Browsing Tag: Weather

A Spirit A319 taking off from LAX – Photo: Thomas Hart | FlickrCC

Often, people try to avoid the ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCC), but I have been wanting to try Spirit Airlines for quite a few years now.  During a recent trip from Seattle (SEA) to Los Angeles (LAX) with my girlfriend, I ended up having that chance… kind of.

There is quite a bit of competition between SEA and LAX. I hold most of my miles with Alaska Airlines and also have their credit card. That means I get extra miles when booking their tickets and I also get a free checked bag. When I compare prices, it is not just the sticker price, but also all the extras and the miles that factor into my decisions. Going down to LAX, Alaska was the obvious winner. But coming home, even with paying for a checked bag, two seat assignments, and loss of miles, Spirit was much cheaper (about $175 for both of us). To be honest, I was hoping that was the case, since I wanted to give them a shot (always been jealous of our JL doing the legit bare fare… for science).

I will say that getting to the final price on Spirit, to compare to other airlines, is not the easiest. There are so many different steps, a log-in, and up-sells before you finally get to the payment screen to see the total price. It was a pain. However, I cannot understand how someone could go through that entire process and not understand that they were being (or will be) charged more for the extras. Annoying, but also annoyingly clear.

An example of Dispatcher-suggested storm deviation. The green line shows the planned route, and the pink indicates the path actually operated to steer clear of the weather

An example of Dispatcher-suggested storm deviation. The green line shows the planned route, and the pink indicates the path actually operated to steer clear of the weather

Story written by Phil Derner with

I have a love-hate relationship with thunderstorms. As a Dispatcher, thunderstorms bring what I feel is the biggest challenge to the job. It is also a Dispatcher’s time to shine and when their pay check is truly earned, making the job fun, rewarding and incredibly satisfying.

The level of challenge sometimes surprises many people because thunderstorms have a relatively short life. Snowstorms present some challenges, but when a blizzard is present, if conditions are that bad, the airport will often shut down in advance or the airline will have canceled enough flights to where the dispatch workload is lighter. Snowstorms are easier to predict and sit over an airfield for a long period of time, so when you can’t get in, you know you’re done for a while. Thunderstorms, on the other hand, tend to pass through a location in about 20-30 minutes. Though fast-moving (average from 25-40mph, or faster!) there are multiple influences that affect the growth, dissipation and speed of the storm, making predicting the time of the storms arrival very challenging. Not to mention that storm cells may be in clusters, where an airport can receive a torrential downpour, while a neighboring town a few miles away can be dry as a bone. Try forecasting that 8 hours out!

Continue reading Lesson in Safety: How Airlines Deal with Thunderstorms

When arriving at DFW, the sky was mostly blue and it was sunny. Things changed quickly.

When arriving at DFW, the sky was mostly blue and it was sunny. Things changed quickly.

It is obvious right? Being stuck at an airport because of delays or a cancelled flight is no fun. Recently, I had a fun little experience in Dallas after flying from Seattle (out of BFI) to Dallas (DFW) for American’s delivery flight of their first Boeing 737 with Sky Interior.

The delivery flight arrived at DFW about 4pm and my flight out wasn’t until 9:15pm. I took my time to get over to the terminal (our flight ended at a maintenance hangar) and since I had the time, I decided to wait stand-by for the earlier 7:30pm flight. I sat enjoying my window view, when all of a sudden alarms and warnings started to come over the speaker system.

“There is a severe weather pattern coming towards the airport. Everyone must go to the center of the building and away from any windows.” This was followed by talk of tornadoes and reassurance this was not a drill. It became obvious the airport meant business.

Some passengers bolted to the bathrooms, which were severe weather areas, and others couldn’t care less and had to be told by employees they must move. I decided to take the middle ground and figured it was a good time to go get some food, which happened to be in the center of the building. While enjoying my airport food (okay, enjoying might be a bit strong), we all started to hear very loud noises in the terminal. Large hail started to fall, making disturbing noises on the ceiling. People who were on planes had to be escorted off back into the terminal.

I couldn’t see outside, since I  was away from the windows, but looking at news reports, there was hail the size of baseballs in the area. Love Field (also in Dallas) reported a tornado that touched down near the airport. After things calmed down about 30 minutes later, the 7:30 flight I was on stand-by for had an updated departure time of 9pm. My original 9:15pm flight still showed as “on-time.” I was #5 on the stand-by list, so decided to ditch my attempt for the earlier flight and started my trek from Terminal D to Terminal A.

DFW has a really slick train system inside security to quickly get passengers to any of the terminals. Unfortunately it does not run during severe weather, so I had about 45minutes to hoof it through the airport. I kept checking screens and flight 1575 from DFW to SFO kept showing “On-Time” as other flights slowly changed from “On-Time” to “Delayed.”

When I made it to the gate at 9:00pm, the flight still showed ready to go and that is when they announced the flight had been diverted to Houston due to weather. American started checking planes that were parked at DFW for damage and realized there were quite a few planes with damage and started cancelling flights. However, the few flights that had their aircraft diverted were still showing as delayed and not cancelled.

A little after 10pm American Tweeted:
“All AA and Eagle operations @DFWAirport are suspended for the remainder of the night due to #storm activity. Appreciate your patience.”

Hmm. That caused a bit of confusion. I tried to tweet to @AmericanAir to get clarification, but they were unanswered and people at the airport kept confirming that our flight was still a go.

Thousands of people at the airport lined up waiting  for hours to get re-booked on flights the next day. Those of us on the SFO flight felt a little bad that our flight was still going when so many were being inconvenienced, but were happy to have our flight. With all the stranded passengers, hotels quickly filled up and it didn’t take long for all the cots that DFW provided to disappear as people started to set up camp.

Even with all the chaos, I have to say that American did a great job keeping us informed since our departure time kept being pushed back. A little after midnight, we were informed our plane was now coming from Oklahoma. I jumped on and found our aircraft and quite a few others in-bound to DFW from Houston and Oklahoma. Our plane finally arrived a bit before 1am. People already started gathering around the gate ready to get on board as soon as possible. We were told it would take about 20 minutes to clean the plane and off we would go to SFO — finally.

There were a few empty seats on the flight and the gate agent started calling up people from the very long stand-by list. The flight was set to leave at about 1:30am, meaning we would arrive at 3:30am. I started figuring out how little sleep I was going to get, when we got the announcement:

“I have bad news…the plane is here, but we have no crew and American is cancelling the flight.” People reacted like they were just told they had an incurable disease. Some cried, others yelled. I couldn’t help but be a bit angry myself. I had been waiting for nine hours for this flight, while watching thousands of others get re-booked on flights and make hotel reservations. What kind of chance did we have to get on any decent flights to our destinations?

That poor gate agent. He had to know the news wouldn’t be taken well. After the announcement, two guys came storming up and just started yelling at him. I guess the cops had to be called over, but I wasn’t sticking around. 160 people just found out their flight was cancelled and most started lining up at the gate. I headed down the terminal to find a shorter line and luckily found one.

At this point I knew I wasn’t going to make it to SFO in time for an event I had scheduled, so now it was time to try to make it back home to Seattle.  When I told the agent that I wanted to get to Seattle, the agent next to her looked over and said, “Good luck with that!” Sigh.

I have to say the agent I worked with was a trooper. She obviously was working way past her hours for that day and has dealt with many upset folks. Even though I was tired and frustrated, I tried to be as polite as possible. At first it looked like I might be stuck at DFW for a day and a half, but after some creativity she got me a flight to Orange, CA (SNA) on American and then to Seattle on Alaska — sweet.

Cots were gone and I heard rumors that people were having to go way out of town to get a hotel room. My new flight wasn’t leaving until 2:40pm — over 12hours later. Luckily, the airline gods were smiling on me. While at the counter a nice elderly gentleman was standing next to the counter. He was turning in a hotel voucher since he decided to camp out at the airport. I asked if I might have it and she gave it to me — for the first time in a long while, things were looking up.

Since this was a weather-related incident, American wasn’t picking up the tab, but it did guarantee a room and at a discounted rate. After calling to confirm there was a room (only one left) and hailing a cab, I was settled into my room by 3am.

It was a very long and frusterating day, but I fell asleep with a big smile on my face. I had the ability to take a shower and a nice comfy bed to sleep in and that was more than most people in my same situation could say. Cancellations are not fun for anyone, but they are part of the huge transportation infrastructure we have in America. Even with the weather causing the issues, I heard so many people blaming the airline. Do they really think that American wants to cancel flights? Keep their employees up extremely late and lose a bunch of money? Heck no. I was disappointed that I was missing my planned event, but I had to stop and realize it could have been worse. People at the airport I was talking to were missing bigger things like a wedding and even a funeral.

Passengers get away from the window during tornado warnings.

Passengers get away from the window during tornado warnings.

Yes, with our flight, American dropped the ball. They should have known there would be no flight crew and just cancelled the flight hours prior to give us all a better chance. Even while placed in a difficult situation I had to keep reminding myself that the airline business is extremely complicated and when an airline’s main hub gets shut down and you have people managing thousands of passengers, crew and employees, obviously some things will fall between the cracks. Airlines do not have the ability to be fully staffed at all times just in case situations like this occur.

With all the weather issues and thousands of flights each day, it is pretty amazing this doesn’t happen more often. Yeah, it might have taken me almost a day and a half to get home, but it is still better than driving. Just because I might love the airline business, doesn’t mean I have to love every aspect. Luckily experiencing cancellations like this is a rare occurrence.

Have you had an interesting cancellation story? Did an airline really go out of their way to help you? Or hurt you? Please share in the comments.

Frontier Airlines Airbus A320 (N204FR) at snowy Denver with "Freedom" the Bald Eagle on the tail.

Frontier Airlines Airbus A320 (N204FR) at snowy Denver with "Freedom" the Bald Eagle on the tail.

I was hoping to do a review of Frontier on an Airbus A320 from Seattle (SEA) to Denver (DIA) and then on a Bombardier Q400 from DIA to Aspen (ASE). However, life doesn’t always work out how we plan it. I was heading to Aspen to fly on a Beechcraft Starship, but snow had other plans and while in Denver, my flight to Aspen was canceled. Instead of taking a low-level flight on a Q400 to beautiful Aspen, I got to hop on another Airbus A320 back to Seattle (Note: I paid out of pocket for my flight on Frontier).

Not being able to fly the Q400 into Aspen and not fly on the Starship was bad, but for reviewing the Frontier Airlines experience, this actually worked out better. For my flight to DIA, I had to get up at 3:45am to catch my 6:15am flight out of Seattle. Before we left the gate I was asleep and woke up during the final 10 minutes. The flight back to Seattle provided me a better opportunity to review the flight and service.

When booking my flights 99% of the time I end up purchasing the tickets on the airline’s website, since it is normally the cheapest. In this case, it turned out to be about $20 cheaper to get my ticket through Orbitz — whatever, it works for me. When buying a ticket you have three choices: Economy, Classic and Classic Plus. The more you pay, the more features you get like free checked bags, free TV, and the ability to sit in seats with more legroom (check out the differences). Check-in and printing off the boarding pass were pretty standard and I was lucky enough to get a window seat, 27A, on the flight to DIA.

Every seat back has a little TV to watch movies and television, for a fee.

Every seat back has a little TV to watch movies and television, for a fee.

One of the fun parts of flying on Frontier is wondering what animal will be on the tail. Every airplane in Frontier’s fleet (well, those with a Frontier livery) have a unique animal. If you don’t catch the animal on the tail or can’t view the animal on the inside of the winglets, there is a nice big image of the animal when you walk into the door and the flight attendants make sure to announce which plane you are on. I got Mustang Sally on the flight down and Freedom the Bald Eagle on the flight back. I think it is pretty neat for each aircraft to have a different overall livery and I would have to imagine it is even cooler for kids.

The airline was extremely helpful and quick with helping me with my canceled Aspen flight. I wasn’t sitting at the gate for my flight, but kept updating my phone with the flight status. The second I saw it said “canceled” I headed to one of the many customer service desks located around the airport. I imagine this was much better than going to the gate, since no other flights were  canceled at the time and there was no line at the customer service desk. The woman confirmed there were no other flights to Aspen from any airline going out that day and started looking for the next day. I asked if I might be able to just fly back to Seattle and she got me on the next flight — which was scheduled to leave in 45minutes for no charge.

Even at 6'1" I had PLENTY of room in Frontier's STRETCH seats which give an extra 5" of room in the first four rows.

Even at 6'1" I had PLENTY of room in Frontier's STRETCH seats which give an extra 5" of room in the first four rows.

With boarding they have an “express boarding” phase. These are for people that have carry-ons that will only be put under the seat in front of them versus taking up overhead space. The concept of this is simple and genius. However, I saw quite a few people lined up that had bags I questioned if they would put under their seat and when checking it out when I boarded, they did not. The idea is great, but I am not sure how well it can be regulated.

Frontier has all economy seats that are leather with fancy headrests and a small TV screen in the seat back. The first four rows give you five more inches of legroom, but the rest of the seats have a decent 31″ seat pitch. Although I was in the back of the (air) bus on the flight down to Denver, I ended up in 3A on the flight back which was a STRECH seat. Although a little extra legroom is nice, even at 6’1″ I don’t think I would be willing to pay anymore for the extra room. I felt super lucky since I could have been trapped in Denver for quite some time, but not only did I get the next flight home and a window seat, but also one with bonus legroom.

Having LiveTV is pretty sweet, but it will set you back money. To watch the TV it will cost you $6 or $8 for a movie. Part of me whats to be like “what the heck?” knowing I can watch TV for free on other airlines like jetBlue and Virgin America and why should I have to pay on Frontier? However, it does cost them more money and on a three hour flight, $6 for entertainment would be greatly worth it. If you are flying Frontier internationally, the TV is free, but movies still cost money.

Before we left the gate at DIA the whole window ended up being blocked with snow. Kind of cool and kind of lame.

Before we left the gate at DIA the whole window ended up being blocked with snow. Kind of cool and kind of lame.

On the plus side, you are able to get ear buds for free. It worked out for our flight, since TV ended up being free since the football playoffs were on (although I think it might have had more to do with being over an hour late due to weather).

When watching the TV, I found the controls on the arm rest quite annoying. On more than one occasion I ended up changing the channel with my elbow and I could imagine if you are in the middle seat, it being worse.  I kind of wished they had the controls on the seat back, but of course that could make people pushing on your seat back a bit too hard. Not a deal breaker by any means.

On the flight south I was sad since I thought I missed my warm cookie because I was sleeping. However, it turned out they don’t give out the cookies for flights that leave before 10am. Oh yes, I did get my cookie on the way back home and it was delicious.

The only real bad part of the flight was leaving about 1.5hrs late, but I can’t hold that against the airline. It was snowing quite a bit at DIA and it took us awhile to get de-icded. I have to say I was quite impressed with how quickly DIA got planes moving. Of course there were passengers who weren’t so understanding and started to get pissy, but I would much rather wait for de-icing than not and deal with the consequences. It also provided a fun experiment in social media. I had been Tweeting about being in Denver and turned out one of my Twitter followers (@CruiseNerd), was in the plane next to me and sent a photo.

They were both a nice and comfortable flights, but since Frontier doesn’t fly to many locations out of Seattle (Denver, Kansas City and Milwaukee) I don’t get to fly them very often. I end up flying through Denver quite a bit, but Frontier doesn’t end up being the cheapest at the time. I hope I get more opportunities to fly on Frontier in the future.

What? You want to see 17 photos of the fun weather at DIA and the flight? Sure!

Bad weather can cause airline delays, but do not blame the airline... blame the situation.

Bad weather can cause airline delays, but do not blame the airline... blame the situation.

Delays bite. You have a schedule, a plan and then when your flight becomes delayed, everything gets thrown off. Maybe your connection is missed, maybe the person picking you up gets annoyed or maybe  you miss the important meeting you were flying for to begin with. Although these delays happen and are annoying, they are just a part of this very vast and complex airline industry.

Just this week I have had two flights that were both delayed more than two hours. Tis the season for delays right? The first was from Las Vegas (LAS) to Bellingham (BLI). The plane was late getting to Vegas due to de-icing issues in Bellingham. The airline did a great job keeping us informed, but it didn’t stop the 2.5hr delay. We boarded only about an hour late and were expecting to be de-iced in LAS before taking off. Unfortunately there was an issue with the de-icing truck and another one had to be used. Once we were de-iced and pushed back there was another delay to re-file the flight plans.

The other entailed a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Seattle (SEA). The pilots who were supposed to be on our flight were stuck because of weather. So, new pilots were flown in from San Francisco (SFO). It was expected for them to arrive shortly, so we were boarded. Then their flight got delayed and we ended up sitting on the plane for 1.5hrs before take off, creating a 2.5hour total delay.

On one flight I was not home until 2:30am and the second 12:30am and with both I had to be at work the very next day. As always there were folks who were quite upset at the airline. I was unhappy with the situation for sure, but understanding to the why it happened.

I honestly think some passengers think airlines like to delay flights just to anger them. People act like their entire lives have been ruined. Doesn’t seem to matter if it is weather, maintenance or crew issues, people just get angry. The airline business of moving around planes and people, keeping on schedules, dealing with weather, gate issues, flight crew hours, air traffic, personnel issues and much more is extremely complex. When you stop and think about all that is involved, it is no wonder that there aren’t more delays.

I also hear people wondering why airlines don’t put in more buffer time between the time they arrive and leave (the turn-around time). Well, the problem is that passengers want the cheapest tickets possible and with airlines time is money. Every minute a plane is sitting on the ground, it is losing money. Airlines work very hard to reduce the amount of time they spend on the ground to help keep fares competitive.

Passengers also think airlines are lying to them. If their destination has nice weather and where they at has nice weather, they wonder how their flight could possibly be delayed. One reason could be the weather seen en-route. An airplane might have to re-route taking time. Another could be the weather at the city where the plane started out the day. By the time your plane gets to your airport at 5pm, it might have been all over the country (even world) and got delayed at 8am due to weather and has been delayed since.

Trust me, airlines do not like delays any more than you, especially when dealing with the last flight of the day. The executives don’t like the idea of losing money and the flight crew don’t want to be getting to their hotel, crash pad or home late either. Smaller airlines and airports have limited crews that normally would be going home on-time, but need to stay. When flying into Bellingham at 1:30am, I doubt the airport staff would have normally been there.

Any form of transportation has their issues. Trains and buses also have their fair share of delays. Heck, just driving around in your own car has delays. Many (way too many) times I have been driving in Seattle trying to go just 10 miles and it can take me over and hour — and that is not even during rush hour. I get angry, but who to blame? It is just part of the complex road system, living among a larger population, and being a member of our society.

This does not mean I like delays by any means. I have many people that can attest that patience is not a strong suit of mine and waiting around not doing anything bothers me. However, when delayed with an airline, I realize most delays are beyond the airline’s control and take a deep breath. I also imagine what my exact trip would have been like just 100 years ago (or even 300 years ago). I am sure people taking months covering the distance we do in a few hours wouldn’t mind a little delay of an airplane.

All that being said, happy travels to all of you flying for the holiday and try to be a bit understanding if your next flight is delayed.

Image: Eddie Moy