Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Get ready for The Summer of Air Discontent

There have been a number of stories in the news warning about the potential for lengthy flight delays and frustration for air travelers this summer. Well, if our trip to Pittsburgh last weekend is any indication, summer arrived just a little bit early. What an absolute nightmare.

Our 7:45 PM direct flight from Boston to Pittsburgh on a Thursday night was delayed by nearly three hours, not due to weather but to traffic delays. One of the problems with the current airline model is that a plane can go to so many areas of the country in one day that it's bound to encounter some poor weather or congestion along the way, creating a snowball effect. That's what happened with our plane, which went up and back to Raleigh-Durham before heading out to Pittsburgh. So we didn't get into Pittsburgh until well after midnight.

But that was nothing compared with the flight back. First of all, we were scheduled on a JetBlue direct flight from Pittsburgh to Boston, getting in at 4:07 PM. For some unexplained reason, the direct flight was canceled about six weeks ago and placing us on a connection through Kennedy Airport in New York. Connections are usually not good; connections through JFK are almost never good.

So, our 3:35 PM from Pittsburgh to JFK left the gate fine, taxied out, and then we learned we would sit there for 15 minutes because of "traffic" at JFK. When the 15 minutes were up, there was a mechanical problem with the plane, forcing us back to the gate. After the problem was fixed (which, in a consistent pattern was estimated at 15 minutes but was really an hour), we were away from the gate again only to sit again on the taxiway because of, you guessed it, "traffic." We didn't take off to 6 PM and landed at JFK at 7. Somehow our flight to Boston left on time, leaving us stranded at JFK until 10:50 PM.

So at 10:50 PM, there would be no traffic at least. Uh, right? Not exactly. After that plane backed away from the gate, we learned that due to international traffic, we were 25th in line for takeoff. We didn't get into Boston until after 12:30 AM. Got home after 1 AM, nearly 12 hours after leaving for the airport. Please keep in mind the drive to Pittsburgh is probably about 10 hours.

So, what are the lessons learned here?

Always check flight schedules for leaving for the airport. That saved me a few unproductive hours on our flight out. Oddly enough, this story recommends getting to the airport hours early to cope with long security lines. The security lines were actually not a problem for us, and not going too early saved us from being stranded at the airport for hours on end.

Avoid connections, particularly through New York. JFK and LaGuardia seemed to be the worst for "traffic."

Fly early in the day if you can. That way problems early in the day won't snowball into major delays. Plus, it avoids getting into places after midnight when your transportation options to and from the airport are limited.

If it's less then 6 hours (and maybe 10) to drive, drive. Enough said.

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