Sunday, November 27, 2005

How I Spent My Thanksgiving (Seven Hours In Charlotte)

This was only the second time that I had done any long distance traveling at Thanksgiving, and the first time that I had flown on a holiday. My previous experience of holiday travel hell had been a drive from Queens to Baltimore on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1989. What was normally a four hour trip took me seven hours. That seven hour figure returned this year, in a different way.

Early on Thanksgiving Day, I left my home for the short drive to the Richmond airport. My destination was Lexington, KY, and I had a connection in Charlotte. I was due to arrive in Charlotte on US Airways at around 10 am, and my flight on US Airways Express (Mesa Air) was scheduled for 11:10 am, with an arrival time in Lexington of 12:33 pm. It was not to be.

My first flight arrived in Charlotte on time, and I found the gate for the second part of my journey. The plane was already there, so I expected an on-time departure. I was wrong. The plane needed maintenance (for a door), so the flight was delayed. I watched as a maintenance man came, went, returned, and left again. At about 12:15 pm the flight was cancelled because maintenance did not have the proper part to fix the door! An airline did not have a part to fix an airplane at one of its hub airports.

I quickly made my way to the service desk, where I was booked on the next flight to Lexington, and given a $5 voucher for lunch (woo hoo!). This flight was scheduled for a 1:50 pm departure, but it was already delayed until 2:40 pm.

After a fine meal at the airport Burger King, courtesy of US Airways, I found my new gate. An announcement was made that our plane was still on the ground in Montgomery, AL waiting for maintenance. At 2:30 pm we were told that the plane was loaded. At 3:20 pm the plane was in the air, and arrived in Charlotte at a little after 4 pm.

When all of the passengers from Montgomery were off the plane, we were told that the crew had requested maintenance. Next, we were advised of a change of planes (and gates) due to this maintenance issue. At 4:30 pm, the crew asked for maintenance to come to the replacement plane. Finally, at 5:00 pm, a plane full of tired, angry passengers was on its way to Lexington. For those of you not keeping score, I had expected about a one hour layover in Charlotte, and ended up spending seven hours waiting there on Thanksgiving Day.

In Charlotte, I faced six hours of delays, one flight cancellation, three planes, and a total of three gate changes.

As you might imagine, as I arrived at the Lexington airport on Saturday for the trip home, I was wondering what US Airways and US Airways Express had in store for me this time. I immediately saw that my flight back to Charlotte was delayed by about one hour. Let's just say that I wasn't surprised, and muttered some thoughts about the airline to myself. Luckily, I had over two hours (scheduled) between flights, so I would still make my connection from Charlotte to Richmond.

The flight ended up being delayed about 90 minutes, and before boarding, we were told that the lavatory on the plane was not operable. Once we were on the plane, the captain announced that the delay had been due to (wait for it) maintenance issues earlier in the day.

I made my connection, and my flight from Charlotte to Richmond was on time.

The flights that were cancelled or delayed were from US Airways Express, operated by Mesa Air. The service was appalling, and the number of maintenance problems sure doesn't give you much confidence in the airline.

One thing for sure is that I'll remember this Thanksgiving experience long after US Airways is out of business.

Update: I'm really proud of myself for having written this entire post without once saying how much I think US Airways sucks.

Update: Welcome, Instapundit readers, to my very first Instalanche. To comment on what Glenn wrote, I was surprised that an angry mob did not form. As a relocated New Yorker, I'm sure that there would have been quite a scene if this had been a New York flight.