My delay experience with a Continental flight from EWR to PIT

Mar 17, 2008

I had to fly from Newark to Pittsburgh last night, on the way back from my spring break vacation in Europe. And again, it somehow turned out so that long intercontinental flights are never a problem, but short domestic US legs are not that great and can result in bad experience.

The flight was scheduled to leave at 8:15pm and be in Pittsburgh around 10pm. Considering I had previously had a 8-hour flight from Paris and 5-hour timezone switch, that was in itself already a little tiring, but manageable. But it got worse.

First, it was delayed for half an hour, and then for a full hour. As a sidenote... how come the flight days ALWAYS end up with delays? I don't think I've ever been on an evening/afternoon flight from the US that manages to leave on time... in Europe it's better :) at least subjectively in my experience.

Well anyway, half-hour delay is not extraordinary, and then it turned into an hour. And then sometime around 9:30 or so, we finally boarded the plane. I was hoping to get home soon... duh.

Then we sat there and everything seemed to go well, but nothing happened. We heard some clonking noises from the back of the plane. And then they told us there was some kind of problem with the back loading door and they would have to take us off the airplane. But they didn't at first. So from about 10 to 11pm we just sat in the plane. I was somewhat sleepy so I dozed off, but it was annoying not knowing what was happening. Would we be taken off the plane or not then?

Finally at 11, we got off the plane. They told us they would fix the door, or there was another backup aircraft coming. People were clearly annoyed, but I just wanted to get home and not spend the night anywhere else.

From 11 to 12, we sat at airport. And finally they announced they had fixed the door. Which, to tell the truth, wasn't super reassuring, but what can you do. So we crawled back into the same airplane (a Dash 8 Q400) and finally finally FINALLY it took off. And landed at Pittsburgh 2:10am, instead of the original 10pm.

The fun didn't end there. There aren't many (well, any) flights normally landing at Pittsburgh at this hour, and so of course there were no taxis. There's a button to call the taxi, but it was unclear where the taxi comes from and how long it takes. Fortunately, I was among the first in the long queue and could take one of the first taxis that came. We shared the ride with another guy and so I got home finally for some sleep.

As a recourse, Continental gave me a "Customer Care Kit" that lets me get some free inflight service on my next flight, or 10% off any of my next purchases. The latter might actually be handy and real savings on some of my bigger flight purchases, so we'll see how that goes.

All in all, with the complexities of operating the global air transport system, I know I was just hit by bad statistics, since most of my flights are painless (knock wood). And it's better to be on ground with a broken aircraft part than in air and not be the subject in someone's next Human Factors case study of why aircraft crash. It still sucks a bit I didn't get all the sleep last night, but I'll get over it :)

As for the vacation itself... it was wonderful. I'll post some pics. I've been to Paris over and over and I'd always go back there, it's nice :)