Boeing Live Event Coverage
On the way to Farnborough, an airline tale of woe -- with one heroine
I've arrived in London to cover the Farnborough Air Show after a troubled journey that's surely emblematic of the current state of air travel.
I had my share of stultifying frustration and as a result of the experience Delta surely loses money. But I also witnessed heroic competence under pressure by a Delta customer service agent. She should be running more within the company than that gate at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport .
She had to handle two Delta 757s full of passengers delayed for hours, one of them mine, flight 1849 to Minneapolis, where I was to have had a 45 minute layover.
I never did go to Minneapolis. After leaving Seattle three hours later than planned, I got to London directly on a British Airways flight that arrived at about the time I was supposed to.
What a relief. Unfortunately, my luggage is in Boston.
(VIP executives arrive this way at Farnborough. Not how I got here. Image Source: Farnborough International Air Show.)
Yes, the only clothes I have now are the ones I stand up in. The jeans and polo shirt I put on for traveling, the ones I slept in -- sort of -- on the plane.
Luckily, I have my notes, my laptop and all my reporter needs. Tomorrow, I hope, I will be re-united with my clothes.
I arrived at the Sea-Tac gate for my Minneapolis flight an hour early to find a line of at least 100 travelers. I discovered that they were passengers from the previous Delta flight to Minneapolis, supposed to have left earlier in the day. Their plane was disabled by some maintenance issue. They were trying to switch to the next flight, mine.
Along with my fellow flight 1849 passengers, I boarded the plane on time and thought how lucky I was not to have booked that earlier flight. We all settled in our seats; then sat some more. Then the pilot told us: We have a maintenance problem. A landing gear sensor light was on in the cockpit and shouldn't be. They had the part. It would be fixed soon.
It wasn't. A half hour later, the pilot asked us to disembark. The fix would take two hours. My heart sank. I would miss my connection.
At the gate, the lead service agent was an Asian-American lady. She ministered with calm authority to the whole planeload of folks gathered before her, some of whom had switched from the previous flight.
Now these were mostly mid-westerners. There was no yelling or anger. Still, they were frustrated. Everyone who had a connection would miss it. Every one of those connections was the last plane out of Minneapolis to that destination. Going via another city wouldn't work any better than spending a night either in Seattle or Minneapolis at Delta's expense and arriving a day late.
The lone exception, the ones for whom this ultra-competent service agent had an out, were the four travelers on the plane headed to London. She said she would try to switch us to the British Airways evening flight out. And she did.
After getting a boarding pass at the BA gate, I made my way back to the Delta gate to thank her for her efficiency.
British Airways got me a better seat and with the direct flight I got to London on time, despite the three-hour late start.
It would be an all's-well-that-ends-well tale if only some Delta ramp agent hadn't failed to match the gate agent's efficiency. My checked bag wasn't transferred, despite the lengthy amount of time available.
British Airways tells me Delta sent it to Boston and it should be delivered to my hotel tomorrow.
I was lucky. Other travelers are getting to their destinations a day late. And think of the expense to Delta of all the hotel rooms for those who missed connections and of the delivery via courier of my bag to my hotel.
The manufacturing of airliners is a glorious, fantastic business to cover for the newspaper. But the experience of actually flying them?
Let's just say, bring on more new planes Delta, as fast as you can.
UPDATE in the wee hours of Sunday morning:
I have my bag at last.
I had to go shop for clothes late Saturday to make myself presentable to interview Chris Gregoire, Governor of Washington state. I wrote a blog post afterward and when I got back from that, at 2 a.m., my bag had been delivered to my room.
I'm happy to have my stuff back, including my rain gear. It's raining cats and dogs here in London.
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