Clippings: Airline travel — going nowhere fast

I flew commercially to the Midwest this summer and it will probably not come as a shock to hear that a couple of my flights did not go well. It seems like everyone has bad flying stories these days. In the not too distant future it may be a newsflash when a flight actually goes smoothly. I can just see the news crawl during “Good Morning America” — “Vermont man makes connection and arrives to Duluth on time. Passenger enjoys complimentary peanuts and declares seat very comfortable.”
I am reluctant, however, to bash a large corporation in these pages. Given recent Supreme Court decisions I would not be surprised if it soon becomes a felony to criticize a member of the S&P 500. Earlier this year a disgruntled airline passenger tweeted critical remarks from his seat while waiting to pull away from the gate. He was promptly thrown off the plane. I could be getting myself into a lot of trouble.
Maybe I shouldn’t name names. Let’s just say the airline in my story is one of the biggest carriers in the UNITED States and leave it at that (Did my editor just bold cap the word UNITED?). (Did he just do it again?) (Is he trying to get me thrown off a plane?).
Anyway, my story begins on my return flight from Duluth. My first leg took me to Chicago. There was a bit of a delay getting our plane to the gate because there were not enough ground crew workers (good to know all of the extra fees we pay these days aren’t being wasted on employees). Our gate agent went into cheerleader mode and got all of us passengers pulled together and ready to jump on the plane as quickly and as orderly as possible. She did not promise free peanuts if we all cooperated, but she did say we would be able to take off on time. Like anxious lemmings we all gathered our things and pushed our way onto the plane. We did it (Rah! Rah!) and then settled in for an on-time arrival into Chicago. The problem was we didn’t move. We sat and sat and sat.
After missing our departure time by about 25 minutes the pilot came on the intercom and apologized for the delay. He said he was trying to finish up some paperwork and the printer wasn’t working. The printer wasn’t working!? What is this, high school? “Ladies and gentlemen, my dog ate my paperwork. Thank you for not flying with us.”
And what is all this paperwork anyway? The airlines have thousands of people all over the country trying to keep planes flying on time and they can’t solve a paperwork problem? Jammed printers are holding everyone up? Hard to believe.
We arrived, late of course, in Chicago and things started looking up. I was able to get a seat on an earlier flight that would get me back to Burlington sometime before 10 p.m. instead of my original post-midnight flight. That felt good, for about 10 minutes. Turns out my new, earlier plane couldn’t pull into the gate because the gate was taken by a plane headed for Montana and that plane had a broken toilet. There were no other empty gates in all of Chicago so our incoming plane sat on the tarmac, full of fuming passengers who were no doubt formulating their own snarky Clippings columns.
A gate finally opened up and our plane pulled in. The gate agent apologized for the delay and said we would board shortly. Only we never did. They decided to give our plane to the people headed to Montana. “What are we, chopped liver?” I screamed at the top of my lungs in the waiting area. Well, I wanted to.
Can they just give planes away like that? Apparently they can because the next thing I knew I was waiting for a broken toilet to be fixed. And waiting … and waiting … and waiting. I should have just called the folks at Dundon Plumbing. They could have driven to Chicago and fixed the problem in the time it took anyone at the gate to let us know they almost had it tackled. Only they didn’t. They kept teasing us with optimistic updates that never came true and when they finally put us all on the plane we all had the pleasure of sitting in our cramped seats for about 30 minutes until the pilot came over the intercom. “Sorry for the delay folks,” he said. “Just trying to finish up some paperwork.” I almost threw myself off the plane. 

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