We had been in Philly for a few days to attend a company Christmas party. We had two choices for our return home on Saturday--really early in the morning, or 6:00 PM in the evening. I'm not an early riser, so we chose the later time. There was a predicted snow storm that day, and everyone in Philly was a bit "snow and ice shy" after a storm the previous weekend that shut down the airport and closed schools. Erring on the side of caution, we decided to arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Anyone who has traveled in and out of Philly knows that the security lines can be horrible there.
We arrived about 3 hours early, and the airport was empty. I've never, ever seen it so slow. Apparently the threat of snow prompted travelers to change to earlier flights to avoid delays. When I checked in, there was an option to upgrade to First Class for $210.
We had three hours to burn in the airport, so we got a bite to eat. I found a semi-quite place to sit and take a snooze. We headed toward the gate with about an hour to go...just lounging around waiting to board. As we were sitting in the boarding area, a flight attendant approached the gate agent to ask for something. I didn't hear what it was. I also didn't hear the gate agent's response, but the flight attendant sat in some chairs close to the gate agent podium. These were the seats that are typically reserved for passengers that need assistance getting on the plane.
The flight attendant then said something to the gate agent like, "I didn't mean to bother you, and I apologize if I did." That was apparently the wrong thing to say.
The gate agent retorted, "You didn't bother me. I told you to give me a minute." She was clearly annoyed.
The flight attendant responded again that it wasn't her intention to inconvenience the gate agent. The flight attendant seemed to be sincere...not sarcastic...and trust me, I know sarcastic.
The gate agent lost it. She said, "Get up out of those chairs," (referring to the chairs closest to the podium that were reserved for disabled passengers---which I might add--no one was sitting in). The flight attendant stood up then the gate agent physically PICKED UP the row of chairs and moved it close to the podium so that no one could sit in the chairs. She then picked up the sign that tells you how big your luggage can be and still fit in the overhead bin...and placed the sign in front of the chairs, clearly creating a barricade to bar the flight attendant from sitting in the chairs.
The flight attendant said, something like, "Now you're doing things on purpose." She asked for a supervisor to come. When he arrived, the flight attendant said, "Can we go somewhere to talk because I don't want to have this conversation in front of the passengers." They moved it down the hall, but they were yelling so loudly that they had to move it even further down the hall.
Honestly, I've never seen anything like that! In case I didn't mention it, we were flying on:
Well, the flight attendant and the gate agent finally resolved their issue long enough for us to board the plane. Look, as one who has had a meltdown at the gate (usually because of a gate agent), I get it. People have bad days. It happens. When I got to my seat (2A), I asked the flight attendant to come over. I told her that I wasn't sure what happened out there, but that she needed a hug. She was so sweet and very professional about the whole thing.
I was all snuggled up with my blanket, my earplugs in, my eye mask on...ready for the 4 1/2 hour flight.
The ground crew took the plane off of auxiliary (ground) power. The pilots turned the engines. The power came on...then the whole plane when black. Completely black. Like white lights lead to red lights that lead to the exit. We went back on auxiliary power. Maintenance was called. By this time, the light (and I mean very light) snow had turned to cold rain. So, no snow, no ice....just cold rain. Maintenance came (about an hour later), flipped some switch, and we tired again. Powered up...and everything went black. Again. Maintenance flipped another switch, and we tried again. Then for a THIRD time, the plane wouldn't hold power.
Each time we call maintenance in Philly, it takes about an hour. This is what people affectionately call the "Philly experience." It's very difficult to understand if you've not experienced it. This airport is notorious for its "I've got a lot of attitude and I'll get to it when I get to it culture." Trust me. I've waited for an hour for bags to arrive. The ground crews are notoriously slow. The more you push them, it seems like the slower they go. My Philly friends will know what I mean.
After the second maintenance delay, the pilot opened the door to the plane. It had been 2 1/2 hours, and we hadn't moved 1 inch. There was a woman behind me in first class who was really freaked out. She was an amateur traveler who clearly had bought her way up front just as I had. She was going on and on about the safety of the plane. She was close to hysterics when she said, "This plane is going to fall out of the sky!" Oh my gosh! You don't say things like that out loud! It frightens people. I said, "The plane is *not* going to fall out of the sky." To which she replied, "Well I'm getting off, and I'll see you with Jesus." I said, "I hope so!"
I have flown enough to know that there was a high likelihood that this plane wasn't going anywhere. Multiple maintenance issues usually leads to a cancelled flight. So, I got off the plane, and I took my stuff. Had Dean not been with me, I would have just booked a new flight and tired in the morning. The other problem was that I didn't have my luggage. Normally, this would no big deal. I can travel separately from my luggage. I've done it many, many times. Here was the root of my dilemma. I had to fly from SLC to Savannah, GA on Monday morning. If I was going to be overnighted in Philly, I was just going to fly to Savannah on Sunday. No sense in going to SLC to fly BACK to Savannah on Monday. The problem was the luggage. I needed my luggage. The only way for me to get my luggage was going to be if they cancelled the flight. If that happened, there would be a good chance that they would unload the bags onto a carousel. I could retrieve the luggage; I could fly to Savannah; Dean could go home.
I went to stand in a VERY long line at the customer service counter, and then I called US Air. The agent who answered the phone said, "Hello, Wendy, I can see that your flight has been cancelled." This was an actual person, not a robo tele-droid thing. I said, "My flight has been cancelled?" He said, "Yes, I can see that your flight to Salt Lake City has been cancelled." This was a "good" thing in my estimation. I get them to re-book me to Savannah for free. I get my luggage. Dean and I stay over night. All is right in the universe.
I told the guy that I wanted him to re-book me on a flight to Savannah. He was so very helpful.
He told me that he had to back out the upgrade then re-issue the ticket. No problem. While I was on hold, Dean and the rest of the passengers de-planed...further evidence in my mind that this flight was going to be cancelled. After the agent re-booked me to Savannah, I was in the process of telling him about Dean's flight, and the gate agent called "Final Boarding to Salt Lake City." I was like, "WHAT??" The guy on the phone was like, "WHAT??" He said, "Oh my gosh, I cancelled you off of that flight, and I can't get you back on that plane." And then I was like, "WHAT????!!!" He told me to go the the gate agent and explained what happened and have her help me.
The GATE AGENT. The mean one who got ticked off at a flight attendant...THAT gate agent??
We got to the gate, and I was very, very calm. I explained the situation, and she said, "I can't help you. I've got to board this flight." WHAT????
I told Dean to go ahead and get on the plane and that I would figure it out. He got on the plane and in the calmest voice possible, I said, "I'm an elite traveler with Delta, but I'm not really familiar with the protocol on US Air."
The gate attendant retorted, "This isn't protocol."
Me: Okay. What do I have to do to get back on this plane?
Her: Go get in the customer service line. **This line has over 100 people in it!**
Me: Um, those people will kill me if I cut in line. **Remember, this IS Philly.**
Her: We'll you'd better go excuse yourself and get to it.
Me: Um, Okay.
Her: Go see the guy at the far end of the counter. He'll help you.
So, I go over to the customer service desk, and there isn't a guy at the far end of the counter, there is a woman. Using my skills of logic, I think she means the *other* end...where there is a man. So, I approach him. I have two words: French and asshole. He says that there are no more seats on the plane. I'm like, "Um, but I just got off that plane, and it was only 1/2 full. There were 6 seats in first class."
French a-hole: "Well, all of the seats on the entire plane are full. I cannot help you."
I'm thinking..."this can't be happening to me."
I returned to the gate agent who was now mad at me for going to the wrong guy. I told her that there was a woman at the end of the counter where she told me to go. She said, "Well, was there a guy next to the woman?" (Me, head nodding...because if I said something, it was sure to come out snarky). "Then wouldn't logic tell you to go to the guy next to the lady?" (Me: biting tongue.) She then said, "See that guy coming back...the one with a boarding pass and a smile? He listened to what I said, and he got what he wanted."
Seriously? Seriously? What a....
So, I hustle back to the counter where the man in question is now flagging me down. I approach the counter and explain my problem. He said, "Here's the deal. The time for selling upgrades has passed." I'm thinking no kidding...the time for the freaking plane to leave has passed, too! He said, "I have absolutely no way to get you back in first class."
I said, "You know what, it is what is is. Can you just get me a seat on the plane?"
He did. It was Seat 18A.
I hustled over to the gate...and now I felt REALLY badly that I was holding up the plane.
The gate agent called the guy at the counter about my upgrade debacle. Now, ask yourself, why didn't she call the guy when I was standing there? Have him override the system and have her give me a boarding pass while I stood there? I actually think this woman enjoyed watching me scamper back and forth and knowing all the while that I was at her mercy. They fought about the upgrade, my credit card and my boarding pass. She pushed some buttons. Eventually, she scratched out 18A and wrote 2A.
I looked her dead in the eye and with every ounce of sincerity I could muster, I said, "Thank you." I then got on the plane. This is my text to Dean. Remember, he is on the back of the plane, and I can't just talk to him. Plus, both of our phones are about dead.
I wish I could tell you that they closed the boarding door and that we took off. That did not happen. We finally go the plane to maintain power on its own. At this point in time the pilot said something like, "There are 178 computers on this plane, and they can be sensitive to cold and rain." WHAT? Are you kidding? Did he really say that? He was trying to take what was clearly a mechanical issue and blame it on the weather.
We taxied out....we were so close....then the power went out in the plane for the FOURTH time. You guessed it. We turned around and headed back to the gate. At this point in time, the ground crew was "done" with us. They weren't going to come back out and assist with the aircraft. This might be hard to understand if you don't understand the whole "Philly Experience" at the airport thing.
When we returned to the gate, people lost their freaking minds. The pilot came out from the cabin, and people mutinied. The came to the first class cabin and started yelling at the captain. I asked if he would please just cancel the flight to which he sternly said that he would NOT be cancelling the flight. At this point in time we were on a 4 hour ground delay...due to maintenance issues. I tried to take video, but my phone was so dead that it wouldn't let me take but this 5 second video.
A woman with two small children was so upset, and I don't blame her. Her kids had been on the plane with no food for 4 hours. The pilot said, "Do you expect us to get your kids food?" I couldn't believe he said that! She said that she wanted the opportunity to get off the plane and get them something if there was nothing that could be provided. She was reasonably upset. I told her that it was within her rights to get off of the plane and ask to be re-booked tomorrow. She didn't like that option. She wanted the pilot to either cancel the flight or make it go. Um...that's what we all wanted!
The pilot told people that if they got off the plane that there would not be any flights for days. Lie. He also said that all of the hotels in Philly were full so there was no where for anyone to stay. Lie. I have no idea why he was just flat out lying to people. People like to be told the truth, not lied to.
A Croatian couple came to the front of the plane and were quizzing the pilot. They were speaking about how the plane was unsafe. They didn't know that I could understand them, but I could. They had been told that this was the only plane with seats available to Salt Lake City. Why do people say stuff like that?? I told them that I had just check online (and I had). There were seats available the next day to SLC. Apparently, US Air has a policy of just telling passengers random stuff. The only reason that I can think that they would do this is so that they don't incur more costs in re-booking (losing revenue seats), passing out food and hotel vouchers. I can't think of any other reason to be untruthful. It seemed to be systemic.
I told the Croatian couple that they had the right to get off the plane. US Air couldn't legally require them to remain on the plane. Because there was already a weather advisory, US Air would re-book at no charge. I read that on the website. People just weren't aware of their rights and what the policies were.
Near the end of the ground delay, a man in first class became belligerent. He was one of those "entitled" first class passengers who thinks that when he speaks that somehow he'll have more influence on the pilot and influence the plane being ready for flight. He'd also had about a 6 pack of Bud Light to drink. I actually heard him complain to the flight attendant that they needed to put more Bud Light on the plane. So, drunk guy starts jaw boning with the crew and the pilot. Bad move. They called a supervisor to the jetway, and they removed him from the plane. I turned to his wife and said, "Congratulations, your husband just got himself kicked off this plane."
She said, "What? Why?"
I said, "Because he is a threat to the crew."
She said, "Oh, he's not a threat."
I said, "He won't stop running his mouth. They don't have to let him on this plane. If the crew doesn't feel safe or if the pilot doesn't want him to be on the plane, they will remove him."
She whipped off her seat belt and ran out to the jet-way screaming his name and yelling at him to "SHUT UP!"
I can't make this stuff up.
She got back in her seat. Several minutes later, he got back on the plane. He didn't say another word. I am fairly certain that he was told if he *did* say another word that he would not be traveling on the plane.
The door closed, we went to get de-iced. That took an hour.
We waited in line for another 30 or so minutes to take off.
Six hours after we were supposed to depart, we were finally wheels up.
The engines squealed something fierce. Trust me. I know what a normal engine sounds like and when one is squealing. This was a really strange squeal. So, I started to pray. I thought, "Maybe the lady in 3A was right, I will see Jesus soon." So I prayed and prayed and prayed.
Dean told me that people were praying back in coach, too.
How sad is that? Not a ringing endorsement for your airline to know that the phrase "wing and a prayer" has literal meaning.
We landed without incident (except for the one I described) at 2:30 AM, Utah time. For the east coasters, this was the equivalent of 4:30 AM. By the time we got bags, our cars and got home it was 4:00 AM.
Well, there you have it. And for this drama, US Air gave us a $50 travel voucher good for future travel on US Air. Isn't that special? My company has a policy that we must fly on the carrier with the lowest price. My own CEO won't fly US Air. He flies Southwest. I can understand why. I'm not done with US Air. They'll be getting a letter from me with a link to this blog post. The experience was completely unnecessary and avoidable. Whatever the mechanical issue, it was unacceptable. The hungry, tired and frightened passengers should have been better taken care of. I'm guessing that there were many folks from that flight who have vowed NEVER to fly US Air again!