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The Ugly American
Friday, October 19, 2007
  The Problems with Airline Travel Flight Delays...
These days it seems like every trip to the airport will have some unexpected situation that has to be dealt with in order to maintain some sanity. Flight delays, lost luggage, misplaced or lost reservations, and even accidents on the way to the airport can cause heartburn to a weary traveler. What causes these problems, and is there anything that the traveler can do to avoid them?

The biggest and probably most common problem is the flight delay. A few different things can cause flight delays. Bad weather here, bad weather there, bad weather yesterday, bad weather tomorrow, or even bad weather in between here and there can be the cause of an airline weather delay. At the airport in Philadelphia, panic arises when someone mentions bad weather. This seems to be some major airlines’ number one excuse for flight delays and cancellations. It’s also a reason for delay that requires no compensation to the passenger. One wonders how often it really is bad weather. There’s really no way to avoid these types of delays. One shouldn’t fool with Mother Nature.

Another reason for flight delays is a maintenance issue with the plane. The airlines are required to compensate passengers for these types of delays. Compensation can be a meal or a nights’ stay at a local hotel, depending on the situation. For a flat out cancellation that requires an overnight stay, the traveler will be given a hotel voucher. They’re usually at a local airport and they’re usually nice; for example, I’ve never been put up at a local Motel 6 by any airline. These types of delays are less frequent than weather delays, but they still happen regularly.

Recently, I ran into another reason for flight delays: missing crewmembers. Apparently, planes can’t fly without flight attendants on board, and some of them don’t know how to read a schedule. This can be very frustrating. Passengers sitting around wondering if the airline only has the exact number of flight attendants required for every plane flying that day; or if there might be an extra flight attendant lying around that could be propped up inside the plane for moral support or whatever it is that flight attendants do besides show passengers how to put on a seat belt.

This happened to me the last time I flew out of Norfolk International Airport. The planes lone flight attendant was missing. We could hear the calls for her over the gate attendants’ radio. It was obvious they were trying to do something about it, but nothing was happening. After we were already thirty minutes late, she finally showed up. She was a much older woman and very small. So small, she almost seemed frail. I had to wonder what kind of assistance I would receive from this tiny woman in the event of a real emergency. Could she even open the oversized emergency exit row door? Luckily, I didn’t have to find out.

Then there’s the excuse that there are just too many planes in the air today. Like a highway full of rush hour traffic at eight in the morning, airports get to full of planes. There are only so many gates for so many planes. It always strikes me funny when my plane lands, on time, and the gate the airline said was the gate for my plane isn’t available. I guess they just weren’t expecting us. This might be acceptable if you’re flying “Fly-by-night Airlines”, but when you’re flying a major carrier in to one of their hubs, I can find no excuse for it.

Flight delays can be a big problem or a small problem. If you’re heading to Charlotte, Philadelphia, or some other place that’s a major airline hub then it’s not that big a problem. If you have to make a connection to get to your final destination, a flight delay can ruin all your travel plans. Airlines typically set up connecting flights with around an hour in between flights. This makes catching the next plane easy. If the first flight is delayed for whatever reason, it may be impossible to catch your connection. Then trying to reschedule can be almost impossible.

The airlines are holding travelers hostage and there really is nothing that can be done about it. Congress has attempted to pass legislation in the past to hold the airlines responsible for their obvious mistreatment of passengers, but for some reason, there just aren’t enough congressmen that feel this is necessary. There isn’t much that a traveler can do to avoid flight delays, but one suggestion I would make to any airline traveler is that if you do end up involved in a delay and have the need to reschedule a flight, be nice to the people at the counter.
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Not sure if I am THE ugly American, but I must be AN ugly American, because some Canadian told me so!!!

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