No thanks to United Airlines, I can blog from London

Photo credit: United Airlines circa 1950 by David Wilson per Creative Commons license.

Photo credit: United Airlines circa 1950 by David Wilson per Creative Commons license.

Arrived in London. But, the trip was awful.

Taxied out to the runway at Chicago O’Hare. Number 2 to go when flight recalled because United failed to add enough fuel to get the airplane to England. I am not kidding. Three hours later, and with “thanks from United for our patience,” the plane left.

While en route, and near where I was seated, an elderly woman who could speak no English started to get deathly ill. Break out the oxygen and call for any passenger with medical training. Cabin attendants stand around being concerned but not doing much else. Nurse appears, announces blood pressure dangerously low, scratches her head and the plane flies on with the woman draped over her husband in United’s Economy section. The lady did not die, but she was awfully sick.

What do they say about the Friendly Skies?


14 responses

  1. I was returning to the Philippines after stateside leave when my government ride (Tiger Airlines) had to divert what was a non-stop LAX-MNL (Manila) flight to Narita, where I RONed. It seems the aircrew misread the weather, or the weather man misread the weather and fed bad data to the aircrew, the headwinds aloft were stronger than thought, and the airplane didn’t have enough fuel to make MNL nonstop. And that wasn’t discovered until we were halfway to Manila. Fortunately, great circle routing put us near enough to Narita at that point that we could reach it.

    So why did we have to spend the night on what should have been a gas-n-go? Because the diversion and refueling delay meant the aircrew didn’t have enough crew rest left to reach Manila. And Tiger had no replacement crew anywhere in Japan. A crew had to be flown in.

    Eric Hines

  2. Well, back in July, LOT 41 from Warsaw to Toronto had to land in Goose Bay, Labrador, because a child was quite ill.

    Imagine what a crowded ship in the 17th century must have been like.

    Imagine what a crowded ship in the 18th century must have been like.

    Imagine what a crowded ship in the 19th century must have been like.

    The early 20th century wasn’t too much fun for the folks on the Titanic. Or it was, until it wasn’t.

    And let’s see, at least before the railroads, a trip from Nebraska to London might have taken what? A couple of months? And that would have been *if* you got there at all.

    I guess I view modern air travel as something of a miracle; and a couple or six hours here or there is just part of the game. And actually, I was flying to Europe this summer from Indianapolis with a scheduled 8-hour wait at JFK. On my tablet, I got the message that my flight from JFK had been cancelled. A few phone calls later I was found a seat through Toronto. Terrible, terrible outcome. No 8-hour wait at JFK; and I arrived three hours earlier at my original destination than I would have through JFK.

    Then there was the guy in front of me on a Singapore Airlines flight from Zurich to Singapore. A 14-hour flight. He complained to the crew that the flight was going to be 15 minutes late; and he might not make his connection. Sort of a tribute to SQ that anyone would schedule a connection after that length of flight when the connection might be endangered by a delay of as little as 15 minutes.

    Not having loaded enough gas for a trip is pretty inexcusable. Maybe what my family uses as a mantra when traveling will help: “We’re traveling; we’re having fun.” Doesn’t always work, of course. Especially when somebody has done something really stupid to make a trip less than fun. Especially when that somebody is me. But I’m not confessing publicly — at least not in detail.

    Have big fun in Merry Old.

  3. I had the opposite experience with someone getting sick on an airline. I am a physician; and am also one of the very rare applicants to be admitted to medical school with a significant disability (cerebral palsy.)

    So when I am on the overnight from Anchorage to Portland, some lady gets sick and the flight attendants ask if anyone has medical training on board. Despite being informed that offering aid is legally risky, I dutifully rang the attendant light and when he arrived, I informed the attendant that I am a physician.

    I got a secret glee watching this poor attendant go through mental contortions. I clearly was not the physician he was anticipating. And I could watch his eyes as he was clearly trying to balance the risk that I wasn’t really a physician against the risk of telling me I wasn’t a physician when I was against the bad press they would get if the woman they wouldn’t let me attend to died on the flight. About that time someone else volunteered and the attendant quickly (and with much relief) responded “well thank you very much, doctor, but it appears we have all the help we need!” and he quickly walked away.

    Why do I get so much glee in putting people in situations like that? I don’t know …. I sure one of my colleagues could find a diagnosis to explain that!

  4. I was stuck one time in the Cincinnati airport (I think that where it was). We had gotten in late and I missed my connection. Suddenly the silence of a 6-hour wait was broken by an announcement “Does anyone in the terminal speak French?” Well, yeah, I do. So I walked up to the gate and said “Je parle Francais.” (This was a United flight btw). The gate agent looked at me with zero comprehension and I said: “That French for ‘I speak French.'” He pointed to a woman who was obviously African from a Francophone African country (Ivory Coast I think). Her French was very good, suggesting schooling. Mine is good. We had little trouble communicating. The situation was thus: Her mother was dying in NYC. She was trying to get to see her one last time. Her flight had been delayed (recall, this is United — so this may be redundant). He brother was supposed to pick her up at the airport, but she needed to get word to her brother that the flight would be delayed 3 hours. She had no cellphone and her brother no computer. So, in quite strident tone (in English), I instructed (nay, demanded) that the United flunkies allow her to call her brother on their landline with this information. And thus is the only happy United delay story. Prove me wrong.

  5. Well, I can relate an actual favorable experience with an airline (sort of). I was flying from LA back to my home in Las Cruces some years ago via America West (I did say “some years ago”), with a 15 min plane change layover in Phoenix. After launching from LA, I checked my baggage claim chits (of course, not sooner), and saw that one of my suitcases was being misrouted to another city (hence the sort of).

    I rang the stewardess, who talked to the pilot with my chit information and the correct destination. We landed on time in Phoenix, did our plane change trick, and made an on time launch. On landing in El Paso, which is what Las Cruces uses for their airport, I went to baggage to pickup my one correctly routed suitcase, and sitting there next to it was my erroneously routed suitcase, corrected.

    Eric Hines

  6. Pat,

    I have felt like the lady you helped. Once in China, I left our passports at an airport kiosk where I was asking for directions. Completely forgetting that I had just handed over our passports, Joan and I walked away and were sipping tea near the gate waiting for a plane for travel inside China when two very big and very stern looking Chinese army men came to our table. They made it clear that they wanted me to come with them. I was scared shitless. It was 1994, and there were relatively few American travelling inside China. I was pretty sure that I had somehow started some international incident. They frog marched me back to the kiosk, bowed ever so slightly and walked off. The nice attendant handed me our passports and smiled as if to say “big, white, dumb and American.” I was, and remain, all those things.

    As a consequence, I have a special place in my heart for folks like you who help people like me in a strange airports. Good for you.


  7. John,

    What a cool, and yet sad, story regarding the inability of our culture (me included) to see past disabilities. As for your glee, it seems healthy to me. If I was in your place, my reaction would have been near uncontrollable rage.

    All the best.


    PS I once had a fellow tell me that I did not look or act like a judge. I asked him how judges looked and acted. The response was: “Not like you.” Thinking back on it, I, too, felt glee.

  8. That would not happen now, as you know. It is far more likely that your bag would end up in Thailand. And that would be that.

    I don’t really hate airlines, United included. They move a hell of lot of people under great pressure. That said, I must have seen too many cattle trucks with the poor creatures bleating and defecating uncontrollably because that image constantly emerges when I fly nowadays. Ah, the impact of old age, and nostalgia for the “good old days.”

    All the best.


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