The last 24 hours have been a minicourse, not in data analytics like I was supposed to be having at the Reconnect conference, but in patience, resourcefulness, and — above all — the extreme, epic suckage of air travel in general and USAir in particular.
I arrived in Charlotte, NC en route to Newark yesterday around 12:00, right on schedule. But then apparently a line of thunderstorms moved through the New York/New Jersey area. Pretty soon we had a 45-minute delay. Then that was upgraded to a 90-minute delay. Then a two-hour delay. Then, they cancelled the flight — along with apparently every other flight going into the greater NYC area. It was off to the USAir ticketing counter for rebooking… along with, I kid you not, a crowd of at least 500 and probably close to 800 other stranded travelers. Plus, I had to retrieve my bag.
It took 90 minutes for them to unload the bag from the Newark-bound airplane. By the time I made it to the ticketing counter, the waiting line was roughly 100-150 yards long. I ended up spending nearly five hours in line to be reticketed, and then the earliest flight out to Newark was at 4:00 PM — as in, the afternoon — the following day, resulting in my absence from the entire first day of the conference where the important fundamental ideas were being discussed. But I can’t say I had it worst; an older lady in front of me had to miss being in a wedding in NYC that evening, and a gentleman ahead of me still had to book a flight for his family from Charlotte to NYC to London to New Delhi.
I spent the night last night in a Best Western hotel here in Charlotte. I was able to contact the prof who is teaching the material at the conference, and he emailed me his PowerPoint slides for today’s material. I’ve spent the whole morning working through them along with the reference books for the conference, which I have with me. I’m checking out in a few minutes to move operations to the airport, and keep working as if I were at the conference until my flight leaves at 4:00. And hope that Newark doesn’t get any more thunderstorms, because evidently even the most slightly inclement weather shuts the place down.
The flight cancellations were the fault of bad weather and the airports’ decisions, not the airlines, but USAir was horrible in providing service to those of us displaced by this debacle. The workers at the gate, for example, told us to go to the “west end” of the ticket counter, as if we all had internal compasses to tell west from east, much less any knowledge of where the ticket counter was. When I asked for better directions, one worker told me to “follow the big crowd”. Then there was the wait to get my checked bag. Then the wait in line, which involved hundreds of displaced travelers being served by no more than six USAir workers, often fewer than six as people went on break or left to go home.
USAir gave no information to people in line, and so there were some folks who were just checking in, not being rebooked, who ended up spending four hours in line because they were in the wrong line (for reticketing). The overall attitude of USAir was “screw you, it’s not our problem”. The lack of common-sense actions that could have been taken — for example, having someone go up and down the line telling people which line was for checking in and which line was for reticketing — was astounding. In fact, some of the USAir employees seemed to relish the fact that so many of us had to wait so long.
I’d never had bad experiences with USAir before. But after this trip is over, I will certainly not fly USAir again and will tell others to do the same. (I still have to go USAir to Newark and then back home via Newark > DC > Indy.) In fact, I had always kept the rule that if something is 6 hours away or less, I’d drive rather than fly; I think I’ll be changing that rule from 6 hours to 12 hours. I came pretty close to driving this trip anyway, and now I really wish I had.
I’ve decided that the first thing I do when I get back from the Reconnect conference is to go shopping for new hosting services that can provide the extremely modest amount of bandwidth that this blog needs. Any suggestions? I’m looking at BlueHost but personal recommendations are good too.
This is, of course, assuming I even make it to Reconnect.