I don’t fly often. When I do, it’s usually long distances.
However, as we planned a recent trip to see Tom’s dad, we found a deal good enough to convince us we didn’t need to waste a day driving in each direction. Tom’s dad lives nearly eight hours away, and the older we get, the prospect of spending that eight hours driving versus not much more than two hours in a plane seemed a no-brainer.
Going up was no problem. We actually combined our trip to Virginia with a side trip to Greenville. Our Greenville granddaughters had spent a couple of days in the new year with us, so we offered to drive them home and fly out of the Greenville-Spartanburg airport. For, you see, the cost of tickets from Greenville were actually cheaper than from Augusta, Atlanta or even Charlotte.
I’ll admit that flying isn’t what it used to be. Seats are narrower, the space between seats gets smaller and smaller, leg-room is minimal, and food in flight is not great or is non-existent. But I still remember rather fondly flying on what was referred to as a puddle-jumper. My very first experience flying was in college on a Piedmont Airlines prop jet. I flew into Bluefield, West Virginia, to visit my college roommate. That was an experience. The airport in Bluefield was between a mountain and a cliff, so if the pilot overshot the runway, you could either crash into the mountain or run off the edge into oblivion. Needless to say, as jets got bigger and bigger, the Bluefield airport was too scary and was closed, at least to commercial traffic.
Another time I flew from Winston-Salem to home in Portsmouth, Va. That plane stopped in High Point, Greensboro, Raleigh, Elizabeth City and then Norfolk. In those days I enjoyed the bumpy ride in the prop jet. Also, passengers enjoyed free drinks, or at least very cheap drinks, no matter how short the ride. I learned the problem with this when, on that particular trip, a businessman sitting near me had three alcoholic beverages between Winston-Salem and Greensboro. And with the ensuing turbulence, he spent the trip from Raleigh to Elizabeth City throwing up said drinks. I remember thinking, “That’ll teach you to drink that much at 9:30 a.m.”
All of that is to say that much of my flight experience in the past hasn’t been luxurious but was enjoyable.
But this time was no fun at all. The trip to Norfolk was relatively uneventful. But the trip back to Greenville was horrid.
First, the plane out of Norfolk was late. The good news-bad news was that we originally were to have a five-hour layover in Philadelphia. (Why, you might ask, were we flying to Philadelphia from Norfolk when our destination was Greenville, S.C.? Only those in the airline industry can answer that.) So even though we got off the ground almost two hours late, we still had plenty of time to get to the next flight.
As an aside, we have learned to travel light. We spent two weeks last spring in Europe with only a carry-on and a “personal item” as our luggage. So why, in a plane that was half empty, were we required to check our carry-on at the door anyway. Again, only those in the airline industry can answer that.
We were to fly out at 6:05 p.m. The time came and went. Around 7:15, someone with the airline finally reported a “mechanical problem.” Eventually they explained that one of the heaters on the plane’s windshield was malfunctioning and was vital to be sure the windshield didn’t fog up as we landed, thereby making visibility difficult for the pilot.
We watched the airline person at the desk change about four times as the evening dragged on. They offered food vouchers. Of course, by the time they did that, most of the food vendors had closed.
We eventually were told the plane would fly out around 9:45, but that time came and went, as well. By this time we had been in the Philadelphia airport about 8 hours. I guess the good news is that we became pretty friendly with the other passengers sharing our plight. One passenger, who works for TD Bank in Greenville, was returning home after a holiday visit with her family in New York City. When the delays kept coming, she called her dad who decided to drive down, pick her up and drive her to Greenville. Now I call that fatherly love above and beyond. As we commiserated regarding our plight, I mentioned that the silver lining for me was this experience was definitely fodder for a column, at least. She wanted to know how to access my column, so I hope she finds it this week.
By 10 p.m., the flight was canceled. The airline did arrange for a stay at a local motel, and they did schedule us on another flight. But the flight was to board at 6:02 a.m. (Those of you who know me are well aware that 6 a.m. is not really in my repertoire – much less 4:15 a.m., which was the time we got up to check in at the airport the next morning.
By the time we arrived at the motel, it was pushing 11:30 p.m. When we walked in – several of us at one time – the clerk behind the registration desk said, "_____ Airlines, right?” She said this particular airline books a block of rooms at her motel almost every day. “They cancel at least a flight a day,” she said, assuring us these rooms had been reserved the day before. “They knew they were going to do this,” she insisted.
As luck would have it, the “Wall Street Journal” printed a review and ranking of airlines this past week, and said airline was dead last in the rankings.
I won’t name the airline. Maybe my experience was a fluke. The employees were nice, given the circumstances. All I can say is I came away from my experience feeling this airline definitely did not deserve an AA rating.