9 flight changes
My merry band of travelers started off the day in good spirits. Our trip down to New Orleans on Monday had gone smoothly. The conference was over. We got a nice little taste of New Orleans (more on that next post) and we were all ready to head back to Buffalo to our respective spouses, children, and/or pets. Our boss is an experienced traveller and Delta Diamond so he had the timing down on when to head to the airport and all that. We left our hotel at 11:15am Central Time (12:15pm EST) to head to the airport. Security was a bit backed up but not much of a hassle. We went straight to our gate and settled down to get on our 1:15pm (2:15pm EST).
The flight to Atlanta gets delayed something over half an hour because our plane is running late. Apparently there’s some rain over the East Coast. Okay. That makes our connection tight, but the boss calls ahead. The pilot hopes to make up some time in the air. Everyone’s worried about missing their connecting flight. We land. It’s a madhouse trying to get off the plane since everyone’s in a hurry, but I’m not worried because we’re only three gates away (B21 to B26). I should have been worried. Our boss is the first to the new gate. They’d just shut the plane doors and we’re too late. We missed our (first) flight to Buffalo.
Our boss has it under control. He’s biting the bullet at taking the 9:30pm (we’re in EST now) out of Atlanta and put the three of us on the 5:30pm to Laguardia with a transfer to Buffalo. We were originally supposed to be landing in Buffalo by 6:30pm EST but a little late isn’t too bad. We have time to grab a late lunch at TGI Fridays that our boss pays for. We go to our new gate and board the plane.
One of the sensors on the plane is broken, they’re working on a fix. Okay. I’d rather fly in a fully working plane than a broken plane. I’m going home either way. It’s fine.
The fix doesn’t work. They have to go get another part. It’ll be about half an hour. The air is off on the plane so it’s getting hot. (It’s Atlanta and we’re encased in metal.) We wait. They get the part. They install the part. Still doesn’t work. They try turning the plane off and turning it back on again. (Seriously!) That doesn’t work. They try one more thing. Nope. The plane is broken. We’ve been stuck on this hot mess of a plane for close to two hours. We’re getting moved to a different plane at a different gate.
We go to our new gate. This flight doesn’t take off until 7:30pm. We’re going to miss our connection to Buffalo. We talk to the ticketing agent. Oh, no, he assures us. Everything’s running late because of the storm. It’ll be fine. Your connection will be running late too. We’re skeptical. We don’t want to get stranded at Laguardia. I have friends in Atlanta (Hi, Kaela!) and a place to stay and it’s early enough we could go have dinner somewhere and fly out in the morning. No, no, the agent assures us. You’ll make your connection. We can’t guarantee anything else. You should get on this plane.
We get on the plane. The plane gets diverted around the storm. We’re circling waiting to land, they tell us. I check our connecting flight status while we wait. It just took off. I search for other flights to Buffalo going out that night. There are none. I check for flights going to Rochester. It’s only an hour away. My husband will come get us. That already took off too. We are officially stranded after being repeatedly assured we wouldn’t be.
We get off the plane. We go to the Delta counter. No one’s there. Another traveller says that they’re on break and to knock on the door. He had problems with them too. We knock on the door. We wait. We wait some more. A girl comes out. We explain our problem. There’s nothing she can do, she says. Nothing she can do. Over and over. She’s powerless. Knows nothing. Not authorized. She leaves to get her manager.
The manager comes out and politely says that we’re not allowed to swear at the agents. We look at each other confused. We’d been frustrated but polite. No one remembers swearing. Whatever. We explain everything again to the new agent. As we’re doing so, the previous girl walks out with her bag packed talking to a friend. She’s done for the night. A lightbulb clicks. I guess she’s not paid enough to care about our problems and was just waiting to clock out. It’s around 11pm EST by now and we’ve been travelling since noon. We’re exhausted. We don’t have the energy to even care anymore.
The manager says we could go on standby for the 7:15am flight but we’d end up stuck at the airport if we don’t get one. She looks around some more. There’s a 9:30 she can get us seats on and she can give us a hotel voucher for the night. We’re enthused, thinking it’s a 9:30am flight. It’s not. She hadn’t specified. It’s 9:30pm. We deflate. She searches around for other flights. They’re all oversold. She tries partners. Nothing. Flights to Rochester? Nothing. Flights to Rochester on partners? Nothing.
One of my fellow travellers suggests renting a car and just driving home. It’s 6 hours (up to 8 with traffic). I’ve done that easy. We’re all tired but we consider it. There’s a train that runs from New York City to Buffalo. We could get an overnight and sleep on the train. The manager goes to look it up. Amtrack is blocked on her computer. Our phones are dead or dying. We take the 9:30pm and the hotel voucher. We all need to eat and rest a bit and then we’ll decide. She gives us two meal vouchers for in the Delta terminal tomorrow in case we’re stuck. She also offers travel vouchers. Neither of the others plan to travel any time soon so they ask if they expire. She says they don’t. (They do, in one year.) Whatever.
We get a shuttle to our hotel. Hats off to Springhill Suites Marriott in Corona, NY. They were the bomb. After a long day of “Sorry” and “No” they were happy and pleasant and full of yes. They put us in cute little rooms in a separate alcove. The bar’s closed but they have menus for delivery. We order pizza and convene to talk options. We’ve been in contact with our boss. He pulls his lawyer/Delta diamond mojo and gets us moved up to a 3:45pm flight out of JFK plus standby on the 7:15am at Laguardia.
Sleep. Blissful sleep.
After all the havoc of the previous day, something finally goes right, by accident. One of my travel companions takes the standby option and gets home early, just in time to get her stuff and drive to Rhode Island for a vacation planned months ago. I’m antsy so we get to JFK at 11am. We have no idea what terminal our flight’s at, nor does our Uber driver. The driver’s wearing cologne or insense so strong we both gag so we’re in a hurry to get out of there. (I have perfume allergies and he was triggering them.) We get dropped off at Terminal 2 for Delta. It’s obvious when we walk in that we’re in the wrong place. It’s a small terminal and there’s only a TSA Pre-check line. We are not Pre-check but everyone goes in that line anyways. Security moves fast, despite the lady constantly barking at everyone and anything as if we’re all simple-minded peasants who can’t tell our ass from a teakettle. Whatever.
We get through security and go find a help desk since our boarding passes have no gate on them. We again tell part of our story. The agent is horrified. She looks up our flight and we’re in the wrong terminal, but there’re shuttles over to terminal 4. But, even better, she can get us on an earlier flight! We’re now leaving at 2-something and home by 3:30pm. Yay! We head to our terminal via shuttle. I nearly get my hand crushed by a guy who doesn’t understand not to lean against the pole someone’s holding onto. (Think of the bus like a subway car with few seats, which were, of course, all taken.) We find our gate with time to kill, aka time to get a burger and milkshake. Our new flight is on time and despite getting stuck in the exit aisle with seats literally too small for my hips, we make it to Buffalo! Huzzah! My husband picks me up, we eat, I fall into Odinsleep for the next twelve hours.
What Could Have Been Done:
I’m a computer programmer by day. Interconnecting systems are my life blood. All of this could have been avoided if Delta’s flights were aware of each other. It’s not uncommon for a flight to be held for someone who’s been delayed. Apparently we weren’t privileged enough for that. We were literally sitting waiting to deplane while our original flight back to Buffalo was boarding. You could see our new gate from our exit gate. But either a decision was made not to hold the plane or the Delta systems weren’t smart enough to recognize that Travelers W, X, Y, and Z for Flight B were deplaning on Flight A. We have the technology. This is easy stuff to build. The same for our flight into Laguardia. We were circling waiting to land while our new plane was boarding. Location awareness is a thing. All flights are tracked. On one of our planes down there was a screen showing the plane’s exact geographic progress. The technology is already there, it’s just not being used.
My second biggest problem was in customer service. We got a whole lot of empty “sorry”s and “nothing can be done”. Usually, it turned out, something could have been done. I expect better. Delta can do better. I tried getting help from their Twitter account while we were stuck in Atlanta. All I got were a couple ‘sorry’s and then they stopped responding. I work as part of my company’s customer service team. (We’re a small company. Everyone pitches in.) I know how to do good customer service. We do good customer service and our clients love us for it. It’s not even hard to do good customer service. All you have to do is care, just a tiny bit, about what the other person is going through.
Delta does not care. Out of all the people we talked to, there were two agents who were sympathetic but still limited in what they could do beyond sympathize. Really, the sympathy went a lot further than bogus travel vouchers. As someone experiencing a problem, you want to be heard. You want to know someone cares. That’s why the Springhill Suites staff were such a pleasure after dealing with Delta all day. It was close to midnight when we got in but they were happy, smiling. They cared.
Now excuse me while I got call Delta’s corporate line and tell this whole thing over again. Maybe I can find someone who cares.