For a quick weekend trip, you want your travel to be hassle-free. That's what I got on Friday, June 12, 2009, but some were not as lucky. The secret to my success and the reason for others distress boiled down to good communication versus poor communication.
I don't usually fly standby, so I was prepared for the worst. Instead, my Platinum status with the carrier gave me priority flying standby, and my membership in the airline's club made my wait a piece of cake.
Instead of schlepping to the gate, I was able to get my standby priority pass at the club's front desk, and I was told that the 4:45 p.m. flight might be my best shot. Suddenly, I realized my membership in the airline's club is more of a necessity than a luxury as a frequent flyer. It's the only way to pleasantly fly standby.
I was offered a seat on a packed 3:35 p.m. flight but would have had to check my rolling carry-on. Since I knew there was room for me and my roller bag on the 777 flight leaving at 4:45, I opted to wait, obtained a boarding pass with an aisle seat assignment and returned to the airline's lounge to wait in comfort.
My flight experience that day with the airline was great. When my standby flight was delayed because our aircraft arrived 20 minutes late, I noticed quite a few passengers seemed agitated. They were worried because they only had 40 minutes to catch their connecting flight to Nashville if our flight had departed on time -- a 20 minute delay meant they could miss their connection unless the plane was held for them at DFW.
This group of 20-30 passengers had been waiting at LAX since 10:35 a.m. when their nonstop flight from LAX to Nashville was cancelled due to an equipment problem with the aircraft. The airline scrambled to rebook a full flight of passengers on other flights to get them to Nashville.
The airline was also coping with flight delays caused by recent storms in Dallas which caused all its June 11th flights from LAX to DFW to be cancelled.
When weather causes a flight delay, any extra expenses are borne by the passenger, but when an equipment problem causes the delay, which happened to these Nashville passengers, the airline is usually on the hook for additional expenses.
Knowing the airline had greater financial obligations to these passengers, I was surprised that they had not received better care or communication.
When I was delayed a year or two ago on a Southwest flight out of New Orleans, a Southwest employee at the gate noticed many passengers were distressed about the hour long flight delay due to a change of equipment. She asked passengers making connections to line up and give her their connecting flight information so she could call ahead to the airport and request that their flights be held. I was impressed that she was so proactive and took care of us when she realized we were distressed.
Since Friday's situation could happen to any airline, it's not relevant to name the carrier, but it was not Southwest.
When the Nashville group didn't want to speak up for themselves, I volunteered to ask the guy at the gate whether he could make sure their flight was held at DFW. When he seemed indifferent to my request, another Nashville passenger pressed him more aggressively to take action, so I walked away believing she would get the lazy employee motivated.
When we boarded the plane and headed for Dallas, I believed the Nashville passengers would make their connection. When our plane landed and the flight crew only announced two connections - and neither were Nashville, I knew it was a bad sign.
After disembarking, I noticed a crowd at the next gate and saw two of the Nashville passengers I had met at LAX, Steve and Sonya. I asked if the plane had been held. Despite flight attendants promising to ask the pilot to ask DFW to hold the flight, apparently no one at DFW received a call.
At this point, had an airline employee seized the bull by the horns, these people could have still made their flight, because it had not yet left the gate. The plane's door had just been closed, but since DFW personnel claimed to know nothing about 20-30 passengers from my flight trying to connect to Nashville, no one was willing to boldly take action to save the airline money and the passengers grief.
I was shocked. By not holding the plane, the airline would now have to provide lodging and at least a meal for these passengers, plus get them seated on flights out the next day.
While I had stellar communication with airline personnel that day and was well assisted by employees at every level, the Nashville group encountered one bad apple after another.
Sonya emailed me from the plane the next morning advising: "Steve had no bags last night, and they offered him nothing. We checked in at Hyatt and the lady working there was great and got him a shower kit. We showed up at the airport this morning and guy checking in said we shouldn't be complaining about being stuck in airport for 24 hours as people have been here for three days. We then reminded him we weren't scheduled to come to Dallas, and that it wasn't weather that kept us here."
Sonya didn't receive an apology from any airline employee until her return flight from Nashville to LAX on Monday, June 15th. That same morning, I got a taste of flight delay myself. There was a problem with our aircraft, and another plane had to be put into service. It wasn't a big deal because we were treated well and kept informed.
I landed at LAX a half hour later than scheduled but had no complaints because I was treated well.
Machines are fallible. Occasionally, a flight ends up delayed. That's why I not only pack extra underwear, but plenty of patience.
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