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.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Triple Jeopardy—And Holding My Breath

What's worse than having to fly into or out of O'Hare on any given day? That's bad enough by itself, lowering one's odds of being on time either way.

How about having to chance it during an early spring snow storm like the one we are having right now (Thursday afternoon, March 27th)? As I gaze out the picture windows of the American Airlines Admirals Club lounge between the H and K councourses here at O'Hare, where I write this lament in real time, all I see is white. And lots more seems to be falling as the evening approaches.

So that's double jeopardy, right? ORD is a crap shoot under the best of circumstances, but in the snow?

Well, for me today, there is a third level of airline hell to contend with:

My American Airlines flight 1792 ORD/RDU is an MD-80. And as you probably know, yesterday AA dumped over 300 of its flights due to FAA-mandated inspections of its MD-80 fleet.

Today's AA operations doesn't seem much better, either. A lot of MD-80s are still out of service on American, and many that are flying are dreadfully late.

Including mine, which, so far at least, has not been cancelled, as so many have today. My flight is, however, pushing 3 hours late, or so the AA systems claim. Once carded for a 4:35 PM departure, it's now posted for 7:01 PM.

But who really knows when or if it will fly? Not AA. The Executive Platinum desk says AA's systems have slowed down to a snail's pace due to all the calls and computer traffic generated from the MD-80 SNAFU and the snow in Chicago.

AA information systems anomalies in this over-heated environment have led agents to advise caution when giving updated flight information. "It's hard to tell for sure," said one to me, "You'd better keep checking back with us."

Except that I can't get through to AA on the phone any more, and the line at the Admirals Club agent desk is long and slow-moving. The AA monitors at O'Hare and are sluggish or just plain wrong, too, so I can't count on them for accurate, let alone up-to-date, information.

I am surrounded by people here in the Club calling spouses, loved ones, and business colleagues who are waiting hither and yon for their arrival. The message from everyone to everyone is the same: Don't expect them any time soon tonight—or at all this day. Flight after AA flight is falling from the departures board here at Chicago as the snow sets in and ATC slows down arrivals (and thus departures).

It's almost 6:00 PM in Chicagoland, and the snow is flying. Everywhere the deicing trucks are hosing off control surfaces. It'd be a pretty site if we all didn't have to get home.

Last night I made a "safety" reservation at the Hilton O'Hare for just this contingency. I booked a room in case my flight was cancelled due to snow or no airplane so that I'd have a place to lay my head tonight before trying again in the morning. But I had to cancel before 4:00 PM CT to avoid paying for a room I might not use (over $300), and now I am exposed with no hotel room if this flight cancels. I was forced to make that choice because AA could not tell me with any certainty whether my flight would operate before 4:30 PM.

Gotta run. Will report what happens...


11:45 PM ET Postscript:

Just arrived home. My flight did indeed make it to RDU, albeit 188 minutes late.

Horribly late or not, I beat the odds of triple jeopardy, nothing short of a minor miracle.

Much of the flight was bumpy, but the exhausted AA flight attendants were remarkably cheerful and served everybody in both cabins something to drink. This despite the captain's advice to them to remain seated. Everyone on board was grateful to the flight attendants.

I'm home and relieved to be here. But I sure empathize with all those people back at O'Hare who were left when American canceled their flights and left them with no backup plans. Victims all, and maybe they will at least rate a brief report on CNN or its replicate cable media.

But by the weekend, forgotten victims. Media attention, if any, will not lead to either recompense for the mass misery or to root cause analysis and subsequent prevention by the private or public sector.


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