Monthly Archives: July 2008

Delta Airlines Canceled Three of Our Four Tickets for No Discernable Reason

This story does not end well. In fact, for all I know, it doesn’t even end.

We, family of four, arrived at Manchester Airport a good two and a half hours before our flight, which was due to depart at 11:55. There was a considerable queue even then, but it was making steady progress, and during the half hour or so it took us to get to the front of it, we endured being asked first basic security questions, then having our carry-on bags individually tagged with security flimsies, then having the usual pointless questions about who packed our bags, whether they ever escaped, and a command recitation of all our electrical gear. This concluded with ‘Mike’ the security guy taking our passports away and tapping stuff on a laptop for a long time. Then he, as he had promised, brought them back.

Eventually we made it to check-in. And this is where the real trouble started. I never like it when the ticket clerks stop looking bored and start looking like they are concentrating, and this fellow was definitely concentrating. For some reason, all the luggage tags were coming up in my son’s name, and only one boarding pass would print. He checked the printer. He did a tappety-tap routine on the keyboard. He consulted with the silver-haired gentleman on the left, and then the young lady on the right. The codes just were not right on the tickets and he didn’t know how to fix it. Sorry, he said at last, but you’ll have to go over there to the ticket desk.

It’s now about two hours before flight time, there’s no queue at the ticket desk, I’m holding a little piece of paper that Delta printed out for me during our outbound kerfuffle which shows our four return tickets as “Confirmed”. What can go wrong?

Lots.

The lady at the ticket counter was not wearing a name tag, just an Air France pin, so I cannot alas report her name, but she wasted little time in getting to the point: we didn’t have tickets. Or, rather, my 14 year old son had a ticket, but the other three e-tickets we were relying on to fly home with had been refunded. They were gone. And the plane was full anyway. It was clear from her manner that she was entirely open to the possibility that we had somehow tried to do something underhanded (pocket the money?) and then put one over Delta Airlines. We explained the saga of our outbound flight, and she put in a call to some office somewhere who were, she asserted, the only people who could figure out what had happened (she didn’t say ‘and make it right’). No one in the airport had the authority to do anything. So she called Fares. Long wait. No joy. She called Global Assistance. There was another long round of holding during which she told me to just wait. We were told that the flight would close an hour before departure, and the minutes continued to tick by while the anonymous lady, secure in her disempowerment, displayed no sign of urgency or even concern about our predicament. Our request to see a supervisor were at first not even acknowledged, then we were told there was none, only a manager, and he was off at the gate doing operations and thus unavailable. Take that, worm. (No she didn’t say it – in words.)

The hour came and went. Eventually – after it was too late to do us any good – the matter was kicked upstairs to “Jen” who apparently actually works for Delta instead of for whoever it is who runs the front line that Delta relies on to deal with customers. By the time matters got to Jen, it seemed to have dawned on Delta as a corporate entity that we had not in fact engaged in a scheme to embezzle, nor sold our tickets for a side jaunt to Fiji while abandoning a child to fly as an unaccompanied minor to a city where there would be no one to collect him. Jen was in fact very sympathetic. But at that point there was little she could do. Not only was it too late to get us on our original flight, but there were basically no other flights out of Manchester which would get us to Miami today. And even if there were such a flight, they did not as yet have whatever it was they needed to actually issue us a ticket. Jen went off to the back to make phone calls in the hope of resurrecting our tickets, a process that consumed more than another hour.

Meanwhile, I’m standing at the counter, resisting offers to go sit at the corner as there is no longer anyone waiting to be helped (no more flights, remember?). Every so often another member of staff comes out from the back with a progress report which consists of “she’s still on the phone.”

Eventually Jen is off the phone. It’s now going on to about 12:30. They are prepared to rebook us on a new flight once they have recreated our tickets. Alas, they haven’t yet actually succeeded in producing tickets for us, and the only flight left today would be from Paris at 5pm. And even if they could get us to Paris by 5, there are no seats on the flight. So we’re stuck. Bonus day in Manchester (with our bags, but without much in the way of clean laundry), they’ll provide a hotel, just hold on while they check if there are rooms…

Half an hour later there are rooms, comped meals, but as yet no tickets. I’m prepared to stay there until we get them or Hell freezes over, whichever comes first, but “Declan F.” the supervisor is now to hand, full of beautiful promises of tickets in the morning presented in an Irish accent, even an invocation of the Deity, and Caroline decides to believe him. So we check into the airport hotel, endure some more confusion (our names have become quite garbled in the transition), and have to be back at the ticket counter at 9am tomorrow.

For what it’s worth, Jen and Declan have a theory as to what happened. In the first installment of how badly things have gone with Delta, I explained how Delta had mechanical problems and rebooked us on BA,

… we are told that if we run like crazy to BA, two terminals over, we can catch a flight to London and connect from there to MAN. I’m given an itinerary, on which is scrawled “talk to Andrea” — she’s the person at BA who will know all about us.

We run, having to exit the security zone to get to the BA ticket counter. We make it. But there’s no Andrea. She’s going to be on our flight and is changing. Not that it matters. It seems that when charming Delta lady #2 gave me our new itinerary, she neglected to include a “FIM”, which is something you have to have if you have an e-ticket and are being moved to another airline; apparently paper ticket holders, that vanishing breed, don’t need them. No “FIM”, no ride.

So, leaving the family to hold the fort, I run back to the Delta counters, two terminals away (at least I don’t have to re-enter security). I find the last man standing. Between gasps, I tell our story. He vanishes to find a supervisor. In time he returns, and fills out a FIM, a ticket-sized little form that comes in quadruplicate, in a laborious manner that suggests he has never seen one before and is a bit suspicious about the use of ink-based writing implements. At last he is done.

Jen and Declan say that they think that the lady who first booked us on BA tried to rebook our e-ticket using some e-ticket related tie-up between Delta and BA. If she’d done it right, I would not have needed the fabulous FIM. But perhaps she didn’t do it quite right, and as a result the BA people couldn’t see the ticket, leading them to demand the paper FIM. The Delta guy who created the FIM worked off a record that had already been modified, so even if he knew what he was doing it might all have been doomed by then, and he may well not have known what he was doing either. In any case, their guess is that at some point along the way, our return tickets (well, three out of four anyway) were paid over to BA as well as our outgoing tickets. That was wrong, and Delta’s fault rather than ours. Certainly Occam’s razor suggests that the screwup happened in MIA when we were re-routed. But if you ask me, the system did not fail well.

Did I mention that tomorrow’s plane was 10 people over booked before the nice folks in Manchester added the four of us to the passenger list?

I have a lifetime gold card on American Airlines. They’re not perfect, but they have never canceled a ticket of mine with no warning or reason.. Delta was noticeably cheaper for this flight than American, and four times noticeably adds up to appreciably. But I think I’ll be willing to pay a significant premium to fly AA next time.

And I really have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow morning. (But hey, Delta, if you're reading, how about business class?)

Posted in Personal | 8 Comments

Travel Stories

I'm happy to read that my friend Ann Bartow had a True and Amazing Travel Experience.

I just had a travel experience too, but it was not quite as nice. We are heading back to the US today, so perhaps this is a good time to tell the story of our outbound journey.

Our saga begins in Miami last week, on Tuesday afternoon. The four of us are waiting for the 4:15 pm Delta flight to Atlanta, which will connect us to our flight to Manchester, UK.

Gate staff announce that we have problems. Two of them. The first is that the radar is not working. The second is that the weather is bad in Atlanta, and there may be air traffic control issues. But not to worry, the necessary part is on its way on the next flight from Atlanta, and is expected to arrive at 5:30. Meanwhile, we are instructed to sit tight, there's no need to rebook anything.

Being long-legged, travel-experienced, and able to do simple arithmetic, I am third in line to the counter as I figure our connection is doomed.

The very nice lady at the counter makes what seem to be Herculean efforts to rebook us. After much typing and phone calling (most of which involves trying to figure out the numbers for other airlines as all the numbers on her list appear to be out of date), she finds us an Air France option. What about our luggage, I ask? She obligingly begins the process to get our checked bags (family travel, ten days…) off the plane.

But Wait! The pilot himself comes out and announces that the radar is repaired. All is well. Except that it isn't. The bad weather has now ripened into ATC delays and we can't go anywhere for an hour. My connection seems utterly doomed.

The flight delay now being ATC rather than mechanical, the status of our flight has changed, and our new tickets — only one or two keypresses away from finality — are no longer possible since Delta won't rebook us on a different carrier for delays which are not their fault.

Gloom. Doom. But Wait! After only a few minutes, the weather report has shifted again, and it's ok to board for immediate departure. If we leave fast enough, we might — might — just make it. We board. Delta does a much better job than American of enforcing boarding order on Miami crowds, who are generally among the most unruly in the world, and boarding proceeds fairly well. Cabin crew explain that local mechanics were able to fix the old part, and all is well.

Except that once we are all in the plane, there's a new problem. There's a man wandering around in the aisles holding a boarding pass, but he doesn't seem to have a seat. In due course we hear that what happened is that a family booked two kids in one seat, but that they're too old to share; a “non-revenue” passenger is thus booted off the plane (a mother with a tiny baby, and then her husband), and the family in question re-seated. We're now too late barring some sort of air-speed miracle.

And off we go to Atlanta. Did I say “to” Atlanta? Maybe “towards” Atlanta would be better. About 20 minutes into the flight, the Captain comes on the PA and says, in best Chuck Yeager right-stuff voice, that the radar has failed again, and we're going to divert to Tampa. No, wait, he's on the PA again a minute later, the company says we're going back to Miami, because it is fractionally closer.

So we're back in Miami. Cabin crew tell us that anyone who wishes to leave the plane here may do so, but if we leave we may not be allowed back on. The captain explains that the offending part is easy to replace, it's just like a circuit board – you snap it in, test it, and then he's fully confident in flying the plane. One Swedish couple leaves, saying they don't trust the plane any more. There's a trickle of departures. One person returns with coffee from Starbucks, and now we all want off. Cabin crew relent — we can get off, but the plane is going to Atlanta eventually, so we should take our stuff if we do in case we aren't there when its ready.

We get off — our connection is history, and I'd like to know our options. And after all, it's clearly mechanical now. Back in line, and in time we are told that if we run like crazy to BA, two terminals over, we can catch a flight to London and connect from there to MAN. I'm given an itinerary, on which is scrawled “talk to Andrea” — she's the person at BA who will know all about us.

We run, having to exit the security zone to get to the BA ticket counter. We make it. But there's no Andrea. She's going to be on our flight and is changing. Not that it matters. It seems that when charming Delta lady #2 gave me our new itinerary, she neglected to include a “FIM”, which is something you have to have if you have an e-ticket and are being moved to another airline; apparently paper ticket holders, that vanishing breed, don't need them. No “FIM”, no ride.

So, leaving the family to hold the fort, I run back to the Delta counters, two terminals away (at least I don't have to re-enter security). I find the last man standing. Between gasps, I tell our story. He vanishes to find a supervisor. In time he returns, and fills out a FIM, a ticket-sized little form that comes in quadruplicate, in a laborious manner that suggests he has never seen one before and is a bit suspicious about the use of ink-based writing implements. At last he is done.

I begin to lumber off at speed back towards BA (the flight is leaving soon). “SIR! SIR!” the last man shouts, chasing me down the concourse. “Wait! I need my copy!” It seems one of the four copies is his. Unfortunately, he has no idea which one of the four is his, and decides after much scrutiny that he wants the original. I'm suspicious. What if BA want that one? Why doesn't he take the last one, the accounting copy? But no, he insists, and I haven't the heart to grab it from his hands. “Just come back if they want this one he says.” Right – the plane will be long gone by that point.

Lumber, lumber, wheeze.

It seems BA are happy with the three copies. It's late by now and the queue at security is mercifully light. We make the plane. We make the connection in London.

Of course, the luggage doesn't make it.

Continue reading

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment

Which Ad is More Effective?

Which ad is more effective? This McCain ad trying to link Obama to sleazy and brainless bimbettes (oh, and taxes and dependence on foreign oil) …

…or this anti-McCain ad from the independent ProgessiveAccountability.org (which probably won't get as much attention), in which McCain and Brittany turn out to have the same view of George Bush?

Incidentally, it may not be irrelevant to note that McCain hired the very guy who did the racially tinged commercial against Harold Ford (details here).

Posted in Politics: US: 2008 Elections | Leave a comment

Harsh

This new anti-McCain video, THE COMMANDER IN CHIEF TEST from Humanitainment.com feels a little too harsh to be effective. That's a shame in a way, since the clips are very damning. But to my eye the overlays somehow trivialize them and reduce their sting.

Posted in Politics: McCain | 3 Comments

Some VeepStake Numbers — And a Word of Caution

FiveThirtyEight.com: Electoral Projections Done Right: VP Contenders by the Numbers has some interesting and plausible hard data about possible veeps for both parties.

Firstly, I took the average of all approve/disapprove and favorable/unfavorable polls I could find on these candidates in 2008. Only the most recent survey from any given polling firm was used. Where no polls were available in 2008, I used the most recent one I could find.

Then, I compared this approval average to the partisan ID advantage (or disadvantage) of that candidate's party in 2004 exit polling. Subtracting the approval average from the partisan ID index gives us what I call the candidate's power rating. Essentially, this is the extent to which the candidate is able to defy gravity and run ahead of the political demographics of their state.

At the top of the Democratic pack, on this ranking, are Kathleen Sebelius, Evan Bayh, and Brian Schweitzer. The latter two have the advantage of being white guys. And Evan Bayh has been much talked about of late.

I can see why a campaign would think he was an appealing choice. While not bringing quite as much to the table as Sebelius, he also may be seen to have lower risks — no ovaries.

Even so, I personally very much hope that Obama doesn't pick Bayh. It's not just that he's a poor speaker who deserverdly cratered early in the Presidential primaries. It's that he's such a weak Senator: What has he ever accomplished? What has he ever even tried to accomplish?

And let's not forget that he was a cheerleader for the war in Iraq.

Don't be fooled by the family name — this is not your father's Bayh.

And there's too much chance his Senate seat could go to the GOP in a special election.

I could see the Obama people picking Bayh — on the numbers he's a strong choice. But here the numbers mislead.

Posted in Politics: US: 2008 Elections | Leave a comment

The Tin Ear

Faced with reporters calling him on his dishonesty in his latest campaign commercial, McCain doubles down and stonewalls. See Kos, Who's Lying? John McCain or Andrea Mitchell?.

In my opinion this is a very serious error: the political press will stick to its 'objective' he said/she said approach no matter how ridiculous the issue except for facts they personally witness. You can bamboozle the press with fake numbers if you can find one economist to vouch for them. You can say your goal is a balanced budget and world peace while you propose huge deficits and wars (worked for Bush!). But you can't tell the press not to trust their lying eyes.

I'm surprised that McCain has learned to take the press so much for granted that he thinks they will sit still even for this. I think it may reach up to bite him — at least until he makes nice again.

Posted in Politics: McCain | 1 Comment

How Do You Measure Media Partiality If the Facts Have a Liberal Bias?

Ivan Carter makes an excellent observation in Media Studies — Including Yesterday's in LA Times, Have Major Flaw which appears at Daily Kos. Here's the start of it:

The study that was widely cited yesterday, and reported in the LA times, is inherently flawed.

It found that the media's coverage of Barack Obama was negatively slanted in comparison to that of John McCain. But to the extent the facts favor McCain, what the study concluded would not necessarily be true.

And to the extent the facts tend to support Obama, the study's conclusion of media bias against Obama (or in favor of McCain) would understate the bias that is in fact present. And, perhaps more importantly, the stronger the case in favor of Obama (and the weaker the actual case in favor of McCain) the more this would be so.  

There is no unwritten rule of politics or sociology  dictating that the objective facts, in the context of every single voting American's personal beliefs, were they to have perfect knowledge, must invariably favor both candidates equally.

In other words, just we should not expect coverage of Osama bin Laden to be 50% positive, so too it does not follow that the two major candidates will be equally truthful, equally coherent, equally sensible, equally gaffe-prone, and so on. Yet that is the baseline which media bias studies such as the LA Times's use.

Even with the 50/50 baseline they find that McCain gets a better press than Obama. But when you consider that facts have a liberal bias, that result is particularly striking.

Posted in The Media | 2 Comments