Cancelled Flights: the frustrating reality

Airline horror stories are a dime a dozen at the moment. Whenever you look at the news, there seems to be a new story about outraged customers and an embarrassed airline company reading a hastily written apology. In particular, American based airlines keep finding ways to create the type of negative press usually reserved for politicians and drug addled celebrities.

It’s fair to say that at some point, everyone who has had the pleasure of flying has been on the rough end of the stick when it comes to airline experiences. It could be a delayed flight or a rude staff member, either way we all have one. Now, it’s not in my nature to gripe about such things- I am a realist and can acknowledge that, at times, things are not going to work out the way we might like. But, with that in mind, let me tell you about a recent experience I had with a certain airline that shall remain nameless.

By the end of a holiday- one where you’ve had to deal with multiple flights- all you want is a smooth, care free experience that goes to plan. In our situation, flying with an 11 month old child, the last thing we needed was for things to become more uncomfortable and complicated.

Already tired and toward the back end of a three week trip to the U.S., we rolled into Dallas Airport for an eleven a.m. flight to Honolulu. We arrived early to aid in clearing security, mainly due to the thousands of bags we seemed to have. It’s amazing how a tiny human, who stands no more than a foot and a half from the ground, who cannot construct full sentences and staggers like the town drunk when she walks can have as much, if not more, equipment than grown adults. Prams, clothes, nappies, nappies, food and nappies take up an extraordinary amount of space and take even longer to cram into bags that resemble a size appropriate for travel.

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A plane from earlier in the trip.

We found that our flight was already delayed, so we settled in. Dallas is a large airport and has both a Popeye’s Chicken and Starbucks. That’s the quinella of food and coffee. Airport food is notoriously shithouse, so the daily double of deep fried chicken and reasonable coffee is good result.

We got poured onto our plane at 12.30 p.m. (an hour and a half late, for those playing along at home) and readied ourselves for 10 hours in a confined space with a child 11 months old, going on 16.

You know the plane is old when it still has the armrest ashtrays, even if they had been sealed shut. The inflight entertainment was on box televisions in the roof, the likes I hadn’t seen since driving around Melbourne looking at roadside rubbish with friends during our university days. If people are willing to leave them on a nature strip for anyone to take, the technology is pretty much obsolete. It should have come as no surprise then that we were soon ordered to disembark due to the plane leaking oil.

As a passenger you generally don’t mind getting being delayed if it’s a matter of safety. The last thing you want is to be plummeting from the sky because Frank the technician said, “She’ll be right,” instead of reporting the issue. Besides, they gave us stale sandwiches and soft drink to say sorry while they looked for a new plane. That’s how airlines say, “Apologies for the dud plane but we’re even now. Don’t complain.” Seems legit.

In the three and a half hours that followed I learnt two things: I can eat 20 chicken nuggets comfortably and elderly people know exactly what cough medicine they can buy from 7 Eleven that will send them to sleep quickest but won’t interfere with their various medications.

“They have Dramamine over there and I think I saw some Benadryl, but no Tylenol. Blast.”

“But Tylenol is the best! Just remember not to take it until we are in the air though. How does that mix with your heart medication, Enid?”

There were six of them passing notes to each other on the benefits of drowsy cough medicines and it was a serious conversation. These people were travelling retirees and it was hard to not be impressed.

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Plane number two soon arrived from Orlando. We patiently waited to board before another apologetic announcement came across the P.A. – “We have checked the plane and it appears there is a problem with the oxygen delivery. We can’t leave until someone comes to fix it. Sorry.”

So the great wait of 2017 continued.

We were left wondering how the hell anyone who chooses to fly with this certain airline had ever made it to their destination without the wings falling off or passengers having to fly the plane themselves.

It got to 5.30 p.m. – a good 9 and a half hours since we first arrived at the airport in the first place- and we were told to board once more. There was sense of urgency in the announcer’s voice as she informed us that we had to be seated, ready to fly in less than half an hour or the pilots would time out and their shift would end.

Loading tired, emotional people on a plane can be a difficult and time consuming process. On this occasion however, two hundred and sixty people were seated in twenty five minutes. That had to be a company record. At 5.55 p.m. we were sitting and ready. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Until an announcement from the pilot declared that they had “failed to get ready quick enough” and that “they will need to find three more pilots”.

We didn’t move. No one told us to move. We didn’t want to move. So we sat. For over an hour we sat, waiting for someone to tell us something, anything. If you think the elderly are quick to get angry at teenagers (at times needlessly), you should see them when their plane is delayed three times. I could hear frustrated phone calls being made to various booking agents asking questions to which the answers didn’t yet exist.

“No I want to talk to someone…I don’t care, anyone…I’m very upset…I want to talk to a manager…No, I’m still on the plane…I just want to go to Hawaii.”

Every now and then my daughter would play peek-a-boo with the lady sitting behind us as she furiously tried to maintain her anger whilst still speaking on the phone. I’m not sure what she thought she could achieve but I think she was attempting to get them to send out a new plane. Or new pilots. Or move Hawaii closer to the mainland.

We disembarked again with the promise that “more crew were coming at 10 p.m.” This time they gave us meal vouchers. $16 dollars at an airport is about enough to buy a tube of Pringles and a packet of Tic-tac’s.

Moving gates (because, you know, we were sick of the old one) we prepared ourselves for another setback. The atmosphere wasn’t one of great success, more like wallowing disappointment mixed with sweat and frustration- like a cheetah who’s had its kill stolen by hyenas after doing all the hard work.

It finally came; the announcement we had dreaded but had been kind of expecting- “Your flight has been cancelled.”

I had never been in this situation before so I wasn’t sure if having a police officer present was standard procedure. Nor do I know if staff members walking off the job is a normal reaction. But that’s what was going down. The geriatric army was livid. There were raised voices and bits of spit flying. The crowd was closing in on the flight desk, everyone asking questions at the same time. One woman was worried about her dogs, another lady cried. It was the kind of scene that would play in slow motion in a movie, some dramatic music playing over the top.

It was now 9.45 p.m. – over 12 hours since we first arrived. After getting allocated accommodation for the night, more meal vouchers ($7 for breakfast, take that to the bank) and some guy in a suit searching the airport for baby formula, we exited the building. It was 11.45 p.m. and we were still in Dallas.

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Hawaii.

We finally flew out the next morning, on time, and arrived in Honolulu a full 24 hours late. Sure, I was accused of stealing a bottle of water on the flight (I was innocent) and our baggage didn’t turn up for another 36 hours or so (three days in the same set of clothes. Hello ladies!), but sometimes you have to take those hits.

I’m not telling this tale to deter people, hence I haven’t mention the airline involved, more so because, simply, sometimes shit happens. It can be frustrating, inconvenient and, at times, downright rude, but it’s something that occasionally occurs and there is nothing we can do about it. No airline has a perfect record, they don’t do it deliberately and all of them cancel or delay flights from time to time- we just hope it doesn’t happen to us. As it turns out, this time it was my turn.

Wayward Tip: complain to the airline. They will most likely have a hidden section on their webpage you can do this on and chances are you might score some vouchers out of it. You can’t get compensation complaining to your mates, can you?

 

2 thoughts on “Cancelled Flights: the frustrating reality

  1. This reminds me of back and forth delays until the final inevitable cancellation of my flight to Iceland due to technical problems with the plane. I complained to them after we returned from holiday and recieved €400 per person compensation! Whilst I would have preferred not to have lost an entire day of my three day break from work – it certainly helped soften the blow.
    Although I didn’t have the blue rinse brigade to keep me entertained at the gate!! Great read 🙂

    Like

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