Now Air Travel Sucks More

jetblueHappy New Year. Air travel sucks more.

Over time airlines have offered less and less to passengers. Remember food? We’ve got smaller seats, crowded planes and baggage fees.

Now, airlines have begun to eat away at any semblance of dependability.

JetBlue cancelled hundreds of flights over the weekend into Tuesday. More weather than they’re staffed to handle! It’s as simple as that.

JetBlue decides how much they want to spend to be prepared. Their threshold for preparedness falls below this weekend’s weather. The weather was bad, but snow falls in the Northeast nearly every year. An FAA rule affecting pilot rest hours just kicked in, but JetBlue knew it was coming two years ago.

After hundreds of cancellations over the weekend, JetBlue shut down their major Northeast operations Monday at 5:00 PM. Things start up again in the morning, gradually. They just need some ‘me’ time.

JetBlue operates as many as 240 departures and arrivals daily in Boston, and as many as 440 departures and arrivals a day at the New York City region’s three major airports: John F. Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International. The airline said the hiatus would allow for “17 hours of rest for our equipment and crew members and time to service aircraft.” – Wall Street Journal

As airlines have figured out how to fly mostly full planes, options for displaced travelers have disappeared. Miss a flight? Be prepared to wait many days.

Richard Bellefeuille said he had been sitting with his two young sons at Logan since Saturday evening. The boys were supposed to fly to San Francisco at 8 p.m., but after hours of delays, the flight was finally canceled at 3 a.m. The airline told them the next available flight leaves Saturday.

“Their mother’s in San Francisco, but they were here with me for the holidays and it looks like I’ll have them an extra week,” he said. – Boston Globe

When I was a kid, flying was very expensive. Only rich people and celebrities traveled by air. Air travel was luxurious.

Flying has been democratized. Inflation adjusted prices are way below what I paid when I finally did buy a ticket.

Deregulation has been a mixed blessing to travelers. Lower fares, but more hassle.

I liked it better the way it was when I couldn’t afford to use it! There are no easy answers.

The Trip Home From Hell

Today I cannot mention United Airlines without preceding it with a seven letter adjective that rhymes with trucking!

I wasn’t arrested at Milwaukee International Airport last night, but it was close! I didn’t die at O’Hare Airport in Chicago though I found myself praying not to get a heart attack while running trough Concourse F. Helaine and I made it back to Connecticut after the strangest plane trip I’ve ever experienced.

Today I cannot mention United Airlines without preceding it with a seven letter adjective that rhymes with trucking!

Thursday and Friday in Milwaukee were gray. Saturday was rainy. Air travel throughout the Midwest was slowed.

Originally our Milwaukee–Chicago flight was scheduled to land 58 minutes before our Chicago–Hartford flight took off. That’s plenty of time. Well within United’s standard for transferring at ORD.

We got to the airport where our departure time was listed as “DELAYED.” Never a good sign.

When the flight was finally assigned a departure time, leaving just a few minutes to catch our Bradley-bound leg, a few of us headed to the podium. Would the United agent please advise someone in Chicago we’d be there at the last moment? Maybe they could help us with a motorized cart or something that would allow us to catch the last flight of the day on a weekend booked to the gills!

She refused… but in a way that dripped with contempt for us, for her job and for the airline that put her in this situation.

This kind of treatment is especially galling for those of us who remember airlines as they were. They portray themselves in ads as if they were still putting the customer first. They do not. We’ve been spoiled by years of flying almost exclusively on Southwest. It’s easy to come to the conclusion most airlines actually hate us.

One of the people standing near me at the podium started getting agitated. The gate agent called her supervisor. A moment later he called the cops!

This a policeworthy offense? Allegedly the irate passenger cursed at the supervisor. I didn’t hear it. I was standing right there. Anyway, as curses go this was a really minor one.

It didn’t make any difference. Around ten sheriff deputies arrived at the gate. Helaine and I were taken to one side while the more argumentative flyer was taken to the other.

In case you’re interested there are no wants nor warrants out for us!

I can’t be sure what happened to the really upset passenger except he was taken to the Sheriff’s Office where I was told he’d be issued a ticket and required to post at least a $500 cash bond to leave! He wouldn’t be allowed on the flight… and he wasn’t there when we finally departed.

Seriously, this is crazy. The man was upset, but he shouldn’t have been cited. If the lead gate agent has this much power, he has too much power! Is this really what United wants their managers doing on their behalf?

The cost to this angry passenger in time, money and grief was greatly out-of-proportion with whatever mistake he made.

We finally got on our plane and took off at 8:35 PM. We were due to land around 9:00 PM. By this time the Bradley flight had been pushed back to 9:15 PM.

We were assured by the lead gate agent that United at O’Hare would know we were coming and the circumstances and would help out. Empty words! I can tell you now no one at O’Hare or within United did anything to help us!

We landed a few minutes after nine, taxied to the gate and waited! The pilot came on the PA to say United knew we were there, that the gate was available, but there was no one to allow our plane to open its door.

Tick, tick, tick.

My phone rang. It was an automated robotic voice from United. Because of the delay they had re-booked us and we would now leave Sunday at 7:15 PM. United had arranged for us to spend the next 22 hours at O’Hare!

We weren’t about to give up.

Our flight from Milwaukee arrived at Concourse F. We were departing from Concourse C. The walk was prohibitively long, but there is a shuttle. We ran to it.

Am I out-of-shape? Yes. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

It was then I began to worry for my life. I was huffing and puffing. My heart was pounding. Today every bit of me is sore.

The shuttle between the terminals crosses over active taxiways. Our driver gave way to planes heading to runways and gates. At one point she also did a full 360&#176 turn! Who knows why?

As we crossed the tarmac I saw our A320 still at the gate with a food service vehicle alongside.

I was first off the bus, ran upstairs and down the concourse to a deserted Gate C11. There were two agents finishing up their paperwork. The door to the jetway was closed.

“There are four of us going to Hartford,” I yelled. “Please let us on.”

“Where are they?” he asked.

I told him they were coming off the shuttle. He turned to the other agent and asked if the plane’s door was still open?

The plane’s door closed a few seconds after the four of us were escorted on!

I am left with a few questions.

Why didn’t the Milwaukee United agents try and make us feel like they had our best interests at heart? Even an “I tried, but failed,” would have made us happy. They didn’t lift a finger on our behalf. They acted like there was no upside to making us happy. Maybe there isn’t.

Why did so many people insist United would do something in Chicago when they actually did nothing?

Why did United do nothing?

Why did United re-book us for a flight that would have forced us to spend 22 hours in the airport when we could have made (and actually did make) the outbound flight? Why not hold the plane (which was making its last run of the day) another few minutes?

What value did United put on the 88 man hours that would be wasted.

Why did I consistently find more trustworthy and up-to-date information on than from United’s agents and their terminal monitors?

By the way, our bag made it on the flight too!