Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lemons and flight cancellations

I have discussed earlier my experience in two flight cancellations with Delta. Here are my other observations.

1. In my original itinerary of 9 flights (or 9 boarding passes) from Manila to the US and back, Delta was on time in 8 out of 8 flights, up to my Atlanta to Narita flight. So Delta was doing well in serving its passengers.

2. Delta crew did not explain clearly to us passengers what went wrong with the plane when our Atlanta-Narita flight turned back and landed in Minneapolis. I think we were already over Canada-Alaska border when it made a U-turn. Upon landing at Minneapolis airport, I knew there was some mechanical trouble as I saw at least 2 firetrucks and 2 ambulances with sirens blaring that seemed to be waiting for us.

3. I heard from some fellow passengers that they heard from some crew, that the plane won’t fly high. I also thought that if airport controllers in Narita would know that the plane has some mechanical trouble, they may not allow the plane to land as any accident on the runway will directly affect its very busy airport, with lot of planes landing and taking off.

4. For our overnight stay in Minneapolis last May 23, Delta spent the following:
a) hotel, perhaps $150 (with breakfast)
b) dinner voucher, $12/passenger
c) overnight kit (t-shirt, toothbrush/toothpaste, hairbrush, etc.)
d) coupon discount of $100/passenger if we purchase another Delta plane ticket in the future.

For me, it was a good arrangement. Lucky that I have no important activity to do in Manila the next day after my scheduled arrival.

5. The next day on our new flight, Minneapolis to Narita, Delta did not assign enough staff at the check-in and boarding area. Our scheduled flight that day was 11 am. We arrived at the airport 9am, after some security check, we started queuing at gate G4, departure lounge. The line was long. Earlier, there were only 3 or 4 Delta staff processing the issuance of new boarding passes. About 10:20am, they added 1 or 2 more staff as the line was still long and boarding should have started already. I got my new boarding pass around 10:40am (or I queued for 1 ½ hrs), they added a 6th staff then. All in all, our plane left the gate around 1pm, 2 hours delayed.

6. Minneapolis-Atlanta flight, zero hitch. Delta crew reiterated their apologies for our delayed flight. They pampered us with lots of drinks, so long as you request from them. For instance, I got two extra cans of beer, instead of just one. One lady requested several glasses of red wine, she got drunk. She got naughty, touching other people’s hair, I saw she even touched the butt of one female crew. I saw one tall black guy watching at her. Later, the crew transferred her to another seat and another black guy, this time much bigger, occupied her seat. When she returned to her seat, the man kept watching at her. I assume that those 2 guys and perhaps more, are US marshals who guard each international flight of US airlines.

7. Horror and dismay resumed when we landed at Narita. We queued once again, to get a new boarding pass to Manila. There was already a notice that Delta flight to Manila is over-booked as the flight to Manila the previous day was cancelled. The plane that came from Atlanta was supposed to be the plane that will go to Manila. This time though, lots of confusion and discontent happened.

8. Delta prioritized those who were stranded the previous day in Narita. For us Manila-bound passengers from Minneapolis who just arrived, Delta booked us to several airlines. Some chose to get Delta flight two days later, others were accommodated in Delta flight the next day.

9. Delta at first showed some insensitivity. They wanted us to take Singapore Airlines’ 6:40pm (5:40pm Singapore time), Narita-Singapore flight, arrive Singapore 1:15am, then take Singapore Air’s 5:45am Singapore-Manila flight. They gave that boarding pass to me. Whaaatttt???? After almost 12 hours of Minneapolis-Narita flight, 2 hours queuing at Narita airport, take another 7 ½ hrs flight to Singapore, then stay for 3-4 hrs at Singapore airport, then take 4 hours flight to Manila? That’s a very tiring trip.

10. I and many other Filipino passengers protested at such plan, they gave us that itinerary and boarding pass without consulting us first if we would like that kind of plan. Later the Delta staff in Narita, about 7 of them, all Japanese, rebooked us. Some were to take JAL, Singapore air, or PAL the next day. The plan to book us at PAL seemed to be a last choice for Delta. It prioritized Singapore Air despite the lousy and long flight. From Japan, fly overhead Manila to land at Singapore, then fly again to go to Manila, really not a wise plan.

11. My (and other Filipino passengers’) total queuing time at Delta’s connecting flight station in Narita was 3 hours. Later we filled up the Japan immigration form as we will get a “shore pass” visa, get out of the airport, and go to Radisson Hotel in Chiba, not far from the airport.

One will experience fatigue in various queuing, transfer to a hotel, check out of the hotel and go back to the airport. That’s lemon. The only consolation is that I have checked-in in two hotels (Embassy Suites in Minnesota, then Radisson Hotel in Chiba) for free, got out of Minnesota and Narita airports for the first time, and I saw Japan on the ground again. That’s making lemonade out of lemons .

The fist and last time I set foot on Japan outside of its airport was in 2004, in Nagoya, when our Nagoya-Manila evening flight was cancelled as it was too late for the airport to allow our plane to take off by midnight.

12. Delta put us in business class in PAL for our Narita-Manila flight, wow! I enjoyed the wide space, lots of food, drink and music.

13. When we arrived yesterday in Manila via PAL (terminal 2), the first thing we looked for was our bag/s that we checked-in at Atlanta airport. PAL airport staff said we should go to terminal 1 where Delta lands. At terminal 1 baggage release section, we could not find our bags! We went to Delta office at the 4th floor. The staff there were friendly and helpful, but they are helpless in locating our bags either. I was told that they traced my bag and it’s still in Singapore airport. They gave us their office number and told us to call the next day, hoping that 2 Delta flights from Narita would bring our bags.

14. Today, I called up Delta operations office at terminal 1. Hard to make a call as the numbers were always busy. They should be swamped by various callers from previously stranded flights. When the phone was later picked up, I was told by a young helpful lady staff that my bag is still in Singapore. Now I figure it out: when Delta staff in Narita gave me my boarding pass of that lousy itinerary with Singapore Air which I rejected, the ground crew may have already loaded my bag to that Singapore Air plane.

So I will call again tomorrow and hope that I will finally get my bag.

Many people think that being a “jet-setter” is a wonderful experience. Yes sir, it is. But when you encounter flight delays, if not flight cancellations, you become helpless, you get tired, you become desperate to get the next closest flight that can bring you to your final destination.

In my case, I could make a lemonade out of lemons that came my way. For other passengers though, like the Filipina-American guy couple who only had 7 days stay in Manila then fly back to the US, a delayed arrival of almost 3 days + further delay in getting their check-in bags, it’s a big loss.

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