Shell Shocked: Another airline horror story
Flying today is not what it used to be. Commercial airlines once offered pleasant flying experiences – food, booze, leg room – and even on time departures. And flight attendants even wore white gloves. All of this is now ancient history.
Anyone who’s had to fly somewhere recently knows that the flying experience has become an exercise in frustration, impatience and despair. My lady friend and I recently did a round trip on an airline that just as easily could have been the subject of a horror movie.
Some friends of ours invited us to spend a weekend with them in Asheville a few weeks ago. From where we live up north it’s barely an hour flight. But the nightmare started when the flight to Asheville, which was originally scheduled to leave at 8 a.m., was delayed. That’s nothing new. It seems that most flights these days are delayed. We were seated in the waiting area by the gate and kept getting announcements that a minor mechanical problem was being attended to and that it shouldn’t be long.
We then kept seeing new departure notices that raised our blood pressure and created acid reflux. As each new updated departure time was posted the gremlins of delay created new postponements. First it was 8:45 a.m., then 9:15 a.m., then 10:15 a.m. Finally, at 11 a.m., a mere three hours after the flight had been originally scheduled to depart, we were told to board the plane. We all heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, we would be getting under way. We all boarded the plane, got seated and buckled our safety belts. The engines began to roar and then they eased back. Whereupon the captain announced that the minor mechanical problem was still there and that the aircraft wasn’t sufficiently air worthy. He announced that all the passengers would need to disembark and await further instructions inside the terminal.
We were so close to leaving. How frustrating. We schlepped off the plane and gathered around an airline spokesman at the gate. He informed us that the aircraft we were on was being taken to the shop for further evaluation and that the airline would try, not guarantee, but try to get a replacement aircraft.
Another hour and a half passed. We had already missed lunch with our friends in Asheville. Finally, the spokesman announced that another aircraft was on its way and that the flight would take place after all. To his credit, he was true to his word. But the replacement aircraft didn’t arrive for another two hours. So instead of arriving in Asheville at 9 a.m. in the morning we barely arrived in time for dinner.
Not to be outdone, the return trip was even worse. The one-hour flight was scheduled to leave at 2:15 p.m. Virtually the same set of events took place: mechanical problems, a long wait, having to go through airline security twice and boarding the plane about four hours after its original departure time.
Once again all the passengers were on board and buckled in. And again we could envision the plane taking off and getting us back in one hour. It was not to be. Before the plane made any sign of taking off the captain announced that he was just notified that the flight had been cancelled. CANCELLED.
There were no other flights out that day and we had to stand on a long line inside the terminal to book a new one for the next day. Fortunately, our friends picked us up and commiserated with us over a lovely meal at a popular restaurant. But other passengers on that flight weren’t quite as fortunate. Most had been staying at hotels which were all booked up. They couldn’t get their rooms back.
The airline booked a block of rooms for these passengers at a hotel adjacent to the airport. There was one catch though. The passengers had to pay for the rooms themselves. The airline announced that it wouldn’t be reimbursing those passengers who required hotel rooms for the night. To add insult to injury the rate for each hotel room was $380. Whatever happened to the concept of making good for your own screw ups?
When I finally got home the next day I vowed that I would never fly again – until the next time, of course. I do long for the day when travelers will be able to get into a time travel capsule and arrive anywhere in the world instantaneously. But until that day comes, we will continue to brace ourselves every time we fly for events that will once again make valium the largest selling tranquilizer ever.