I tend to lose a lot of time thinking of all the various ways I’ve lost time over the days, months, and years of my life. Some of my time has been lost in wondrous ways like seeing the Grand Canyon or getting in the van and going on tour with a punk band. Maybe I’ll write about those things sometime. However, as it’s somewhat timely, I’d like to write about the time I lost at Laguardia airport between July 20, 2016 and July 21, 2016. It was the day of Southwest’s recent company-wide computer glitch that affected some 2,000 flights and mostly ground the company to a halt for an entire day.
But we didn’t know anything about that as my girlfriend and I travelled by bus from my father’s house in rural Colrain, MA. We had just finished a big trip that involved moving a truck cross-country, seeing Niagara Falls, a fife and drum event, and numerous other things I may write about sometime soon.
We chose to fly with Southwest out of Laguardia rather than a more expensive airline from Boston back to our home in Indianapolis. We went with Southwest because of the cheap one-way fare that no one else could offer. Everything about that trip had gone off without a hitch so perhaps we were doomed before we even set foot into the relatively un-updated LGA.
We left Colrain with plenty of time to get into New York City and take another bus to the airport before our flight (Southwest 1031) took off at 8:00 PM. I had signed up for flight updates from Southwest so that we could stay on top of any changes in travel. Though we would never get any updates as Southwest had multiple computer and database systems fail during that time. I checked with Flight Aware as we sat on the Greyhound bus in New York City, complete with boisterous parents, wearing weed socks and smelling of the same. Flight Aware said the flight was delayed by about an hour, so we breathed a sigh of relief, nervous that our late bus would spell trouble for our trip home. Now we had a little extra time to move around at the airport. It was disconcerting that I wasn’t getting updated from Southwest, but I received no notice of any trouble from the company and when I looked for information regarding it, there was none to be found.
We arrived at the airport to the news that our flight was delayed a little more but no indication was given to us by the Southwest desk that anything was amiss. It was only later when the flight was delayed again (pushing the leave time three hours late) that we started getting texts from friends saying that Southwest had a big issue with its computer systems. We were reassured by the Southwest gate agent there at Terminal B, gate B4, that the flight was inbound and we would be leaving that night, regardless of the glitch.
It got closer and closer to our leave time and as we were simply exhausted by the day (having driven in on two buses from rural Massachusetts) so we resigned ourselves to getting in late and sleeping in as much as we could. Some 30 minutes before our inbound plane was to land, the gate agent announced, “Due to a curfew issue at this airport, the inbound plane is being rerouted to a different state and this outbound flight is being canceled. Please come to the desk to rebook.”
The collective groan was incredibly loud. We were so exhausted and felt jerked around, of course. But we had no recourse. As we all stood in line to rebook our tickets, the captain and first mate of the inbound flight walked past the Southwest line. It was then that I realized the gate agent had lied to us. I thought about why and came up with the fact that if the crew and passengers of our inbound flight had gotten out at our gate as they canceled the flight, there might be a bit of a mutiny. In fact, the crew had reached their flight quota for the day, being completely incapable of taking another flight, given the amount of time they also spent waiting for delays. More than likely, we were lied to for this reason.
I confronted someone at the desk about this. They got their supervisor to come over. He confirmed that there was no curfew issue and that the gate agent had lied. People were being turned down for vouchers, hotels for the evening, rental cars, and other compensation, left and right. I stuck around until the bitter end while the supervisor claimed to go speak with his manager. In fact, he was outside the airport not speaking to anyone, just waiting out us hangers-on. I was irate and we were booked on the 6:10 AM flight the next morning, needing to get home to Indianapolis where someone was watching our dog.
Southwest told us that all hotels were booked up, not that they would accommodate us. We tried to sleep there at Laguardia, starting at about 12:30 AM on 7/21. My girlfriend was able to catch a few Z’s while in her sleeping bag on the floor by baggage claim. We slept amidst what I found out later is a group of homeless people that frequents the airport. We only found that out at about 2:30 AM when two social workers and several police officers came to offer them services. They were summarily turned down and only served in infuriating me further as they risked waking my girlfriend up as she slept on the floor.
Come 4:00 AM, I decide to check in at the desk because that’s when they first opened. After being awake for 28 hours at that point, sauntered up to the desk, knowing that terminal of Laguardia like the back of my hand at that point. As I rounded the corner from the escalator, I saw the Southwest line, which wrapped around all of its stanchions and spilled out into the security line. I checked the board: Our 6:10 AM flight to Midway (and further on to Indianapolis) was cancelled. Now, I knew our plane had landed because we were lied to about it the night before. And here I was with a flight that had been cancelled some three and a half hours after we were booked on it.
However, every other flight to Indianapolis that day, whether connecting or nonstop, took off. None of those were cancelled. I woke my girlfriend up, completely irate and knowing that we needed to get rebooked, if nothing else. As a further twist of the knife, given that we had to wait for everyone else (and even when I got out of line and just went up to the desk, irritating several other patrons) in line, every other flight to the Midwest was booked up besides the 8:00 PM flight to Indianapolis, a full 24 hours after we had originally booked.
We tried to standby on things to Chicago And Nashville, running all over the terminal, but nothing came to fruition. We were so disoriented that we tried sleeping under the food court escalator for a few hours. If I had a sign proclaiming Southwest’s fault in all this, I would’ve put it up for others to see at that point.
In all, we spent 28 hours at Laguardia. During our stint, we spent time with an AAU basketball team who also had their flight cancelled after sitting and waiting for three hours of delays. We ate at Dunkin Donuts three times, as it was one of two restaurants available to us in that terminal. We spent $23 on two drinks. I yelled at more people than I can remember in my life, over a period of several hours. By the end of it all, I was welcomed into the supervisor’s office due to our specific kinship (he too had gotten about two hours sleep). As they strategized what they could be doing, I looked around the room at the nondescript digs and the overflow of Popeye’s Chicken and realized that the supervisor and Southwest’s employee’s on the ground were getting screwed just as hard as we were, if not more. I shook the man’s hand as he profusely apologized, knowing exactly how long I had been there (and having been on the receiving end of my yelling multiple times).
Eventually our third flight took and we were able to make it home (after it was delayed as well). We were e-mailed a paltry $200 LUV voucher from Southwest (in a large blanket e-mail that went out to several affected parties, I’m sure). I was told to follow up with Customer Relations, being assured that a MOM report was being filed due to the severity of the situation.
As it stands, I called Customer Relations and was told to contact Southwest via e-mail and dictate my complaint for additional compensation. I was also told that these claims are typically responded to within 48-72 hours by Southwest representatives. I will follow up and report back on whether or not I was given proper compensation for these errors on Southwest’s part.
It just goes to show that we can lose time in a variety of ways. At the end of the ordeal, we were laughing because we had nothing else to do (and my voice was getting hoarse from yelling at people). We became known around the airport for our struggle and my dealings with Southwest. On our flight back, a couple gave us their drink coupons (undoubtedly a cheap tactic by Southwest to get people off their backs). The drinks didn’t quell any of our irritation but we were overjoyed when we made it back home.
Hopefully Southwest can do some things to recover from this. Truly I picked the airline because it was the cheapest flight and I think that’s largely what they have going for them. I just hope that this doesn’t screw up things up for the concept of a “value” airline at large. Because I’ll probably need cheap flights for the rest of my life. And Southwest hasn’t really cut it for me in recent memory.