Bad Flight Saved By Airline Crew, New Laws, Amiable Travelers

flight 108

Last weekend, United Airlines Flight 108 from Newark, New Jersey, to Edinburgh, Scotland, put 2011’s Airline Passenger Bill of Rights to the test. It was not planned that way; we did not set out to see if the new regulations would kick in to help in a bad situation. But when things went wrong, rules established by the bill kept a bad scene from becoming a total disaster. I was on board and lived to tell about it.

The first leg of our travel plan on United Airlines took us through bad weather from Orlando (MCO) to Newark (EWR) rather smoothly, arriving a few minutes late at 8:15 p.m. On landing, a text from my FlightTrack Pro iPhone app informed me that our next flight, from EWR to Edinburgh, Scotland (EDI), scheduled to leave at 9:55 p.m., would be delayed until 12 p.m.

“Surely they mean 12 a.m., just a little late, not 12 p.m.,” I said out loud with the comment echoed by other passengers, also checking their phones after landing. But p.m. it was, so put up in a hotel we were – the cheesy Ramada Inn Airport hotel – along with carry-on luggage and food vouchers for dinner and breakfast.

Going back to the Newark airport the next day – a few hours early as good airline passengers on international flights do – we found a further delay for more maintenance, pushing departure to 1 p.m. Soon though, the situation improved. The flight was moved back to 12 p.m. and boarding the international flight, a process that can take some time, finally began.flightWith boarding completed, the flight crew, who had also been ready to go since the night before, prepared the cabin and off we went – all of about two football fields in distance.

Newark airport normally has two operating runways. Today that was one working runway as the other was undergoing maintenance, placing us last in a line behind 15 planes.

A timely announcement produced some unanimous moans and groans from passengers. “Oh well, what can we do but sit here and wait.”

By the time we made it to number seven, almost an hour later, we had burned about 10,000 pounds of fuel, according to the flight crew. That’s so much fuel that we had to leave the takeoff queue, return to what the crew onboard called “the ballpark” and refuel.

“Not a big problem, we sure did not want to run out of gas crossing the Atlantic,” I thought, echoing the mood of the other passengers on board. To expedite the process, we stayed on the aircraft, avoiding a repeat of the time-consuming international flight boarding process.

But by the time fueling was complete, we were on the verge of violating part of that new passenger rights bill, which established a three-hour cumulative time limit for such delays. This is a big deal to the airlines, if for no other reason than the fact that they can be fined $17,000 per passenger if they don’t comply.

By law, at that three-hour mark, airlines are required to provide passengers on a delayed, grounded aircraft like ours with food, water, restrooms, ventilation and medical services, among other provisions.

Over the aircraft loudspeaker, the call was made by Rick Chase, International Service Manager, that if anyone wanted off the aircraft, to let the crew know and they would make it happen. Two passengers wanted off so we pulled out of the takeoff queue and waited for ground crew to come fetch them.

Back in the queue for take off after 4 p.m., it was looking like we were going to make it off the ground after all. Then a weather concern stopped the countdown.

Thunderstorms directly in our planned flight path were going to be a problem. United Airlines operations people, we were told, scrambled to file a new flight plan.

Again came the grumbles of passengers but no one wanted to be hit by lightning then plunge into the Atlantic. At about that same time, someone at United Airlines operations remembered that this particular aircraft had never flown this international route before.

Apparently, by law, custom or just an abundance of caution, a qualified mechanic must be on board when that happens, we were told. Rumor had it that due to cutbacks caused by the Continental and United Airlines merger, there were none available.

This time we did not go back to the ballpark but rather just stopped where we were and waited for the revised flight plan and a mechanic. At a little after 5 p.m., United Airlines Flight 108 finally took off, racking up a total of over 17 hours delay.

The whole situation was just bad news all around. A big part of the enduring memory though will be how very well the onboard flight crew handled the situation. Keeping us informed every step of the way, caring for our individual concerns and making the most out of a bad situation far exceeded the requirements of the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.

They took what could have turned into a very nasty situation and transformed it into a “let’s all get together for a reunion” sort of thing. To the credit of United Airlines, before we got off the aircraft we were asked to visit UnitedAirlines.com/appreciation where the airline put their money where their mouth is, offering all passengers on the flight compensation for their time and inconvenience. While the package was customized for each passenger, some included a voucher for domestic travel within a year ranging from $400 to $2000, a 20 to 50 percent discount for a future international flight, or between 15,000 and 50,000 additional frequent flier miles.

It was more of a “it’s the thought that counts” sort of offer at the time, but I bet that after thinking about the situation for a while and how very well the flight crew handled it, that most passengers will indeed give United Airlines another try.

United Airlines 'Computer Glitch' Disrupts Travel


[Photo- Chris Owen]

Galley Gossip: In Defense Of Old And Weary Flight Attendants

Wouldn’t it be nice to be served by flight attendants that are actually excited to come to work? Yes, safety training is important. But there is no reason to believe that a fit and alert 29-year-old should perform less safely in an emergency than a weary, overweight 60-year-old.” –Bill Frezza, Forbes.com

If you want to talk safety, Bill, let’s talk safety. But what’s with using “weary” and “overweight” to describe 60-year-old flight attendants? Maybe the point you were trying to make in your article about airline bankruptcy is that new labor is cheap labor. What you’ve seem to have forgotten is times have changed over the last thirty years and some airlines now deliberately hire older people in an effort to save money on retirement and pensions. And did you know new flight attendants start out making between $14,000-18,000 in the first year? Each year we’re given an across-the-board raise with most flight attendants maxing out around the 13-year mark. Flight attendants don’t cost the airlines half as much as the airlines would love the flying public to believe.

Going back to safety, Bill, let’s ask the passengers on board US Airways flight 1549 how they felt about the crew who evacuated a plane full of 150-plus passengers after the aircraft ditched into the Hudson River. The entire crew of the “Miracle on the Hudson” (including Captain Sullenberger) was over 50, leaning closer to 60. I’d say they did a wonderful job of getting passengers out safely. Personally, I’d be more concerned with my fellow passengers moving quickly than I would be about flight attendants of any age – after all, we are only allowed to work if we can pass a yearly recurrent training program. Passengers just have to buy a ticket.

Now, as for being excited to come to work, it’s true that sometimes it’s hard to love passengers who verbalize how miserable they feel about flying, especially when these same passengers go on to wonder why we aren’t younger and prettier. Last time I checked, flight attendants were people, too. I know it’s hard to believe but we, too, are allowed to grow old just like passengers. I’m talking to you, Bill!

But Bill is not alone.Chicago Sun-Times columnist Joe Crowley one-upped Bill with a few sexist tweets about flight attendants, female pilots and pretty much women in general after he became upset that his flight was delayed due to the crew being illegal to work (apparently he and Bill have differing feelings on weary flight attendants). He tweeted something snarky about the flight attendants’ mandatory crew rest followed by, “I’m more likely to see a Squatch before I see a hot flight attendant. Then again, I think the airlines are hiring Squatch’s to do that job.” Wait, it gets better. He added, “Chick pilot. Should I be OK with that or am I just a sexist caveman?”

I’m going to have to go with sexist caveman. Of course Cowardly – er, I mean Cowley, deleted his twitter account soon after he got into it with a female journalist over the comments.

In my book, “Cruising Attitude,” I mention that ageism is not only alive and well at 30,000 feet but those who still hold these outdated beliefs have no problem expressing them to the very people they’re talking about. Once, right after I told a passenger that my mother was also a flight attendant (she’s “junior” to me, meaning she started flying AFTER I became a flight attendant), he informed me he found it unsettling to stare at postmenopausal women pushing beverage carts for three hours – as if buying an airline ticket entitled him to eye candy. Of course, he wasn’t much to look at either. But I’d take nice, thoughtful passengers over good-looking, younger ones any day!

Bill wraps up his outdated rant against flight attendants with this: “Take a good look at the superannuated attendants next time you board a legacy airline. They are as tired of flying as those of us that have been doing it for thirty years, but it’s the customers who pay the price.”

Maybe it’s the recession, because people always find this one tough to believe, but it’s the customers who are NOT paying the price, since ticket prices are cheaper than they were twenty years ago. This is why service has gone downhill. This is also why there are less flight attendants on board to help passengers. And if I or one of my more senior colleagues looks tired or weary, I apologize. Keep in mind it might have something to do with the airlines cutting back to save money. They’ve decreased my layover time in an effort to save money on hotels. Most domestic layovers average 9-10 hours these days. Add a delay and it’s 8 hours behind the locked door. That’s barely enough time to eat, sleep AND shower. Personally I think it should be illegal to work flights that are longer than our layovers, but hey, that’s me. What do I know?

[photos courtesy of santheo and alexindigo]

Passenger put on No Fly List for using iPad

Think only suspected terrorists and hardened criminals end up on the government’s infamous No Fly List? Well you best mind your manners on your next flight – in these days of heightened airline security, all it takes to end up in hot water is some seriously obnoxious passenger behavior and an iPad. According to a recent story on Jalopnik, an air traveler en route from Chicago to New York’s LaGuardia landed himself in trouble for refusing to turn off his beloved Apple device (and repeatedly pissing off the flight crew).

The trouble started when the flight pulled back from the gate, a period during which passengers are required to turn off any electronic devices. The offending passenger ignored multiple requests from the flight staff to turn off his shiny iPad, instead choosing to remark, “Wait, so you mean that if my iPad is on, the entire plane can’t take off? I had no idea I had so much power!”

The trouble did not end there. Once the flight had taken off, said passenger asked to be served alcohol and was rebuffed by an understandably annoyed crew. This led to a further heated arguments and eventually, a lecture from the captain himself. Upon landing in New York, the passenger was met by police, who were waiting at the gate to arrest the man. A flight attendant from the plane confirmed the angry flyer’s name was also being added to the No-Fly list for his coarse behavior.

Air travel often sucks these days. Passengers understandably lose patience. But if you think unfavorable conditions give you the right to preferential treatment, think again. Being a jerk on a plane is no different than being a jerk on the ground. You just lose the privilege of flying along with it.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user Rego Korosi]

Photo of the Day (7.8.10)

Delays happen. Sometimes there are mechanical issues. Other times, weather plays a role in the form of ash clouds or blizzards. And other times, your flight crew just needs to sample every flavor of Jelly Babies, the UK equivalent of Gummy Bears.

This Flickr shot from OurManWhere captures a moment in Bangkok in the Golden Age of Air Travel (at least for the crew) when travel is still an exciting and sweet time. So what if you are stuck in the airport when you could be enjoying a “Bigheart” treat? Add some local tabloid reading and a quick airport massage, and you could have a rather pleasant layover.

Catch any flight attendants on a sugar high or find a way to make the most of your flight delay? Submit your images to Gadling’s Flickr group right now and we might use it for a future Photo of the Day.

The best airline safety announcement videos

Air travelers have all been there — the plane is about to take off, but first we have to awkwardly look away or bury our noses in magazines to avoid paying attention to the safety announcements. They’re the same every time, so we always know that the closest exit may be behind us. But a few savvy airlines have come up with better ways to grab passengers’ attention. From stripping down to rapping, here are some of the best airline safety announcements you’ll see on board.

Thomson Airways
British airline Thomson Airways knows that cuteness always gets attention. When a plane full of adorable kids tells you how to buckle your seatbelt, you’re sure to listen:

Air New Zealand
If cute doesn’t work, sex always sells. Take this Air New Zealand video, which encourages passengers to “take a second look” at safety — and the body-painted flight crew:

To further prove they have a sense of humor, Air New Zealand released a blooper reel of the clips that didn’t make the safety video. After all, reciting lines wearing body paint can’t be too easy:

Delta Airlines
Delta is a little more subtle with its sexy announcements — but every person in the video is ridiculously attractive, with perfect teeth and not a hair out of place. YouTube commenters have even dubbed the main announcer “Deltalina” for her resemblance to Angelina Jolie:

Virgin America
International airlines aren’t the only ones who get to have fun. Take Virgin America’s safety video, which pokes fun at the various characters found on a typical flight:

Southwest Airlines
Southwest is known for its funny flight crews. This flight attendant brings the entertainment with a safety rap:

This Southwest attendant makes announcements American Idol-style, singing a parody of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies:”

Virgin Atlantic
When in doubt, use flashy graphics. Virgin Atlantic puts passengers at ease with its calming music and intriguing animation: