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I was all set to spend a week away from the wonderful New England Winter in mostly sunny Orlando. The only obstacle was actually getting there, which was simply a matter of flying from Logan Airport to Orlando. Easy, right? The flight was scheduled to take off at 9:45am, putting is in Orlando by 3pm after a connection in DC. Everything was showing on time before we left, so we headed out shortly after 7am, arriving at the airport via shuttle bus from the parking lot at about 8am. This would be the first of 12 hours I would spend here...
Upon arrival at the gate, we found out that our plane was delayed until 10:10. That wasn't so bad, it would still leave in time to make our 12:45 connection. 25 minutes later, we were delayed until 10:35. 25 minutes after that, we were delayed until 11:00. I was beginning to notice a pattern... This was when they made the announcement that the plane we were waiting for was still waiting to take off from LaGuardia. Without a plane, we weren't going anywhere, and our connection was pretty much gone unless they decided to hold it for us. They assured us that they were looking into all possible options, including with other airlines, for getting us to Orlando, but all other flights from DC were full. It was finally confirmed that the plane had taken off and would arrive at 11:10 at the gate next to the original gate (which as luck would have it was the one I had a good view of and therefore had taken several pictures of), with a departure time for us at 11:30 (putting us in DC 20 minutes after the connection was scheduled to leave). They still could not get the people in DC to decide whether to hold the flight to Orlando for us (and they would not make a decision until the plane got here, implying that they might hold it if our plane arrived according to plan). And so we waited...
Sure enough, the plane arrived as planned and began unloading. The announcement was then made that people going to Orlando should not get on this plane because the connecting flight was not being held and there were no other options for getting us to Orlando from there. Why they couldn't just tell us an hour earlier that they wouldn't hold the connecting flight even in the best case scenario is a mystery to me, but it would appear to be complete incompetence on the part of the airline. Grow some balls and make a decision you idiots (yes, I'm talking to you US Airways)!
Now, at the time when we were scheduled to be in DC, we were told to leave the gate area and return to (stand in line at) the ticket counter to book a new flight to Orlando. That flight turned out to be the 5:50pm flight to Charlotte (in first class even), which would put us in Orlando at 10:50pm. Assuming no delays getting that plane here or leaving from Logan, which was due to get hit with snow that afternoon. With another 5 hours to wait, we went through security to get to the gate, which was conveniently located right next to Legal Sea Food. Of course, we were selected for additional screening, so we got the full "You might be a terrorist if..." treatment. They only did a quick spot check of our bags, so we made it through without too much trouble.
After security, we were able to confirm that our 5:50pm flight was indeed expected to take off at 5:50. We still needed our seat assignments, but there wasn't a single US Airways employee to be found anywhere near the gate area, so we had lunch instead. Then we waited, and waited, and waited some more (and watched the snow falling and falling outside) until about 5pm. Still no US Airways employees anywhere to be found, but luckily there was plenty of time to get a seat assignment with the flight delayed until 7pm (at the gate next to the original gate, and once again the new gate was the one I had a good view of and therefore had taken pictures of). This would put us in Charlotte exactly when the connecting flight was scheduled to take off, which was a problem. We tried to get help at the US Airways Special Services counter, but I guess we weren't special enough because nobody showed up. After finding that the only US Airways employees that we could locate (downstairs) couldn't help us ("We're Express"), we once more headed outside security to the ticket counter to find out what could be done to get us to Orlando.
By this time, the flight had been rescheduled to take off at 6:30pm, which would make it theoretically possible to make our connection. The person at the ticket counter told us to return to the gate and wait for the plane because we would make our connection, and even if we were a little late, they would hold the connecting flight because so many people (over two dozen) were all trying to get to Orlando. There were no other flights on any airline that could get us there (which seems hard to believe considering the number of flights out there - even flying to San Diego and then on to Orlando through Houston, on different airlines each leg, would be better than sitting at the airport forever with no idea when we would get to leave). With no other options, other than getting our ticket price refunded (but not any other penalties there might be from car rental and hotel reservations, not to mention the return flight, the parking fee, and the time wasted on this nonsense), it was back to security for the customary rectal probe. They actually opened my bag all the way this time, proving that at least some people in TSA know how to work a quick release buckle...
It was more waiting at the gate, and no US Airways employees to be found of course. An announcement was made however telling people with certain connecting flights that they would not make their connections. Orlando was not on the list. At about 6:30, a plane finally pulled up to the gate, and someone showed up behind the gate counter. We were called over to get seat assignments, but before we could get there, someone asked about the connection to Orlando. This is when it got ugly. Would we make our connection? No. Would they hold the plane? No. Were there any other flights available today? No. Would they put us up in a hotel? No. Could they book tomorrow's flights at the gate? No. Would they call for a State Trooper if we kept insisting on some kind of a solution? Yes. Our options were to get on the plane and spend the night in Charlotte, spend the night at Logan, or spend the night in jail.
The crowd around the gate counter continued to grow, and the Orlando mob was joined by the Ft. Lauderdale unfortunates, who were also going to miss their connections. No announcement had been made that the connecting flights to Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale would not be held, and the person at the counter said that no announcement could be made because people kept asking questions (mostly about the aforementioned connections). Apparently it was too much trouble to ask people to wait one second so an important announcement could be made. By now, everyone was fed up by the rudeness of the US Airways employee who kept threatening to call for a State Trooper because we were too threatening. Never mind that nobody had actually approached this person and none of us "threatening" folks (including several senior citizens) had been given any satisfactory answers to our questions about what US Airways was going to do for us ("go back out to the ticket counter" was all we were told, and that didn't sit well with anyone, particularly those of us who had to get the security special on each and every trip back to the gate).
Giving up on getting any help from the airline's lone representative, who seemed to be unable to do anything beyond calling the police from the gate counter, people began discussing plans of action. We could all just get on the plane and hope that would put enough pressure on the airline to hold the connection, but given our experience so far that day, any help from the airline seemed unlikely. We had been refused hotel accommodations, and it wasn't possible to spread out on the seats at the gate, so that left the floor as the only option for sleep (neck pillows were available for purchase though). With no solution in sight, we headed back once more outside the secure area, just as the announcement was made that the connecting flights to Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale would be held for us...
The time was 6:50pm. The flight was scheduled to leave at 7pm, land in Charlotte at 9pm, and arrive at the gate at 9:16pm. The connecting flight to Orlando was scheduled to leave Charlotte at 9:15pm and arrive in Orlando at 10:50pm. The Charlotte to Orlando flight would be held for those of us who had been trying to get to Orlando for the entire day, without making it farther than the gate at Logan. And as luck would have it, we were on the wrong side of the security check with the magical SSSS on the lower right corner of our boarding passes. We began our third full screening as other members of our hapless group of prospective Orlando visitors went through the normal way. Apparently we were the only ones selected for the Logan security experience. At least we were getting our money's worth... This time, the examiner opened all of the compartments of my bag (asking for my assistance with the trickier parts like the quick release buckles) and meticulously checked every single item inside, going so far as to remove the lens caps from all of my lenses. Apparently this was how the security check was supposed to be done, and all of the previous screeners were slacking off. Lucky me, I get my one proper check when I have the least time to get to the gate. "They know you're coming," they assure me, but considering that I just left the gate area a few minutes earlier (and still hadn't gotten a seat assignment), I had my doubts.
My worries turned out to be for nothing however. Just as we approached the gate, they began boarding Zone 1. We had nothing to worry about because, despite arriving only a few minutes before the scheduled departure, there was no chance in hell of making that departure time. Good news for getting on the plane, but bad news for our connection. We got our seat assignments ("I called you earlier, but you never showed up" - yeah, except for being right next to you the whole time while you basically told us to get lost or you would call the police...). We boarded and settled into our first class seats, then found out that there would be additional delays because they didn't even start loading the luggage until everyone had boarded. Our 5:50pm flight, delayed until 7pm, then 6:30pm, and once more to 7pm, proceeded to take off at 8pm. Those of us in First Class received a free miniature turkey sandwich and some snack items. Everyone else had to pay $5 if they wanted the same. The saying "too little, too late" comes to mind.
At 10pm, we landed in Charlotte to the news that our connecting flights were long gone and the airport was pretty much shut down for the day. The good news was that, unlike what we were told at Logan, the Charlotte US Airways staff would be providing us with hotel rooms and $5 in meal vouchers per person. I don't know if they are incompetent, ill-informed, or just plain rude, but none of the above could excuse the Logan US Airways staff for failing to provide the same options that we were automatically given in Charlotte. I can't fault US Airways as a whole here, the blame clearly falls on the group at Logan.
The flight's at 7:45am (landing in Orlando at 9:13am), here's your ticket and boarding pass (no SSSS!), don't lose it, don't go to the ticket counter, just go straight through to security, here's your food voucher, good here or at the hotel, and here's your hotel voucher, go downstairs and call the hotel from the courtesy phone for a shuttle bus. It sounded simple enough, until the hotel said that there weren't any more rooms... It was back upstairs to the dreaded ticket counter, where about half of our group was (or would soon be) waiting for a resolution to this latest setback (the other half was sent to a different hotel). The lone remaining ticket agent, working well past the end of his shift, worked frantically to exchange our vouchers for ones that could actually be used for available rooms. It took a few minutes, but we still made it back downstairs before the shuttle buses started arriving. After a quick picture of the statue of Charlotte, it was on to the hotel and one step closer to a bed.
Time: 11pm, 12 March 2005
Location: Charlotte, NC
Scheduled Location: Orlando, FL, 3pm, 12 March 2005
ETA in Orlando: 9:13am, 13 March 2005
Status: Tired, annoyed, frustrated, relieved that someone working for US Airways has a clue
It wasn't Orlando, and it wasn't the afternoon, but it was warm, there was a bed waiting for us, and it wasn't Logan Airport. Things were looking up.
A 5am wakeup and a 6am shuttle bus for a 7:45am takeoff to arrive in Orlando at 9:13am. Anywhere but Logan Airport, this would sound like a plan that could work. Luckily, we weren't at Logan. If the US Airways people there had had their way, we would still be there, but after some pressure, they lied enough to get us on a plane to somewhere else. Somewhere warm. Somewhere friendly. Somewhere not Logan. As the sun rose over Terminal B at the Charlotte airport, there was a plane at a gate, a gate that we were scheduled to depart from. And unlike yesterday, when there was no plane at the gate on schedule, we would actually depart from our scheduled gate at our scheduled time on our scheduled flight, to our scheduled destination and land on schedule.
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