Right now, I’m supposed to be in Philadelphia, getting ready to get on a plane to Tel Aviv. I’m not. I’m in my dining room because the USAirways flight we were supposed to take this morning canceled due to a mechanical error.
I understand that breakdowns happen, and agree that airplanes shouldn’t fly when broken in ways that might endanger safety. So I thought I would sit down, and muse a little about how life turns out differently from what you expect.
Except . . . every time I try to write that post, I realize another way that USAirways screwed up this morning and made the situation worse. Then I spend a few minutes calming down, and feel like I can write rationally again . . . and realize there was another layer of screw-up that I didn’t notice at the time. Let me give a few brief examples.
We were delayed at first, but didn’t know how long, because they couldn’t get maintenance over to look at the plane until a good hour after scheduled departure. It took almost another hour to decide that the flight couldn’t go. At which point they told us to get off and talk to the agents about rebooking.
We get off, and the agents suggest we call the rebooking center. Which I do. At which point the person on the other end tells me the flight isn’t canceled. I assure her it is. We go back and forth for a few minutes, until the gate agent announces that maybe operations hasn’t informed anyone the flight is canceled yet.
Finally, we can start booking. And she finds us a flight that gets in about the same time as the original flight. Of course, it makes two stops, instead of one: Charlotte and Frankfurt. I’m more or less okay with that. Then she tells me the first flight doesn’t leave until 10PM. I ask if she’s sure the flight arrives in Tel Aviv on Thursday afternoon. She assures me it does, and continues to book us on this flight. As she is working on that, I start doing some mental arithmetic. The original flight was supposed to leave Portland at 8:45AM, and we had a 4 hour layover in Philadelphia leaving Philadelphia around 9PM, arriving in Tel Aviv at 3:15PM tomorrow (Thursday). If we leave Portland tonight at 10, it must be a red-eye, getting into Charlotte arriving around 6AM tomorrow morning–or around 1PM Tel Aviv time. I’m dubious about their ability to get us from Charlotte to Tel Aviv in two hours, especially with a change in Frankfurt. I suggest the agent double check that it arrives THURSDAY afternoon. She reassures me it does. I suggest she really should check that again. She becomes a tad upset, but does check. Wonder of wonders, it turns out it arrives FRIDAY afternoon, involving 2 red-eyes. I suggest she should find us better flight arrangements.
Turns out, there is no way to get us to Tel Aviv on Thursday, because now there is no time to get us to Philadelphia in time for the original flight. And it goes on like this. we must have spoken with a dozen USAirways representatives, and got different answers from all of them, almost all of which ended in “no.” But for different reasons.
The flight canceled at around 10:30 this morning. We didn’t get out of the airport until 1:30.
Since then, as I’ve thought about the situation, and tried to write about it, I realize how manner layers of mistakes they made, from not having the staff available to check the problem earlier, to not realizing what the cut off would be to get people booked on other flights, to not informing their own people they canceled the flight, which meant that any flights that might have gotten us to the East Coast on time had already departed.This didn’t occur to me until hours later, but then I don’t run an airline.
Every time I fly USAirways, I vow never to do so again. And then I relent. I say, “how bad could it be?” I decide to do so because it’s a little cheaper, or the rest of the family is taking that flight, so it will be easier when we arrive in Tel Aviv (which is why we booked USAir this time). Hopefully this time, I’ll remember. And I’m passing on my experience, so that maybe you all may be saved a similar fate. The problem isn’t the mechanical issue: the problem is the way it was dealt with.