Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Monday, June 26, 2006

AA Eagle Turns A Simple Thunderstorm Delay On A Short 80 Minute Flight Into A 5 Hour Ordeal – Proper Management Would Have Saved At Least An Hour, And Would Have Been Far Less Unpleasant

Friday, June 23, 2006, LGA/RDU – For the first time this year, I was aboard an AA Eagle flight that left LGA on time. This particular flight left the gate at its scheduled 1:50PM and was due in at RDU (Raleigh) at 3:30 PM. However, we arrived RDU at 7:05 PM, over five hours after leaving LaGuardia.

No one can control the weather: a thunderstorm at RDU caused us to circle over South Boston, VA until 3:30 PM, the time we were due at Raleigh (which is to say, we circled about 20 minutes). Because, as the Captain told us, we were running short on gas (after only 20 minutes of circling?), we diverted to GSO (Greensboro) to refuel, arriving just after 4:00 PM.

The pilot announced as soon as the plane stopped: “Sorry about the delay, folks, but don’t worry, because we are the first airplane diverted and landed, and there’s a long line of aircraft coming in behind us. We got here first, so we’ll be the first to leave. We’ll have you in Raleigh as soon as possible.”

That was reassuring news, and sure enough, a fuel truck arrived pretty quickly, and we were ready to go by 4:30 PM.

But no paperwork was brought to the cockpit crew. An hour passed; still no departure paperwork had come to us.

Our Captain called the American Airlines GSO Operations for the umpteenth time on his radio, and left the cockpit speaker turned on. Those of us in the first few rows could every word through the open cockpit door. There was an argument brewing among the AA employees.

Meanwhile, many other RDU-bound diverted airplanes had piled up on the GSO ramp and had by then been refueled. Turned out they ALL got their departure paperwork ahead of us.

At 5:45 PM, our pilot, exasperated, called his dispatcher on his cell and laid out the complete disorganization of the AA GSO Operations people. The AA GSO Operations Manager on duty came on board with the final paperwork and overheard the cellphone exchange. Livid (and guilty), he told the Captain pilot to “kiss his ass” if he didn’t like it and complained, loud enough for half the passengers on board to hear, that he had 5 AA airplanes to work and that we should feel sorry for him.

He was, as it turned out, completely oblivious to the order in which the planes had arrived and oblivious to the fact that WE were paying his salary. He didn't get the fact that his customers were being inconvenienced and made miserable by his poor planning.

Our pilot was infuriated. So he got on the PA system and told us all that we have been further delayed because of the ineptitude of the AA GSO Ops staff and that we should complain to AA Customer Service. It wasn't his fault, he said.

Thinking that perhaps he was ignorant of the fact that AA never listens to any of us, even Platinums and Exec Platinums, and since I was at that time standing in the galley, I told him so. He and the Second Officer grimaced and said they knew it, and that the Company (American Airlines) doesn’t listen to a thing they say, either.

We finally took off at 6:05 PM, over 2 hrs after arrival, after waiting in a line of airplanes ahead of us en route to RDU. We landed at RDU at 645 PM, and taxied to our gate, but stopped on the ramp well short of the gate. The Captain announced that due to lightning within so many miles of airport the ramp was closed.

However, as he said this, we passengers were looking out the window at many AA ramp workers servicing many other AA planes at other gates. We finally were mustered into our gate at 7:05 PM, with no further explanation for why they had no crew for our airplane until then.

Once off the plane, I asked an agent why no one had serviced our plane, and he told me it was because they were short-staffed “just like always, and your flight was the last to arrive from Greensboro, so we’d run out of people.”

When asked why our pilot had announced a different reason for the delay, the gate agent said, “Probably he was embarrassed to admit the truth after the long delays.”

So what were the issues that could have saved us 60-90 minutes (time stolen forever from the collective lives of all that plane’s passengers) AND made us feel like the airline really CARED about us?

  • Not enough fuel to withstand even a half hour delay circling – skimping on fuel is SOP these days at most airlines, supposedly to save money. But isn’t it a case of ‘pay me now, or pay me later’? I’m sure it cost a lot more to fly to Greensboro, refuel, and fly back to Raleigh than it would have to wait aloft a bit longer for the storm to pass. TOTAL ESTIMATED DELAY – UNKNOWN
  • Uncoordinated GSO Ops work and disregard for FIFO – this was the most egregious issue, and could have been easily avoided by a staff paying attention to what they were doing and sensitized to serving their customers. Since fare-paying passengers have been dehumanized by airline employees, it’s easy for them to ignore us. They just can’t see our misery at all; it’s as if we are invisible. It reminds me of the stigma of racism described to me (a white man) by one of my black friends when he was growing up: the feeling of being invisible; ignored; treated with indifference. Finally, I know what it means; it feels unkind and demeaning on a primitive base level, because that’s what it is: unkind and demeaning. TOTAL DELAY – 60-75 MINUTES (per the Captain – remember that we were ready to go at 4:30 PM but didn’t take off until 6:05 PM)
  • Pilot transferring his anger and frustration to the passengers – caused no delay, but just increased our stress and made the ordeal more difficult
  • Delay at RDU gate caused by lack of staff – Another cost issue, but at the customer’s expense. Of course it’s unreasonable to build the church for Easter Sunday, as the old saw goes, but the staff shortage is chronic, and not just at RDU. Once again, the delay effect on customers and the demoralization of all concerned is not given any value in making these staffing determinations. TOTAL DELAY – 20 MINUTES

Thus an 80 minute flight turned into 5 hours, 15 minutes, of which at least 80-95 minutes was avoidable.

Does this seem like a small or frivolous thing to complain of? I assure you it’s not. The experience is like getting nibbled to death by ducks: a slow and inexorable torture that repeats itself flight after flight, week after week. In over 100 flight segments this year (so far) I have not flown a single itinerary outbound or return that was free of incidents like this.

More later this week on the hellish operation of AA Eagle’s C Concourse hub at LaGuardia.


Blogger Entrecomputer said...

After about a year of this blog the congress should be involved with this transportation system. Yes those same ones that oversee Amtrak!

6/27/2006 1:04 AM  

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