And why am I not in Paris right now? I'm glad you asked because I am going to vent at United Airlines.
I went to the Quad City Airport in Moline on Sunday to catch a connecting flight to Chicago O'Hare so I could get on an overnight flight to Paris Charles De Gaulle. On the way out to the airport, I got a text from United telling me that due to a late arriving plane, my flight to Chicago would be delayed by 50 minutes. Now, I only had a 70 minute layover in Chicago to begin with. I knew I was in trouble even before I checked in for my flight at Moline.
When I went to the United counter, I asked the service agent if I was going to have any trouble in Chicago. He looked at my boarding passes and said, "Oh, yeah. You're going to have BIG trouble in Chicago."
I knew there was an American Airlines flight that was supposed to take off about the same time to Chicago and I asked if I could get on that flight. "Unfortunately, that flight, too, is delayed. Mechanical issues," he said as he was typing into his computer. Then he said, "And, unfortunately, there is only one flight a day to Paris from Chicago on United."
He explained that he could get me in to Paris on Tuesday. By then, I started to do the calculations in my head. I was going for three days of trainings and meetings starting at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. I was meeting a colleague who was flying in from Montreal for the meetings and Monday was going to be spent getting acclimated to the seven hour time difference. The flight would have landed in Paris at 9:25 a.m. and that's 1:25 a.m. body time. The rule of thumb is to try to stay up as long as you can on long flights east so your body will get more quickly acclimated to the time change. I'm always a zombie on the first day I'm in Europe and my body still feels it on the second day.
I figured that I could probably make the flight on Monday night - driving into Chicago and not having to worry if United would delay me again getting out of Moline. But then I remembered - I was going to fly back from Paris to St. Louis to meet up with friends for baseball games this coming weekend. I couldn't drive into Chicago on Monday.
I asked my wife to come into the the airport when I got there because I didn't know if I would be flying out or going back home. It was 3:15 in the afternoon and I thought about just having her drive me to O'Hare. It's about a two and a half hour drive to O'Hare from the Quad Cities. The agent at the counter said, "That's fine, but the only problem is that you'll have to be checked in one hour before your flight." Another quick mental calculation and I determined that wasn't going to be enough time.
I asked about Delta flights and he said, "Well, I can get you to Atlanta or Detroit, but you'd be stuck there for the night. And they wouldn't be able to get you out any sooner than tomorrow night."
Cursing United Airlines under my breath, but loud enough for a 60-ish lady standing near me to give me the evil eye, I told the agent to cancel my ticket. With a quick keystroke, he said, "Done! Sorry for your inconvenience, sir." He did give me an 800 number that I had to call to get the full refund on my ticket with instructions that it was a delay that caused the overall cancellation. (Fortunately, getting the full refund went off without a hitch.)
Now, I'm an anxious air traveler. Oh, I like to fly and I know that air travel is one of the safest ways to get around. My anxiety stems from not having full control of the situation, mainly getting through airports and getting on the plane and having it leave - on time. Delayed flights are my biggest fear, missing my flight altogether is right up there, as well. I'm a mental wreck for days before I'm supposed to be flying somewhere. I've been that way for years and it's never gotten any better. You'd think that I'd be used to it - especially flying United almost exclusively over the past few years.
United has been the worst - for me - in terms of delayed or canceled flights. I looked it up and found that seven of the last night flights I'd had with United had either been delayed or canceled. I have been delayed or canceled twice out of Montreal due to mechanical issues. I was cancelled out of Moline going to Denver last September because the door wouldn't properly shut on the plane. My flight from Moline to Las Vegas connecting through Denver last January was delayed three hours because they couldn't start the plane. I got lucky - if you call it that - because the flight between Denver and Las Vegas was also delayed so I was able to make that flight, but I was two hours late getting into Vegas. Inbound delays for planes have delayed me out of Moline and Chicago.
Yesterday, my friend Tom Kirkendall - who runs the wonderful blog site Houston's Clear Thinkers (and one of the people I leaned on for advice for starting Road Tips nearly 10 years ago) - sent me this article from the Wall Street Journal outlining problems United has experience since absorbing Continental Airlines nearly 4 years ago. While United has been floundering, Delta has gotten past its speed bumps after absorbing Northwest and passenger complaints have gone down considerably. The article pretty much summed up my growing frustration with United.
Right now, I'm almost indentured to United - I have nearly 50,000 miles racked up going toward a free trip to Hawaii for my wife and I sometime next year. The trip to France and subsequent planned business trips would have helped get closer to my goal of 80,000 miles that I'll need to have for both of us to go, but won't have to buy any miles out of pocket. But at this point, I'm so down on United that I don't even want to take the free miles they've given me over the past four or five years.
I had been an American Airlines traveler for a number of years. I first became a frequent flyer on TWA, but when they were swallowed up by American a few years ago I had all my miles switched to that airline. Once again, I felt indentured to American because I was racking up points. But delays and the fact that American no longer flew from Moline to St. Louis was the biggest reason why I quit using them once we went to Hawaii four years ago. I went to United exclusively and even though I don't fly as much as my colleagues do, I still managed to get a lot of miles pretty quickly.
It looks like I'm going to start flying Delta. Their flights go to Minneapolis, Detroit or Atlanta before going on to wherever I need to get to. It's not as convenient as flying through O'Hare or Denver, but the hassle factor seems to be a little lower in terms of delays and cancellations. But just like any airline, Delta also has its detractors. I guess I'm just gonna have to find out for myself.
I'll reschedule my Paris trip to sometime later in the summer. And that sucks. I was worn down with anxiety running up to the flight that was canceled on Sunday. The thing I'm most pissed off about right now is the fact that I wanted to get this trip over and done with. I'll have to go through the whole emotional and mental cycle again later on this summer.
Thanks again, United.