Sometimes, it’s hard to keep in mind that every time an airliner flies safely from one city to another, it’s a miracle completed.
Tons of metal, plastic, fuel and other assorted man-made materials, crammed with dozens to hundreds of people and their myriad stuff, defying gravity to soar thousands of feet in the air for thousands of miles? Who in their right minds first imagined it possible?
The miracle ought to be in the improbable mechanics of flight. It shouldn’t have to feel like a miracle that anyone gets anywhere on time and without major hassle.
But despite the federal government’s recent efforts to make passengers more comfy and happier, recent experience tells me that air travel is a time-sucking chore more often than not.
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Also makes me wonder how airlines stay in business with these mind-numbingly convoluted logistics.
On Easter Monday, Delta alerted us that my daughter’s connecting flight through Atlanta back to college would be delayed and that she could switch to a Detroit route. That alternate was risky because there was less than an hour to catch a connection. If there was any delay at D/FW, an unscheduled night in Detroit awaited.
So she headed to Atlanta, where, after being repeatedly delayed, her connection got canceled altogether.
A Delta ticket agent I spoke with by phone attributed the situation to a mechanical problem, which made the airline responsible for meals and a hotel room. No, no, the agent at the airport told my daughter, this was weather-related. A different agent on the phone also blamed nature. Delta was giving passengers only a voucher for a discounted room and booking on the first flight out the next morning.
Now, an April analysis of new passenger protections adopted by the U.S. Transportation Department values travel time -- and the cost of delays -- at $28.60 an hour. Considering that it took about 12 hours extra for my daughter to her final destination, that’s about $343 that I guess nature owes us.
Delta kicked in $50 for future travel along with an apology after I emailed a complaint.
A lot more probably was spent appeasing the passengers whose plane’s brakes stopped working at JFK Airport almost two weeks later, forcing them to deplane and ride buses back to the terminal. That delayed a flight I was taking to Dallas, along with several dozen others.
I don’t blame the airline that my flight into JFK a couple of days earlier landed late. We had to circle for about an hour because commercial traffic had to be cleared for the security of a certain unnamed VIP who reportedly was in the area. I believe he was flying back to Washington after attending a ceremony at Ground Zero.
But then there was last week’s fun trying to get back to Fort Worth from Newburgh, N.Y.
Notice of a two-hour delay in the last Delta flight out wasn’t announced until 20 minutes after an earlier flight had left. Two agents at the tiny Newburgh Airport had to rebook dozens of passengers, most of whom would almost certainly miss connections and spend the night in Atlanta.
Once everyone was processed, one of the agents, Christine, channeled passengers’ frustration by setting out a basket of chocolate, making sure everyone got meal vouchers and handing out $50 coupons for future travel.
(That’s how they entice you to return even when you’ve been dissatisfied. It’s a technique that works, darn it.)
I can’t say whether that customer care has anything to do with the new rules DOT announced in April covering such things as fare advertising and compensation for lost bags and getting bumped.
When my daughter and I rushed up to the gate for our connecting flight in Atlanta, it was delayed, too, by almost an hour. Those waiting passengers looked exhausted and peeved, and no one was soothing their exasperation.
At times like this, it’s little wonder that most airlines got low marks from readers in a recent survey by Consumer Reports magazine.
When we finally arrived at Dallas, the plane sat waiting for a gate when the cabin suddenly turned dark because the power went off. A wise guy in the back said, “Just let me off. I’ll find my way in the dark.” We could all relate. It was long past midnight, and everyone was tired.
After everyone had deplaned, the baggage carousel got stuck, and an agent climbed up to unclog the ramp. But we quickly spied our bags; they, too, had made it out of Atlanta.
Maybe it was a miracle after all.
Linda P. Campbell, editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, can be contacted at 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102.