Travel Delay


Snow at Logan December 20, 2009

Stop the snow, stop the snow, stop the snow

I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to air travel. For the last several years I’ve had status on American Airlines. Once you have status, it’s hard to travel on airlines you don’t. Here’s a quick example…

Our flight to Denver has been delayed three hours. We arrived two hours early (just to make sure we had confirmed seats given how many other flights have been delayed thanks to the Storm of the Century). The line at the regular counter was insanely long. The line at first class was nonexistent. On American, I can pop up to any counter because of having status. With status (or priority access), you get to breeze through check-in and go through an extra-special security line (which isn’t all that super special, but they make it seem like it is so that you feel better).

Today on United, no status, no breeze-through, which meant, wait in the long line. Ok, not so bad right? I mean, we did have a five hour wait till our flight so why worry about waiting in a long line? Because I’m spoiled. And because frankly, there is no reason to wait in an incredibly long line if you don’t know whether all the other people are waiting to check in, or waiting to reschedule flights (I suspected the latter given all the delays).

I wanted to cut the line and go right to the computer check-ins. My travel partner, we’ll call Mr. K, did not agree. He wanted us to wait in the line. Everyone else was waiting in line, thus we should too.

But as I mentioned, I am spoiled. I walked up to the agent managing the line and inquired as to whether this line was for rescheduling or check in. She said it was for people waiting to talk to an agent. I said we were just checking in. “I’ll pull you from the line when you get closer,” was her response. Closer to what? There were 50 people waiting to talk to an agent, and 10 computers open with no one using them. We were about 45 people back…didn’t it make sense for us to just go use the computer now? Mr. K again disagreed and convinced me to be good and wait in the line.

Five minutes passed, ten, then fifteen. Did it matter? That meant we still had four hours and forty-five minutes till our flight. For me it did. I asked Mr. K to hold my bags and did the limbo under the ropes to get to the computers. I started the check-in process. We didn’t need an agent, we just needed our bags checked and our boarding passes printed.

I finished pressing all the right buttons, and Mr. K was convinced. He jumped from the line with our bags.

We checked in. Only four and a half hours left to wait! Hurrah.


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Rocking chairs are not new to Logan, but tonight—the first time I’ve actually snagged one while waiting for a flight—I realize their true meaning: rocking away your frustration at waiting for a flight that threatens half hour by half hour never to come.

Rocking chair in Logan, sans rocker

Rocking chair in Logan, sans rocker

My colleagues at work this afternoon were nervous that I was going to miss my flight. At 5:15 I was still sitting at my desk, pretty calmly addressing some last minute needs (despite the fact that my bag was still sitting unpacked on my living room floor a few miles away). “Shouldn’t you leave now?” a few of them asked when I told them that my flight was scheduled to depart Logan at 7:30—“scheduled” being the key word. “Are you heading straight to the airport?” another asked. “No,” I replied, I still had to head home to finish packing. I received a rather shocked look in response.

But I had no fear that on a rainy, Friday night, after receiving updates that my mom’s flight from California to JFK was delayed a few hours, that my tiny Embraer flight from Logan to JFK on American would almost definitely be delayed.

As soon as I left the office (a very generous colleague offered to drive me home to avoid the delay of the bus), I received my two hour pre-flight call from American letting me know that my flight was “scheduled” to take off at 7:30. Surprised, I had a brief moment of panic—maybe I wouldn’t make it. As I hung up, I turned to my colleague to express a brief moment of concern. Then my phone buzzed again. American Airlines. They were sorry to report that my flight was now “scheduled” for departure at 8. I hung up and returned to my conversation. A few minutes later, a third call. American’s electronic voice recording was again sorry to report that my flight was now “scheduled” for 8:30.

Thank god.

Now I could actually pack. And find my international charger. And figure out international calling for my phone. And set my out of office messages. And attempt to pick up my bag with my right hand, left hand, and back and forth to guess if it was actually under 40 pounds (ok, yes I could have put in on a scale, but it wouldn’t have been as fun).

I relaxed at home. Guacamole was made. Final travel needs addressed. Then a leisurely trip down the rain soaked Pike to Logan. Bags checked (weighed in at 43 pounds!), security breeched and then passed. And then waiting. And rocking. And waiting. And listening to announcements saying the flight is again delayed. And waiting. And rocking. And relaxing because I’m on vacation. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

PS- Once I arrived at JFK, we taxi-ed around the tarmac for about 35 minutes–or more than half the time it took to fly to New York in the first place. At one point we pulled up to a gate, then suddenly did a 180. Apparently it was the wrong gate…overall, fun times 🙂

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This was the line for cabs at Logan circa midnight on Sunday. It was a good time. Guesses as to how long it took to get a taxi?

This was the line for cabs at Logan circa midnight on Sunday. It was a good time. Guesses as to how long it took to get a taxi?

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Returning from Denver was both eventful and noneventful. Having woken up Saturday night with a tear-inducing sore throat, fever, and body aches, I couldn’t imagine anything I wanted to do less than get in a car for 1.5 hours and then a plane for 4.5. In addition, the idea that I might get others on a plane full of recycled air, sick, had me on the phone with United asking about their policies regarding changing flights due to illness.

Turns out, they don’t really have one. Really? Ok, well, maybe I needed to speak to someone else. United’s official policy is that you can change your flight if you’re sick—if you pay $150—and then if you receive a doctor’s note about your illness, they will refund the $150. For my travel partner and I, betting $300 on the possibility that I might be able to get a doctor’s note confirming I was contagious was a little more than we could afford. So we decided to fly. If anyone on my flight caught a sore throat, please take issue with United, not me. I did sequester myself away from as many travelers as possible and tried not to breathe—for 4.5 hours.

More eventful however, was what we experienced in the airport itself. As we drove toward the circus tent (and for anyone who hasn’t seen the Denver airport, while meant to evoke the Rockies in winter, it does look like giant travelling circus tent), billowing stacks of looming dark clouds shifted across the horizon. Behind us, the Rockies were all but obliterated from view, as thunderheads came across the plains and bumped up against their majesty.

In all the approaching storm’s beauty, I was left awestruck. My love of Western thunderstorms melted away the aches and pains of my throat as I sat in the car, enthralled by the looming power of these enchanting clouds. There is nothing I love more than the deep, heart palpitating rumble of thunder as it spreads across an open prairie.

Under the Circus Tent

Under the Circus Tent

In the airport, the thunderstorm hit. We were seated in the upstairs section of the big tent nibbling on snacks, when the canvas ceiling started rippling with the sudden downpouring of rain. Rivulets of water erupted from the sides of the building. It was incredible, and also, somewhat shocking. As much as I had thought the building looked like a giant tent, I never imagined that the roof was in fact some sort of canvas tension material (to read more about the architect Curtis Fentress, click here).

The rumbles, the deluge, the wind, and lightening (sadly only distant rumbles of thunder) were amazing to experience from the main concourse. The storm passed through ferociously,  albeit briefly. And amazingly, despite the weather, our flight was not listed as delayed.   

Of course, just because it’s not listed as delayed doesn’t mean a delay won’t happen. We then sat on the tarmac for an hour. Luckily, I promptly curled up to the sound of rain and the hum of the plane engines, and fell asleep.

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Last Thursday I flew to Denver for a family trip to the Rocky Mountains. Four members of the party were coming together at the airport on three different flights—quite the coordination campaign. From Boston, two different airlines: United and American. From Manchester: Southwest. I was on a direct flight to Denver on United after deciding that for such a short weekend, being on multiple flights was too much of a risk for cancellations, delays, and angst. Turns out, all three airlines experienced postponements of some sort or another.

Unsettled weather in the Denver area the last few weeks has led to baseball size hail, tornadoes, and lightening/thunderstorms. We weren’t sure what to expect for our flights–but I was anticipating some sort of significant setback. On United, our delays were fairly minor. After pulling out of the gate, we sat on the tarmac for about half an hour; in flight, we did some circling around Denver and experienced some bumps. But we managed to arrive only about 15 minutes past the anticipated arrival time. In fact, our flight was supposed to be the last to arrive, but we ended up being the first–a rare feat.

Southwest had been delayed in Philly (surprise, surprise!) and the American traveler had been rerouted from Boston-Dallas-Denver to Boston-Chicago-Denver. She had then waited in Chicago for hours. I found it interesting that my least favorite airline (United) was the most on time, whereas my usually favorite airline (American) was the most delayed.

Overall our success on United seemed more a product of airports less inclined to delays, the right timing regarding the weather, and most importantly, direct flights, than to the individual airlines. Nevertheless, I might be inclined to check out United again. Well…only if it’s direct.

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Manchester Airport RunwayThere’s nothing quite like waiting 4.5 hours for a flight, nor is there any experience like flying in the belly of a giant killer whale. Last weekend, I got to do both.

Headed to Philly for a weekend of law graduation celebrating, I was scheduled on what I thought was a 7:40 PM flight out of Manchester, New Hampshire on Southwest. I did my typical prep of printing out the boarding pass ahead of time, and had added some extra time to account for holiday traffic on the hour-long drive north. I was pleasantly surprised however, when I left the office around 4:45, that 90 was virtually clear of traffic—so I waited in anticipation of hitting standstill traffic on 93. Again, surprise. Ninety-three had a few more cars, but was relatively traffic free.

But per usual, my luck wouldn’t last. As I emerged from a tunnel under Boston, my phone rang. “So you’re arriving at 8:15?” my friend Jen asked. “Mmm, I thought my flight was at 7:40?” I replied nervously, eyeing the clock that was already approaching 5:15 with still 40 miles to cover till I hit long-term parking. “Well, I’m looking at the flight schedule you sent to me and it says you depart at 6:50.”

I scrambled to grab my paper boarding pass. Sure enough, the flight was at 6:50. Shit. “Good thing I left work early!” I replied and quickly hung up to dial Southwest. As I hit send, my car came to a stop in stand-still traffic just outside of Boston.

“Manchester, New Hampshire.”

“Philadelphia.”

“6:50 PM.”

I paced my answers to the automated flight details recording, but my mind was racing. Piled behind a back-up of cars all leaving Boston, I had lost the extra hour I’d thought I had and now was stuck in traffic. No good.

The twangy automated voice on the other end of the line came back on, “Flight number 518 is estimated to depart Manchester, New Hampshire at 8:15 PM.”

Whew! Because what would I have done if my travel karma had been good? I would have missed the flight! As only my luck would have it, over the course of the next hour of my drive to Manchester, my flight was pushed back from 8:15 to 9, 9:15 to 9:45 and then to 10:35. Good thing I arrived at the airport by 6:05! There’s nothing I love more than sitting around a small, regional airport for 4.5 hours.

Usually I would have been upset, but there was nothing I could do. On a holiday weekend, there was no way I could have left Boston any later. And although the friendly Southwest counter staff offered that I could take the Saturday morning flight, it meant either another 2.5 hours in the car back to Boston and then returning to Manchester the next morning. Or simply sitting.

So I sat.

I sat at the restaurant. I sat on three different terminal benches. I perched on a bar stool at a handy computer counter charging my phone. I even sat in a massage chair. And let me tell you, I needed that massage after 4.5 hours of not being able to avoid Fox News. Anywhere you sit in Manchester is directly within earshot of either Fox, or the Disney Channel. By the end of the night I couldn’t tell you which I detested more, Hannah Montana or Hannity Bannity.

Once the plane did arrive, Southwest did their usual speedy-Gonzales turnaround and had us down in Philly before my friends could even make it to the airport to pick me up.

I have to say, all things considered, the wait (and the trip) could have been a lot worse. Southwest did a great job of expediting the boarding and travel. I sensed the pilot even had a bit of a pedal to the metal attitude on the tarmac in Philly because I’ve never landed and arrived at a gate so quickly.

I also learned that of any airport to have cancellations (one of the things I feared about waiting so many hours for the plane), Manchester is one of the least likely. The Southwest staff informed me that the way flights are routed, Southwest needs the planes that fly into Manchester elsewhere. Unless there is a major problem in Manch-vegas, no matter how late the plane arrives, 99% of the time they’ll turn it around. Good to know for future trips!

And of course, to make my trip complete, there, on the other end, was the reason for my travel. My best friend officially an esq. For that reason, the wait couldn’t have been more worth it.

(If you’re wondering about Shamu, check back soon).