Friday, January 5, 2018

The flightmare after Christmas

Sean and I booked flights a few months ago so we could go to Indianapolis for Christmas with his extended family. Because of job in past years, he hasn't been able to go in five years. He also really wanted me to meet some of his aunts, uncles, cousins, and especially his grandfather, before the wedding. We found a good deal on flights, so we bought them and began planning.

Saturday morning, we got up at 2:45 a.m. and were at the airport an hour later. Security was a breeze. Probably because it was an ungodly hour. Either way, we were feeling optimistic. We were set to depart Des Moines at 5:25 a.m., have a short layover in Chicago O'Hare, and arrive in Indianapolis at 9:45 a.m.

By 5 a.m., we didn't see any flight crew. No gate agent. Nothing. This was a little alarming, but we tried to stay optimistic. As departure time grew closer, everyone at our gate was restless and we began hearing rumblings that the plane was struggling to warm up enough for the engine to start. I figured this was an easy fix and we'd be in the air soon. But as 6 a.m. neared, I decided to go to the gate agent (who had announced we'd be delayed but didn't say by how much) and see if we could change our connection flight. I knew there was no way we'd get to Chicago in time to change terminals and board our 7:50 a.m. flight to continue to Indy. She was able to put us on one that would leave Chicago at 3:30 p.m. Not ideal, but I figured at least we'd have plenty of time to make the connection. And we'd be in Indianapolis in time to have dinner with the family.

Over the next several hours, there were no announcements from the gate agent. Nothing to tell us when we might be leaving. The time on the screen kept changing, but nothing seemed firm. Our flight crew had left the plane saying it was too cold to be out there and a few of them said they were going to try and get released to go back to the hotel until this was sorted out. (That should have been my first clue that this was not just a slight delay, but I was clueless.)

This photo was taken around 9 a.m. Our travel day was already long and we didn't yet know how long it would be.

Our crew (who had left the gate to hide away from all the questions) was paged to come back to the gate around 11 a.m. It felt like we were making progress. Especially when they all got on the plane and didn't immediately come back off as they had so many times over the course of the morning. But by noon, we still hadn't gone anywhere and there was no indication we would be anytime soon. Other flights (from other airlines) were arriving and departing without issue, but all of the flights on this particular airline were delayed. Significantly.

I went up to the gate agent again and asked if she thought we'd get to Chicago in time for that 3:30 flight. She couldn't guarantee it and it didn't seem likely to me at this point, so we re-booked again. Our new connecting flight would leave Chicago at 8:50 p.m. and get into Indianapolis around 11 p.m. This was not at all appealing, but it seemed to be our only hope.

Beer before noon? Why not.

Sean and I took a break from the gate and went to watch the rest of the Iowa State game (they won!) and get some food. We heard from other passengers on our flight that the gate agent told them we wouldn't leave Des Moines until at least 5:15 p.m. Some even heard 6 p.m. as the estimated departure.

At this point, there were some tears of frustration as Sean and I discussed what we should do. Some people on my Facebook began chiming in that I should have just driven to Indy. In hindsight, this would have been the better option. But when I booked the flights, they actually were shorter than driving. It should also be noted that I hate driving in winter, and making the 500-mile-ish trek to somewhere two states away just didn't seem like a smart idea. And by this point, Sean and I had been up for more than 12 hours and hadn't gotten the best sleep the previous night either. Driving really wasn't an option. So we decided to hang in there.

A little after 3, we headed back towards our gate to see if there was any new information. On our way, we ran into another passenger from our flight who said there was a flight leaving for Chicago in a few minutes and there might be some extra seats on it. Sean and I were delighted when we secured what turned out to be the last two seats on that flight. Finally, at 3:30 p.m., nearly 12 hours after we'd gotten to the airport, we were in the air.

We landed in Chicago around 5 p.m. and hung around for three hours until our next flight. We eventually arrived in Indianapolis at 11 p.m. that night. We were exhausted but happy to finally be at our destination.

I hoped for better luck on our return flight, but my hopes didn't last long. About an hour before we were set to head to the airport, we learned our flight was delayed 90 minutes, which means we'd miss our connecting flight. I called the airline and after being on hold for about 25 minutes, we were booked onto a later connecting flight. It would delay our arrival at home by two hours, but the customer service rep assured me it was the best option and he would send me a confirmation email with the flight details. When, ten minutes later, I didn't have the promised email confirmation, I got nervous. I decided I didn't trust the airline at this point and we ended up renting a car and driving home. We were back in Des Moines at 8:30 p.m. When I checked the airline site later, I discovered our flight from Indianapolis didn't end up leaving until 8 p.m. There's no way we would have made it to Des Moines that night. Oh, and I never did receive an email confirmation of that changed flight.

I know delays happen, but this was my worst air travel experience by far. We lost time with Sean's family (and he obviously doesn't see them often), and we ended up spending a lot more money than we had planned on (three airport meals and a rental car). I've filed a complaint with the airline, but I highly doubt anything will be done about it.

Tell me about your worst flight experience.
Any advice on how to get the airline to care?


  1. Flightmare indeed. I would just call and tell them your story. Also, we flew United out of Alaska (always in winter) many times. I don't think that's a real reason for the plane being delayed. I was never delayed with them.
    I probably would've driven to begin with, but I understand the allure and convenience of a cheap plane ticket.

  2. Wowzers... What an awful experience. As for your question, the airlines don't care and I seriously doubt there's anything that can be done or said to change that.


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