aka "A belated Thanksgiving tale of airlines woes"
Remember a couple of years ago when the Northwest Airlines' antics in Detroit made the COVER of "The Wall Street Journal"? Well, here's an update on how little they've improved. My mother booked herself and me on a round-trip flight on Northwest from Philly, to a small town in Michigan, Ravenna -- near Muskegon -- to visit my 93 year old grandmother for Thanksgiving. Our flights were for Thursday morning, and Monday afternoon.
My luggage lost before we got to Muskegon. After too much time trying to figure out what went wrong, it turns out that when I checked in at Philly, the Northwest agent who had my ticket and i.d. IN HER HAND put a luggage tag on my bag for a different passenger (an Elizabeth Read, it seems) who was only going to Detroit. Airport Security, anyone? As a result, the luggage only went to Detroit. That was bad enough. The folks working the desk in Muskegon eventually figured out the problem, and assured me that my luggage would be flown in ... but no one put it on any flights for the rest of the day! That was worse -- especially because I have medication I'm supposed to take every morning, and I'd TOLD them that, and since the first flight in on Friday wasn't until noon, I was going to have to miss it.
I guess I could have verified that the luggage slip with my ticket had my name on it -- if I'd *known* that they printed names on luggage slips (I thought it was just ID numbers) -- but I don't know how much that would have helped given that the erring agent chucked the bag down the chute before returning the paper trail to me. I guess my 'failure' to know this justifies all my free time on Thanksgiving going towards trying to find out if my bags were finally in Muskegon. We were given one phone number that failed to work, and another with no options for people without touch-tone phones (which excludes my grandmother), and stuck talking to the newly hired employee in Muskegon who admitted that she'd no idea on how to get anything accomplished.
But, after a couple calls on Friday morning, it seems the luggage *did* arrive in the afternoon while my mom & aunt dragged me out shopping. Unfortunately, and FAR worse was that Northwest lied to the contractor who delivers the lost luggage. As a result the contractor (who has visited grandma's house several times over the years for similar reasons) found my grandma at home alone, and repeated the lie to her: "It was her [my] fault the luggage was lost because she abandoned it in Detroit".
MY fault? Do they mean because THEY mistagged the bag while HOLDING my ID and ticket?!?! When I heard this, I grew yet more pissed with Northwest. Luckily, the vacation itself was great, because the return trip was a complete disaster.
For our return trip on Monday afternoon, there was a light snow falling, but the roads were good and the sky was bright. There was a delay in our plane *leaving* Detroit, so it was going to be delayed in picking us up, then flying *back* to Detroit. Okay, so we check at the front desk about whether we can make our connection, and are assured we can because the flight to Philly is also running 20 minutes late. Since we're back in line to do this, I ask if I can sit in the Exit row to get more leg room. As this is accomplished, and the new ticket prints out, we hear an announcement that our plane will be another 30 minutes late -- which would leave us with just 17 minutes to make it to the delayed Philly plane. So.... the agent leaves our original reservations in place, but *also* books us on the next flight to Philly -- or so we *think*.
We get to the Detroit airport around 4:30 pm, and expect that we've missed the 3:30 flight to Philly. But no! It is still here! The delay has been extended 1.5 hours! We rush over to join the throng waiting to board. Whew! We made it! The visibility outside isn't great, and it is getting dark, but there is very little snow. Maybe an inch or two. It seems odd that we're so delayed over such a minor bit of weather. Still there's nothing we can do about it, so we wait.
Every 20 minutes, they announce an additional delay, until around 6pm, the original flight is 'delayed' until Tuesday morning. My mother is unable to miss work on Tuesday, so we rush to see if we can catch the 2nd flight to Philly, which is also running late, and still on the ground. We make it to that gate, present the information the agent in Muskegon gave, and find that she had NOT booked us both on this flight -- she'd only booked my mother. She'd put me on a third flight that wasn't due to leave until 9pm! My mother and I worry about how I'm going to get home so late at night. She's got her husband to pick her up (and he's already waiting for us in the Philly airport -- we we're supposed to have LANDED by now), but she doesn't think they can hang around all night. I tell her not to worry; things will work out. I ask to be put on stand-by for the 2nd flight, and am 24th on their list. Crossing fingers, we wait.
Heh. What 'works out' is that there is no crew to fly the 2nd plane. Again, every 20 minutes or so, they back up the 'delay' a little further, until they finally CANCEL the 2nd flight. Now there are two plane loads of passengers trying to get to Philly, and we all rush over to the 3rd flight's gate where *it's* passengers await the 9pm departure. By now it is after 8pm, and neither of us has eaten since breakfast. I ask my mom if I can get her something, but she doesn't want to either of us to leave the gate and miss the plane. She's on standby. I have a seat. I plan on giving her my seat if she can't get one, and I've told her so, but she still doesn't want to move from the spot. She's tired and worried, and feels bad for her husband who's been waiting for us in Philly for almost 4 hours. So....we wait.
And of course, they keep delaying the departure time, and by 9:30, I've already wandered over to the 4th flight to Philly, and asked for us to be put on the stand-by list. We're 71st and 72nd in the standby queue. Uhg. When they cancel the 3rd flight, and 3 plane-fulls of people join the 4th plane full of people at the gate of the final flight to Philly, I confront my mom with this idea: there's a delayed plane going to Newark NJ -- two hours from our homes. There are available, unsold seats on that flight, where as on the 4th flight to Philly, we're stuck Waaayyyy down the standby list. She calls her husband (again) and asks if he'd be willing to drive two hours out of his way. He sighs and points out that while *we've* been bumping from one cancelled plane to the next, he's been sitting in Philly watching ALL OTHER PLANES FROM DETROIT COME IN TO PHILLY. *Only* Northwest is screwing with its passengers.
So we were going to go to Newark, NJ. This flight was ALSO delayed (we were supposed to leave Detroit @ 3:30pm, and were still there at 10pm), *but* the delay for the Newark flight was needing a total of 6 flight attendants when only 4 were there. They'd called in stand-by staff, and those folks agreed, but (as one announcement told us) were stuck behind an accident on the highway. The extra two bodies eventually made it through the highway congestion and we got on the plane. Yay!
THEN we waited some more on the runway. It took an hour to get the plane de-iced. Finally made the 1.5 hour trip to Newark.
During all this time, and even with the flight attendants, we were not given ANYTHING to help ease the strain. We didn't even get peanuts or sodas. Not even during the flight. While I understand that the primary function of attendants is to control the passengers in the event of an emergency, they generally DO serve sodas/juice, and there seemed no excuse for the failure. The plane wasn't close to full.
We made it to Newark, but Of COURSE we had no luggage. We got in around 1AM, and could not find a human to ask in the luggage area, then also couldn't get back to the gate because security was closed. By then, it was past 1:30AM, and we were all exhausted -- especially mom's husband, who'd worked most the day, then drove 1 hour to the Philly airport, then drove another hour back home to let the dog out (who'd been holding it from 6:30AM to 10PM), then drove 2 hours up to Newark, and now had to drive 2 hours back home. I volunteered to drive, but he refused.
Got to my mom's house, picked up the dog, and then drove another half hour home. It was 4AM, and I still had to do the pet chores. Uhg! I got all the essentials covered, and had no time nor energy for other stuff, and collapsed around 4:30.
I woke at 9:30, called work, explained the situation and asked for the day off, but they needed me in, so I came in VERY late (10:30) instead of taking another vacation day.
Let me stress that during all the hours of running from one airport gate to the next, Northwest gave us NOTHING. They claimed it to be the fault of inclimate weather, *BUT* while mom's husband was waiting for us in Philly, he saw every United Airlines flight come from Detroit while ours were all cancelled. So.... it seems like the weather wasn't so much to blame as the airline. Grrrr.
So on Tuesday, I fixed up the critical error, and tried calling Northwest about the missing luggage. I'd had little sleep, much stress, no meds (again), and just wanted to know where the hell our stuff was. This was especially important to me because I'd picked up presents for a toys-for-tots program for kids with AIDS (through Leake and Watts). After 3 phone calls, I got the number to the Northwest baggage claim line in Philadelphia. It was busy. By putting the number on auto-redial, I was able to get a ring around 11:30AM. This connected me to a message saying they couldn't take my call, and to leave a message. I did. By 3pm, I'd heard no reply, so I tried calling again, couldn't get through, went to the web site, filled out a form, and eventually left a SECOND message just before 5pm.
No replies. My mom reported a similar experience trying to contact Northwest. No replies, no information, no way to track, no way to fill out a missing bag claim.
Finally, around 7pm I got in the car, and drove the hour to the airport luggage area. I wanted to report the problem to someone -- ANYONE. The luggage area was void of Northwest employees -- just some passengers lingering around -- *but* lo and behold, there's this big pile of luggage lying on the floor for anyone to take! I had my ticket and luggage slip, but not my mom's. I briefly wondered if anyone would stop me if I happened to find our things, but quickly realized no one was THERE to stop me. After about 15 minutes, I found our bags in the massive pile, and walked off with them. No one cared. Drove to my mom's, gave her the bags, and she reconfirmed that Northwest was STILL being completely unresponsive.
On Wednesday at 2pm, Northwest FINALLY called. They said that they'd HAD my luggage, and were wondering if I'd picked it up. I considered lying and freaking out over losing it, but I couldn't muster the energy to be that mean. I later decided that was not only the morally right thing to do, but probably wise, too, because even if no one stopped me, they probably have security cameras that recorded my 'theft'.
So I'm home. I have my meds, presents, and the rest. The ordeal is over, but I NEVER want to repeat it.
My advice to all: NEVER fly the evilly incompetent, careless and cavalier Northwest Airlines through their Detroit hub, and ESPECIALLY not in winter. If you do, be prepared to watch all other carriers take off while you sit on the ground.