Am I on vacation yet??

beach2.JPG I am :) But it took me TWO DAYS to get here!! Easily the worst travel fiasco I’ve ever experienced. And no, it wasn’t JetBlue – it was Delta! I knew there was a reason I never fly that airline. Where am I, you might ask? In Honolulu, at long last, which should be an easy flight from Seattle. The problems all started when I booked the flight using frequent flyer miles, through Alaska. Because of that, it wasn’t a direct flight, but went through San Francisco, and transferred to Delta for the Honolulu leg of the flight. I left plenty of time between flights and figured it would be no problem.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. This would be funny if it weren’t so excruciating – it’s still a bit funny, so I’m posting the whole story just to get it out of my system. Maybe I’ll send a link to this blog to Delta customer service :)

The first leg went off with no problems. Sea-Tac was its usual busy self, but nothing out of the ordinary. Our Alaska flight left on time and arrived in San Francisco with 3 hours to spare. I spent the time relaxing, stretching, reading, and made one good decision – getting something to eat. It would be all I would get for a LONG time.

Our Delta flight to Honolulu showed up and boarded on time. All seemed to be well. Not only that, the attendants were friendly, the flight was nearly empty, and there was plenty of space to stretch out and relax. But, we hadn’t left the ground. Our first announcement was that there was a minor mechanical problem, and we’d be leaving in a few minutes. (the words of doom)

Time passed. Soon the pilot came on again and said he wasn’t sure exactly how long this would take, but just as soon as the part was cleared we’d be pushing off. More time passed. Then the pilot came on to explain that they couldn’t fix the part, and it was crucial to our flying over the ocean – something to do with cabin pressure that you just don’t want to mess with out there. Instead, he said, we’d fly to LA and board another plane to Honolulu tonight. Out came the cell phones as we all informed those who were meeting us of the change.

A bit later, elation reigned in the cabin as the pilot announced they had been able to switch out the part after all, and it seemed to be working. Just a bit of last-minute mechanical paperwork and we’d be leaving. Out came the cell phones again, for what would prove to be a mistaken call of relief that we’d be arriving after all.

A little later – the pilot informed us that our mechanics had been over-ridden by HQ in Atlanta, who didn’t feel it was safe to fly the plane over the ocean with a repaired part. It was for our own safety. So, we’d be heading for LA after all. Hard to argue with that – I get nervous enough thinking about all that expanse of ocean underneath, though I was not looking forward to LA. Little did I know just how bad it would be.

A while later, a very apologetic captain explained that the plane in LA we were supposed to transfer to also had mechanical problems and could not fly to Hawaii (later an attendant let it slip that in fact, they just didn’t want to disrupt their worldwide schedules by holding the plane for us). Our plane would be going to LA with or without us, including our bags. We could get off in San Francisco, but our bags would be in LA. Either way we would be rebooked on a next-day flight to Hawaii. Or so they claimed.

Most of us chose to stay with our bags, resigned to the day-long delay. Each time someone left the plane, they had to redo the paperwork, and the flight-plan also had to be revised. Time passed. We sat on the run-way for a couple of hours. Finally, we were ready to go… but there was no slot in LA to land. So, we waited longer :) To top it all off, they couldn’t give us the dinners that were planned, since they couldn’t heat them up in the time it would take to fly to LA. About 10:30 pm (4 hours late) we finally left.

In spite of the long delay, Delta really wasn’t ready for us when we landed. They had one (1) customer service agent to process the entire planeload, rebook all our flights, and give us hotel vouchers for the night. There were many agents standing around, and when we asked one of them to help out, he said he’d “get there when he got there.” Finally he did get there, but it still took about an hour to process the whole line. I had to ask him three times to print me an itinerary so I’d have some proof that I was rebooked and would know my flight number, while the woman next to him was giving them out automatically. Not only that, they didn’t just give out meal vouchers, people had to ask – in spite of it being midnight by this time and most people not having had anything to eat for 12 hours. Many people didn’t think to ask, and so didn’t receive. Those of us who did found that the only thing open at that late hour was McDonald’s, adding insult to injury.

About midnight, we headed down to pick up our bags. You’d think with that long wait in line that the bags would have been down already, but no. Perhaps they were searching them since we were all in the wrong airport – but whatever the reason, by the time they arrived we were convinced they weren’t coming. Delta invoked some national security rule for why they couldn’t simply put our bags on the morning plane, which was already at the airport.

Lugging our bags out to the curb at 12:45am, there were easily 100 people waiting for the promised hotel shuttles. Several of them came, but wouldn’t let us into the empty seats because the baggage compartment was full (!). Never mind that we have an 8:10 am flight and have to be back at the airport at 6am. Eventually we decamped to the taxi line and finally reached our hotel. Where the line, of course, snaked out the door into the cold night air.

It turned out Delta had given us a hotel that actually didn’t have rooms available. Some people weren’t given rooms at all (but perhaps just camping in the terminal would have been better by this time). Our hotel was frantically cleaning rooms while we stood in line, at 1am. They did their best to mollify us with free drinks, but at this point most people had had far more than enough of Delta’s “hospitality.”

At 2am, we reached our rooms. Many of us by this time really didn’t trust that we were actually rebooked on the morning flight, so we planned to be up by 5 and get to the ticket counter early (we also weren’t sure we could get enough shuttles to take everyone back to the airport). So, about 5:30 am found us on our way back to LAX for more fun.

Sure enough, we got to the ticket counter to find that Delta’s computers showed us all as having already flown to Honolulu. Which, we reasonably pointed out to the ticket agents, would have been a little difficult since our plane didn’t go! Agents up and down the line picked up their little red phones, which was supposed to connect them to their customer service. No-one picked up. They walked over to the office. No-one was there. At this point i have to say the agents themselves were unfailingly good-humored, polite, and funny, and really saved the day.

The problem apparently lay with those of us that had not originated on Delta. Other people’s itineraries could be updated to show our flight diversion, and reticketed, but for some reason, the computer locked up on ours. After they’d been on hold for 20 minutes with no answer, the most senior agent finally figured out a back-door way to make the necessary revisions in the computer to allow us to be reticketed and get on our way. Small miracles.

Could that be the end of the story? Nope – have to get through security first. A strangely large number of us were targeted for “special screening” by our airline (who put us through all this in the first place). A final indignity to cap off the trip. Once again though, on this day, TSA personnel came through and made the whole experience funny and friendly – wonders never cease. After a thank-you to the TSA supervisor for lifting my mood – I was finally off to the terminal to get breakfast, latte, and a few minutes chat with all our fellow travellers who had come to know each other so well. We had just enough time for that before boarding our 8:10 flight – which may give you some idea how long it took to get through ticketing and security. LAX – my favorite airport (NOT!).

It was almost anticlimactic when our plane lifted off on time, flew without incident, and landed in sunny, warm Hawaii :) Time to relax – and may this never happen again!