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It was supposed to be a routine flight from Pensacola to Tampa on US Airways. At least that was the initial idea here. Flight 5165 was supposed to arrive in Pensacola at 5:45pm, and then depart to Tampa at 6:20pm, arriving there at 8:55pm. And on most days it's pretty close to expected.

However, on Thursday, 26 February, expected was not the operative term. The flight was announced to be delayed due to mechanical problems, then the gate attendants started calling people up to the counter to attempt to rebook them on different flights. They were afraid that the flight was going to be cancelled, so they began rerouting us.

I ended up on a flight headed to Charlotte, which would meet a flight to Tampa. This wasn't quite so bad, as the flight from Pensacola would leave around 5:45pm Central time, and arrive there at 8:20pm, and I would be in Tampa at close to 10pm Eastern time. At least, that was the theory. The gate personnel mentioned that there were weather delays in Charlotte, but that was perfectly acceptable.

What they did not warn me of was that the weather delays were due to heavy snow. Around 8pm Eastern time, we were on approach for Charlotte when we hit weather. It wasn't light snow, this was your typical put out the warnings we're in blizzard conditions snow. By the time we get to the gate at 8:20pm, there was already a good 4 to 6 inches of snow on the ground.

Flight 237 to Tampa was the gate right next to where I landed. The screen read 8:55pm departure, but there was no plane. The aircraft (a Boeing 757-300) did not arrive until 8:50pm at the gate. By then, the gate time expected had changed to 9:20pm departure.

I leave a message to my friends Kiarrh and DustyRancourt who were going to pick me up that the flight is delayed, and that it will be after 11pm before I arrive. I go back to the gate just in time to hear that there is a problem with the flight data recorder in the cockpit, and that it'll be about 20 minutes longer before boarding. Instead, it was 9:50 before boarding began.

10:30pm comes and goes. By now we've heard that the tug cannot push the plane away from the gate, and that the APU (auxillary power unit) is overheating and shutting down any time they try to fire up the engines. 11:00pm arrives and passes with complaints of the cabin getting hot and stuffy. It's 11:30pm before the cabin crew begins passing out glasses of water to people. 12 midnight arrives with word that they were attempting to get a tug from the international terminal to push us out. 1am arrives and the tug is still at the international gate.

Finally, around 1:30am, the ground crew pushes the plane away from the gate using a tug pushing a tug pushing the plane arrangement. Now we are sitting in line for de-icing. It was almost 3am when we finally got to the de-icing pad, but something now malfunctions on one of the de-icers and they have to drive off, get it fixed and come back. Finally at 3:50am we take off from Charlotte, having spent nearly 6 hours either sitting in place or slowly inching forward.

Mind you, while we were sitting stuck at the gate, US Airways could have brought bottled water on board for the passengers, or at least opened up the hatch to provide some fresh air. With the engines being unable to be started while in the gate area, the air was extremely hot and stuffy, and nerves were clearly getting frayed. To their credit, the cabin crew did not keep people in their seats, but allowed them to walk around a little, use the lavoratories and otherwise try to relax as best they could.

What was more frustrating was discovering that a) there was another flight from Charlotte to Tampa that was scheduled to leave after flight 237, but actually departed before 237 was even pushed out of the gate and arrived in Tampa around midnight. In addition, after arriving in Tampa, it was discovered that flight 5165 did indeed leave Pensacola for Tampa some two hours later.

What could have been simply a two hour delay turned into a 9 hour nightmare. US Airways did not provide much information to the passengers on board (although the crew did try to provide some information when it was available, the thought of dealing with 200+ hot, frustrated individuals would probably not be a pleasing one.) Nor did US Airways offer anything in the way of apologies to the passengers for the situation they were placed in.

Personally speaking, I would not desire to fly US Airways again if this is the sort of situation I could expect. The flight back from Tampa was quiet and uneventful, but it hardly made up for the stress and frustration that was felt by me (and countless others onboard flight 237). US Airways should (at the very least) apologize to their customers for the treatment that they were given, considering that we were perhaps the very last flight to leave Charlotte before the beginning of the new operations day. In addition, US Airways should apologize for failing to provide information to individuals at Tampa International Airport waiting on this flight by not leaving someone to answer questions. From information provided, there was no one with US Airways at the airport after 11pm that Thursday night.

Now I have talked with the Customer Relations department with US Airways about this, and well, let's just say that some of the information I gave them likely would raise eyebrows. I know that when I mentioned the tug pushing the tug pushing the plane, that likely raised an alarm bell, as that's definitely not standard operating proceedures. The same about the mention of the overheating APU. I doubt I'll really hear anything back from them, but if I do, it'll probably be a mild surprise. Then again, I wouldn't mind a round-trip ticket to my choice of destinations for the 'inconvenience'.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2004 03:53 pm (UTC)
Holy cow! You could've taken a bus from Pensacola to Tampa and had gotten there faster.

Or froggy and I can pick you up and drop you off down the Florida Turnpike.
Mar. 2nd, 2004 08:38 pm (UTC)
Oh, dear. Be thankful you weren't watching "Airline" and some of the strange things happening there.

I'm so glad Margaret wasn't working that flight. She would have raised holy terror and then some.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Tal Greywolf

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