Allegiant delay underscores traveler vulnerability

Brian Brown, ReporterI recently conducted my first interview from Orlando, Fla.

It happened on March 2 after about seven hours of waiting in the Orlando-Sanford International Airport. My family and several members of my wife’s extended family had been on vacation visiting three Disney parks and Universal Studios. I woke up around 5:30 a.m. because we planned to arrive at the airport – some 50 miles away from our hotel – between 7 and 7:30 a.m. for an 9:15 a.m. flight home.

My wife had downloaded the Allegiant app on her phone, which told us when we woke up the flight was delayed 20 minutes. There was a thick fog that morning, so I wasn’t surprised.

Early morning fog at the airport

Early morning fog at the airport

The stubborn fog persisted until around 10 a.m., so we understood when our anticipated departure slowly climbed to 11:15 a.m. After it jumped into the afternoon hours is when nerves became frayed and the children (and grown ups) in our group of 19 became restless.

While I’m no seasoned traveler, I understand that flight delays are common. I’m not writing this to document my complaints or garner personal sympathy. I’m sure George Washington would have given up his wooden teeth to wait a few hours for the flight I took.

But somewhere around 3 p.m., it became clear to me just how vulnerable travelers – particularly, business travelers – are when an airline isn’t meeting expectations. What can you do? Pick another flight? Options may be limited if you are operating on short notice, a limited budget or don’t live in a major metropolitan area.

I briefly interviewed Robin Parker, president and CEO of Kaleidoscope Adventures, which operates out of Branson, Orlando and several other cities. A group-travel specialist, she also runs GroupTravelOdyssey.com.

Parker had become something of a representative for many of the waiting passengers, talking several times to Allegiant representatives at the gate hub.

Parker said she had a 3:45 p.m. business meeting in Branson that was postponed because of the delay. For what it’s worth, the gate staff said our plane was stuck in the main Orlando International Airport. It, along with the one slated to take passengers to Bangor, Maine, had been rerouted Sunday evening to the larger facility due to bad weather. Our plane was supposed to come over after the fog lifted, but it didn’t. No one that I am aware of received an explanation. The staff seemed to be uninformed about the cause. I felt bad for the Bangor folks, who were scheduled out before us, but left at nearly the same time after sitting in their plane for more than an hour.

Boarding soon?

Boarding soon?

Parker, a former flight attendant with Eastern Air Lines and a small-craft pilot herself, was visibly upset at the lack of a solid explanation. Had she known it would be around 5 p.m. before we took off, she said she would have found another flight with another airline.

“Why didn’t you bus us? Why did it take seven hours? This is not making sense to me,” Parker said, adding that she really doesn’t fly out of Branson anymore since Southwest Airlines left town.

There was more we talked about, but it really doesn’t matter now. This wasn’t a news event. I thought about researching the matter further, but that’s not the point. Delays happen. And Allegiant, I’m sure, is on time most of the time. In fact, that day, we saw several other Allegiant flights leave as scheduled. According to FlightStats.com, between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, Allegiant’s “on-time” performance (landed within 15 minutes of the flight schedule) ranged from 65 percent to 98 percent among its top 20 destinations.

My son, Chase, bored.

My son, Chase, bored.

The point is, as customers, we felt uninformed. That lack of information left us unable to make decisions that met our needs. It reminded me of a time when I was at the emergency room after one of my sons got into a bike accident. It took awhile to see a doctor, but there were no practical alternatives. All we could really do was wait.

So, I conducted an interview. And I tweeted about it. I’ve now written a blog, too. It’s a weird dynamic if you think about it. Myself and the other passengers were trusting Allegiant with our lives, but we couldn’t depend on an accurate departure time.

Have you ever been stuck somewhere? We all know that feeling, right? Do you run a business where people can fall through the operational cracks? Are you prepared to handle the feedback or answer questions? Do you have a backup plan when an important meeting needs to be cancelled? My situation reminded me how much we all depend on each other.

In the end, the amazing equipment and people that make traveling through the air possible got us home safely. As I remarked in my final tweet, that’s what mattered most. George Washington would have thought it was a smashing success.

We flew nearly 900 miles in a little over two hours.

We flew nearly 900 miles in a little over two hours.

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