I was supposed to fly home from Washington National to Charlotte to Austin yesterday afternoon. It looked to me like I would misconnect in Charlotte, and the later Charlotte – Austin flight was sold out. I started looking for alternatives.
- American Airlines had not posted a delay for my flight to Charlotte. It’s never a good idea to wait until they tell you you’re delayed to do something about it. I’ve been writing for four years about how American Airlines doesn’t update super obvious delays, often until posted departure time has passed.
- You want to be looking at where your inbound aircraft is coming from. An easy way to see it is to look up your flight at FlightAware.com and click ‘Where is my plane now?’ or ‘track inbound plane’ links. That doesn’t tell you with 100% certainty because occasionally the airline will change which plane is operating which flight, but it tells you most of the time what to expect.
- Even before my inbound aircraft showed delayed I knew that it was almost certain to delay because of a ground hold for planes flying to my airport. You can see air traffic control system status on the FAA website.
Initially just American Airlines planes were being held at origin due to lack of gates at National airport. Eventually the ground hold was expanded to all airlines.
I wanted to get on a flight where the inbound aircraft was already heeded to National airport, rather than one that hadn’t taken off yet. I chose to fly to Dallas Fort-Worth and then to Austin. The aircraft was showing minutes out from DC, and I headed to the airport.
- I got to the airport, went through security and to the gate.
- There was an aircraft deicing there.
- It was only at boarding time that the airline announced we had no aircraft — our plane had diverted to Richmond. That’s the ultimate expression of American Airlines operations. It was obvious we couldn’t board and would not depart on time when there was no aircraft, indeed the aircraft was diverting, but they didn’t post a delay.
I headed up to the American Airlines club. One agent there, Maryann, is a miracle. Somehow she still has native Sabre access and hasn’t been forced onto Qik.
I was going to misconnect in Dallas. There weren’t any quicker ways to get home with space open. And there weren’t any seats on the remaining four Dallas – Austin flights either.
So I kept hitting refresh on Expertflyer and a seat opened up on the 7 p.m. Dallas – Austin. I went to the desk and sought help from one of the agents, he couldn’t see the seat. I waited for Maryann to finish what she was doing, and she grabbed it for me. Somehow Qik restricts agents from seeing that one seat, at least on several of the flights I came up with yesterday.
She also backed me up on DC – Miami – Austin, which wouldn’t get me back until after 10. I decided to make the call on which itinerary I wanted once I saw whether my inbound Dallas aircraft took off from Richmond as scheduled. If it did, DC – Dallas – Austin would get me back two hours earlier.
The aircraft got back in the air just a little while after expected and came into DC. Everyone went to the gate, American didn’t post a delay but the plane sat on the ground. The assigned gate had an aircraft from a flight that had been cancelled, and our aircraft had nowhere to go. I headed back to the club because I was now going to misconnect. I was refreshing Expertflyer, waiting until one seat opened up on a Dallas – Austin flight. Maryann got me moved onto the 8:30 p.m. (If you don’t have access to Expertflyer they offer a 5 day free trial, or you can just search the airline’s website to see whether they’ll sell you a seat on a given flight.)
Our aircraft got a new gate. Everyone waited until boarding time – which is when they announced two of our flight attendants had timed out. The flight attendants were always going to time out prior to departure, but no one noticed or announced it. Back to the club.
Every time it looked like I was going to misconnect in Dallas I’d get an app update and an email from American telling me I had rebooking options. Clicking the link my only option was to cancel my itinerary.
There were no open seats Dallas – Austin at 9:30 p.m. or 10:50 p.m. Nothing was opening up. It was 5 o’clock and Maryann was going to take her lunch, but she hung around and kept checking on me while another agent helped.
- There were seats Chicago – Austin, but I couldn’t get to Chicago
- There were seats Philadphia – Austin, but i couldn’t get to Philadelphia
Finally one seat opened on the DC – Chicago flight scheduled to depart in 28 minutes. I got booked onto it, but check-in was restricted so we got that opened up. The seat map was under gate control so the club agent walked down to the gate with me and issued a boarding pass from there. I was on my way.
I even had 15A to Chicago, exit row window. I’ve forgotten just how comfortable the coach seats are on American’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft with overhead screens. They have padding.
Once in Chicago I even had time to grab Tortas Frontera for dinner. My go-to is the choriqueso.
Ultimately that DC – Dallas flight that originally looked like it was on time didn’t depart DC until 7 p.m. I wouldn’t have made a 9:30 p.m. connection anyway. And it looks like I wouldn’t have gotten onto the late Charlotte – Austin flight either had I kept my original DC – Charlotte flight. I took the only available way home.
DC weather was the problem. It snowed throughout the day. De-icing slows everything down. And cancelled and delayed flights at gates means there’s nowhere to put arriving aircraft. With Maryann’s help in the club I always had a plan to get home.
Where American didn’t do well was updating passengers. That makes it hard to plan and exercise better options. It appears they didn’t plan well for crew either. But they got me home. It was almost thirteen hours door to door and a lot of changing flights, so I wasn’t able to just sit around and be productive during the delay. Nonetheless I’ve had far worse travel days and there’s little to complain about.
American ought to be especially skilled at handling irregular operations. Not only do they hub at Chicago O’Hare, but their largest hub DFW is said to stand for Doesn’t Function Wet.
I made it into Austin a little after 11. Uber wanted $44 to take me home, Lyft $22.50. Always worth comparing, knowing what a trip should cost, I liked it much better when Uber actually told you they were doing surge pricing. Now they get far fewer complaints being like Delta award redemptions, giving consumers less information.