at the counter pursed her lips upon bringing up my itinerary. “It looks like your next flight is slated to be cancelled,” she said, “but it looks like we can rebook you to a flight through Atlanta. They don’t expect any weather problems, and you should arrive in DC earlier than if your next flight doesn’t get cancelled.” Whew?

The rest of the day’s meetings were down the drain owing to this massive snafu of air travel, but the most important meetings had already been rescheduled to Friday morning since many of my government counterparts were apt to leave early on Friday to catch some of the Apollo 11 50th anniversary festivities for themselves.

About a half hour before the end of the Phoenix-Atlanta leg, the captain’s voice crackled over the airplane’s PA, “Allow me to offer my sincerest apologies, but due to weather, air traffic control requires us to remain in a holding pattern until the storm passes. With any luck, we should be able to land in about an hour, at 4 pm local time.” The hour came and went.

As 5:15 PM approached, the PA crackled once more, “Folks, again on behalf of the, um, on behalf of American Airlines, I apologize for the delay, but due to a combination of limited fuel reserves and uncertain weather resolution, we need to divert to Birmingham where we will need to take on fuel before proceeding to Atlanta.

I ended up missing my connection to Washington, DC, and am currently marooned in Atlanta…

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Devi August 1, 2019 at 2:48 pm

You poor bastard.


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