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Take the Long Way Home

Long-time readers know I rarely share personal travel stories here (nobody cares), but I wanted to pass along one from yesterday…

I did a day trip to Atlanta.  Morning flight fine.  Coming back we were delayed about 90 minutes (not that abnormal for that route).  After about 90 minutes in the air the flight attendant tells us to get ready for our final approach into Newark.  Ten minutes later the pilot comes on says something about “ vectors in the wrong direction” and that we have to stop for fuel in Washington, DC.

That seemed odd, as the flight attendant just said we were landing in Newark. And that the pilot never came on and told us we were circling somewhere over Richmond.  That would’ve been nice information to have.

We land at Dulles, re-fuel for an hour, and take off again.  The flight attendant gets on and says, “ You may use electronic devices, but keep in mind this is a short flight.”  I found that to be a  strange thing to say as I had, at that point, been sitting on a regional jet for 4 hours and 10 minutes.  We land a bit later after 4 hours and 55 minutes in a CRJ.

The point of sharing all of this was a few random thoughts on the adventure:

— People all around me were cursing Delta (or Atlantic Southeast, which flew the flight), but the fuel stop certainly wasn’t their fault.  The air traffic control situation on the east coast is at an unprecedented crisis (culminating in the Bush Administration opening up military airspace to ease Thanksgiving crowding — quite possibly the only decision he’s made that I’ve agreed with).  On some level it’s the airlines’ fault (collectively) for scheduling flights in packed airspace, but air traffic control simply cannot handle the volume of flights they see.  Some level of government intervention is coming.

— It’s funny, though, that the first thought is to blame the airline – everyone assumes that airlines are out to screw us.  But I think this is because of the airline staff.  They were at fault for giving us no warning that we were circling and that a fuel stop may be necessary.  We’re adults.  We can handle it.  We don’t want to feel like we’re being held hostage, which is exactly how we felt after we had been on the ground at Dulles with no word from the cockpit.  And not sharing information is part of the reason why passengers often feel they’re being lied to (even when they’re not).

— The woman in front of me had incredibly nice hair.  She was playing with it for much of the flight (which would’ve grossed out my wife, because there were more than a few loose strands being dropped on the floor), but I can’t express how much it looked like the hair of a woman in a shampoo ad.  I was this close to asking what kind of conditioner she uses.  Then I remembered that that’s weird.

— A half-assed apology is worse than none at all, and we’ve all sat on flights where flight attendants were genuinely apologetic and when they were not (like last night).  A bit of training on how to apologize (even when a fuel diversion is not their fault) would go a long way.  All of us on that plane were just trying to get home to our families.  A bit of recognition of that would’ve been helpful.

— I primarily blame myself for taking the flight that was served with a regional jet.  I flew down on a 757 – larger planes make the flight all the time.  I think it’s a good lesson: avoiding regional jets makes sense if only because if (when?) you get delayed, it’s much more pleasant on a 757 than on a CRJ-700.

— How many routes are served both by 757s and small regional jets?

— And finally – when you’re in a small plane and it’s a full flight, please don’t fully recline your seat.  I know it’s your right to do that.  But it makes the flight miserable for the person behind you.

Whew…that was cathartic.  I’m always interested in hearing your flight delay stories – please share in the comments section.

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  1. Your wife’s obsession with hair not attached to the head is hi-larious.

  2. I would have thought you would enjoy having the woman with the great hair reclined so you could get a closer inspection.

    Seeing your coif, I’m sure she would not have minded a discussion on hair product.

  3. Well, from someone in that cockpit, I must tell you that when we are given holding instructions, we are more than a little busy trying to coordinate all of it. We are talking to Air Traffic Control, our dispatcher, getting weather for alternate airports, figuring fuel burns and gee, flying the plane. There’s usually not more than just a few minutes/miles to configure the aircraft with altitude and speed to be legal for the holding pattern. We must communicate our holding to our dispatcher and receive fuel burn information and clearance to continue to alternate airports if the hold continues past a certain fuel level. Not all flights are planned with alternate and holding fuel. This creates a very difficult situation for some flights. Our priority is to safely fly the aircraft while reprogramming the navigation computers and communicated to all involved. I’m sorry to say, the passengers aren’t always the first to be informed. We do our best, but the workload can be overwhelming. The fact is that we are usually in the lower altitudes and that creates more work due to the amount of aircraft in the area. So, don’t think for a minute that it’s all about misinforming you, it’s about keeping you alive and getting you safely to your destination. WE all have families too! We are gone from home many more days a year than the passengers and we live in these aluminum tubes. WE know how you feel. But we didn’t create the rules, don’t blame us!
    When we are diverting, it may make you a little later to your destination, it might mean that our day is going into the 16th hour of duty and 10th hour of flying for the day. Fatigue rules as they are don’t do any of us any good and opening airspace won’t do much to solve much of the problems. It’s larger than all of that!

  4. We’re actually in complete agreement. I don’t blame anyone for having to circle and re-fuel – that’s not the airline’s fault. My only issue is that roughly 100% of the time, passengers assume that airlines are lying to them (when — a point I’ve made repeatedly — they are not). I’m simply suggesting that, when given the time, the pilot could inform the flight attendant of the situation so they can keep passengers abreast. This will benefit the airlines, as well, as they are the one taking the brunt of the anger from passengers.

    That all said — thanks for writing and reminding people that airlines (and their employees) are not out to screw us.

  5. A couple observations:

    * Nice Breakfast in America reference, but in the title track, he even said to “take a jumbo,” so you were warned.
    * Bush signed a bill to extend DST into November, which really (really) helped me get all the leaves up over the last couple years more efficiently. So let’s not sell him short vis his ability to handle some small tasks.

  6. On the New Delta my luggage no longer fits wheels first in the new overhead bins, the new seats are cheap, and the meal trays that come up and down are not going to last long. I broke mine just leaning my elbow on it.

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