July 24th is Pioneer Day, the Utah state holiday commemorating the arrival of Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. A typical celebration involves a parade of fire trucks and homemade floats pulled by ATV, with EMS workers and be-bonneted churchgoers, respectively, throwing candy at the urchins lining Main Street.
In our case, we decided to honor the suffering, persecution and hardship our forebears endured on their grueling trek across the plains by flying on United, then Delta Airlines. Or at least trying to.
The kids and I were set to fly out of DC to SLC this morning through Chicago. At our gate, we got a notice that our flight would leave an hour late, which would kill our connection. No sweat, no need to stand in that heinous customer service line when I can just call and get us on the next flight out of O'Hare. D'oh, which I'm told is Sunday, through San Francisco, getting in just in time for bed.
So instead, we waited in the heinous line, where an agent spotted a dad traveling alone with two kids--It's a situation that really evokes outsized sympathy, but I wasn't complaining--and rebooked us on a direct flight to SLC in the afternoon. But on Delta, and at National Airport, not Dulles. The only downside: we waited for an extra hour+ for them to pull our luggage, only to be told they couldn't do it, it'll have to catch up to us.
So we came home, hung out, and went to National, which is really a much easier airport to travel from anyway. We had seats together, everything was great, I called just before we pushed back to say we're on our way. And we sat. For two hours, A/C straining until the Delta plane rolled back to a gate. Then we got off. Then we sat.
Three hours and fifty minutes later, the gate agent announces the flight's not technically being canceled, it's just not going anywhere. And since the airport's closing, it can't, and they can't fix it. And this has been really hard for the staff there, who have a lot of other stuff to do before their shift is over.
The 150 people who didn't bail and rebook earlier now all queue up for the one agent to help them--assuming she was going to be staying that long. I got on the phone to Delta and found out we'd been rebooked already. On United, through San Francisco, arriving tomorrow night into Salt Lake.
And me and my total rock star kids, who didn't complain or melt down once during the whole "adventure," hardly had it the worst. We still had a house to come home to. Unlike the family of six [including two just-crawling twins] trying to get home to Boise. Or the weary-looking mamacita with the two tiny kids. And except for the D-bag on the intercom at the end, every person we dealt with at both airlines was nice, apologetic, sympathetic, and as helpful as possible.
But this strikes me as nothing short of a systemic failure of both airlines, but especially United. Their flight network is so full and brittle that a one-hour delay in a shuttle between two hubs results in a cascading collapse. There were people in line losing a day or two to get to Hawaii; one couple was going to miss a cruise leaving from Vancouver. All for a 1-hour delay.
The killer, though, is that as we were driving back into DC this morning from our first aborted takeoff, I got a text message alerting me that our connecting flight from Chicago would be departing two hours late. When we had a fine solution--direct flight on a more reliable-seeming airline--that was so clearly superior to the downside of getting stuck in Chicago for a day, this seemed like no big deal.
But after the Delta debacle, I can't help feeling double or triple screwed. Especially when my mom calls to say she's at the airport picking up the cousins, and oh, she just got our bags, too, they were waiting by the baggage claim. If we had done absolutely nothing, we would have made it to Salt Lake with barely a two-hour delay. But I've replayed the day and every decision point, and there's just no way or time that doing absolutely nothing ever felt like a viable option. Especially traveling with two kids.