Ok, so I lied. I thought my trip to Puerto Vallarta would be the last time I flew Delta when it was in Terminal 5 in Los Angeles, but plans changed. We had a Cranky Concierge meeting in Phoenix, and I decided to take my wife earlier so she could have a relaxing birthday weekend. We flew Delta out, and it didn’t go well at all. There were so many self-inflicted mistakes that it became downright comical. The 2.5 hour delay never should have happened.
You might wonder why I didn’t fly Southwest out. After all, I have that companion pass which should make it cheap. But the schedules to Phoenix leave a lot to be desired these days. Southwest had nothing between 12:40pm and 4:15pm and we wanted to leave after the kids got home from school but get in so we could still enjoy a little afternoon pool time before dinner. Southwest just wasn’t going to work. Besides, it was going to be $250 for us to fly them ($125 a person with the pass) when we could get Delta for $180 each at the time we wanted. For only $50 more a person, it wasn’t worth it to change our schedule.
I checked in on my phone and was ready to go when I got a call in the morning from Delta. The airplane had been downgauged from an Embraer 175 to a 170 so they wanted volunteers to go at 9pm that night for a $300 voucher. With the aircraft changing, I wondered if we’d be delayed and my decision would be easier. But I looked and the new airplane had been in LA since the night before. I turned down the bump.
We got the airport an hour before departure and we were flying out of Terminal 6. So hey, maybe that last trip was my last time flying Delta from Terminal 5. I walked by the temporary Delta ticket counter there (above) on my way to an empty security line before walking to the gate. You can’t see through the windows at this end of the terminal, so I assumed the airplane was ready and waiting for our 2:40pm departure. We just took a seat.
There were several announcements asking for volunteers. They had upped the ante to $600 each and I was tempted, but we stuck with the plan.
At 2:15pm, the gate agent made an announcement saying something like “sorry for the delay. The airplane is coming from the hangar and it’s not here. Once it’s here, they’ll do safety checks blah blah blah. We’ll have you on your way soon.”
I hate those kind of delays since they’re completely avoidable, and I was annoyed that there was no estimated departure time. (Delta’s system still showed the flight as on time.)
A few minutes later, the captain of our flight stepped up to the podium and told everyone he called operations and was told that our airplane was scheduled to be towed next. He apologized, told us a little more about the flight, and assured us the crew was ready to go. That was very well done, and he kept this up throughout the flight. Kudos to him.
Our original departure time came and went, and there was absolutely no update on the Delta website. It still showed us going on time well after scheduled departure. The gate agent gave us another update saying that the airplane still wasn’t there. She sounded frustrated and was apologetic.
Time kept slipping. At 2:56pm Delta finally updated its system to show a delay… until 3pm. We still had no airplane so that was laughable (and probably just an auto-update that only serves to make people angrier with its inaccuracy).
Then the rolling delays kicked into gear. At 3pm, it showed a 3:15pm departure. A little after 3pm, our airplane finally arrived. This airplane had been sitting in LA since the night before, but it needed to be cleaned. (Is that not something that could have been done previously?) Catering also had to come onboard.
Around 3:25pm, Delta updated the departure time to 3:30pm. Yeah right. But at 3:30pm, it pushed to an oddly-specific 4:14pm departure. Then the announcement came at 3:35pm.
“Ladies and gentlemen. We’ve finished catering and cleaning the aircraft, but, uh, well, they over-fueled the airplane so we need to take some fuel off.”
A couple minutes later, our fearless captain came on again to give us a more detailed explanation. He said the airplane was supposed to go to Dallas that morning and they fueled it for that. But since we were only going to Phoenix, we would be overweight by the time we landed there, so they had to remove 3,800 pounds of fuel. And then, in an “Airplane!-esque” moment, he said, there’s more bad news…. I expected to hear that they were out of coffee, but nay. The air conditioning didn’t work, so it was “a bit warm” on the airplane. You could tell he was frustrated by all this as well, as you’d expect.
At this point, I could only laugh at the level of disorganization. I also wanted to kick myself for not taking the bump earlier. There was a 4:30pm flight out of Long Beach on American that we could have paid $190 for. That ended up arriving more than an hour before we did. I turned to the bar in the middle of the terminal hoping to watch some March Madness, but the lone TV inexplicably had Judge Judy on instead.
At 4:05pm, the captain came back and told us that the truck they were using to pull fuel off the airplane was full and they needed to find another one. It would be about 10 minutes before one showed up. In better news, the air conditioning was kicking in and it was getting a little cooler.
At 4:15pm, the fuel truck arrived and the captain told us that it was still warm onboard but they were going to start boarding us anyway so they could push back as soon as the fuel was pulled off.
March 17, 2017
Delta Connection 5739 Lv Los Angeles 240p Arr Phoenix 411p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 68A, Runway 25R, Depart 2h14m Late
Phoenix (PHX): Gate 15, Runway 25L, Arrive 2h40m Late
N751CZ, Embraer EMB-170, Standard Delta colors, 100% Full
Seat 15A, coach
Flight Time 59m
Onboard it was indeed warm, but it wasn’t awful. I may have felt differently if we had been stuck on the ground for much longer.
The agents weren’t aggressive enough at checking bags so people, including my wife, were stuck holding rollaboards all the way in the back and had to swim upstream. Then they made everyone stand with their bags outside the airplane while they tagged them all to be picked up at baggage claim, not planeside. It took several minutes before that cleared up and we were finally ready.
The captain gave us a detailed explanation saying we’d push back soon then it would be a 15 to 20 minute taxi to the runway. It looked like the APU was broken, and they had an air-start at the gate. Once the engines were turning, it cooled down quickly.
There was a lot of traffic, so we had to wait for the alley to clear before we could push. Then we sat and waited multiple times on our slow journey to the runway. To top it off, a beautiful EVA Cargo 747 went right ahead of us, so when it was our turn, we had to wait awhile for the wake to clear. Twenty four minutes after pushback, we were airborne.
The marine layer had begun to roll back in and about halfway down the field, sunshine turned into a thick fog. It made for a great minute-long video:
Above the clouds, it was a gorgeous day to fly. I was going to work, but instead I stared out those big windows as we passed Palos Verdes, Mt Jacinto, Palm Springs, the Colorado River and descended over the Sonoran Desert. The evening light was just stunning, and the flight was smooth as silk (except for one rather large jolt which I’m blindly guessing was from the wake of another aircraft).
We landed from the east at 6:17pm, and I was looking forward to finally being done with this. But wait, we weren’t. We taxied around to Terminal 3 and then… we went to the penalty box. Was someone in our gate? Nope. It was worse than that.
The captain came on immediately with a tone that sounded apologetic and stunned in disbelief at just how wrong things had gone. “Well, our gate’s open, but there’s nobody here to bring us in, so we’re trying to get a hold of someone in our operations office.”
And then a couple minutes later. “We managed to get a hold of our operations office, but they tell us it’ll be about 15 minutes, because they’re short-staffed.” It was as if we could hear him shaking his head.
This felt like a breaking point. A loud groan/yell was let out by many of the passengers, and understandably so. I could only laugh, really, at the absurdity of it all.
A few minutes later, the captain came on again and said he told operations he wanted a complaint resolution agent at the gate so they could listen to our concerns. In the meantime, I watched the sun slowly set out the window. It was quite the stunning view.
Sure enough, we fired up the engines about 15 minutes later and finally got to the gate an incredible 2 hours and 40 minutes after scheduled arrival. As we got off, the first officer stood in the cabin saying goodbye, but I didn’t see the captain. It’s a shame, because I wanted to thank him for doing such a great job at keeping us all informed. (I did reach out to Delta later.)
At the top of the jet bridge, there was indeed a Delta red coat agent who was handing out cards that explained to people how to complain. I just laughed and walked away down the long and empty corridor which is clearly going to be changed in the renovation project underway.
I thought I had heard that Phoenix had made good progress on Terminal 3’s renovation so I was excited to see it, but I was definitely wrong. It looks like the new security checkpoint is open, but the terminal is still under heavy construction. I’ll have to come back later because the parts that are done (below) look nice.
At least my wife’s bag was sitting on the carousel when we got to the claim area. On the way out of the airport, I just couldn’t believe how poorly this had gone. I understand when there are weather delays, maintenance issues, or something truly unexpected. But this was a case of an airline just repeatedly shooting itself in the foot. The crew was ready and so was the airplane. It was just mismanagement of the operation that spiraled into a massive delay.
I had been tweeting this all day, and Delta kept responding with fairly generic messages. But after the trip was done, the Twitter team said to DM them my details. I did, and by the end of the night they had sent me and my wife each a $200 voucher for future travel. That was a nice gesture, but I can only hope the others on my flight got the same thing and this wasn’t just favorable treatment to placate me.
This won’t prevent me from flying Delta again, of course, but for an airline that is actively touting its operational excellence, this was a big fail.