Saturday, May 14, 2011

On the Road: Temporarily Stranded

Last Thursday I went to Houston for a meeting at customer's site. Everything went smoothly on the way to customer's huge skyscraper at downtown Houston. The meeting went well.

It was raining when we left the building around 4pm. I was prepared for it however, I had umbrella with me because weather forecast indicated rain that day. The traffic to Inter Continental Airport was jammed but not too bad, I was prepared for it as well. My return flight was at 7pm. I got to the airport around 5:15pm, checked in for my flight, then I went for dinner.

The Airline

When I was ready to take my plane, the flight was delayed by 20 minutes - not too bad, the earlier flight to DFW was cancelled. Many other flights were cancelled as well due to thunderstorms at Southeast U.S. - S. Carolina, Florida ...Terminal B was full of stranded passengers.

Then it was delayed to 8pm. I went to ask an agent at service center why there was such delay, no thunderstorm at Houston, no thunderstorm at Dallas. She told me that the plane to DFW would be the plane from a flight from S. Carolina. It was delayed due to weather condition there. In fact a chain reaction led to disruption of 100s of flights!

My flight was delayed again to 9:30pm. By 9;15pm, the airplane finally landed, the waiting passengers were very hopeful that we would be on our way home shortly. As the boarding time approaching, the departure time was delayed one more time!! Since I was sitting at a bench near the gate counter, I overheard the conversation between the gate agent and some resting flight attendants. The real reason for the delay this time was that the airline - United/Continental - could not locate the crew for my flight!!

While the Airline operation was trying to locate the crew for my flight, the departure time kept changing - little by little. Finally the flight attendant and the pilot showed up by 10:50pm, the gate agent was so relived and pleased - she hugged the attendant.

We boarded the airplane by 11pm, the plane took off by 11:15pm for its 39 minutes flight. I got home Friday morning 1am.


As departure times for various flights kept changing, the designated departure gates were changing constantly as well. I saw throng of people rush in, and out of the branch of terminal B. Not sure if it was a trick the airline play just to keep passengers hopeful and moving.

My flight's gate changed several time as well, mostly in the same branch of terminal B. It was changed once to another branch and then changed back. While walking in the long hallway of the concourse, I saw people sitting equal distance along the way - using the electric outlet to charge their cellphone, laptop, game console, Kindle ... surely a sign of the tech gadget time.

A guy sitting near me was so frustrated with the gradual delay of departure time, he asked the gate agent for assurance that the flight wouldn't be cancelled around 10pm, the gate agent could not make such guarantee, so he cancelled his flight on the spot.

There were light moments as well. When I was checking flight status by the flight monitors, I saw a young guy standing nearby, charging his cellphone, stopped a beautiful young women passing him - "are you so and so?" .... the young lady was startled a bit, but quickly recognized the young man ... apparently they were college classmates.

After thoughts

When chain of running cars are too close to each other, a collision between two cars can lead to chain collision of 10s to 100s of cars! The "super" efficient scheduling of airplanes and crews just like the chain of cars. With the ever more server weather, the airline should reconsider their scheduling paradigm.

I was stranded at the Houston airport for 4 hours. For that amount of time I would have got home if I were driving a car. For destinations of driving distance, it is better to drive.

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