Trip Report: A Mess of a Trip

Delays/Cancellations, Southwest, Trip Reports

I’ve had several people ask me if I had given up on writing trip reports, and the answer is no. I just haven’t been on an airplane for awhile, so I had nothing to write. But I’m back, and this one is a doozy. I usually have good luck with flights being on time and everything running smoothly, but this trip was just an awful one in that respect.

I awoke on Wednesday to a steady downpour here in Southern California. We don’t see those too often, but this was a good one. I packed my stuff and headed to the airport for my 140pLAX Terminal 1 Security Line flight. Unfortunately, there was a bad accident on the freeway (go figure) and I ended up running into LAX’s Terminal 1 at 110p, only a half an hour before the flight.

I figured I’d still make it until I saw total chaos in the terminal. The security line was out the door and more than halfway down toward Terminal 2. On top of all that, the weather was causing delays all over the place, but mine was one of the only flights that was going right on time. Crap.

So I went up to one TSA agent and asked if I could cut in since my flight was leaving. He said no. So of course, then I moved on to find another person to ask. I believe this one was a supervisor of some sort, and we had this pleasant conversation.

Me: Excuse me sir, my flight leaves very soon and need to get to the front of the line.
TSA: No. Back of the line.
Me: But my flight leaves in 30 minutes. How long will this line take?
TSA: I don’t know.
Me: I’m probably going to miss my flight.
TSA: Yeah, probably

Nice, huh? So then I went over to Southwest and found two off-duty customer service reps. They suggested I take this side elevator up and that would work. Well, I got to the top and there was nobody there to check my ID. Finally, someone waved me over and asked how I got up there. I told him the Southwest agents said to go that way. He said that was wrong and I had to go back in line. I told him again that I would miss my flight and he didn’t care.

At this point, I dragged my ass all the way to the back of the line in the pouring rain and called the person I was meeting in Tucson to tell him I was screwed. (I believe I used about 25 straight expletives alongside “TSA” for the entire conversation.) Then, there was a ray of hope. I was talking to the people in front of me, and someone behind me heard and chimed in. He said there was an agent from Southwest who was taking people to the front of the line. If I wanted to try, they’d save my spot.

I took them up on it and ran in to find her. I did find her, but she wasn’t helpful. I told her I was going to miss my flight, and she said I should still try. I told her I wanted to but the security line was too long. She then asked me if I had my boarding pass. Frustrated, I said yes, I do, but the line is too long and I will miss my flight. She said, “ok, well you can stand in this line to change your ticket to a later flight.” Wow, that wasn’t the kind of help I was looking for.

Instead, I went back to my place in line and waited it out, figuring I’d get things changed at the gate. I made it through security about 10 minutes after my flight should have departed. Half-putting on my shoes, I grabbed my bag of liquids and my coat and booked it over to gate 1, tucked away in the corner of the terminal.

December 17, 2008
Southwest #2515 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 140p Arr Tucson (TUS) 400p
LAX: Gate 1, Runway 7L, Dept ~15m Late
TUS: Gate A2, Runway 11L, Arr ~15m Late
Aircraft: N372SW, Boeing 737-3H4, Canyon Blue, ~90% Full
Seat: 13B
Flight Time: 56m

Just as I was getting there, one agent said to the other, “Why don’t you page Brett Snyder.” I raised my hand and walked right on. Unbelievably, they had held the plane for a couple of us who had checked in but hadn’t made it to the gate because of the line. Nice work, Southwest, even if I did get stuck in a middle seat. Maybe that was my payback for writing something mean about their WestJet link . . . .

The flight itself was mostly uneventful. The awful weather meant that LAX had turned around the runways as they very rarely do. So, while taxiing is normally a two second affair for Southwest airplanes here, this time we had to trek all the way to the far west end of the airport and we even stepped over to the south side. Still, it happens so rarely that it’s funGetting Above the Storm to do.

We took off into the muck, and a few minutes later we were above it all in brilliant sunshine. It wasn’t too bumpy going through the storm, but it got a little rough once we were in clear air. So the fact that I didn’t have time to hit the bathroom before getting onboard came back to bite me as the seatbelt sign never went off.

It was beautiful in Tucson, but it was gusty so we were bouncing our way into town. After landing, it was a quick taxi to the gate, and I somehow made it only 15 minutes late. I figured the worst was behind me. Um, not quite.

December 18, 2008
Southwest #1664 Lv Tucson (TUS) 155p Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 230p
TUS: Gate A6, Runway 29R, Dept 2h48m Late
LAX: Gate 14, Runway 24R, Arr 2h42m Late
Aircraft: N345SA, Boeing 737-3K2, Puke Colors, ~90% Full
Seat: 13F
Flight Time: 1h18m

Tucson was fun, but I drank a little (or a lot) too much while I was there, so I had a pretty strong hangover. We were a bit late pulling up to the terminal, only 50 minutes before my flight, but it didn’t look too crowded. I went in to find a different story. The Southwest line was twisting and turning around the terminal. Clearly that was going to be a problem for me, so I noticed that the line to change your ticket only had two people in it. I chose that one.

When I got to the front, I was told that they were having problems with their computers, and that’s why the lines were like this. I was also told that almost every flight was delayed, and mine was currently about 2 hours late. Crap, part deux.

I made it through security with ease, and then plopped myself down to wait it out. I didn’t have a computer or even a book to keep me busy, so I just hopped on my Blackberry and that kept me busy enough. I Crowded Terminal in Tucsonfound out that the plane was supposed to start the day in Spokane, but that flight was canceled, probably due to the crazy snow up there. Instead, it started in Boise, came down to Reno, then to LA, then over to Tucson where it would pick us up. The weather meant it was way behind.

One thing I can say about the Tucson airport is that there is absolutely nothing to do beyond security except watch all the college kids who must have just finished finals and were heading home for break. Yeah, there was a place to grab food, but that was about it. I found myself getting anxious and annoyed by just sitting around. The gate agents didn’t make one announcement about the delay the entire time we were there. Very poor communication always makes things worse, and the one time I went up to ask a question, they snapped at me and asked me to go to the back of the line. I opted just not to bother them again.

For some reason, it took them more than an hour to turn the plane in LA, so our new departure time was pushed back to 455p. Then it moved up to 425p and finally it settled at 435p. When the plane arrived, there was a little confusion on my part, because they changed the gate and didn’t tell anyone. This was complicated by the fact that our flight had pushed late enough to get near the departure time of the next LAX flight, so there were passenger running around confused about which flight was which. In the end, we all figured it out and started lining up so we could get moving, but the gate agent was really in no hurry. It’s amazing to think this airline used to do 10 minute turns.

Once onboard, the mood changed. The flight attendants wanted to get out of there, and they were very firm in pushing people to get moving. They were great actually, and I bet they’d been around for a long time. I definitely Lake Arrowhead and Big Bearappreciated it. We finally pushed back and a couple minutes later we were airborne.

It was a beautiful day, and the flight was completely routine until we got toward the end. You probably heard that there was a lot of snow in Southern California from the recent storm, and man did it make for an incredible site coming in at sundown. This did not look like LA at all.

We landed and I was thrilled to be home. Of course, just to top things off, there was another accident on my way home, and it took me about three times as long as it would have had we simply landed at 230p when we were supposed to. I’m glad this trip is over.

See more snow pictures in my Tucson Photo Set

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21 comments on “Trip Report: A Mess of a Trip

  1. I’m glad you recognize SWA for considering holding your plane for a couple minutes to allow you to board. A few nights ago I spent the night at the Denver airport as I missed my connecting flight to San Diego. I made it to the gate in time, but that airline, that starts with a U and ends in a D, sent the flight out EARLY. Initially they said they would put me on a Frontier flight, but then re-neged (guess Premier isn’t enough status to count). I found a delayed flight to Ontario, got issued a boarding pass, and headed down the jet way, only to see the door close in front of me and told “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE? You have to go back to the gate”. Nice finishing touch. Southwest looks better by the day.

  2. I totally agree with you about the Tucson Airport. I live in Tucson and dread having delays at that airport, there is just absolutely nothing to do. I always get bored there…thank goodness for technology to pass the time.

  3. Hey CF,

    I really don’t know why – perhaps my mood, but at the moment I read your description of your second plane as “puke colors” I just started busting up…and couldn’t stop laughing for a full minute. I know, it shouldn’t be THAT funny, but it sure was at the moment.

    Thanks for the trip report! LOVE IT!

  4. Too bad about the indifferent Southwest gate agents at Tucson. I was impressed by the performance of a different set in early November.

    I was waiting at SNA for a flight on another airline and observed a Southwest jet pull back, idle on the taxiway for about 15 minutes, and then return to the gate.

    As the passengers deplaned, the gate agent got on the PA, introduced herself, and announced that since this was the last flight of the night to the destination, they had no options for pax other than to have them wait for a backup jet. She asked passengers to remain in the gate area and updated the progress of the replacement jet every five minutes or so.

    When it was time to board my flight, the passengers for the other flight were still waiting for a plane that was said to be 10 minutes away. If that was the case, then the whole delay was not much over an hour. I thought the gate agent did a great proactive job … she encouraged questions but provided enough information that there appeared to be very few. She also handled gate changes for other flights with aplomb.

    On a related note, United agents at ORD in early December did a fine job with an overbooked (by 40 pax) ORD-LAX flight. I may be a little biased because I was able to accept a bump that gave me lodging, a night of Chicago blues, first-class passage the next day, and a free-flight voucher, but the agents were calm and collected. Additionally, the gentleman who processed me took me to a unused gate, where he was able to help other pax (even though he did not have to) while he was waiting for my paperwork to go through.

  5. dude bricker! every business person that I know has spent endless hours playing that game because they were stuck in an airport somewhere.

    I suggest the next time you pack an ebook, it’s a must have for anyone who travels regularly. I just got the new sony one and it rocks.

  6. So basically, once you finally consented to wait your place in line, you made the plane at LAX. Considering the bad accident, it seems likely that you weren’t the only one running late. What made you think that you deserved to cut in front of these other late travelers? How much sooner would you have made it if you had done that from the start?

    I am so tired of people blaming the TSA when random things happen in life that cause us to be delayed. If people knew that all they needed to cut to the front was a good story, security lines would be an even bigger pain in the neck than they are today. Although your delay was legitimate, it doesn’t take much incentive to get some people to lie. The TSA did the right thing here. Sorry, Brett. I still love your blog

  7. DC – I only made my flight because Southwest opted to hold the plane past departure time and somewhat inconvenience everyone else onboard (and potentially those who were taking the plane to the next destination). That is a rare occurrence. In most situations, I would have missed my flight.

    I did not spend much time at all before getting in line. Much of my searching was done after I had been in line and the people surrounding me offered to allow me to come back in if I couldn’t get ahead. I maybe lost 2 minutes by not going straight to the back.

    It’s very hard for someone to lie in this situation. The TSA first of all should know about how long it should take to get through the line from a certain point. Then they could make you show your boarding pass to prove your departure time. They shouldn’t take anyone at their word who just says “I’m late” because that’s too easy to game.

    The bottom line here is that the TSA has everything set up to follow procedure, and they make most airlines look like customer service champions. That’s hard to do. They could handle things better.

  8. CF,
    I am sorry that you didn’t get to see us at our best, but I am glad our folks held the flight for you in LAX. I checked our flight records for you return flight because I just knew there had to be extenuating reasons for the lengthy turn time, and the records show that your flight was being held for late-arriving connecting Customers, you should have been told that, but in our folks gentle defense, yesterday saw computer problems and lengthy delays at just about every station west of CLE and JAN. Granted, TUS normally isn’t a big connecting city, but with all the systemwide reroutings, almost every feasible connection was being utilized. I am confident that Al B’s experience is more typical of what our TUS Customers can expect. Honestly, in almost 33 years of being in the industry, I can’t remember winter weather affecting so many geographically diverse locations.

  9. Cranky –

    So you had some bad luck – the accident – and some good – you weren’t the only one running late for your flight, so they waited.

    Could the TSA do better? Yes, I think you are right. But are you suggesting they should not follow procedure when it comes to you? You know enough about the business to understand that the ability to handle exceptions doesn’t just happen. Southwest has legendary management practices and training over many years, and for your flight that day, it showed. Be happy. And yes, TSA does not have that caliber of customer experience so far.

    It’s not at all hard to lie. Just show up late and show your boarding pass. Do you really expect line employees to be able to filter those types out? The only way TSA should allow you to cut the line is if they have procedures and training so they can be fair to everyone. (You still did not explain why you feel entitled to cut ahead of other passengers who were delayed).

    As some Marines say, you’re just another swingin’ dick, Cranky. Maybe it would be more productive to use your blog to engage TSA management about how to improve service. Quit picking on the line employees.

  10. I had a good/bad experience a few weeks ago in my 4 hours at LAX. Coming back from the mess that was Thai aviation, I got in, and proceeded to customs, got the typical LAX customs jerk. He saw my passport and all its pretty stamps and put me in the fun inspection line. But the inspection guy was cool, he tried to trip me up “So, you said you work in a bank?” No, I never said such a thing, nice try. He gave a very cursory look at my bags (when you tell them you are a retired airline employee, they pretty much don’t care). He even pulled out my DVD’s that I bought over there (not exactly following copyright) and let me through. Then, I was able to get USairways NOT to charge me $15 for my bags, by noting that I went out of my way to buy a ticket when I could fly free and not have my bag charged. And then the miracle, a nice, friendly TSA guy who I had a good long conversation with (no flight activity going on, no lines). This guy was very nice and gave me some great information about how to fly while carrying cremated remains.

    Then, like a sleep deprived fool, I lost my cell phone, and the kind Southwest people found the phone and got it to me. The flight? Hell, I don’t remember anything past push back and landing, which was fine with me.

    But, given my choice, LAX, no thanks.

  11. TSA – you mean thousands standing around. What a joke! Do I feel safer as a passenger because I was screened by the TSA? No. Does anyone really believe terrorists will ever gain access to a flight crew in the cockpit after 9/11? Give me a break. Do us all a favor and get rid of the government rent cops now.

  12. Anytime you get bad treatment write the persons name and the details and write a letter to the company. That’s the only way things can change and management may think all the employees are doing what should be done according to procedures. At the least you might get some perk as a “we’re sorry”. Besides sending a letter to a customer service department, send a copy to the president of the airline and advise the customer service dept people that you did, if they know the president of the company will see your letter they might do a little better on your issue. Couldn’t hurt.

  13. Travel continues to suck. The TSA and others do not make it any better – shame on them. I give credit to the people with the decency who held your place in line – most of the other folks in this story (for their sake) were hopefully having a bad day.

    It could be worse though

    hopefully happier trails are in front of you.

  14. Brian Lusk – Thanks for checking. I figured it wasn’t just sitting on the ground for nothing, but we never heard anything. You could tell the Tucson agents were very stressed out. The line at gates A4/A6 (where it appears most Southwest flights leave from in Tucson) never died down the entire 3+ hours I was sitting there. So I’m sure their nerves were frayed. Just a couple announcements would have been nice.

    DC – I’m going to respond to you point by point this time.

    > Could the TSA do better? Yes, I think you are right.
    > But are you suggesting they should not follow procedure
    > when it comes to you?

    Absolutely not. I would never ask for a special exemption on anything. I want this sort of treatment to extend to everyone who is running late. The TSA may be a security organization, but that doesn’t give it the right to be exempt from customer service. People run late, and the TSA should work to accommodate that.

    > You know enough about the business to understand
    > that the ability to handle exceptions doesn’t just happen.

    That sounds like a cop out to me. First of all, the TSA could at least have rough estimates of how long it would take to get through the line. They couldn’t even give me that information. Then they could have line minders going through the security line to determine which people wouldn’t make it and pull them up to the front to allow them through. It’s not that hard to do. And since this isn’t a normal-sized line at LAX these days, you’re not going to find people trying to cheat the system. People wouldn’t have expected to see that line, so it’s really only people who were legitimately running late.

    > It’s not at all hard to lie. Just show up late and
    > show your boarding pass. Do you really expect
    > line employees to be able to filter those types out?
    > The only way TSA should allow you to cut the line
    > is if they have procedures and training so they can
    > be fair to everyone. (You still did not explain why
    > you feel entitled to cut ahead of other passengers
    > who were delayed).

    That’s not lying, that’s cheating. If you show up late and show your boarding pass, you’re telling the truth, but you’re being an ass. As I said above, this isn’t a normal line for LAX. On a Wednesday in the early afternoon, the TSA website says the average wait is under 10 minutes with a maximum of just over 10 minutes. So nobody is going to try to cheat the system if they don’t expect lines.

    axelsarki – Yeah, they still have some in the old colors flying around. It’s a shrinking number, but you’ll see it every so often. They’re also keeping three in the old colors to symbolize the first three destinations.

    David SF East Bay – I agree with that for sure. I didn’t want to bother getting name info on the TSA agents, even if it just meant trying to see their badge. I was in too much of a hurry to pay attention. BTW, I also make a point to send in a note if the service is exceptionally good as well.

  15. Interesting how people comment on the blog, I was telling this editor the other day about Travel Blogs. I said the most popular blogs are when people can share the same experience. Then to double it up by sharing complaints doubles up the comments. I do understand why you call it the cranky flier.Andy of in Guatemala

  16. Cranky – I’m with you 100 percent on that. Especially the on-the-spot wait time estimates – good idea. How hard could that be? Sorry if I was a bit abrasive. Happy holidays, happy new year, and happy new administration.

  17. DC –
    Re: “You know enough about the business to understand that the ability to handle exceptions doesn’t just happen.”

    You know this one is pretty simple to work around. Any business is about handling exceptions, and airlines do handle exceptions, and know how to handle exceptions. A simple proposed procedure for this – have people go to the “preferred line” Tell the agents there to allow anyone in who’s flight departs in less than x minutes. Simple enough, effective, and reasonable.

  18. Reminds me I need to send a letter to CO complimenting one flight crew on a fantastic trip (CUN-EWR) and complaining about another (EWR-CUN) where when I asked for a glass of water for my wife to take a pill I got a noticeable roll of the eyes. If I could have gotten it myself, I would have.

  19. God what a nightmare lol. Did you see that piece on 60 Minutes last night about TSA? Highly reccomend it…I am sure you can see it online. Have a good Haunakwanzamas man!

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