July 21, 2005

There's Caution, and then there's Cruel and Unusual

I may not fly Delta Airlines again because of the weather. But when you have a bad experience, it's a bad experience, and you don't want to repeat it. Then again, I'd pobably never fly again if I stopped flying every airline on which I'd ever had a bad experience.

My flight yesterday left SFO just about on time, headed for Atlanta. The pilot said we'd arrive in Atlanta "just about on time," so I was hopeful I'd make my connection with just a 35 minute layover, but I didn't worry about it. We had a movie, which I didn't watch because I was working while my laptop's battery still had juice.

I am one of those people who will do almost anything, suffer nearly any discomfort so as not to inconvenience other people, particularly in public. So when I realized halfway through the movie I had to use the lavatory, I decided to wait until the end so I wouldn't have to make my rowmate miss any of the movie.

An experienced traveler, I knew that a line would form just after the movie ended. So, I waited for the line to reduce, which it never did. Eventually, after a half hour, I got up and stood in line. I stood for no more than three minutes and was still about #5 in line, worrying that I was making the people sitting around me uncomfortable by my presence, when the captain turned on the seat belt sign and said he expected turbulence. OK, so I returned to my seat, being a good passenger.

This was about an hour into my discomfort, with about 90 minutes left in the flight. At least five times over the course of the next 70 minutes, either the captain or the flight attendants announced that they whould be turning off the seat belt sign "in just a few moments" and that they really needed everyone seated. The captain explained this was for "our safety as well as the safety of the other passengers," and that he'd been "watching the radar" because we were skirting the edge of the system caused by a local hurricane. He thought there might be a few bumps.

By the time the captain announced we were beginning our initial descent into Atlanta (usually that's about 20-25 minutes from touching down, then another 5-10 minutes to the gate, then another 10-15 for everyone in front of you to get the hell out of the way), my pain was spectacular and I was in real danger of having an embarrassing second-grade style moment. Still, I told myself that I could make it and tried not to think how long it would be before landing.

Right about this time they'd begun showing the flight status--map, elevation, air speed, ground speed, etc.--on the LCD panels popped down from the ceiling. I began to notice that we'd been at 11,000 feet and 250 miles per hour for quite a while, longer than I would normally expect on approach. Moments later, the engines whined back up again, and the captain announced that due to thunderstorms just in front of the runway approach, we were being held off for 10 to 15 minutes and would be entering a holding pattern.

Since I'd been in a holding pattern for well over two hours now, I decided to break the rules. I stood, forced my rowmate to let me out, and sped to the rear of the plane, aggressively ignoring all the glowing read seat belt icons glaring at me as I passed. I got to the rear of the plane, and the flight attendant gave me a nasty look and said in her best bad-white-trash-mother-voice, "Can't hold it? We really need everyone seated." I mumbled something about two hours and being in line when the light went on and just hurried into the bathroom.

The rest of the ride was fine. What really steamed me, though, was that I had more bumps on the 30-second BART ride between 19th St and 12 St that morning than I had on the entire 4-hour flight from SFO to Atlanta. Either this pilot was simply overly cautious or overly cruel, or they need to get their weather radar calibrated.

By now, of course, I figured I'd miss my connection with just a 35 minute layover. I had to get from terminal A to terminal B in probably 10 minutes. As we taxied to our gate, I saw that B20, the gate my connection was supposed to depart from, was empty. Relief set in again because if there was no equipment yet, I couldn't possibly miss the flight.

Little did I know that this flight from Atlanta to Charlotte, which they announced as being 38 minutes in the air, would be nearly two hours delayed. It was supposed to depart at 8:03 and finally left the gate around 9:45. This was because the plane, coming from Chicago, was so late getting in. Then there was lightning around the airport, so they couldn't finish fueling it quickly. Needless to say, because of the weather we were something like #24 in line to take off when we pushed back, so we did not arrive in Charlotte until after 11:30 p.m., four hours after I landed in Atlanta.

Checking maps.google.com, I see that Atlanta to Charlotte by road is about 240 miles, or probably about four hours driving.

Silent, painful suffering
Airplane bathroom line

1 comment:

Jane D. said...

Reminds me of the time I was already in some pain but decided to wait 30 minutes for a bathroom break and stop on the other side of The Grapevine. Just two miles past the last exit traffic stopped...parking lot style. It took 2 1/2 hours to get to the other side, thanks to a fire burning on the summit. I had no idea I had that kind of stamina. I feel your pain.