Monday, January 13, 2014

Rough Air

               "Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly away…"
                                                                                      --- from the song "Let's Fly Away"
                                                                                           lyrics by Sammy Cahn
                                                                                           performed by Frank Sinatra, 1957

             The words and melody sound so inviting when Frank sings them, don't they?  But it's 2014, not 1957, and the romance of air travel has gone the way of bobby socks and the Rat Pack.

             Sunday, December 19, 2010
             After an idyllic vacation on the Oregon coast Tim and I are in the Eugene airport, waiting to board our flight to Salt Lake City, UT.  The gate agent announced a minor delay due to maintenance problems.  But within half an hour we boarded the plane.  Shortly after takeoff the captain assured us of a quick, smooth flight to Salt Lake City and a near on-time arrival of 3:50 p.m.  We looked forward to seeing our cats, turning on the holiday lights, listening to Christmas CDs and relaxing—a quiet Sunday evening at home.
             Two minutes after the captain's message the commuter jet slowed, turned and began a descent.  I tugged on Tim's sleeve and said:
           "This should never happen on take-off."
             Another minute and another message from the captain.
            "Folks—from the flight deck—you may have noticed that we're descending.  A warning light has alerted the crew to a mechanical failure in the plane's deicing system."
              Back to Eugene we go.  With the airport in sight the wheels rumbled down into their locked, landing position.
              "Mommy!  We're crashing!", said a six-year-old seated behind us.  Reassuring.
               We landed (without incident), then off-loaded and waited.  A short while later another announcement from the gate:
              "Due to the de-icing system failure our jet is not safe to fly.  Please get in line to be reassigned to another flight."
               Tim entered the long line while I phoned Delta.  I reached an agent who told me there was a single seat on a Horizon flight leaving in an hour for Portland; from Portland a flight leaves for Salt Lake at 6:15 and will arrive at 9:00 p.m.  Tim must be on that flight; he has a full day of surgeries scheduled for tomorrow.  The agent gave me a confirmation number for Tim, then put me on a flight leaving Eugene in the morning.  Tim left for the Horizon gate and I got back in line to get my ticket and make arrangements for our luggage and for my overnight stay in Eugene.  Almost an hour later I approached the counter as Tim rushed to my side.  Horizon Airlines won't take his confirmation number, they need an actual ticket from the Delta agent.
               "Oh," the Delta agent said to me, "As it happens there are many empty seats on that flight to Portland.  Would you like to be assigned to that flight?"
                Yes, I would.  I grabbed my ticket, hurried to the Horizon gate with Tim, was the last person to board the flight and... the plane was only half-full of passengers.  Shouldn't the Delta agent I spoke with on the phone an hour ago have known that?  Well, anyway, we had a smooth 20 minute flight to Portland and were a couple hours early for our 6:15 flight to Salt Lake.  We checked the departure board and, what's this?  Our flight to Salt Lake has been delayed until 9:15.  Now we had time for a sit-down dinner where we could at least use the measly $6.00 voucher issued to us by a Delta representative.

Catching some shut eye while waiting—and waiting—for the
flight home.
                Back at the gate we read that the flight was now delayed until 10:00 p.m.
               "What's the problem?"  I asked the gate agent.
               "Well," she said. "The plane is still in Salt Lake and hasn't taken off due to a mechanical problem with refueling."  Delta had used the same excuse for our delayed flight from Salt Lake City to Eugene earlier in the week.
                 Oh really?  Here's the thing:  I just read that Delta raked in almost 1 billion dollars in revenue from baggage fees last year.  Shouldn't Delta take some of that one billion in cash and maintain their planes?  Or maybe they could hand out meal vouchers worth more than six dollars.

                 Finally, at 10:15 p.m., we took off for Salt Lake.  The flight was smooth until the descent into the Salt Lake Valley.  A mighty wind took hold of our small jet, tossing us up and down and side to side.  With queasy stomachs we stumbled to baggage claim, only to find our luggage hadn't made the trip.  Time to stand in line again.  We handed our claim checks to the clerk.
               "Your luggage is still on the plane in Eugene and I have no idea when it will arrive.  Fill out your name and address and we'll put it on a FedEx truck for delivery when it gets to Salt Lake."
                We were home by 3:45 a.m., a full 12 hours after we had expected to arrive in Salt Lake City.

                Wednesday, December 22, 2010
                Steady rain all day and still no sign of my luggage.  But when I opened the side door this morning Tim's bag was on the side porch, soaking wet.  FedEx must have dropped it off last night and forgot to ring the doorbell.  I emptied the bag of its sopping contents and hung the clothing to dry.  This afternoon my bag showed up on our doorstep as well, with a San Francisco baggage tag.  I hope my bag had a nice layover in the city by the bay.

                 Our Oregon coast vacation was delightful.  The return trip, not so much.  Oh, I'll continue to fly; it's still the best way to get quickly from here to there.  But the skies are many times less-than-friendly, and jet-setting is not what was in Frank Sinatra's day.
                 Readers, do you have a nightmare flight story?
                Wishing everyone safe, happy, and on-time arrivals in 2014!


  1. Rita . . . can't recall for certain, but think I might have mentioned this once before. Regardless, many years ago while working in the pharmaceutical industry, I used to travel by air to major cities across the U.S., Canada, and England. Your blog report brings back so many memories of similar situations that I encountered over those years.

    Air travel is often the only practical way of getting from Point A to Point B. However, nowadays whenever possible, I choose car travel, even if it might take a few more hours. :-)


  2. I'm right there with you on preferring car travel, John. Last year, when I had the chance to drive from Utah to PA for Christmas, I went for it!

    Yes, I think(?) you had previously mentioned your pharmaceutical job and the air travel involved. I'll bet you're happy to be able to spend your time hiking now, instead of flying!

    As always, thanks for commenting, and for being a faithful follower of my blog.

  3. Good god Rita!

    Would have been worthwhile to hear the airline point of view you know, but the FedEx delivery beats it all!

    Glad nothing was amiss, anyway and thanks for reminding us of the essential hazards of travel

  4. I agree that this story was quite an ordeal!

    I see your point about the airline's "point of view" and I'd be happy to hear their side of things. But it does seem that while profits for the airlines are climbing, customer service is falling. Wonder if that's a direct correlation?

    At least all ended well—and I'm still flying Delta!

    I always enjoy reading your comments, Soumyendu. Thanks for following!

  5. Hi Rita,

    Thank goodness you and Tim are safe and sound after that airport misadventure!

    I have some yucky flight mishap stories - including one extraordinarily abusive and unprofessional United stewardess story that happened while I was traveling for work after I'd spent days without sleep managing a death-on-the-job situation; truly ugly and made even worse by what I now call "Untied" Airlines.

    Your situation reminds me why I go out of my way not to fly in winter. (Harder where you live, certainly.) But, I'm not a fan of de-icing or ice on the runway situations. This is why I'm never in my beloved Wolfeboro in winter!

    Hope Tim made his surgeries and that you've both recovered your sleep deficit and soggy baggage!

    1. I like it—"Untied" Airlines! Abusive employees can take all the "joy"out of flying, can't they?

      I can understand your reluctance to fly in winter. Ice and snow can cause a lot more problems than a summer rainstorm. Although there are hurricanes and tornados to deal with in the warmer months…

      Tim did make it on time for his surgeries, we recovered from the experience. and I'm still flying Delta.
      I just wish that flying was a more customer-oriented experience!
      Thanks for your comments and for your flight mishap story—all too common, I'm afraid!