Sharon and I have experienced this situation on two separate occasions, so I’m sharing it with everyone. Not knowing that this type of flight change is possible can result in missing your flight and needing to be rebooked hours to days later than you intended to travel.
What am I talking about when I say a flight can be un-delayed? Well, I’m sure there’s a more technically accurate term for this, but I’m not an expert, just a regular passenger. It’s easiest to explain by showing what happened to us on a flight in 2019 from Orlando to New York – LaGuardia on American Airlines.
For various reasons, I don’t like to take late flights. There’s a whole day where a single delay can cascade through the airline schedule, throwing off multiple flights. However, at the time American only had one direct flight from Orlando to New York and it left at 7:43 PM.
With a flight time later in the day, we’re able to work on things around the house in the morning before dropping off Dobby the Poodle at “camp” (the kennel). We’re then able to pack when she’s out of the house (She has a thing about suitcases. Doesn’t like them.). We had all of that done by early afternoon, bags packed by the door and thinking about where we were going to stop for linner (lunch/dinner) before heading to the airport.
At 2:39 PM, I received the first notification from American Airlines:
At the time, a late-season snowstorm was hitting the Chicago area.
I tracked our flight using the FlightAware app and found our plane was flying from Chicago to New York – JFK before Orlando. Combine the weather delay in Chicago with the runway delays at JFK due to construction and you have the perfect storm for late day delays or even cancellations.
I give American Airlines credit with the advance notice about the delay. There’s not much to do at Orlando Airport late in the day so I’d rather sit at home for an extra hour than at an airport gate watching TV.
Then at 3:52 PM, I received the next message:
Ugh! A 9:55 PM departure time would mean we wouldn’t get into LaGuardia until after 12:30AM. We’d still need to get a ride into Manhattan so sleep wasn’t going to happen until 2AM. That is, if we didn’t sleep on the plane, which was now almost certain.
Sharon ended up taking a quick nap while I worked on some things for the website. Then at 6 PM, I received another email. I figured this one would be where they cancel the flight.
Our flight went from being delayed for 2+ hours to leaving on time. They sent this message 105 minutes before the flight is due to leave.
Turns out, American swapped out planes and decided to put us on an aircraft that was already parked at Orlando for the night.
“Wake Up Sharon, We need to leave. NOW!!!”
Forget about a leisurely dinner before heading to the airport. I grabbed our bags and threw them in the car. Thankfully this was a short trip so we were only bringing carry on bags. We decided to park at the airport terminal parking, instead of off-site, to save some time. TSA Checkpoints at Orlando can be horrible but since we have TSA Precheck and CLEAR, I wasn’t worried about long lines at security.
With a little bit of accelerated driving to the airport, luck with finding a great parking spot and breezing through security, we were at our gate 50 minutes after leaving our house. Boarding was due to start in 15 minutes, which was just enough time to grab a burger to eat on the plane, and relax as we made it to the plane on time.
We sat at the gate past the boarding time. And sat. And then:
While we rushed to the airport for our plane, the new plane had no crew. Kudos to the American agents working the gate who constantly updated us. The first delay was because the flight crew just landed at Orlando and the flight attendants were in route from their hotel.
The second delay was because no one from American bothered to notify the crew at the hotel that the flight time had changed, so they were still at the hotel but we were told, “they’re definitely on their way now.”
When they arrived, the waiting crowd gave them a round of applause as they walked to the gate. We all wanted to get on our way.
The captain’s announcement after boarding was the best. To paraphrase him:
Hi there. Thanks for flying American. I was supposed to be staying in Orlando tonight but then I was told I’m going to New York. I don’t know what happened to your flights today or why you’re delayed. Anyway, thanks for your patience. I guess we’ll get on our way to New York. Again, thanks for flying American.
I give American credit for proactive flight alerts. I received them at the same time as the alerts from TripIt with my TripIt Pro service, which didn’t used to be the case. The problem is that the system is almost too good. People rely on technology to plan their lives. If you tell me my flight is going to be two hours late, I’m going to adjust my schedule accordingly. If you’re a casual flyer (and most of the people on a flight from Orlando to New York are leisure travelers), you’re not going to have the luxury of rushing to the airport if you’re still at the pool when the alert comes in that your flight is back on schedule.
Given, there is this vague disclaimer on American’s email notification:
Please note that times and locations are subject to change.
What could they do differently? Maybe an asterisk at the bottom saying that American is still working to try to get your flight to have an on-time departure and you are expected to be at the airport for the time of the original flight in the case they are able to make that happen. Would that make people happier or more upset? Knowing I have to be at the airport on time just to wait for 2 hours because American (or any other airline) can’t decide what time my flight is going to leave is not going to bring me joy.
I’m sure there are people who don’t get alerts like I do and just showed up at the airport, only to see the flight was delayed. For them, American switching planes and cutting what could have been a two-hour delay to a one hour delay is a huge win.
I’d say, just know when you get a flight notice about a delay, it might not actually happen. Plan on getting to the airport for an on-time departure but be ready to wait out the delay. Here’s an instance where having access to a lounge at the airport really comes in handy. It’s just a pity we don’t currently have access to the American lounge.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary