Theory and Practice

A Series of Unfortunate Events

We’ve just returned a—full day late—from our short vacation. And why were we a day late, you might ask? Answer: Delta.

We arrived at the airport around 5 for our 7:40 PM departure and discovered after checking our luggage the our flight had been delayed. To 12:15 AM. “Great”, I though to my self, “Here is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. A chance to spend seven hours in an airport seat with an infant! Yippee!!!!”

Of course, that’s not really what I thought.

The flight was delayed for maintenance reasons and thanks to the logic of airline scheduling our plane was still on the other side of the country. The Delta gate staff assured us that it would be taking of “real soon” and would getting in around 11:45.

K and I settled down with baby Z for the long haul. And it really wasn’t that bad of a wait, overall. Z has proven once again that she may be the most patient baby extant. Not a lot of fussing or crying and she even managed to nap in the airport. Delta gave us some meal vouchers: $7 each to run wild with in the food court! Wa-hoo!!!

We listened to the various (and repetitious) airport announcements: “The current threat level is Orange. Please don’t give your bags to terrorists at this time”. “Would Mr. A. Choo please report to gate 37 and re-check, as we’ve decied that he does not deserve an upgrade”. Blah, blah, blah.

We read some magazines, fed and played with the baby and talked with our fellow passengers. Everyone we talked to complemented Z on her stunning cuteness and exceptional calm. And of course they all tried to make her smile. I think on very experienced grandma got what might be best described as a “fleeting grin”. Z just absorbed it all.

And right on time, the plane rolled in at 11:45. We all clapped and started to get ready to board. And you can probably guess what happens next.

The luggage guys stopped loading the bags sometime around midnight. I was watching stuff go up the conveyor belt, then it stopped going in and just sat there for a while. And then bags started coming out of the plane. “Oh, crap”, I thought.

I turned back to K and I could tell that she sensed it, too. And two minutes latter, the fancy flat screen full of practically useless information announced that we weren’t going anywhere. Flight canceled.

Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, chaos ensued. The crowd got very riled up and started demanding free flights, hotel rooms and answers. It turns out that Delta was able to get a plane, but not a pilot. Duh. After all, how would you get a crew for a scheduled flight with only seven hours of lead-time?!?

And of course, why would you think to have staff at the airport in case something goes wrong and a bunch of customers, many of whom are young children or older adults (this being Orlando) are abandoned at the gate?!?

We had been assured when we first arrived that 1) this flight was our best chance of getting home since everything else was booked and 2) that there would be a crew for this flight. A fellow passenger had asked this question EXPLICITLY and the gate agent had assured us all that there would be. She even went on the buzzer and announced it to everyone. “There absolutely will be a crew for this flight,” she said in a tone that implied we were all idiots who just don’t get how air travel works. And apparently we don’t, since “absolutely will” means “not a chance in hell” in Delta-speak.

The Delta agents were pretty much swamped and they generally weren’t in any shape to deal with this crowd of pissed-off travelers. I know that they didn’t really have the power to do much about the situation, but they dropped the ball on the things they could have done. First off, they failed to have enough staff to handle the issue. Initially, there were only two people at the gate; a third guy showed up after about 30 minutes and a lot of shouting from the irate mob clumped near the desk. And apparently there was no supervisor or person with any real authority anywhere around.

The second failure was not having a plan of any kind. This sort of thing must happen now and again; you’d think Delta would train its personnel on what to do and have a standard set of compensations ready to go. But no such plan.

The third, and grandest, mistake the gate agents made was that they stopped communicating with the crowd. Everyone wanted to know where they were going to sleep, what they were going to eat and how they were getting home. These are three of the most fundamental concerns for human beings, I think, and when we don’t have answers to these questions, we get very aggressive and edgy.

The gate folks just sort of hunched their shoulders and started trying to re-book folks one at a time. This started to fail immediately. Everyone wanted direct flights how now and that wasn’t possible. But rather then letting everyone know what they were doing and communicating what was going on, they let themselves get embroiled in long arguments with the first few customers about why they couldn’t get a direct flight out first thing in the morning. And so the rest of the crowd got angrier.

I won’t spend too much more time on the gate. Let’s just say they never really got their act together. They re-booked us on a single connections flight via La Guardia, which wasn’t great but it was towards home and gave us hotel and meal vouchers ($21 more to spend in the food court…hot damn!) and sent us on our way.

We claimed our bags then set out (at 1:30AM) to find our hotel. Delta had sent us to “the Marriott”. Of course, it turned out that there were FOUR Marriott’s near the airport. Fortunately, the hotel bus driver-dude was very helpful. We managed to get a room and they even gave us a crib. At 2:30AM, we all crawled into bed.

The next morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed, re-packed and headed for the airport. We managed to get to our plane, but thanks to Delta’s screw-up and the TSA’s silly screening system, we were now flagged for additional scrutiny. I have to say, the TSA staff we dealt with in Florida and NY were pretty good. But having to shuck all your stuff to get through the gate is already a pain; having to wait with an infant while they pat you down is almost interminable. Because of more Delta incompetence we had to claim and re-check our bags in NY and we missed the earlier shuttle. The very nice folks at the Delta Shuttle put us on standby for the next flight out. We managed to make it on, but the time we spent waiting at the gate may have been the hardest of the trip. I kept thinking that I was going to collapse if we didn’t get on that flight.

27 hours after leaving Grandparents Stevens, we arrived home. During the entire ordeal, Z was spectacular. She barely fussed, let alone cried and she showed that she can be quite a trooper. Despite the efforts of Delta to ruin her baby-poise, Z held on. Once again, I’m amazed at our baby girl.

Actually, we did alright as a whole family. We’re all tired and worn out, but we made it home. At last.

Thanks to K for the title of this post.