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VOL. 40 | NO. 21 | Friday, May 20, 2016

Late flights, airport drama all a part of traveling

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The turbulence is real as we slowly descend into Providence, Rhode Island. I wasn’t planning to descend into Providence, Rhode Island, but it’s funny how air travel can throw a wrench into well-hatched plans.

Much of the news about air travel lately has been related to long Transportation Security Administration lines. But my story is about mechanical problems.

Flying to Baltimore from Memphis International Airport via a quick 45-minute layover in Chicago, this trip should’ve been simple enough. As the plane taxied away from Concourse A to the runway I caught a glimpse of pink in the distant black sky. It was 5:45 a.m. and we were making our way to the runway.

Suddenly, the plane lurched to a stop. My hope was that the pilot was slamming his brakes to let a passing plane go by on the tarmac.

The explanation wouldn’t be that simple. A minute later the pilot came on the speaker to apologize, explaining a pin of some sort hadn’t been removed from the front wheel. He couldn’t steer the plane, or something to that effect.

We were towed back to the gate and, after a quick fix and what seemed forever to take care of the paperwork, we finally were on our way. Leaving 45 minutes late with that quick 45 minutes between flights looming.

There were 10 of us on this flight who needed to make the change to continue on to Baltimore; surely they’d hold the plane for us.

But after sprinting across Chicago Midway, we arrived at the gate just as the door was shut. Fortunately, some of us were booked onto another flight, resulting in what seemed like a five-mile sprint back across two concourses before the doors closed on this soon-to-depart flight.

So as I type this, I’m descending into Providence, to then make our way into Baltimore about three hours later than planned.

What could I have done to prevent this? Nothing, absolutely nothing.

That’s the risk in air travel. The plane had a mechanical failure – or was it a crew failure for not removing a “pin” of some sort?

Less than five days earlier, I had a similar experience. A 45-minute layover in Dallas became a too-tight window when we were 20 minutes late leaving San Antonio, followed by not having a gate ready for us.

Ten rows separated me from my flight home. My friend sat 10 rows in front of me and made it to the flight just as the gate closed.

I missed it and was rebooked for a later flight.

So this is now twice in a five-day period.

Ultimately, Southwest gave us a $100 voucher for use on a future flight. I made it to Baltimore just a few hours later than planned. My flight was quickly rebooked. No harm no foul.

My initial thought was to call Southwest while still on the tarmac in Memphis. I held off, and a flight attendant reassured me that if they didn’t hold our plane they’d get us rebooked.

Having a smartphone is the first step if this happens to you. Get on your phone and start analyzing your options.

I used the Southwest app to see that there were several flights with tickets available departing Chicago for Baltimore that day.

I would’ve called Southwest if they weren’t so quick to make the repair in Memphis.

And in the future, I might consider booking a flight with a longer layover.

Two flights within five days might be a fluke, but a 45-minute window doesn’t leave much room for error.

Contact Lance Wiedower at tripsbylance.com.

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