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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Attempting to get to Phoenix while flying with US Airways

October 24, 2007

Hello again from 35,000 feet. The last time I wrote up here, above the clouds, I was in a very different mood. That is because I was having a very different day.

Today at around noon I left my house with my wife who dropped me off at the airport. The airport that I like to fly out of is close, small, offers free wifi, and is pretty much the calmest airport I’ve been to yet. I arrived just about one hour before my flight which gave me plenty of time to pick up my boarding passes, get through security, and grab a coffee near the gate.

The gentlemen over the PA said something to the effect of; “Flight 5052 is being delayed until 2:45.”. My departure time had been set for 1:30 and I was trying to make a connecting flight in Philadelphia, where I was supposed to meet up with Donna, which was set for wheels-up at 4:05. Being that the flight from the Scranton/Wilkes-barre International Airport (AVP) to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is typically around 30 minutes – the delay didn’t concern me in the least.

No more than five minutes pass and the very same gentlemen that had announced the delay proceeds to tell us that the flight has been cancelled ‘due to a maintenance issue’ and that everyone who was to be on that flight should report to the US Airways’ ticket desk for instructions on boarding a bus to Philadelphia (a ride that takes about two and half hours). Maybe I should say that again; a bus to Philadelphia.

At this point I was rolling with the punches. I’m a fairly easy going guy and I had no real reason to be in a hurry. If I was going to miss my connecting flight, and not be able to travel with Donna, surely this wasn’t the end of the world and I would just catch a slightly later flight from Philadelphia to Phoenix and all would be well. The other passengers weren’t so accommodating, more on this in a second.

The only problem was that there was only one more flight leaving Philadelphia directly for Phoenix on this day – and it was ‘oversold’. I’m not even sure what the term oversold means in airline language – perhaps every seat was sold and there were people on standby too.

This is when the only good part of this trip happened; the woman behind the counter helping people to rebook their flights based on their current circumstances, who had at this point helped at least 40 people before I got to the desk, decided to ask me for my phone number (no, she didn’t want a date) so that she could ‘do some digging and see what she could do for me’. I hopped onto the bus with a new travel itinerary that took me through Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and ultimately Phoenix, Arizona with a touchdown time of somewhere around 2am local-time (or 5am for me).

The first bus left Scranton around 2:30 and headed towards Philly and I was on it. The 4:05 flight was no longer on the radar and so I was aiming for a 6:10 flight to Vegas. The bus ride was typical; uncomfortable and slow. About 2 hours into the trip I fell asleep with my ear phones from my iPhone, which was playing a random selection of Bayside, in my ear when I was awoken abruptly by my ringtone blaring in my ear. Looking at the caller-ID I didn’t recognize the number and being in my current mood I nearly didn’t pick it up. I still don’t know why I answered but to my surprise it was Doreen (I have no idea how to spell this woman’s name). Doreen said; ‘I’ve got good news. I got you on a direct flight from Philadelphia to Phoenix that leaves at 6:15, do you want a window or an isle seat.’. I had told her before that since I was traveling alone, and I’d rather not go through Vegas since I’d been in that airport before and wasn’t fond of it, that I could care less if I had to sit on the toilet in the plane – I chose window.

Reinvigorated by the fact that Doreen ‘hooked a brotha up’ it was only a few minutes before, after going through security again for the second time of the day, I was at Gate B7 in Philadelphia sitting between a man that looked exactly like Ted Danson and an older woman that represented, perfectly, the capital letter ‘O’.

Looking directly above my head there was an LED readout that was flashing “Flight 192, Phoenix, San Diego, 6:35pm”. The flight was twenty minutes delayed but I was okay with that since I didn’t even have my new boarding passes yet. Once a man was stationed at the desk in the Gate I approached and said I needed a new boarding pass, presented my driver’s license, and was given them immediately.

At around 6:15 the would-be passengers of flight 192 were beginning to get a little restless. I hardly noticed yet because I was still trying to figure out if the dude next to me, who was reading a fairly well worn copy of a Biography about Eric Clapton, was indeed Ted Danson. The woman directly to his right was not Mary Steenburgen – but I still wasn’t completely convinced yet. I turned around to look out the window, half seeing if I could get a better angle on this guy’s face using the reflection in the window and half to see what was going on with our plane.

Our plane. It wasn’t at our Gate yet and our flight was set to leave within the next 20 minutes. Then the gentlemen that gave me my new boarding pass began to speak over the PA in a Jamaican accent “Ladies and Gentlemen we are being told that the plane is ‘within range’ and should be touching down shortly. At that time we’ll get everyone off of the plane that had come from Phoenix, clean the plane and cater it, and then allow you to board the plane.” Straight forward enough and, even though this plane was already delayed by 20 minutes, I felt I was ahead of the game since I no longer had to go through gambling-country in order to make it to Phoenix.

The excuses as to why the plane had not made it to the Gate yet had continued for about another hour. An hour. I guess ‘within range’ in airline language means ‘somewhere in the air’. Philadelphia’s airport is, from what I’ve seen, completely over congested and my guess is that once NASA is able to release its findings, we might see an entirely different schedule of flights coming out of these troubled areas.

The very last issue prior to boarding came from a young woman’s voice which said that “there was a maintenance issue that would delay boarding for quite awhile”. The smell of riot was thick in the air. The gentlemen came back on the air again within 30 seconds of this announcement and began to ask everyone with ‘Zone 1’ on their tickets to begin boarding the plane. The breakdown in communication was evident.

Upon boarding the plane the pilot came on and said that nearly every passenger was in their seats and “we’re just waiting for them to get the bags on downstairs”. Ten minutes or so pass and we began to feel and hear the bags being loaded underneath our seats. One hour and twenty-five minutes later the co-pilot gets on to let us know that the captain had gotten off the plane to hunt down “the manager of this airport for US Airways to get to the bottom of the problem regarding the loading of the luggage taking well over an hour”. There was not another word about this before, about 20 minutes more had past and the pilot told everyone we were scheduled to take off.

You might guess what is coming next.

I am not sure how much time had passed between the pilot saying we were scheduled for take off and the flight attendant going into the bathroom in the coach section of the plane and discovering that someone had “ripped apart the toilet” – but we weren’t “going anywhere until the technicians can come here to fix it for us”.

The gentlemen sitting in 14c, two seats to my right, who is in the Pharmaceutical business flies about once or twice a month on US Airways because “the Pharmaceutical industry really c
racked down on the spending it has been doing regarding employee travels and so I’m stuck with them”. Each and every flight he has been on over the last 6 to 8 months has some “some sort of issue” that has delayed him at least several hours each time.

An older couple en-route to Franfurt, Germany who I had spoken to a little earlier in the day swore that they’d never fly with US Airways again but that they wanted to take advantage of the miles they had built up. They too have had several different types of issues which had led to “all types of delays” during their travels with US Airways. From what I could tell this couple had flown to various parts of the earth very often throughout the year.

A younger couple sitting near me on the bus and who nearly missed their plane to Paris, France, were going through their troubles they’ve had with US Airways like a grocery store receipt. One problem after another was thoroughly detailed with the other backing them up by providing even more detail. When I asked them why they were flying with the airline again, they said the same thing as the older couple heading for Germany; they wanted to use up their miles.

Ted Danson, I mean, err, the gentlemen sitting next to me in Gate B7 in the Philadelphia International Airport who was reading a worn out copy of a Biography about Eric Clapton, while telling his wife that George Harrison had originally wrote a few of Clapton’s songs (I am still not sure I overheard this correctly), began to speak his disgust with US Airways after waiting a little over an hour at the gate for the plane to arrive. This was the straw that had broke the camels back for him and his wife. Man that guy looked like Ted.

I was reiterating these stories to the man in 14c when finally the pilot said that we were ready to “get the hell outta here”.

Fast forward through 30 minutes rolling around to find a runway and about 2 and a half hours of some horrible ‘complementary in-flight movie’ and here I sit, about ~1000 miles east of Phoenix charging my nearly dead iPhone with my nearly dead Macbook via USB so that I might be able to call my wife when I touchdown in a few hours.

I’m hoping that my trip home is the polar opposite of this experience.