A surprise snowstorm swept into New England last weekend and flight delays started piling up. My Manchester (MHT) to Washington (DCA) flight, though, was delayed because of a mechanical issue — the brake sensors indicated that the brakes weren’t functioning properly. So, here were 50 passengers caught in an airport purgatory with no airline rules to help passengers and some rules that made changing flights more difficult.
A preface is needed here. I called the airline prior to heading to the airport because the snow was piling up to about a foot deep at my brother’s home about a half-hour drive from the airport. My experience is that when in the midst of a storm, airlines will reschedule passengers to the next day — out of harm’s way.
Not this time. The only possibility was to pay the $150 change fee and then buy a full, walk-up fare price, $660. Since my original ticket was only around $137, that made no sense. So, off to the airport I drove.
Now, back to the delay.
Mind you, this was a delay that was totally the fault of the airlines. I understand airline inaction when weather and acts of God delays are involved, but when the problem is a mechanical one and there are passengers milling about, it might be assumed that it is the airline’s responsibility to figure out a solution.
The additional problem here was that while the airline was stringing along the announced departure time, the passengers could make different decisions like switching to alternative flights. Of course, with the snow falling and flights being delayed and canceled, all decisions were a matter of luck.
Everyone sitting at the gate was asking each other: Do you stick with nonstop flight on the plane sitting at the gate? Or, do you cancel the booking you have and switch to another flight that has not arrived yet? Tough calls.
Everything was working against passengers on the delayed flight.
• There was another non-stop flight scheduled at 5 p.m. and a collection of connecting flights that could take passengers between NH and DC. Some of the passengers were connecting in DC to other destinations.
• However, airlines personnel optimistically announced every 30 minutes or so that mechanics were at work and that take-off would be soon.
• I asked whether passengers on our flight could be protected on the 5 p.m. flight. The answer: Passengers could change reservations, but then, would not be listed on the delayed flight if it left earlier.
Our flight was scheduled to take off at noon. Everything was only running 15 minutes late. Passengers were starting to board. Then, everything stopped. The gate agent announced that red lights indicated a problem on the plane. He announced that mechanics had been called.
Initially, the gate agent suggested a short delay. Then the schedule board flashed with a two-hour delay (all far better than the 5 p.m. departure). At 2 p.m. the delay was shifted to 5 p.m. Now, what is a passenger to do? Jump to the 5 p.m. departure that hasn’t landed yet? Or, wait out the noon flight and hope that it leaves at the newly scheduled time?
Eventually, the 5 p.m. flight left, overbooked, with howling from involuntarily denied boarding folks. Our noon flight was pushed further back to 6 p.m.
Eventually, after two test drives of the plane to see if the brakes were working properly, the noon flight was canceled at 7 p.m.
All other flights out of town were booked.
So, I headed back to my brother’s house to have some wine, nurse my airport delay wounds and get some sleep. The next day, with brilliant sunshine, my connecting flight was perfect.
I came out of the situation no worse for the wear. Others weren’t so lucky, missing a wedding and important business meetings.
But, in this case what is the right thing to do? Go with the flight sitting at the gate that agents said would probably leave, or transfer to another flight when weather is wreaking havoc with the schedules?
The point of this story — sometimes when traveling by air you just have to relax and take what the weather or random mechanical delays gives you. Getting agitated certainly does no good.
Readers, what would you have done?