Monday, March 9, 2009

Cancellations, Delays, and Mechanical Mishaps (Or Why I Hate O'Hare Airport)

This week is a break from life on the road and is much needed. All of the consultants have been on the road for about 7-8 weeks and I sense we all need the break. It is not a Spring Break by any means ( I still have to be in the office each morning at 8:30 with a tie on), but it is so nice to get to sleep in my own bed and cook my own food and get some down time to relax.

I finished up with my visit and then headed into Memphis. United has moved my flight time around and I thought it would be better to go ahead and get into Memphid for my flight rather than wake up very early and then driving several hours to catch the flight.

My flight was supposed to leave Memphis at 10:40am and then arrive in Chicago at 12:30am. My next flight was scheduled to depart Chicago at 4:10pm and arrive in Dayton at 6:20pm. It was a bit of a layover in Chicago but I was meeting up with another consultant there and were both going to be on the flight to Dayton.

That was my scheduled day. Here is how it actually went:

8:30am: Wake up, shower and get ready and check out of my hotel room.

9:30am: Arrive at Memphis International airport and park my car in the long term lot. I head in to the terminal and check in for my flight. As I am checking in, I notice that my flight is slightly delayed until 11:20. No big deal, I have a long layover in Chicago.

11:30am: The time they set for the flight to leave comes and goes and still there isn't a plane at the gate.

12:00pm: The plane arrives from Chicago and all of the passengers deplane. None of the gate agents are moving to get ready to board our flight and I begin to wonder what is going on. An agent takes a phone call and then gets on the intercom.
"Due to a potential mechanical problem with the plane, the flight will be delayed further while maintenence checks the plane out."

I don't really get too upset about flight delays because there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I particularly don't care if it is for mechanical reasons. I want the plane to absolutely work (I already can't help but think about the plane crashing each time I take off or land).

They back the plane out and take it somewhere to get checked out.

1:00: The plane is back at the gate and the agent tells all of us that the mechanical issue they had has been resolved. They rebook passengers who missed their connections, get everyone on the plane, and then we take off for Chicago.

2:05pm: The flight attendant goes by for the last time to collect garbage and make sure everyone's seatbelt is buckled and their traytables and seats are in the full upright and locked position. I am reading my book when I notice a really awful smell in the cabin. It smells an awful lot like burning plastic. I look around the cabin to make sure I am not the only one who smells it and I notice all of the passengers around me doing the same thing. I look up the aisle and the flight attendant, who is seated in her jumseat at the front of the plane, grabs the phone and calls (I assume) the cockpit. She then gets on the PA system and makes a short announcement:

"Both I and the pilots notice the smell too. If you see smoke, please let us know."

Wait a second.... are we on fire?

2:35pm: The flight lands and the pilot taxies the plane out to a far corner of the runway where we are met by several bright yellow fire trucks with sirens blazing. The girl sitting in the seat next to me wakes up and the first thing she sees is the fire trucks and has no idea what is going on. I sent a quick text to the other consultant I was meeting in Chicago to tell him that there may or may not be a fire on the plane and that it might be a while before I got to the gate.

3:00pm: Apparently we were not on fire and the plane taxies to the terminal and eaveryone gets off. I head into the terminal to find out that my next flight to Dayton was cancelled. The only next available flight departs at 7:30. I am not looking forward to the prospect of waiting for 4 hours in the O'Hare airport but there really is not a lot I can do.

3:30pm: Meet up with the other consultant, Justin and get him booked onto the 7:30 flight. Then we think about our options. I mention something about just renting a car. The drive to Dayton is between 4 and 5 hours and we would make it there before the flight did. We get online and check out the rental companies. For the low, low price of $217, we could rent a car to drive one way from Chicago to Dayton. That idea is out of the window.

4:00pm: Sit down at a restaurant in the airport and take our time because we have 4 hours to kill. A couple of beers and a cheeseburger later, we get up and head to our gate for the flight.

6:00pm: Find out our flight is delayed until 9:30. I stare at the departures board with loathing.

8:30pm: The plane shows up at the gate and the passengers from the previous flight deplane. By this time, the airport might as well have been a refugee camp. Most flights in and out of Chicago were delayed by at least 2 hours and the terminals has people camped out everywhere.

9:30: Our flight to Dayton finally takes off. To put it into a little perspective, once you are in the air, the flight to Dayton takes 41 minutes. We had just sat and waited in Chicago 6 hours for a 41 minute flight. Ugh.

11:30: (We jumped an hour ahead because of switching from Central to Eastern time). The plane begins to descend and slow down in preparation of landing. Then the plane makes a series of turns. We keep circling and I begin to wonder what is going on. We circle for around 20 more minutes and then finally land.

11:50: Finally am on the ground at Dayton. The pilot gets on the intercom to apologize about the circling and then vaguely mentioned they had a problem with the airplane and were checking to see if they could land. Two broken planes in one day. Unbelievable.

1:00am: Get back to my house in Oxford. What a day.

Then on Sunday, I got an email from United Airlines apologizing for my experience on the flight from Memphis to Chicago and offered me a gift to make up for it. I am curious what the free gift was and expected a drink voucher or something. I put all of my information in and then it shows me three gifts to choose from:
-$100 off any domestic flight
-20% off an international flight
-4,000 frequent flyer miles

I thought about it, did a little research, and then chose the 4,000 bonus miles. Now with those extra miles, I have a free flight with United.

I can hardly wait to get delayed in the Chicago airport again...