Communication, Transportation and Travelers

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You probably know the question already.

“Why have we stopped?”

The answer? Complicated.

It is no surprise that the one area that travelers consistently rate lowest when it comes to satisfaction is communication by the carriers. The whole process of keeping people informed about delays, detours and cancellations manages to inflame tempers around the world.

For example, after Saturday’s horrific short landing at San Francisco International Airport of Asiana flight 214, it was a real challenge for passengers to find out much of anything. I am not discussing the flight in point, but what was going on with the rest of the airport. Admittedly, the airport was closed. And as much of an inconvenience it was, that fact was pretty simple. Sadly, that meant that no one would be flying in or out of SFO. Until things were resolved to the point that it was determined to be safe enough to open runways to traffic. Incoming flights were diverted to Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento. I have even heard some flights were diverted to Los Angeles, just to be safe.

The good thing, if anything good could be said to come out of the incident, was that there were only 2 fatalities. The toll certainly could have been much higher. Give kudos to the crew aboard and the first responders who made the difference in getting everyone off the aircraft.

Yet…

I had my own little adventure while flying home from a visit to Anaheim late last month, June 25 to be precise. As usual, we were flying Jet Blue out of Long Beach (great new terminal) to Oakland. Thanks to the schedule, we were flying out on a departure at 8:50 pm. A fairly full flight, last of the night. About the time we usually begin the descent into Oakland, we noted that we had begun circling instead. Our pilot came on the intercom and advised us that Oakland had weather issues along with some equipment problems. Those should have cleared up in about 30 minutes. That was the good news.

The bad news? Our plane only had 20 minutes of extra fuel. And we were number 40 in line. This meant we would be diverting to either San Francisco or San Jose. (The plane was continuing on to Washington D.C. (Dulles) and would be fully fueled in Oakland.)

Sure enough, we diverted into San Jose. Once on the ground there it took a bit to get to a gate. As we sat, we wondered what lay ahead. It was explained that if you chose to leave the aircraft, you would be required to surrender your boarding pass; you would not be allowed back on the aircraft; and your checked baggage would continue on to Oakland – it would not be taken off in San Jose. We also waited for the fuel truck to give us enough gas to get to Oakland.

Finally, we left the gate. But then we sat for at least another 20 minutes on the taxi way, waiting for paperwork to be signed so we could leave. Long story short, we were supposed to arrive into Oakland at 10 pm. We got there about 12:30 am.

I give the crew at Jet Blue credit for keeping us informed. When they had information they could share, they told us. As for what happened in Oakland? A mystery. No “official” word, but it appears that the approach lights on the usual runway were inoperative. We landed on an auxiliary field at Oakland, normally used by cargo and general aviation flights. Nothing in the media explained the problems. With at least 40 flights effected, you might have expected something to be reported somewhere. But silence…

Out of over 50 flights I have made over the years, I can count on one hand those that were delayed. Only this one was detoured. Lucky, I guess?

Now on all of the train trips I have taken, way too many have been delayed. As we say, late trains become only one thing. Later.

And thanks to the fact that I often have access to listen in to the radio communications between the train crew and the railroad dispatchers, I often know why we are delayed. My favorite was a long delay caused by tumbleweeds on the tracks. (They caused freight trains to slip their wheels in climbing a long hill, resulting in delays for all the trains including Amtrak behind them.) However, had I not had my radio to listen in or had other communications by the railroad relayed to me, I would never have known what caused the problems.

My advice? Check with your carrier. Always. A look online or a phone call before you leave home gives you a “heads up” to any potential problems that you might encounter. Take that time to learn what lies ahead. Save the headaches for something else. But, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If a crew can tell you what they know, they will. Just don’t be a pest.

And if things happen along the way? What can I say other than just roll with it. Travel can be an adventure.

Just hope it is not an adventure every time you head out the door.

Posted in Ruminations, Travel | Leave a comment

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