Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Murphy works for an airline


Fifteen thousand miles. 25 days. Two generally (and some would say deservedly) bankrupt airlines.

What could possibly go wrong?

The plan called for:


And then, a week later:

ITO-HNL AQ 49 (UA 4959)

And then, a week later:


And then, a week and a half later:

HNL-ITO AQ 68 (UA 4904)


UA 7597 was delayed out of Montreal due to snow at O'Hare, so it reached Chicago too late for me to catch UA 519. United rebooked me - well, once I found a live employee in their main hub airport at 10 PM - on UA 1 to Honolulu the next day; no seats were available on Hawaiian's later flights so I was forced to buy a ticket (full-fare) on Aloha, and I don't even remember the flight number, but I got home later than expected, which wasn't good since I was going straight to work. And of course my bags (which I kinda needed) came in on the flight after me.

The trip back to Chicago Midway went reasonably well. While I was in Chicago, I got a call from United asking if the whole trip home from Philly could be rebooked on later flights, since they'd oversold the non-stop from O'Hare to Honolulu. Even though they didn't offer me any compensation for this, I agreed, since it'd mean an hour's more sleep the morning of the trip. So that turned into:

HNL-ITO AQ 48 (UA 4958)

By now, those of you who've kept count will note that of 11 flights I was originally scheduled to be on, I wound up on... 5. Not good.

I tried calling the night before our departure from Philadelphia, but United's systems were down, and the phone folks couldn't do anything. Nor could United's web site.

We arrived at Philadelphia more than an hour and a half before flight time, to find a huge, and rather non-linear, "line" for check-in. Evidently someone at United headquarters thought it'd be a good idea to have four flights leave within a relatively short time, and didn't stop to think about how many check-in agents this might require. The check-in agents were dealing with the stress this caused by... yelling at customers! Once we made it through check-in and security, we found out the flight was being delayed because our federal government couldn't come up with enough security staffers to scan the baggage quickly. Way to spend our tax dollars, folks. The flight finally took off about an hour late, and aside from some demonstrations of what a "mountain wave" means, went well enough.

In San Francisco, we had enough time to find our gate and buy some water before boarding the next plane. That was all. This flight managed to only be about a half-hour late.

In Honolulu, we went straight to the gate, got in line (first in the general boarding line, I might add) and then waited. The flight came in late... then they were "servicing" it, then "servicing" turned into "getting a different aircraft at another gate" - and we wound up at the back of that line.

We got in an hour after the airport in our town usually closes for the night. Fortunately, our bags decided to be on the same flight this time, and we grabbed the first taxi we could. The fare was about $11, but I gave the driver $20 and told her to keep the change - we were just so glad to be home at last.

Then we tried to go to our favorite restaurant but it was closed for the evening due to some kind of emergency.

*shakes fist at air*

So of 7 flights on United, 4 were late, 3 of them by at least an hour, and in one case causing a missed connection, requiring rebooking, additional expenses, lost wages, and baggage issues. Throw in rude check-in agents, crash-prone computer systems and general difficulty getting hold of anyone to actually get things straightened out, and I can see why United would be having a hard time making a profit.

As for Aloha, only one of 3 flights was late, but it was a 50-minute flight delayed by an hour. All 3 flights were unpleasant, due to old, loud planes, generally unhelpful ground staff (I walked up to one counter, boarding pass in hand, and the man behind the counter walked away without even looking up) and in-flight "service" that could be improved upon by eliminating it. Small wonder Aloha also just spent a length of time in bankruptcy.

On the bright side, I've now got somewhere close to fifteen thousand miles in United's program. On the down side, I'm not comfortable with the idea of flying either of the airlines on which I'd be most likely to use those miles!

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