Sunday, September 11, 2016

Flight Disruption

To Delta Airlines:

As a result of the delay and subsequent cancellation and rescheduling of my flight, I missed a tour for which I had pre-paid (96,000 KRW, plus an international transaction fee of $2.58), which was both non-refundable and non-transferable, and the tour itself could not be rescheduled. I want Delta to refund this amount. This is my only vacation for the year (I have been saving my leave days since January, working even when sick), and losing a day of my vacation, plus missing this tour, to which I had been looking forward for weeks, did not start my holiday on a positive note. Frankly, Delta should also refund me for my lost vacation day, given that I am an hourly employee working for a small company with no benefits, but calculating that loss would be harder to document, and after all this hassle I am exhausted. I will say that on the one prior occasion where I offered to give up my seat on an overbooked DOMESTIC flight, I was given a $400 voucher, which makes the $200 voucher you all offered as recompense for the Detroit to Incheon delay seem rather pitiful. I look forward to getting the reimbursement as soon as possible. If you all refund this promptly, I will note it on Facebook and my blog, where my respective 500+ contacts and the public have been privy to the miseries that ensued earlier. Thank you.

 Ah, where to begin?

We arrived in Detroit on time, if not a few minutes early. I found the next departure gate and settled in for the two hour wait until the commencement of boarding on my final long (12.5 hour, not 13.5 hour) leg of the journey to Seoul. At the moment that we were scheduled to board, the plane, which had been inbound from Shanghai, pulled up to the gate. It would take an hour to clean, restock, and refuel it, we were told. I was a bit impressed that it could be turned around so quickly; an hour was not a problem in the larger scheme of things. It took half an hour longer, but again, not a biggie. We finally loaded and taxied out to the runway in what seemed like a torrential rainstorm.

I was on the left side of the plane on the aisle, one row behind that fronting the middle main cabin exit, a door beside a bulkhead. There weren’t any passengers on the exit row (it was premium economy seating), and only one girl on my row, a young African American lady curled in the window seat, clutching an ice pack to the appendix area of her stomach. I gave her some extra-strength acetaminophen. In the center of the plane there was a galley where the flight attendants were busying themselves after the safety announcements. It’s raining hard!” I overheard one attendant remark. “Not as hard as it was in Minneapolis the other night,” another responded. They were about to sit and strap themselves in when the captain came on the intercom at 6:35. The storm had shut down the airport, so we’d be sitting still until the wind abated. Bad weather—nothing to be done but wait until it passed. People sighed, but a storm is a storm.

Not long thereafter, the captain came on and said that a maintenance issue that they thought they had fixed had cropped up again. So we needed to return to the gate, but there was another plane ahead of us at the gate, which was inoperable anyway because of lightning. And then water started leaking into the plane directly in front of me – gallons all over the rubber floor. I didn’t think this was the maintenance issue we were turning around for. I was also glad that I was the only passenger that could see the water as it ran across the aisle into the galley.

The captain said the fix (a valve in the engine was malfunctioning) would take another hour. Meanwhile, the flight attendants came around to pass out pretzels, peanuts, and water, since it was past dinnertime and we all were getting hungry. The air conditioning finally came on. The captain explained that the problematic valve was that responsible for engine deicing, which is kind of essential when one is flying at 30,000 feet in -40C temperatures. Everybody was on their phones texting and on the internet, discovering to their disgust that we were out of range of the airport WiFi (which wasn’t spectacular to begin with).

We waited. With the hour almost over, the captain announced that it would be another 45 minutes. By the time it’d been 2 hours since the first maintenance announcement, I had tweeted the company that they needed to offer some sort of compensation—we were almost 4 hours behind schedule, putting us arriving in Seoul about 11 PM Thursday night. My DMZ tour required me to check in at 7 AM Friday morning. Time was getting short.

The Delta people responded that it was a weather-caused delay, so there wouldn’t be any vouchers issued. Oh, horse puckey. I sent them the flight information and told them to talk to the pilot and crew, who could directly confirm that it was maintenance, not weather, that had been keeping us on the ground.

Time continued to pass, and there were further delay announcements. After we’d been sitting on board for more than 3 hours, we finally deplaned. Turns out that Delta was flirting with a deadline—federal regulations prohibit passengers being held on an inoperable flight for longer than 4 hours, or the airline incurs a $27K fine (per passenger!).

The flight was rescheduled for 7 AM the following morning. They had us stand in line for motel vouchers  and meal vouchers (two maxed at $15 each). I ended up with four adjummas, the ladies who had looked so severe sitting at the gate area near me. We stood in line together again for the shuttle to the motel and then again to check in (it was a clean place, not totally fleabag, but not four star--the lobby smelled of stale smoke). We ended up going to (a very late) dinner together at a more upscale hotel near that where we were staying. The adjummas were a trip. Two lived in the northeast: one was a widow of 11 years who spends days at the Y doing yoga and playing cards, and one (a cardiac nurse) confessed to having the married name of Smith. The two others were from Louisiana and Orlando, respectively. They chatted about their children and grandchildren. One told me that Korean women—not men—don’t want to get married nowadays, wanting an education and career, and so men are having to import brides. Interesting. I knew this was a problem in China because of the one-child policy, but I didn’t think the Koreans were dealing with a similar situation thanks to other reasons. We finished supper about 11:30—we pooled our vouchers to make them go further—and crossed the parking lot back to our lodgings, where we’d arranged for 4:30 wakeup calls.

I’d taken my shower—never have I been more grateful for having packed extra underwear in my carryon luggage, since our checked bags were stuck at the airport—and was just about to crawl into bed when I heard an explosive “boo YAH?!” around midnight from down the hall. This was not the Marines going over the top, but the oldest of the adjummas with whom I had just had dinner discovering that Delta Airlines had sent her an email to the effect that our replacement flight had been postponed again, until 10 minutes till 11 – putting us (provided it left on time), getting into Seoul at 1 PM on Friday. Which of course means that I could not go to the DMZ as planned, and that the $95 I spent on the reservation on that tour had vanished meaninglessly, as it was nonrefundable. I canceled the wakeup call.

 I wrote on Facebook (whereon I had been cataloging my ongoing woes) that if Delta were an individual, I would recommend s/he be hanged by the nose hair from the highest yardarm.

The next morning, unencumbered by the usual luggage concerns, I was able to observe how profoundly money differentiates people at the airport, a distinction which isn’t normally so obvious in other situations. The wealthy don’t have to wait in long lines—the TSA beckons those in first class ahead of economy at security. They can even pay to be pre-screened ($85 for 5 years) which puts them in an expedited security line once there—a line without the belt and shoe removal, the extraction of laptops and liquids, the general divestment of anything and everything that might set off detection equipment. The higher classes board planes first (which is not something I envy them, as despite the cushy seating it means they have to sit on the plane 20 minutes longer than everyone else, but as they can also disembark first, I suppose it averages to the same length of time). Besides the really obvious benefit of more comfortable reclining seats, their money has purchased perquisites that are laughably limited, but can make a huge difference over the journey, from the higher-level meals and beverages, to the larger toilet stall. I wonder how many people become communists while stuck at the airport? The snack counter prices there are extortion—the $15 voucher I had for breakfast was only enough to buy two chocolate bars.

As we boarded the midmorning replacement flight, Delta gave every passenger in economy a notice saying they were issuing a $200 flight voucher for future travel. I also sent them the message at the top of this post, along with a copy of my tour payment confirmation email, asking they refund my money for that lost adventure. Thus far, I’ve only gotten a boilerplate email from them saying that they are inundated with complaints associated with the August 8 database outage debacle. I can only imagine. Thank God my cousin got back from Iceland, where she and her daughter were marooned at that time—with my panicked second cousin fearing that she would be late to arrive for her freshman year at college!


Barbara said...

My boss tried to fly on that August 8 day - yes, it was a debacle!!

I read your woes on facebook after the fact and was sorry to hear that you missed the DMZ tour. :( Good luck with the refund (although I'm skeptical by nature).

I flew business/first class once- I had a standby ticket and then got moved to the front. The media (movies, etc) was all "off"/out for the day (this was back in 2004), but I was very tired (having gotten up at 4 am), so I didn't mind it much. I do remember that the seats were huge, so comfort would be the main draw for flying business, but I kept partaking in the snacks/beverages (!!) so I didn't sleep as much as I should have. (I think the flight attendants came by every 30 minutes or so?!?!) But I've checked the cost of business class a few times for co-workers, and wouldn't dare spend a few thousands more for that extra comfort!!

As far as the lesser security/$85 per year pass - I think frequent travelers probably sign up for that, wealthy or no. Maybe the business travelers, who can charge it to their company? At any rate, that doesn't seem so much an issue of wealth as of frequency, to me.

Enjoy your trip. The bright side of your horrendous delay seems to meeting/conversing with the 4 adjhummas! :)

Barbara said...

(Correction - I see now it's $85/5 years!)