SAN FRANCISCO — In this day and age of continuous airline service, wage, staff, and in-flight cutbacks, plus a myriad of new fees, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the industry is driven by humans.
We see the faces of the gate agents, baggage handlers, pilots, and flight attendants every day. But we also might forget that they’re humans too. On Sunday night, June 8, I saw some of the brightest shining examples of airline employees doing everything they could to keep a plane full of passengers from bouncing off the walls in a riot.
I was one of those passengers on Midwest Airlines flight 421, scheduled to depart Milwaukee at 7:45 PM for Washington Reagan National Airport. I’ll save you the suspense and spill the secret. We didn’t get to DCA until 2 AM Eastern, having spent an extra three hours sitting in the plane, on the ground in Milwaukee, as waves of severe weather blew through. The radar image here shows the first line of storms about to hit Milwaukee, as we boarded and pushed back from the gate.
After finally making it back to DCA, I had another hurdle to face, a transcon trip to San Francisco for a conference, on a flight that left at 6 AM. Yep, four hours after landing, I was back in the air on a Delta flight to Atlanta where I connected to SFO. After being awake for close to 36 hours, I recounted my experience to Holly in an e-mail:
On the bright-side, we had a great crew on Midwest last night. They did everything they could to make it bearable. We had taxied out just before the storms went though, hoping to takeoff before the weather hit… but we got to the threshold of the runway and the wind really started to blow. So we parked out there for a couple hours. Brenda and Vicki [the flight attendants] served cups of water and warmed up the chocolate chip cookies for us.
Finally we taxied back to the gate, and they made sure we got replenished with more jugs of water and a fresh batch of cookies for later in the flight. Vicki searched the terminal for any snacks they could serve us during the delay. The pilots and dispatchers worked for another couple hours getting a new route and more fuel loaded before we finally left. They were all amazing, and I can only imagine how other crews would have been after that much time in the plane dealing with us. “Nasty” and “unpleasant” are adjectives one might expect utilized to describe what might have been.
Brenda, the lead flight attendant, came on the PA after we landed and apologized and then thanked us for being the most patient plane full of passengers they’d ever had. In fact, I was in row 2 and there wasn’t one single complaint or unhappy passenger during the entire delay. Several had questions about possible rebooking in the morning and one woman did get off when we got back to the gate, but nobody was impatient or rude… even though we definitely could have made it out before the weather if we’d pushed on time (we were about 10 minutes late out of the gate).
Brenda even managed to make many of us laugh and smile when she explained that they had to do the safety demo a second time, just in case we forgot in the prior three hours. (Of course, it’s also an FAA requirement, she went on to clarify.)
In the end, it wasn’t an experience I would want to replay anytime soon. Or ever. Or even wish on my worst enemies. But it’s also nice to recount the tale and hope that Vicki, Brenda, the flight crew, and ground staff of Midwest 421 get some recognition for their amazing work Sunday night and early Monday morning.