Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fear of Not Flying

I am finally back home in Rochester, from Seattle. This took two days. The first leg of my flight was to Atlanta, where I supposedly had a 55-minute layover. The Air Tran plane was late by half an hour. It came in at the D Concourse. The gate agent confirmed that my next flight was leaving from C2. So I ran through the D Concourse, got on the underground train, got off at C, ran some more (and I am too old to be running through airports, dragging my rolling suitcase, like some weighted-down Joe Namath in the old TV ads), and reached C2 ten minutes before take-off. The gate agent there told me there had been a gate change an hour earlier -- to a D gate.

I missed the plane. I also threw a hissy fit at the Air Tran counter, which accomplished nothing whatsoever. Air Tran would not take responsibility: "We aren't responsible for air-traffic control problems, ma'am, which was why your flight was late." No manager could be produced that late at night, it seems, and this certainly wasn't the poor customer rep's fault. Since almost nobody goes to Rochester, the next flight I could get on was seventeen hours away. I went and found a "microtel," which sounds like something out of William Gibson, to spend the night. At my own expense.

The point is that this has happened to me the last three times I made a flight from the west coast to the east. My son, with the male penchant for providing information instead of sympathy, explained to me that the phenomenon is caused by a combination of deregulation, union pension problems, rising gas prices, and a fourth factor I can't remember. What I can remember was when flying was reliable. Sic transit gloria mundi.


Unknown said...

I had a very similar conversation with my mother two weeks ago. She always calls me to complain about the airlines and thinks I have some secret information on how to get better prices and better service since I used to work for Expedia. Kind of like how everyone assumes I can fix their computer problems and how I'm sure people you know expect you to be the font of knowledge on getting published.

I recommend travel insurance.

Steven Francis Murphy said...

What I want to know is this.

The Twenty-first century is here and we still do not have a teleporter.

That would solve the flying problem I suspect.

S. F. Murphy

TheOFloinn said...

I often find myself flying twice a week for weeks on end. Nor is Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton the throbbing epicenter of the world of flight, so I often have to change planes -- most often in Chicago, but I know Atlanta airport well enough to know what it is like to have to change concourses there. Now and then, I've hustled to a connecting gate, only to learn that it has been changed. Someday I will tell about my flight from Salisbury MD and back.

But planes are not late because of pensions or because of deregulation. A lot of times there is a weather problem somewhere else in the country and because of that dominoes topple. One time my connecting flight was waiting at the gate to take off, but the crew that was to fly it was still stuck in Boston.

Gate changes have to do with traffic on the ground. The local airport authority is in charge of that. If there's a plane at Gate 1 that can't take off because there's heavy weather at the destination, the next plane scheduled for that gate has to be moved somewhere else. I've learned never to rely on the connecting gate I was told at check-in and always check the board when I arrive. That saved my connection in Chicago a little while ago.

Seattle to Rochester via Atlanta? Shazaam.

g d townshende said...

My girlfriend and I have moaned and groaned about the comPLETE lack of teleportation at this late stage of history on several occasions. Since she's in Portugal and I'm in DC, it would go a long way towards making life SO much easier. Hmmph!

However,... last March, when I was on a Lufthansa flight going to Porto, Portugal, via Frankfurt, Germany, the flight got cancelled because some water had gotten into the plane's computers. Lufthansa then had to deal with a plane-load of people (it was a Boeing 747), all of whom had to be put up in hotels, transported to and from the hotels, fed dinner that night, and breakfast the following morning, and other things. Something like five different hotels had to be contacted to get rooms for everybody.

In my case, I was to arrive in Porto on the day following the original flight, and the day after that board a plane bound for Pisa, Italy. Since my departure was now a day late, that meant I was going to miss my flight from Porto to Pisa. Lufthansa, however, even though the other flight was on a completely different airline, flew me from Dulles, in DC, to Frankfurt, then from Frankfurt to Munich. At Munich, I had a 6-7 hour layover. The flight from Munich to Pisa was on a plane that seated no more than 40 or 50 people.

In the end, my girlfriend beat me to Pisa by about 2 hrs, and we then spent the rest of our stay in Italy enjoying the sights and sounds of Pisa and Florence before we headed back to Portugal.

Moral of this Story? If you're flying international, Lufthansa does a damned good job of taking care of their passengers.

g d townshende said...

I should add that all that putting up of people in hotels, transportation between the hotels and the airport, dinner, breakfast, etc, was all paid for at Lufthansa's expense.

TheOFloinn said...

Ja, doch. Lufthansa has always performed admirably in my experience.

Nick A said...

The irony is that 20 years ago, we defeated Comunisim. Today, the US domestic airlines perform at the quality we stereotyped Aerofot during the cold war. I have averaged 100K air miles a year for the last 11 years for business travel. Last year was by far the worse (e.g. PHI to SFO flight delayed 9 hours, on the runway, canceled at 1 AM, and the earliest USAir could rebook me was two days later). It's so bad now that I purposely avoid air travel unless absolutely needed, because the odds are too high against the schedule working as planned. When I do fly, I typically add a day, which is extremely inefficient.

The airlines have an unsustainable business model: we're in a new era of public flights being a last resort.

escoles said...

The thing I love about Hartsfield (ATL) is the recorded voice on the tram that says "The Strain, Is Starting" and "The Strain, Is Stopping".

At least, that's what it sounded like to me the last time I went through there, after working 40 hours in two and a half days...