All the seats in Terminal C at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport were empty late Thursday afternoon. At each gate, 20 to 30 people, most loaded down with duffel bags or with small suitcases at their feet, stood bewildered in queue. I was scurrying to gate C20 with my boarding pass in hand, thinking how lucky I was to get on this “on-time” flight. (My original flight was canceled, but the customer service agent said this was a “sure thing.”) Everyone at my gate was in line too.
“You trying to get to Omaha?” a thirtysomething man asked me. Trying? Turns out the flight just got canceled. The airline didn't announce the change, but merely removed the Omaha listing from the departures screen. Those gathered at gate C20 were miffed that 15 minutes before boarding, American Airlines had canceled another of our flights -- without even announcing it.
Before I even thought about complaining, I met David Patel. This guy had it rough -- far worse than my two cancellations. Patel had spent the last two days at DFW, trying to get to Kansas. The mid-20s guy in an Army-green jacket just secured a new job in New York and needed to get his car from Kansas for the big move. American had canceled four flights on him so far. He was in a surprising friendly mood, considering the only considerations AA had made for him were a hotel room the night before and a $10 voucher for food. Ten bucks to pay for food for two days. Nice.
By the time I finished chatting up Patel, I was behind 12 people in the line to speak with a gate agent. It took 75 minutes to make it up there. Oddly, no one in line was huffing, yelling at their phones or any of those stereotypical upset-at-the-airport moves. Sure, we were all bitching to one another, and several people were trying to secure rental cars to drive 12 hours to Omaha (which was tempting after two or three cancellations).
Two well-traveled women behind me said this was just like when they were trying to get home from Europe following September 11, 2001. “Everything was canceled," one said, "and we'd get one thing secured, and it'd fall through just trying to get home.”
AA had put up the ladies -- Melanie and Connie -- up in a Best Western the night before, following a day of cancellations, and provided each with the standard $10 meal voucher. Turns out, the only restaurant open when they got to the hotel didn't accept the vouchers. The airline's gestures felt half-hearted, Connie said.
When I reached the gate, the AA rep immediately said, “You know there's nothing else today. We'll put you up in a hotel, pay for the shuttle there and give you a voucher for some food.” I had to stop her and say, “I live 15 minutes from here, I don't need a hotel.”
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Luckily, the other agent at the gate was bringing his A-game. He quickly let her know there was standby room on a Midwest Airlines flight leaving in 30 minutes. She added me to the flight, gave me a $10 meal voucher and sent me to ride the Skylink to another terminal. The five people near me in line were also on slated for standby on the Midwest flight.
As much as the cancellations were headaches for passengers, it sounded just as bad for the AA flight crew members. A flight attendant I spoke with, who asked her name not be used, told me she's already lost 32 hours of work this week, and it sounded like she'd lose another eight hours that night. “Normally, I work 106 hours in a pay period. Right now I'm at 82,” she said, shaking her head. “This is affecting my livelihood.”
The cancellations were just attempting to keep me from a bridal shower. Kind of puts things in perspective. Myself and most of the other Omaha passengers made it onto the Midwest flight to Milwaukee (and later to Omaha). At every point, I would run into Marian. She had just returned from visiting her daughter in England and was trying to get home to Omaha. Her thoughts on AA's fate felt on-point. “I know it's not all their fault, but I don't think I can fly American again. They didn't do anything for me as I kept having flights canceled ... other than a $10 voucher.”
Same here. --Chelsea Ide