Flying Can Be Frustrating… And That’s Fine…

Filed Under: American, Travel

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m somewhat desensitized to people having airport meltdowns. And that’s despite the fact that I understand that some people are traveling for much more important reasons than I am, be it a funeral, wedding, birth of a child, etc.

But I get the frustration. I really do. What I don’t get, however, are the meltdowns, because they just don’t accomplish anything.

But I think I also figured out why I’ve been somewhat desensitized to all this. I’ve realized that over the past two years I’ve had amazing flight reliability. Like, in 2013 and the first half of 2014, I can’t off the top of my head recall a single major delay I’ve had, and that’s despite flying 600,000+ miles over that time period.

I guess I jinxed myself, because over the past three months I’ve had absolutely horrible, horrible luck. I’ve had delay after delay after delay… after delay. And I by no means “lost it” during any of these delays, but I started to see more of the things that are operationally frustrating as hell as a passenger.

If you know a flight is going to be delayed in advance, why not let passengers know and post a delay early? If you know a flight is canceled, why not staff the rebooking desk with more than one agent? Etc., etc…

Which brings me to today…

I needed to fly from Tampa to New York today, and decided to book American through Chicago. The total travel time was under six hours, which wasn’t horrible. But that was also thanks to a 50 minute connection in Chicago. The good news is that I was supposed to be on the same plane for both segments.

Then we pushed back in Tampa this morning, and there was a problem with the engine. It was a fairly quick fix, and we left about 40 minutes late.


For two thirds of the flight my connecting flight still showed that it would be operated by the same plane I was taking from Tampa, though as we began our descent the departure gate changed. Crap, that means they changed the plane.

In the end we got to the gate at 10:31AM, and my connection was scheduled to depart at 10:40AM from a gate maybe two minutes away (I arrived at H17 and departed from H9).


So I hustled off the plane, and made it to the gate at 10:33AM… only to find the door was already closed, and shortly thereafter the jet bridge was pulled.

There was that initial moment — which I think we can all relate to — where I was really damn frustrated. Like, “really gate agent, you knew I was arriving at a gate close by, and you still had to leave early?” And within another couple of minutes, two other first class passengers coming from Tampa arrived at the gate as well.

And then on the other hand I get it. I get the gate agent’s (and airline’s) perspective. What if it took me a while to show up? If I didn’t show up quickly and they still pushed on-time, would they be able to upgrade someone else into my empty seat? And if not, wouldn’t they be pissing off someone that was on the upgrade list on that flight? And then what if as they were processing the upgrade and offloading me I showed up?

Anyway, I guess the point of my post is to say that flying can be frustrating as hell sometimes. It sucks when you have a confirmed first class seat and end up on a flight several hours later in a seat that’s not even in Main Cabin Extra, let alone first class.

But I also get it from the airline’s perspective. There are so many moving parts to operating an airline. Yes, they could have waited on me. But then should they have waited for the two other first class passengers that showed up two minutes later? And what about economy passengers that may have shown up five minutes later? And what if someone else was coming off another flight that was delayed, should they wait for them as well?

Hopefully everyone else’s weekend travels are going better. Then again, I flew seven miles above the earth’s surface at 600 miles an hour… I guess my travel day actually isn’t that bad…

  1. I think you give the airlines too much slack.

    I was in Indonesia recently and flew DPS-JOG-DPS. These flights are scheduled at 1:20. Both were about an hour late! For the return flight the aircraft was not even present at the airport at departure time yet there was no indication on the monitors of any delay. No one from the airline (Garuda Indonesia) was present in the gate area to tell anyone what was going on. The airlines could go a long way to avoiding the meltdowns if they would just provide some accurate information in a timely manner. Tell us why the aircraft isn’t there. Tell us when you expect it to be present. Tell us when you expect we will actually board and depart. And if you don’t know those things, then tell us you don’t know. But don’t just ignore us altogether and provide us with no info at all.

    As you say, there are a lot of moving parts. And front line employees are usually underpaid and little-trained. That is where the airlines have some responsibility to do better.

  2. Funny how you imply FC And economy passengers should be treated differently. Shows how out of touch you really are.

  3. Since American has over a dozen LGA-ORD flights everyday, the gate agent probably didn’t care you and the other 2 pax would have to wait 60-90 mins for the next plane. It’s a cold world out there.

  4. The know they have connecting passengers.

    They can manage how long it takes you to get there by getting the inbound flight crew to have you by the door and the airline have a member of ground crew at your arrival gate to take you to our connection gate timely.

    I guess that’s what’s so frustrating, they COULD give the service but they rarely do. In the past they would, but cost cutting, even the high yield F really has now sanitised all the classes to the same level of mediocrity.

  5. You realize that your 3rd paragraph makes no sense? Experiencing delays is driven by the number of FLIGHTS one takes, not the total number of flights. And I would not be surprised to learn that long hauls have a far better reliability than short hauls, skewing your exposure even more.

  6. I get there’s a lot of moving parts, and I get some of it is out of their control – weather, airport traffic, etc.

    I just don’t get how logic never plays a part.

    For example, two weeks ago I was connecting in SLC to get back to EWR. The flight was operated by an A320. I left the Skyclub about 15 minutes before boarding was to begin, got to the gate, and saw that the flight before ours hadn’t left yet. It was boarded, but sitting there. And sitting there. And sitting there. So, at the time our flight was to board, and still showing on time, people starting asking the gate agent if we’d be delayed, if we’d be changing gates, etc. Nothing. No info. She kept saying it was on time. And she never made an announcement that all could hear. About 15 minutes before our departure time, she finally announces a gate change. To a gate a few down from us. Not major. We all get up, go to the new gate where the gate agents are basically yelling at us to board as fast as we can or risk being delayed. Um, hi – not our fault. We could have moved gates 30 minutes earlier if someone had noticed the wrong plane was at our gate.

    Again, not major in the big scheme of things. But annoying and poorly managed.

  7. Do you think the outcome may have been different had you tweeted to AA during the TPA-ORD flight asking if the same plane were to take you from ORD-NYC?

  8. @ data cop — I don’t track the number of segments I fly, but do track the number of miles I fly. Generally speaking there’s at least some correlation between the number of miles flown and the number of segments flown (ie, someone that flew one segment didn’t fly 400,000 miles, and someone that flew 1,000 miles didn’t fly 400 segments).

  9. @ Brian — That’s not at all what I was implying. I was suggesting that first class passengers are consistently off planes faster than economy passengers. It can take 10+ minutes to deplane, meaning the amount of time it takes to get to a connecting flight can vary by several minutes depending on where you’re seated.

    My point was that they could have waited for first class passengers and still achieved an on-time departure. The same isn’t necessarily true for economy passengers.

    That being said, while it wasn’t what I was saying, I absolutely do think elite passengers should be treated better than non-elite passengers, and that perhaps sometimes more consideration should be provided to them. Isn’t it natural to take care of better customers better?

  10. @ Joey — Don’t think so. They had access to the same info, so would have assumed it’s the same plane as well. So not sure what that would have changed.

  11. They are tracked on how many planes get off the blocks on time, not how many passengers get to their destination on time ;p

  12. Is it routine practice in the US that flights aren’t held back (even slightly) for connecting passengers? I am assuming this information is visible to the people managing the connecting flight, right?

  13. This is a timely post as we just finished covering schedule recovery in my Airline Management class. I’ll try to sum up the decision process but take what I say with a grain of salt…classroom and reality are two very different worlds!

    When a flight is delayed the airline has three options to recover the schedule: let the delay propagate through the rest of that aircraft’s itinerary, swap aircraft to one leaving closer to the scheduled departure, or cancel the flight. No one choice is superior to the others as every delay situation is unique and the best solution is different each time. Of course the primary factor in choosing the best solution is cost. One of the biggest costs associated with delays is passenger recovery. The problem is, passenger recovery costs include not only the quantifiable (rebooking…often on another airline, overnight accommodation, compensation) but also the intangible (cost of inconvenience to the passengers, loss of good will toward the airline) so it’s impossible to accurately calculate. A few have tried, and although the results are hotly debated the consensus is the cost of passenger recovery industry wide is in the Billions annually.

    That being said, there’s an established hierarchy the Airline Operations Controller works through when developing a schedule recover plan. First: recover the equipment, second: recover the crew, and third: recover the passengers. This is not to say that passengers are the last priority, a balanced plan takes into consideration all factors equally, but you have to start somewhere. But if a schedule can be recovered much faster at the sacrifice of a few more passengers, that is the plan they will implement.

    Does that mean American implemented a schedule recovery plan that specified your connecting flight leave 7 minutes early at the cost of three first class passengers? Highly doubtful. The only reason to push up a flight by a few minutes is if an on-time departure would cause either the crew or the aircraft to time out. But 7 minutes is cutting it a bit TOO close, even for American!

    In any public transportation industry, be it planes, trains, busses, or boats, an early departure is an order of magnitude worse than a late departure from a customer service standpoint. From my (admittedly idealized) point of view, the gate agent @#$%ed up.

  14. I appreciate that block times are padded and that at airports where runway holds are frequent that airlines might want to close the doors of a plane as long before departure time as they can get away with to soak up any expected or potential delays. But Lucky, do you know, generally speaking (or for AA in particular), if block times are calculated such that the doors have to close at the departure time or before the departure time to keep on schedule? I ask because I had a similar experience to the one you described but with B6 at EWR. I arrived at my gate around 5 min before departure and not only was the gate closed but the aircraft had taxied far enough from the gate that I couldn’t see it, which initially really ticked me off.

  15. So on my last 777 from MIA to LAX a passenger with concierge key escort had his seat given away because they are strictly enforcing 15 minute deadline for being on board and the CK escort didn’t tell the gate agent. Same thing happened to me but because I was there 13 minutes before, they were able to get me my C seat )already upgraded). The F passenger was rightly very POed. He got the seat next to me in business.

    It was Alex Rodriguez.

  16. Forgot to mention he was there in plenty of time (as was I). He was just wanting to board last for privacy reasons,

  17. I have now had 3 out of 10 delayed flights in the last 2 months alone on USAirways and all of these maintenance issues were realized after pushback from the gate.

    I had a CLT-PHL flight delayed by 30 minutes because of a leaking lavatory. I also had my PHL-CUN flight delayed due to approximately 30 passengers inbound who would otherwise have misconnected. The pilot came on and announced that since the schedule was padded that we were going to hold the plane for an extra 30 minutes to allow for these approximately 30 connecting passengers to arrive. About 6 of these passengers were in F. Plane landed about 10 minutes after scheduled arrival which was no big deal.

    Yesterday, I had my PHL-PHX flight delayed by over 1 hour due to an issue starting the left engine. Instead of fixing the api in the tail that wasn’t working, they said they were going to get the engine started by bleeding energy from the working engine to the other engine. Don’t really understand the mechanics of this. However, this resulted in a lot of connecting passengers either misconnecting or almost misconnecting. I myself made my connecting flight by about 10 minutes and boarded with zone 4.

    In the last year I have had 2 long haul international flights on USAirways delayed by multiple hours, one to Paris and the other to Manchester. One was due to a security issue and the other was due to an issue with the inbound aircraft. Fortunately for me, both were at my originating airport so one I changed the departure to a day later saving myself about 4 additional hours of delay, and the second flight I was notified about 5 hours prior to departure so after calling USAirways who had limited options available for that day, headed to the airport where I was rerouted and arrived earlier than initially scheduled.

    These types of issues with the great service I have had have not led to any meltdowns at the airport. On the other hand, when I receive surly service from an airline and try to get the employee’s name since they are not wearing a name badge and also escalate the issue to their supervisor both without responses or refusals of such, then I do get more assertive, since these issues should not go unnoticed. But, I totally empathize with the agents because having a lot of people frustrated and with emotions running high it can all too easily escalate, and the agents bear the brunt of this, sadly.

  18. I would be peeved, too because of the early departure, but were you and the other “first class passengers” in paid F or upgrades?

  19. I’m surprised a lot of the commenters are unaware of such a basic rule, given most are frequent fliers. most airlines incld AA, close their gates 10 mins before departure. it doesnt matter if you’re there 1 min after that deadline or 7 mins before departure time. gates are closed and seats are given away.

    think about it this way, Lucky usually doesnt check luggage but even looking at the 3 F pax who got to the gate ~3 mins after gates closed, what if they had luggage? there’s no way it could have been offloaded from their prev flight and loaded onto this one before the flight took off.

    I’m surprised AA sold you this ticket with such a tight connection esp on routes that are notorious for delays. then again not sure how exactly you knew beforehand that this was the aircraft that was gonna continue service onto LGA. in any case, I’m still surprised that you of all ppl Lucky, thought even after a 40 min delay that the equipment wouldnt be switched over and that there was no way you’d make your connection. the reason is because AA doesnt want a domino effect on the rest of their schedule because of one delay — the greater good theory in practice.

  20. “But I get the frustration. I really do. What I don’t get, however, are the meltdowns, because they just don’t accomplish anything”.

    I agree with your point, totally. But here’s the thing. The meltdowns often occur when people feel out of control. They don’t know HOW to accomplish anything. You do.

    Think of how much knowledge/tools you have: options, rebooking, lounge agents, and on and on.

    Those having meltdowns: none of that. Bupkus.

    I don’t mean to nit-pick. But you may want to re-sensitize yourself to realize not everyone is as savvy as you. FWIW, some of your recent comments indicate otherwise to me.

  21. Meltdowns are unproductive, but I understand them. People are headed to important business meetings that will determine whether they keep a job or land a crucial account. Incomes and livelihoods are riding on a missed connection. They are headed to deal with medical emergencies, deaths, impending births, or just tiny windows of time with family and loved ones between interminable weeks on the road. Half the people on a plane at any given moment have enormous levels of stress because of where that flight is taking them.

    When faced with the loss of hours or even days in that context, the consequences can be devastating and the loss of time quite meaningful. That’s where the industry’s cavalier attitude about can be hard to take and I see how it feels slightly satisfying to take it out on an indifferent or discourteous gate or customer service agent.

    You’re right, a meltdown over a missed upgrade on the way to a night in a hotel suite followed by 15 hours in a first class airline cabin seems rather inexplicable. But many get off that flight with far more “baggage” and expressions of frustration are more than understandable.

  22. Oh gosh, Lucky, which airline flies nonstop with great frequency between TPA-LGA and TPA-JFK…? Delta, is it?

    But no, gotta connect through ORD to avoid the superior in flight entertainment system and consistent service. 😉

  23. It goes to show how a good airline can differ from a bad airline. I flew SQ CGK SIN LHR and the CGK SIN leg was delayed and with a 50m connection, I thought I wasn’t going to make it. Normally, CGK SIN flights arrive in T2, but since we had a tight connection (less than 15m left), they moved it to T3 almost right next to the plane (I say almost because there was a 5m walk between the 2 gates, there was nothing in the middle) and had a guy show up and show the way to the gate. Meanwhile, I flew MH CGK KUL BKK and when the outbound was delayed by about an hour or so), there was still about 10m left but they didn’t wait, instead moved us to a flight that departed 2h later.

    Also SQ managed to get our luggage to LHR just fine on a 15m connection, but MH somehow didn’t manage to get it to LHR on a different occassion on a (non-delayed) 1h connection.

  24. I also can’t stand this business of closing the door early. Does anyone know if it has gotten worse, since the 90’s,. i.e. the door closes earlier?

    That is one thing I love about the Delta Shuttle, they seem to respect the actual departure time, not closing the door before say 2 minutes of the posted departure time. They even advertise that you can check in 15 minutes before a flight with no bags & make it!

    It is rediculous for a lot of these airlines, B6 I really notice it but US too to a lesser extent, they close the door 10 to 15 minutes early!!!

    I also take a lot of 1-2 day trips so this may disproportionally affect me.

    I know it seemingly fashionable to close the door 10 minutes early, but then, how can Delta Shuttle manage to run their operation reasonably well when they close the door say 2 minutes before the scheduled departure time. Somehow they have managed to figure out how to do this. I think they post that you need to be at the gate with in 5 minutes of departure time so that must really mean they close say 1, 2, or 3 minutes before the actual scheduled departure time. Southwest also seems pretty good at not closing the doors excessively early.

    I would say a door close of 10 or more minutes early is excessively early especially if they see checked in pax that could likely make the flight.

    Maybe the airlines could make that an elite benefit that they will not close the door early on you say if you are Exec Plat!

    I have been on plenty of flights where they did wait for connecting customers, did the gate agent seem to know you are coming, and nevertheless they made a conscious decision to go? How was your reaccommodation handled?

    I had a similar situation on UA when I was a 1K BOS-ORD-LAS, they did not keep the LAS flight open until departure time, but they put me up in the ORD Hilton, and I was kind of glad as it broke up the trip and they processed it quickly.

    I think for UA global Services they may really consider holding the flight, but I guess for 1K or Exec Plat they will be just as likely to let it go without really thinking of your status.

  25. Another reason to adhere strictly with the 10 minute rule is if the flight is overbooked and will result in IDB compensation being due to some connecting pax.Just easier to close the door and point at the clock.

  26. Well said, Adam P! There is a lot going in peoples lives and those people might not be travel savvy; I get their meltdown.

  27. I have a few times, sat at a gate and had the captain come on and say we are waiting for connecting passengers. I actually don’t mind waiting. I know how wild I would be if I ran up to the gate just in time to see my flight push back. It may be the airline that I always fly but I do like it.
    FYI I have never actually been the one that held up the flight.

  28. @ Al — Yep, pretty normal for flights to even leave early with passengers missing the flights. It’s rare they’ll hold a connecting flight — usually only if it’s once a day service and there are lots of late arriving passengers.

  29. How interesting! In my experience SQ and MH have both held flights back for connecting passengers at SIN and KUL.

  30. colleen, Adam, and markiteight all make great points in their comments.

    For all of us – including Lucky – we’re flying enough to learn a lot as we go along. Then, we share it with others online because well, this is a frequency (business travel) or hobby thing for us. As Colleen so adeptly points out, there is a majority out there who do not. Granted, they aren’t flying as often as we are, but they are still the majority. They rely on what the airline and their reps explain to them and thus set expectations.

    For instance, I never would have scheduled a flight with a 50-minute connection through an airport that has a well-documented history of flight delays given it’s status as a major hub for two of the largest airlines in the world. I’ll give Lucky the benefit of the doubt in thinking that his was a same-plane connection, but I would have told myself “still, this IS a major legacy carrier who has not won “Best Airline of North America or The World” award for their high level of customer service by any group”. I would have booked a better option. I learned that with DL immediately after just one flight through ATL. Since then, I don’t care if they have direct service – I’d rather fly someone else because I don’t think they care one iota about me as a paying customer.

    Even though I fly AS almost exclusively, I STILL employ this practice when connecting through SEA because it immediately eases my stress level.

    Lucky’s post and my comment has much more to do with Attitude, however. I keep a reminder posted on my wall all the time: I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% on how I respond to it. There’s more we cannot control in modern air travel than what we can.

  31. On an oversold UA EWR-MSY flight (last of the night), 3 friends and I VDB’d ourselves ($500 voucher each!). While the gate agent was processing our ETCs and rebookings, she was also simultaneously monitoring the progress of a GS member who was coming off an international connection (and was apparently stuck in customs). They held the flight for at least 10 minutes past departure time, before I had to leave to catch my rebooked flight. I’m rarely impressed by UA, but it is pretty amazing the things they’ll do for their high-valued customers.

    I’m guessing that it being the last flight of the night from EWR-MSY, and the fact that they knew nobody had onward connections @ MSY, contributed to the fact that they held the flight. I somewhat doubt that they’d hold an early morning non-hub-to-hub flight (in fear of creating lots of misconnects).

  32. Had a same thing happen to me with US Airways on IAH-PHX / PHX-SEA. Got to the gate with about 12 minutes to go but the door had already been closed and no personnel was around. By the time I got through to someone, plane had already pushed back.

    Fortunately, it was not the last flight of the day but I did have to spend 3.5 or 4 hours more at the airport and, what was most annoying to me, is that US Airways has no policy to comp or discount club passes in situations like these, i.e. caused by them.

    P.S. Another data point regarding Delta: on SLC-IAH, they closed the door only about 1-2 minutes prior to departure. It was the last flight of the day though.

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