Is This Any Way To Run An Airline? - Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston

From Reporter Phil Shuman

Is This Any Way To Run An Airline?

Posted: Updated:

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE AIRLINES:

The Airlines have a new way to torture you, and it has nothing to do with being taken into a dark room and hit with a phone book, or being  spirited away to a CIA black site on some remote Pacific Island and placed in a metal box.  

No, they do it right out in the open in the crowded gates areas of airports filled with passengers delayed by bad weather.  Having reported on the plight of victims of flight cancellations forever, having to experience it from the other side was an eye opener.  The new way to break you, I've found , is what the airlines call ‘'decision'' time.  Not a decision about cancellation or not, about whether we'll take off or be grounded, but more like Chinese water torture decisions, drip drip drip, yes, possibly no , maybe, yes, maybe maybe, new gate, new plane, no gate, yes,  later, no, oops, sorry, bye, you're on your own see you tomorrow we're outta here.     

In other words, if you have a 3:45pm flight from JFK to LAX in a snowstorm,  you've already gotten there 2 hours early to be on the safe side, you've checked and checked and been told it's ‘'on time'' , and you've then suffered through the inevitable last minute  public address announcement of an ‘‘indefinite delay due to weather'', because your aircraft was diverted to Hartford, okay, that's understandable, even expected, bad weather is bad news and things happen.  What happens next , for the next several hours in fact, is the new torture.  It's the voice that says over the PA  ‘'we will have a decision at 6pm''  Oh good you think, I'll find out if we're actually going to go or if it's canceled.  Do I have to make a hotel reservation or not ?  Will I make it home for my daughter's birthday party or not ?  

But nooooooo, a decision at 6pm means at 6pm they'll make a decision about what to tell you next, what the next alleged plan is for your flight, what the next explanation or excuse is they're going to announce to passengers who are growing restless but trying to be patient but thinking the airline is going to disappoint them somehow. So, for example, after apologizing for the delay and inconvenience for the 37th time, we were told at 6pm that "a new piece of equipment has been assigned to this flight, great news, it's here at the Airport, but it's  in the hangar, and has be towed over here. If and when it can get here, because gate space is at a premium, we may then get a departure time, we'll give you more information when we get it. Meantime, we think it will be at gate 44 so kindly head over there.  Well, that little maneuver never came to pass . Then it was announced we'd have a "7:30 decision, thank you for your patience and understanding.''  

The decision at 7:30 was that we would go back to Plan A, that the aircraft from Hartford was en route, and once it landed, and once there was gate space, they would bring it in, deplane, clean it and we'd possibly be able to board in a half an hour.  That was actually better, you see, because ‘‘live flights'' as they're called, meaning flights inbound with passengers get priority over passengers waiting to leave.  Yeah! After it got there, which apparently it never did, at least to any gate near us, because, you see , there's bad weather and gate space is at a premium,  we're sure you understand.  The concept of bringing in more people to open more gates I guess is too complicated or too expensive or both.  Then we had the highly anticipated  9pm decision which was an update on the 7:30 decision which was now  ‘'We anticipate that if the plane from Hartford does in fact get assigned a gate, it will be 38, so please move back to gate 38 (where we started)  and await further information, which we will give you as soon as we have it," (even though it apparently doesn't mean anything) 

Then, before the 9:30 decision, a curious thing happened.  I got a text from the airline, re-booking me on a flight the next morning. This while all the folks at the terminal and in the gates were still going ahead with the decision dance, the ‘'Hartford Shuffle,'' the "equipment move."  Sure enough, about ten minutes after that, they made an announcement that the flight was not going to ‘‘operate''. That was it. Nothing more.  No ‘'if you need help go to counter XYZ, no , we're sorry'' , no ‘'a list of area hotels is available at location ABC, no ‘' Airline personnel will be available to answer your questions at Gate 42, no call this specific phone number and there will be a person there dedicated to re-booking.  No information about what to do with the checked bags or where or how we get them. 

Are you seeing the picture here? Bottom line after about nine hours at the airport, we were out of luck. I WAS impressed that the text to my cell phone with the automatic re-booking did work, and that after I tracked down someone to ask about bags we were able to retrieve them from the baggage claim, and bring them to a person who simply re-tagged them for LA for the next morning. That was a rare bright spot, as it meant  we didn't have to lug 6 big cases of TV equipment onto a shuttle in 20 degree night time temperatures and then drag em into the Budget Hotel we were able to find nearby, ( fortunately we had battery boosters for our cell phones to make last minute calls, of course the terminals have one cell phone charging station per 4000 people. Memo .. keep cells charged at all times and get the airline apps and be able to ask ‘‘Suri'' how to ‘‘find hotels near JFK'' ). 

It all worked out as I write this on the plane to the West Coast the next day but it doesn't have to be such a nightmare.  I fully understand there are many hardworking dedicated folks trying to make the best of a bad situation at the airlines and airports when storms hit, but a little basic customer service would go a long way. The storms are forecast well in advance.  It's not a surprise.  Either cancel the flights right off the bat, or have more ‘‘equipment'' flown in advance. Train your people better and dedicate a handful to specifically deal with victims of canceled flights. Don't leave one beleaguered gate attendant at the end of long shift to try to answer questions from hundreds of angry tired mystified abandoned travelers.

You spend millions on Apps and magazines and commercials and feel good messages, you would've made me feel good if you had a few $15/hour employees walking through the terminals with accurate information, advice, suggestions, a printout of local hotels and phone numbers, where to get the shuttles or cabs, what your options are about your checked bags, maybe a bottle of water? Save your ridiculous and monotonous loudspeaker apologies.  And whatever happened to that plane from Hartford ? 

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