Friday, September 11, 2009
Reflections on 9/11
My schedule for the next few days includes flights to Denver, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Washington.
I spent all of Thursday afternoon in Logan airport waiting for a delayed flight to take off.
What happened and what was the root cause?
My 2:45pm flight was originally reported on time. Then it became slightly delayed to 3:15pm because of a late departure of the inbound aircraft. Then it became indefinitely delayed due to a "mechanical failure" that occurred in flight. The only information given was that the plane would land, mechanics would diagnose the problem, and then propose a departure time based on their findings.
At 4pm, they announced that the problem would require a spare part to be flown in from Washington, which would arrive at 5pm and be installed by 6pm. A go/no go decision would be made at 6pm.
At 6pm the plane was fixed, but no one could find the pilots. They had checked into a hotel while waiting for the mechanics to finish.
At 6:30pm we boarded. At 7:15 pm we took off, a modest 4.5 hour delay.
We landed in Colorado at 9:30pm local time, I rented a car and drove to Keystone, CO for a keynote to the Colorado Hospital Association, arriving at midnight (2:00 am for me).
What was the root cause?
Since today is 9/11, it is important the we reflect on the downstream effects those events have had on all of us. 9/11 resulted in increased security, additional labor expense, and more financial pressure on the airlines. They downsized staff, planes, and schedules. They eliminated spare aircraft and reduced stocks of spare parts. The increase in energy costs exacerbated the situation - more overbooking, fewer seats, and less excess capacity to respond to cancelled/delayed flights. If a flight is cancelled, it can take a day or two to reroute passengers via other already overbooked flights.
In my case, all other flights to Denver on 9/10 were overbooked and could not accommodate standbys. No spare aircraft were available. The right spare parts were not stocked in Boston.
Not only did 9/11 have a devastating impact on the people involved and their families, it caused all of us to set different expectations for our ability to travel. My response to this is to offer words of kindness to the airline employees who are on the front lines responding to stressed passengers. I try to bring a sense of optimism to my fellow passengers and explain to them from all my experience traveling that the best approach is to wait for the repair even if that takes several hours. Trying heroic multi-airport rerouting rarely works or saves time. I try to turn my observations of the repair process into progress reports for those around me.
If you're traveling and you experience a delay or cancellation, be kind to the airline staff who are not empowered to fix the economic circumstances that caused the recalibration of the entire airline industry. Be optimistic and helpful with your fellow passengers. Stretch, have a cup of tea, and always bring a good book or computer to pass the time.
Our economy, national psyche, and travel flexibility have all been changed. Let's support each other to make the best we can from the series of events (9/11, energy prices, and the economy) we've been dealt.
Posted by John Halamka at 3:00 AM