This is Part II of Justine’s account of Delta flight 416 (see Part I here). As a frequent flyer, I know that many people are reading this thinking they have worse tales of woe. (I remember an overnight at Athens Airport because Delta had to fly in a widget from Atlanta – they couldn’t find this widget in all of Europe?). It is also a given that passengers must understand that weather, especially winter weather, can cause delays and cancellations. Having said that, it sure seems like the delays and stress of Flight 416 were compounded by the airline’s handling of the matter. A case perhaps of one snafu after another or a lesson in “what not to do”? And now, without further adieu, part II in Justine’s words:
This post continues the story of Delta flight 416, scheduled to depart JFK for Dakar, Senegal at 9.18pm on Saturday February 15, 2014. Read Part Ito understand why at around 5am the next morning – about the time the plane was due in Dakar – its passengers are instead disembarking at JFK.
Act II. We get off at B22 about 5am. I am on the verge of nixing the trip and going home, with a do-over at a later date. But Delta is keeping our bags on the plane for an 8am departure. Another passenger points out that it’s only another three hours. And if I choose to leave, I probably can’t claim on my travel insurance for my losses (visas, prepaid hotels, Senegal-Gambia-Senegal plane tickets). Many tired and angry people are at the podium. When the printer spitting out the $10 meal vouchers runs out of paper, one passenger quips that Delta can’t even get paper right. Laughter all around. I head back to the Wingtips Lounge to stay awake until I see gate B22 again.
Flight 416 is no longer listed on the airport’s departure screens, so I return to B22 before 7am for the 8am scheduled departure. You guessed it: another delay, as we don’t yet have a new crew. Now a new estimated departure time of 12pm. In seeing a Delta pilot in the airport, I blurt out, “Please fly us to Dakar!” I and a fellow passenger start fantasizing about ambushing pilots for our flight.
On my third trip to the Wingtips Lounge, I have a shower. I am a New Yorker. I should never, ever have to stay overnight – or shower – at JFK. Was the last time I pulled an all-nighter when I was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer many years ago? Back then, I was paid a pretty penny for doing so. This time, I am paying Delta a pretty penny for the endurance experience. And losing vacation time. This rankles. Just a bit.
Friends are following The Delta Debacle in my Facebook posts. One writes: “Out of morbid curiosity, I just looked up your flight on delta.com. The JFK-DKR flight ‘Yesterday’ bears the status of ‘Past Schedule.’ Which has, I think, a certain existentialist quality to it.”
Shortly after 10am: Do I attach any credence to Delta’s scheduled 12pm departure and go back to B22 by the recommended time of 10.30am? Or stay longer to look at the view from the Wingtips Lounge? If I leave the lounge, will I be consigned to wander Tom Hanks-style forever in Terminal 4? I check the Delta app. Now scheduled for 2.30pm with a 2.54am arrival into Dakar. No texts yet from Delta, so I call Delta to verify this information. A 17 minute wait time. Forgeddaboutit. I update other Dakar refugees in the lounge. One man – with his sleeping wife next to him and two young children playing on iPads – says, “I’ve flown more than two million miles and I’ve never seen anything like this.” I commiserate: “Senegal is country #79 for me, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
I get “prison leave” from the Wingtips Lounge reception to go to B22 to verify that the new departure time is 2.30pm, not 12pm.
At the gate, I ask an agent: “That plane’s been ready to go since yesterday morning, right? It was in the hangar all yesterday, wasn’t it?” Agent: “Yes. But lots of factors go into delays.” At which point I maintain a diplomatic silence (aided by sheer exhaustion).
I check out of the Wingtips Lounge (again) when the estimated departure time is 3pm. There is an argument at the podium between a passenger and an agent about who owns a Chase pen, and threats to call security. Time for a new rule: Only one call to security per flight. No matter how long the flight delay.
The new crew arrives. Passengers clap.
We finally board. Again. The pilot leaves the plane. We hope not for long. I ask a cabin attendant if he has been briefed on this flight’s troubles and the associated tension. He assures me he has. So he knows what he’s up against. The pilot returns. The man next to me says, “He went to buy light bulbs. Should we be worried?” By now, I have been awake well over 30 hours.
We take off for Dakar about 4pm Sunday, after an airline experience that I hope never, ever to repeat.