If you asked anyone (say, that you found in an airport on any given day) to say the first word or phrase that came to his or her mind when they heard “Thanksgiving,” you would get a pretty standard set of answers: “family”; “pumpkin pie”; “being grateful”; “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”; “turkey”; and “TRAVEL.” As the holiday season commences, millions of people travel to see family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday – any many of those people do so by air. On the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving  (and the Sunday after), airports see their heaviest traffic of the year. And come Monday morning when every-day-routines resume, many of those people have airplane “horror stories” to tell.

This past Thanksgiving, I was one of those people. I left for home on Tuesday evening, and returned Sunday afternoon, and my experience on both travel days caused way more stress than was necessary. On Tuesday, I arrived at the airport in plenty of time. I did not want to pay the $25 fee for checking my bag I opted to carry on my suitcase along with the “personal item” allowance. Everything went relatively smoothly given how crowded the airport was…I was dropped off, through security and at my gate with an hour and a half to spare. So I chatted with fellow students on different flights home, and then eventually made my way to find some dinner to bring with me onto the plane.

40 minutes prior to takeoff time, I was at my gate, food in hand, ready to board.  And 40 minutes later, I was still standing at my gate, food in hand, with absolutely no information as to why the plane had not even arrived! Why had no one informed us travelers as to the delay (let alone the cause)? I would guess it had something to do with the fact that there was not a single person at the gate desk. Not one. Some fellow students from my hometown and I began trying to figure out what was going on… The TV monitors told us that we were boarding (if only that had been true) and the TV at the gate desk had already switched to the next flight scheduled to leave out of our gate. And still, there was NO ONE around to ask what could possibly be going on. I decided to walk to another gate and see if another gate attendant could possibly provide me with a little information. However, every other gate was for the different airlines! No one other flights from the same Airline were leaving from our terminal. So the most that anyone could tell me was that I should use one the “black phones” to call some concierge help desk. At this point, I called my mother, and while I went to use the “black phone,” she called customer service. And of course, after we both got off our respective calls, we both had different answers. SHE was told that we would leave at 6pm. I was told that the flight was delayed (really…is that why there is no plane?) and that according to her most updated information, we were scheduled to leave at 6:45pm (the flight was originally scheduled for 5:30). When I asked why there was no one at our gate to give us this information, she told me she would send someone “right away.” At 6:15, we were still sitting there – no one at the desk, no plane, and no more patience. Again we called on the same “black phone,” asked the same questions, and got the same answers with a variation of time – 7pm and “she would figure out why no one was at the desk.”

Eventually everything worked out – the plane arrived, the gate attendants arrived (where they had been, we will never know), and I finally boarded the plane and ate my (now cold) dinner. Needless to say my flight experience was not a good start to the holiday. However, the next four days were great – full of family, friends, food and relaxing. When it was time to head back on Sunday, I again got to the airport in plenty of time. This time however, issues began as soon as I walked into the airport. I was headed back with a lot more luggage (warmer clothing, food to get me through finals, etc.) so I needed to check a bag. When I arrived at the ticket counter, I was told that the entire computer system was down. Cash was the only form of payment accepted for checking bags because they could not take credit cards (luckily we had $25 in cash). They had to handwrite the baggage ticket and handed me a little slip of paper (my baggage claim note), and then told me that I would need to get a ticket at the gate—I had not printed my ticket at home (which was a first, and after my experience most definitely the LAST, time I had not printed my ticket prior to arriving at the airport), so they handed me some slip of paper to get me through security and told me to talk to the gate attendant.

Getting through security was simple – no issues there – but as soon as I got to the gate, problems grew. While I had no printed my ticket, I had checked in, so I knew my seat on the plane was reserved. However, the gate attendant told me that since I did not have a boarding pass, I would have to wait a minute before he could take care of me. No problem (I thought), I could be patient. But then they informed us that waiting “a minute” really meant that I (and a few other passengers in the same predicament) would have to wait until everyone else had boarded the plane, because they had to make sure we had enough seats. Could we pull up our tickets on our phones perhaps (they asked) so that we could show them we had a seat? (Uhh…no? Is that even possible?). Then, once everyone at the gate had boarded, and we finally thought we were good to go, we were informed that we had to wait until the last call, to make sure that they had room for standbys. I explained that I was NOT a standby, that I HAD a ticket, but that THEY had not given me one at the desk because of an issue in THEIR system. The gate attendant looked at me like I was insane and kindly repeated that I had to wait until he knew he had room for standbys. He then proceeded to call over the speaker system telling any passengers for our flight that were not at the gate that this was the last call for boarding. Finally, less than 10 minutes before our flight was scheduled to take off, he told us that he thought no one else was coming so he could probably do us a favor and let us know, even though he was “supposed to wait” to let any of us on until 5 minutes before scheduled departure. Luckily the rest of the trip went smoothly.

While in both cases, everything turned out fine in the end, I will never again fly with them. I am going to stick with my usual airline and know that even though everything will not always go exactly as planned, at least they will have people keeping passengers informed.

Posted by Amanda Zingone

Sources:

http://airconsumer.dot.gov/reports/2012/February/2012FebruaryATCR.PDF

http://www.dallasnews.com/business/airline-industry/20110707-american-airlines-and-eagle-rank-at-bottom-of-consumer-data-for-may.ece

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