July 9

Italians and airline delays


Once again MD and I fell victim to an airline delay.  We were scheduled to leave London at 4:45 PM on Alitalia.  We got there in plenty of time, went through all the check in hassle that I described earlier.  We got to the Alitalia lounge, got the call that the plane was ready to board, and headed to the gate.
As we reached the gate, there came a torrential downpour complete with lightning, thunder, howling wind, the works.  After the weather settled down a little – not completely, but a little – we boarded the plane, a huge Airbus.  MD and I had were in the first row, so we got in and got our stuff stowed and our reading material out.
The plane finally loaded the zillion and one people on the flight, then closed the doors, pulled away from the gate and headed to the tarmac.
Once out there, we waited forever, first for the weather to settle down, then for all the planes that had backed up because of the weather to land, and the others in the queue ahead of us to take off.
We ended up leaving about an hour and a half late.
The pilot made up some of the time, but not all.  We got into Rome at 9:00 PM instead of the scheduled 8 PM.  The plane taxied to the gate, which wasn’t really a gate, but an unloading area.  There was supposed to be a bus there to cart everyone to the gate.  MD and I got up and got our stuff and stood in line waiting to get off the plane.  The woman who worked for the ground transportation end of the whole operation I assume) came aboard the plane.  As she did, the passengers began to scream at her.  And I mean scream.  Not speak loudly and authoritatively, but to scream.  Men and women alike, but mainly the men.
I turned around to find an angry mob behind me in the line.  They had pushed their way to the front and were right behind MD and me shouting at this poor woman.  They all had connections they were going to miss in Rome thanks to the delay.  God knows, I understood their frustration, but it beat anything I had ever seen.
During my own miserable experience of a couple of days earlier, I probably let out a few sighs of disgust with the run around I was getting. These people were shrieking, swearing, stabbing their fists and their fingers.  It was quite the show. It made my mild, mild behavior seem positively civilized.
And, unlike in our case, when the delay was of a sort of ambiguous cause, these people clearly new the cause.  We were all sitting in the middle of a frigging thunderstorm.  I certainly didn’t want to take off until it passed.
It went on continuously from the time the door opened until they got a bus there.  Once in the bus, many of these people continued to scream while the bus was loading.  I couldn’t really understand them, but my sense was that they wanted the bus to go ahead and take them to the terminal before it was even filled with all the passengers it could take.
Anyway, we’re here in the hotel in Rome, safe and sound after just another typical travel day with the Eades.

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  1. Uh, isn’t it just a given that a flight out of Heathrow is going to be delayed due to weather?
    Delays are just a part of travel – especially, air travel. As a part-time missionary I know it all too well, as I have lived it often.
    Screaming at the poor woman who had absolutely no control whatsoever over the situation just seems to me to be a huge waste of energy.
    Missed connections are (relatively) easy to rectify. Patience and flexibility are a traveler’s best assets!
    Hi Chip–
    I agree for the most part.  Weather is a huge problem that has to be lived with.  As to the patience and flexibility…
    If you’ve planned a trip for a long time, got all your reservations set, and the whole thing gets turned on its ear because of what you perceive as indifference or incompetence on the part of the airline staff, it’s a little hard to bear…at least for me.  And for a whole bunch of Italians on my last flight.

  2. Just catching up with all your travels thus far! Thanks for the tip about security at Heathrow. Thank goodness we can fly direct from Denver on British Airways, it makes the trip a lot easier. BA has those seat-into-bed thingies, too, and it’s my dream to fly in them at least once. I think they are a bit roomier than the ones you and MD had on Virgin. I know what you mean about the middle row seats in coach, we got stuck in those going to and from Hong Kong (14 hrs going and 12 hrs coming back.) Not fun at all. I like to fly but I was never so glad to get off a plane.
    Wow, I’m really interested in hearing about the Ambian adventure when MD posts it. Isn’t mixing it with booze a part of the problem?
    And yeah, those people who just can’t understand that the weather is one thing you just can’t get around when it comes to flying amaze me. Back when we had the December blizzards, there were people who thought they should have still made it out despite the wind piling snowdrifts all the way up under the plane bellies.
    Hi Esther–
    Yes, it’s an Ambien plus booze problem; I should have known better.  I do now.

  3. You two really should write a book about your air travel experiences. You know the saying.. misery loves company. I’m sure there are enough of us fellow travelers who have been there and would enjoy reading about it all.
    A book?  I don’t think so.  It was bad enough living it once.  Now I’ve lived it twice because I blogged about it.  A book would put me over the edge.

  4. Mike, we have enjoyed reading your “travelogue” even though we sympathize about (and identify with) the airline travails and outrages. The Italians may have the right idea about expressing their displeasure so vociferiously – they really know how to get rid of built-up stress. 🙂
    Also liked the pics from your first class ride on Virgin Airlines. You looked really happy, especially in the second photo. Guess that was the positive fallout from the Mimosas, or whatever the concoction was. Safe trip…
    Wil / Judy
    Hi Wil / Judy–
    It was quite the concoction of self medication after the horrors of the previous day.  A few glasses of champagne, a couple of mimosas, a glass of white wine with salad, and a glass of red with dinner.  No wonder I looked happy.  The amazing thing is that I can still remember what I read.

  5. Yelling Italians in a plane? Can’t be possible 😉
    Of course they will yell, they always do, that’s their only purpose in life, make noise, waving with the arms and make other peoples life miserable.
    I was once on the plane (100 seats Fokker) from Cosenza to Metz, it was a nightmare. From people wanting a given seat despite the reservation numbers on the tickets, screaming and blocking the whole row. People talking so loudly during flight that the crew had to intervene. The kicker were the bunch of people standing up taking there hand luggage just before landing (like some do on trains) with the crew going ballistic because of that (pilots love it when the balance of the plane changes during landing). It continued at the luggage counter where several fights were nearly started. And when we thought the whole madness would end, we encountered the same people fighting over which one will be the first to get out of the parking area.
    I will never ever again fly with Italians (especially from the ones from the south, Calabrese and Sicilians).
    I have travelled some exotic routes with strange people (Gabon, Yemen, Comoros, Egypt, West Indies, Ireland, Swiss, Luxemburg, Canada) but nothing compares to that flight.
    Geez, our trip was a breeze compared to the nightmare you went through.

  6. So, you travel more than I, but DW and I have had a lot of the same issues. (two less than timely flights on Al Italia, canceled connection on Continental, canceled flight on Northwest, delay on the reroute on United, free bump to Premium Economy on Virgin due to overbooking, oh, and a 12 hour six flight standby at Denver on United, the day before my Valuation final). And, from watching the news, I would suggest it’s more of a epidemic than bad luck.
    My liberal leanings suggest it’s a breakdown between management and labor. The Northwest cancellation was clearly due to that (excuse given… no pilot… news reports talked about wildcat strikes in response to layoffs). My authoritarian leanings suggest that deregulation is the problem, given the price wars that sweep the industry every 8 months or so, forcing airlines to compete on slim margins, rather than improve their service under a regulated price. My b-school leanings suggest that government interference, in the form of bailouts are the problem, continuing to suckle and coddle an industry in need of neither. The soft cruelty of low expectations, mostly due to the necessity of the industry to commerce and competitiveness. But, my real leaning is that the hub and spoke model is more than dated. It’s currently counter productive. Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer (three of the top four commercial airplane builders in the world {Airbus is the exception} agree, and are developing smaller, not bigger, planes.
    Last thought. Personal acquaintance Watts Wacker wrote some ideas for the industry in The Deviant’s Advantage. Since the current model doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to rethink a little (noteable exceptions to the not working… Southwest, Ryan Air{in Europe}, America West, Jet Blue {ignoring recent problems, they are profitable}… all airlines that offer a slightly different value proposition from the standard airline and all moderately to very profitable).
    Good luck.
    Hi Max–
    I suspect you’re right about the spoke and hub model being outdated.
    I think that the airlines that are doing well right now – the ones you mentioned along with EasyJet and Wizzair (both European) – are doing well because they all fly the same kind of planes (fewer maintenance headaches, mechanics have to learn only one plane, parts are interchangeable, etc.) and because they strive for good customer service.  Who in their right mind wouldn’t rather fly on Jet Blue than U.S. Air or American?

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