Home Airlines What It’s Like To Travel During An Operational Meltdown

What It’s Like To Travel During An Operational Meltdown

by joeheg

I spent much of the weekend reading messages on Twitter about what a disaster it was flying to/from Orlando, or any Florida airport. However, I didn’t have to read about it to know the problems of the past weekend. I was stuck smack dab in the middle of the chaos.

Fortunately, we missed the worst-case scenario as we eventually got to our destination and made it home. However, several times, we weren’t so sure that would be the case.

Our long weekend started on Thursday evening. After work, we headed to the airport, grabbing some food on the way. Before leaving the house, TripIt and JetBlue showed that our flight was leaving on time at 9:17 PM.

At the time, thunderstorms were blowing through Central Florida while a massive storm system was blowing through the Northeastern US. The departure list at MCO was a field of red, showing delayed and canceled flights.

I knew what to do when a flight might be delayed due to weather. We got through security and headed to the Club MCO. With so many flights delayed, they were at capacity. It took 40 minutes to get a text that there was space for us.

We grabbed some snacks and charged all of our devices, already knowing that this would be a long night. I started stalking FlightAware, one of my must-have travel apps. I saw that our plane was still on the way to Orlando from Boston but was delayed due to weather.

At 9:40, JetBlue finally officially delayed our flight from a 9:17 to 9:54 departure. At this point, the club was closing, so we found seats at the gate. As the delays mounted, our plane arrived but wasn’t allowed to leave because of traffic delays due to the storms at JFK. Departure time was pushed to 10:24, with no idea of when we’d actually be leaving. At this point, several passengers gave up and went to the desk to get flights for the next morning.

I went to FlightAware and looked for the flight history and saw that in the past 14 days, this flight had left as late as 11:30 PM. That means it would be possible for the crew not to time out before that departure time. If we went any later, I was sure the flight would be canceled.

As it got later in the evening, I started to think about what would happen if we’d have to take a flight the next morning. If we were flying out early, it wouldn’t make sense to drive back home, so I started to look for nearby hotels. That’s when we got our next update – our flight would now leave at 11:35 PM. Shortly after receiving this update, the gate announced we would start boarding immediately as our ground stop was removed and we were cleared to fly to JFK. I felt bad for the people who switched flights just before the announcement.

We boarded quickly because the plane was only 2/3 full. Sharon and I had a row to ourselves. We still had to wait to take off from MCO but our flight time was only 2 hours and we landed at JFK shortly after 2 AM. We walked to the taxi stand at Terminal 5 and hailed a cab to Manhattan. After checking in at our hotel, we got to our room around 3:30 AM.

We had no plans until the next evening, so we didn’t set an alarm and slept till noon. Sure, we were fortunate that we didn’t have something to do the next morning or were worried that we’d miss an important meeting or family event.

I was also fortunate that I knew how to search the flight history, to find out where our plane was and the weather situation at both airports and the delays for both incoming and outgoing flights.

We ended up having two days in Manhattan and even had a decent afternoon to check out The Highline Park.

We were fortunate in that we were flying home on Sunday because severe storms blew across Florida on Saturday and caused major disruptions to flights.

In fact, to make up for the problems the day before, JetBlue canceled or delayed 45% of flights to Orlando on Friday and Saturday,

We were fortunate enough to be on one of the “delayed” and not “canceled” flights.

Once again, JetBlue and FlightAware told me our flight was on time as we left our hotel to take the subway to JFK. It was only when I looked for our incoming plane that I saw it still hadn’t left Orlando.

It wasn’t until 11:23 AM that the airline alerted us that our 1:59 PM departure would be delayed until 2:39. With no weather delays at either airport, I can’t figure out why a plane from MCO was delayed by 2 hours, if not for lack of a crew to operate it.

As we approached the boarding time, gate lice appeared. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that we didn’t have a plane at the gate and even when it arrived, they’d have to unload the passengers, clean the plane and do their checks before any passengers would board.

JetBlue eventually pushed the departure time to 2:59 and eventually 3:19. Of course, I knew this was coming but I’d wager that 90% of the people on the plane were left wondering what was happening.

We ended up only having a 90 minute delay from JFK. Better than the 2-hour delay on our way to NYC at midnight.

What did I learn from our trip this weekend? If you’re going to be traveling anytime this spring or summer, pack plenty of patience and some flexibility for good measure. No airline or airport is immune from the strains that airlines and air traffic control systems are under at the moment due to limited staffing.

We got to New York in time to see what we wanted to see and made it back to Orlando for me to get back to job #1 for Monday. Until things normalize, we’re going to pad our travel plans with plenty of space on both ends just in case there are any hiccups along the way.

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