Trains, planes, TSA, and exit row seating compliance

Yesterday could only be described as a comedy of errors of sorts.

I arrived at Tri-Cities Regional Airport (TN/VA), checked my Wine Check without incident, passed through security, checked e-mail, etc. Boarding was announced for the plane, which was a few minutes late arriving. Pre-boards and people needing extra time boarded first. I saw one lady board. Zone 1 was next, so I boarded and discovered the pre-board seated to me in the exit row, which I thought was probably not appropriate if she needed extra time to board. I wondered why the flight attendant didn’t notice and switch her with somone else. During the exit row spiel, she even said, “I didn’t even know I was in the exit row, but I will do whatever I need to do.” The flight attendant’s eyes lit up, but she still didn’t move the passenger. I tweeted, “‎@Delta Why is a special assist pre-board in the exit row?” and one of the @DeltaAssist team send me a private message asking for the flight information, so they could follow up.

We departed and it was the longest 45 minutes of my life, as this 65-year-old woman (yes, she told me her age) with some sort of nerve battery implant (why she was a pre-board) told me about her entire life, family, and how she ended up on the flight. She had missed her delayed US Airways flight because despite having medical documentation of the implant, was subjected to not just a secondary search, but one behind the curtain, a full-on, comprehensive body search. She appeared frazzled and shaken from it all, and told me she hadn’t flown in years. I felt sorry for her and at the same time thought, “This passenger should not be sitting here.” Once we landed, I told her to see a gate agent and to check the monitors in Atlanta to obtain to her connecting flight gate. Incidentally, she had shown me her other boarding pass and she was also seated in the exit row on that flight.

I wished her safe travels and visited the Delta Sky Club before heading to my departure gate. Unfortunately, when I boarded the train to my next concourse, it was declared inoperable, so we had to disembark and walk to our concourses.

Once at the gate, we boarded and were ready to depart at 5:40 p.m. when two mechanics boarded. The pilot announced that the forward lavatory was broken, but would be repaired quickly. The mechanics exited and the gate agent tried to shut the door, but it appeared jammed.  It took about three people to finally get it shut and we backed away from the gate. This was a 757-200 with individual in-flight entertainment at all seats, so one of the flight attendants turned on the safety video. It froze, so the flight attendants scrambled to find seatbelts and face masks and gave the fastest pre-departure safety presentation I’ve ever seen. We departed about 25 minutes past the originally scheduled departure time.

After all of this, my trip settled down. I used coupons to purchase a snack box and beer and enjoyed Gogo Inflight Internet on my iPad until we landed 31 minutes early at LaGuardia. My Wine Check, priority tagged and marked fragile, was the third bag to arrive on the carousel.

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Day 11: Dear Delta

Dear Delta,

I am a frequent flyer of 14 years and I love to travel, but travel days like August 15 are exhausting, stressful, and exasperating. May I say that I am glad to have a month off from air travel?

On a positive note, I would like to offer my praise to the pilots and flight attendants of the flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta. They performed above and beyond under conditions beyond their control. I especially appreciated the lead flight attendant who came to each first class row and thanked us for our loyalty, business, and patience. Sincere appreciation can do a world of good.

However, that being said, my travel day with you was very frustrating.  Our inbound plane at LaGuardia arrived late, so we boarded and pushed back late. The weather in the area was not good, so we spent an hour or so on the tarmac waiting to depart. Just as we had been given clearance to depart, the pilots discovered an electrical problem with the navigation system, so we lost our place in line and had to return the gate. We spent almost two hours on the plane waiting for maintenance to determine the problem, locate the part, and replace the part. We pushed back again and spent another hour waiting to depart due to weather and air traffic control. In total, we spent almost four hours aboard the plane and never got anywhere. That was followed by a two-hour flight with the usual inflight service: beverages, lunch (well, it was almost dinnertime!), on-demand inflight entertainment, and optional Gogo Inflight Internet.

During the mechanical delay, we were told that agents were working on rebooking us. I must advise that your personnel should only say that if it is true. I always proceed with caution and check for myself. I discovered that my itinerary hadn’t been touched, so I contacted my boyfriend prior to departure and asked him to have Delta back me up on my connecting flight. By the time we reached Atlanta, I had missed two possible connections, was on standby for another, and was confirmed on the last flight of the day. I must request from you to never subject me to a six-hour LGA-ATL flight again, OK?

Our plane arrived at concourse E and it was a sign to spend time at One Flew South, where I enjoyed their amazing chicken noodle soup and a glass of 2010 Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc.

I headed to the gate of the standby flight and luckily, I was cleared to board. Amazingly, this flight went off without a hitch, nor a wait on the runway, and we arrived at Tri-Cities (TRI) early. Even my bag made it.

In closing, I’d like to say thank you for the crew on the first flight and the good connecting flight. I am still exhausted, but perhaps a bit less exasperated today.

Sincerely,
Beth

Day 10: Travel to New York LaGuardia

I am now even when it comes to delayed versus on-time flights: four delayed, four on time. I wonder what my return home will hold?

This was another uneventful day of air travel. My boyfriend and I arrived at PBI very early, so we walked around the airport for a bit, then passed easily through security and headed to the Delta Sky Club, where we enjoyed a local Native Brewing Company Native Lager.  Our plane boarded and pushed back on time. We were originally given a routing that would have added approximately 45 minutes to our flying time due to storms, but we must have been rerouted back to our original route, as we landed on time in steady rain. Inflight first class service consisted of numerous beverages and snack basket passes and the option to purchase Gogo Inflight Internet. My checked bag arrived as expected.

TRI-ATL-LGA, LGA-PWM-LGA, LGA-ATL-TRI on Delta, June 2-6, 2011

This is going to be very brief. I flew six segments on Delta and Delta Connection June 2-6 and all of the flights were consistently good, even the flight with the mechanical delay at the gate (ATL-LGA on June 2, a 757-200). The pilot kept us updated every 20-30 minutes, the flight attendants served us snacks and drinks, the plane was kept cool, and we had full use of our portable electronic devices. A few passengers asked to deplane to try to get on another flight and were accommodated. The pilot went back to coach at one point and spoke to some who were getting restless, which I thought was a nice move. I believe his gesture and explanation caused some of them to stick it out. We were at the gate about two hours, from boarding until pushback. Once we departed, we received Delta’s consistently good service in the air. I am glad that the pre-flight safety check yielded a leaky hose in the hydraulic system BEFORE we took off, the TOC (Technical Operations Center) had the part(s) needed, and the mechanics repaired the leak quickly and safely. I received a survey about the delay a day or two later and completed it, saying the delay was handled as well as could be expected.

TRI-ATL-LGA-ATL-TRI on Delta 11-13 Feb 2011

What a near-perfect trip!  All flights departed on time and arrived either early or on time.  The service can be summarized as follows:

1.  TRI-ATL and ATL-TRI:  In-flight service was by request only since the flights are only 40 minutes, so both directions were uneventful.  On the return, the flight attendant called out Delta elites by last name and thanked them for their business, then proceeded with the usual announcement about SkyMiles and how one can earn miles and status.

2.  ATL-LGA:  Since the flight was after 8:00 pm, service in the first class cabin consisted of a full pre-departure beverage service and a full in-flight beverage and snack basket service.  Pre-departure drinks were served in plastic, while in-flight beverages were served in glass.  Gogo Inflight Internet and television entertainment were available.  All seats in first class were “adorned” with a red Delta blanket, bottled Dasani, and earbuds for the in-flight entertainment.

3.  LGA-ATL:  Service in the first class cabin consisted of a full pre-departure beverage service and a full in-flight beverage and lunch service.  The meals on this flight were a sandwich with potato soup or a salad with potato soup.  The salad had grilled chicken, Romaine lettuce, carrot and celery sticks, tomato, radicchio, real bacon bits, and a choice of dressings: blue cheese or ranch.  No cheese, for my lactose intolerant friends! Both meals came with a pre-packaged brownie for dessert.  My only complaints about the meal were that the chicken was dry and the white wine was bad.  Again, pre-departure drinks were served in plastic, while in-flight beverages and the meal were served in glass and real dinnerware.  Gogo Inflight Internet and television entertainment were available.  All seats in first class had the same red Delta blanket, bottled Dasani, and earbuds for the in-flight entertainment.

While in ATL, I noticed that the gate areas has the new recharging stations that Delta is installing at all hub and major airport gate areas.  At LGA, the Sky Club renovations are nearing completion.  This time, the old Northwest club side was open, with new seating and a new bar.  The club should be quite large when the old Delta section reopens.

Grade = A

Thanksgiving Travel on US Airways

Wed., Nov. 24, 2010:
US 2370 departing TRI at 1:00 PM arriving CLT at 2:02 PM CRJ Seat 4D aisle
US 1490 departing CLT at 4:11 PM arriving LGA at 6:00 PM A321 Seat 22D exit aisle (Thanks, Tad!)

Sat., Nov. 27, 2010:
US 2181 departing LGA at 4:00 PM arriving DCA at 5:16 PM E190 Seat 12C exit aisle (Snagged when I checked in Saturday)
US 3109 departing DCA at 6:30 PM arriving CLT at 7:56 PM E175 Seat 7D aisle (There are no exit rows on the E175)
US 2559 departing CLT at 10:35 PM arriving TRI at 11:31 PM CRJ Seat 4D aisle (But I moved to 3C to have a row to myself)

My trip report is very brief. All flights operated on time and arrived either early or on time, except for my LGA arrival, which was only about 15 minutes late, as the flight boarded very slowly due to many pre-boards (imagine that on Thanksgiving Eve)! All flights were full or nearly full except for the CLT-TRI late last night. The service in coach was very basic on all flights:  complimentary beverages, alcohol for sale (except the Shuttle flight, where beer and wine are complimentary), and snacks for sale, except for the legs in and out of TRI, which are beverages by request only. There is no IFE, as you know. The CLT-LGA flight had Gogo Inflight Internet for purchase, which I used. The flight attendants were efficient and professional, but not friendly. The friendliest was one on the A321, the one who sat in the jump seat facing my row. I did not receive beverage service CLT-LGA due to some turbulence and the pilots asked the flight attendants to discontinue service. I checked a bag both ways and it arrived as scheduled. First class on the shuttle was offered for $50, but I declined, as I knew beer and wine were free anyway, it’s a short flight, and I knew I was going to sit in the exit row.

I visited the LGA, CLT, and DCA clubs with my Continental Presidential Plus MasterCard/Presidents Club membership. I appreciate the quiet and free Wi Fi, but I don’t like that only certain beers and wines are free and others are for sale. The freebies included Beringer Merlot, Beringer Chardonnay, Bud, and Bud Light in the LGA club.

Grade = B+, good service, but nothing above and beyond and no in-flight amenities except Gogo Inflight Internet on one flight.

TRI-ATL-LGA Roundtrip on Delta 24-26 Sept 2010

This was a 25,000-mile award ticket and I was upgraded both ways as per Delta’s new award ticket upgrade perk for Gold and higher frequent flyers (stolen from Northwest). I checked in both directions using Delta’s new iPhone/iPod Touch app.

The flights were typical, very good. The flights between TRI and ATL are by request only service. The flight attendants both directions did come through the aisles seeing if passengers wanted or needed anything.

I discovered the first flight of my itinerary was delayed when I went to check my itinerary on delta.com. So I rushed to get ready and headed to the airport. I called Delta on my way to see if I could get on the earlier flight and I did. Just as soon as I hung up, Delta both called and e-mailed me with my changed itinerary.

On my ATL-LGA flight, I was on a refurbished Northwest 757-200 (N) 5500 series. It had the new leather seat covers, but still had the foot rests. I also had Gogo Inflight Internet, but no IFE or power. The in-flight service consisted of the snack basket and beverages only since it was after 8:00 pm.

On my return LGA-ATL, I was on one of the nicer 757-200s with the in-seat in-flight entertainment system and power ports. I also had Gogo Inflight. Service included pre-departure beverages, hot towels, lunch, and beverages.

When I landed in ATL, I had an e-mail from Delta saying my connection was delayed, so I proceeded to an agent upon deplaning and was confirmed on an earlier ATL-TRI flight.

I must say that Delta serves me very well and they do seem to be trying to improve their recent DOT ratings. They have a new ad campaign and the Red Coat customer service agents have returned.

Here are the links to their new video ads on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/user/DeltaAirLines#p/a/u/0/o2Ltz8d16kE

http://www.youtube.com/user/DeltaAirLines#p/a/u/1/lpie7-lhok8

New York LaGuardia roundtrip on Delta 17-19 Sept 2010

I bought this ticket eight days out and it was the lowest fare I’ve gotten from TRI in months, but still quite high.

I cleared both my outbound and return upgrades at my Gold Medallion window.

All in all my flights were good.  My departure from TRI and my return from LGA were both delayed, but the schedules are so padded that I still arrived either on time, or about 15 minutes late, respectively.  The flights between TRI and ATL are all “by request only”  service.  However, on the outbound to ATL, that flight attendant did absolutely nothing – no cabin walk-throughs, no exit row spiel, no trash pick-up, nothing.  The return flight attendant did all of this and passed through the cabin taking “by request” orders.  However, on that flight, I actually dozed the entire 40 minutes.

My flights between ATL and LGA were both on old NW 757-200 (N) (5500 series) aircraft.  They are very old 752s that have been in service since before 1995.  They have very small overhead bins and still have the NW cloth seats in F, cutouts in the bulkhead in the first rows of F, and a drop-down, fabric panel separating the F cabin from Y cabin.  The legroom and service on both flights were very good.  On the outbound flight, I sat beside a Delta international flight attendant and we had no Gogo Inflight Internet, so we talked the entire way.  She also gave me some drink coupons.  The service, since it was after 8:00 pm, was snack basket and beverages only.  On the return, I had a cold plate lunch (chicken wrap or Cobb salad) and beverage service. I had pre-departure beverages both directions and the seats were prepared for boarding with the small Dasani water bottles, blankets, and pillows.

Grade for all flights = A, except for the flight attendant who did nothing, F.

Roanoke to LaGuardia to Richmond to LaGuardia to Roanoke on Delta

I flew six segments in four days trying to make up some ground from the winter: June 30: ROA-ATL-LGA, July 2: LGA-RIC, July 3: RIC-LGA, and July 6: LGA-DTW-ROA. Overall the flights were good. Some of the highlights were:

*My original ROA-ATL took a delay, so I was able to rebook myself online to a later set of flights so I would not misconnect. I also retained my upgrade.

*ROA-ATL took a 20-minute hold in the air for wind shears reported in the ATL area due to storms in the vicinity. ATL-LGA took a similar residual delay from the earlier ground hold, but both flights still arrived on time.

*All of the Delta Connection flights (ROA-ATL, RIC-LGA, and DTW-ROA) had a standard beverage and complimentary snack service except for LGA-RIC. For some reason, we got the “due to the short duration” spiel. That same flight also took an ATC delay from LGA, at 9:30 am on Friday morning, July 3.  We took off an hour late after waiting in a long line to take off.  We were 16th for departure at one point.

*I had a standard meal service on the ATL-LGA flight, choice of a chicken wrap or a pasta chicken salad. We also had Gogo Inflight available.

*I flew on my first DC-9 aircraft from LGA-DTW.  It was also my first missed upgrade of 2010. The flight was completely full.  I was something like #7 of 11 on the list with one seat open. I had exit row seat 11B aisle on the two-seat side, which was fine, as it had excellent legroom. The DC-9-30 was in amazing shape on the inside and out, but it did still have the Northwest-style cloth seats. We had a beverage and snack service.  My only disappointment was that the plane was not catered with the coach BOB snack boxes, as I wanted one and I heard someone else near me ask for one. We were probably both thinking breakfast.

*My DTW-ROA flight aborted the first landing attempt at approximately 300 feet above the ground. The pilot said that a “caution light” had come on, requiring them to abort and go through a checklist before landing.

Overall score for the six flights = B+

When Beth Effect strikes

Friends jokingly call my air travel challenges the “Beth Effect,” and when I have one of those, it’s usually a doozy.  This past weekend would definitely qualify.

Friday, June 25:
I was scheduled to fly TRI-CLT-LGA on US Airways to attend the Travel Blog Exchange conference. How ironic! The ticket was a Continental mileage award redemption.  The TRI-CLT flight was uneventful. However, the next flight was the beginning of the Beth Effect. We boarded, pushed back, and started to taxi, when the pilot noticed a problem with the hydraulic system readings. We returned to the gate and spent the next two hours on board while maintenance tried to fix the problem by replacing a computer and cleaning sensor contacts. Around 8:15 pm, we were told to deplane and see an agent, as their efforts had not been successful.  Many passengers formed a line to see the gate agent, while I proceeded to a nearly empty Special Services counter, where the agent rerouted both me and my bag to a 10:09 pm departure to JFK.  The flight to JFK was fine, but upon arrival, no bag. The JFK baggage agent checked and of course, my bag was never pulled and rerouted, but sitting at LGA, most likely having remained on the LGA flight which ended up flying after all.  She filed a claim and requested delivery to my hotel in Manhattan.

Saturday, June 26:
Although my bag was sitting at LaGuardia since the evening before, it did not arrive my hotel until almost 6:00 pm.  Because I had a conference to attend, my boyfriend in Westchester County had to drive to Manhattan to bring me clothes and toiletries so I could make the afternoon sessions.

Sunday, June 27:
I tried to do online check-in for my return flights and received an error message that my reservation was “out of sync” and I needed to call US Airways Web Support.  I did, and after being on hold for about 15 minutes, the agent came back and said I needed to see an agent at LGA on Monday.  Frustrated, I contacted a supervisor friend at US Airways who was able to fix the check-in problem.

Monday, June 28:
I arrived the airport very early, so I went to the US Airways Club.  The club agent saw how late my departure was and that thunderstorms were approaching, so she tried to change my itinerary to an earlier one.  No matter what she tried, the system would not let her change anything but my LGA-BWI leg.  After doing so and calling the US Airways Help Desk, a boarding pass would not print and she kept receiving an “invalid flight” error message. She sent me to the gate and the gate agents received the same message, so they sent me to Special Services.  The agent there called US Airways Help Desk again and I was finally able to obtain a boarding pass.

The new flight to BWI was delayed to a late inbound aircraft, but we quickly boarded by 2:30 pm.   However, due to storms in the BWI area, we were subjected to a two-hour ground stop aboard our US Airways Express Dash 8 with no air conditioning.  The flight attendant did serve drinks and brought a small bag of ice to a passenger who was evidently overheated.  Once we took off, it was another hour with little to no air conditioning.  Needless to say, I was suffering from heat exhaustion when I deplaned.  I went to the restroom and accidentally left my BlackBerry there in a cosmetic bag and when I rushed back to retrieve it, someone had already taken it.

The next flight to CLT was also delayed to a late inbound aircraft.  However, we did board quickly and departed around 8:30 pm, about 35 minutes late, and arrived CLT at 9:45 pm.  My last flight to TRI was on time and uneventful.

In retrospect, there is obviously something wrong with the baggage system and issues with certain types of tickets.  It’s unacceptable that my bag was not pulled from the LGA flight and put on the JFK flight, when there was nearly a two-hour time block to do so.  It’s also unacceptable that gate/club/special services agents have to call a help desk to complete simple transactions and that agents are not empowered by the system to proactively move customers to their final destination in the most expeditious manner.