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Doug Robinson: Got an hour? Ask someone about their flight

Published: Monday, April 8 2013 8:35 p.m. MDT

Passengers walk to board a Delta flight on Friday afternoon at the Natrona County International Airport near Casper. The airline has upgraded its planes flying to Salt Lake City. (Dan Cepeda, All) Passengers walk to board a Delta flight on Friday afternoon at the Natrona County International Airport near Casper. The airline has upgraded its planes flying to Salt Lake City. (Dan Cepeda, All)

SALT LAKE CITY —

How bad is airline travel these days? Let's put it this way — never ask someone this question unless you've got an hour:

How was your flight?

If it was meant to be merely a polite question so you can be on your way, you've made a serious tactical error. Nobody answers that question anymore with a word: "Fine." You want to avoid asking that question for the same reason you'd never ask a jogger about his last marathon.

Not that I have anything against airlines other than the food, the grumpy airline employees, lost luggage, extra luggage costs, cramped space, the late arrivals, overbooking, cancellations, the frisk job at security, the expense, the long lines, the giving away of your tickets to another passenger while you are standing right there at the counter.

Not that I'm bitter.

If service businesses were ranked like football teams, airlines would never get a bowl game.

So I was not even mildly surprised when I read a recent news report that airline passenger complaints to the Department of Transportation increased last year by 20 percent from the previous year.

Not that the airlines care. Recently, Delta Air Lines announced that it is going to make its bathrooms smaller so four seats can be added.

Memo to Delta: We said FEWER PASSENGERS, BIGGER BATHROOM, not MORE PASSENGERS, SMALLER BATHROOM.

As Exhibit A on the perils of airline flight, I offer this: My son Preston and his business partner, Patrick, recently returned from a trip to Kenya, so I ventured The Question.

How was your flight?

Buckle your seat belt, this is going to take a while. Preston experienced an airline sampler of what is wrong with airline travel (I won't mention the name of his airline because that would be embarrassing to that airline — it's DELTA — D-E-L-T-A!!!!).

Here is the log of his flight adventures aboard DELTA AIRLINES:

Flight from Salt Lake to Portland delayed about 50 minutes. The fun is beginning already.

Arrive in Portland almost an hour late. They board a plane bound — theoretically — for Amsterdam. A scheduled two-hour layover is about to grow to eight hours.

Captain announcement after a two-hour wait on the tarmac: "Sorry for the delay; our gauges are showing an error in the fuel switches."

This will be the first of many announcements every 20 to 30 minutes, followed by promises that "it shouldn't be long now."

Captain announcement: "We need to have the fuel switch replaced. We are looking for the part. We'll get back to you."

(Snarky side note: Apparently, Delta doesn't stock spare parts and has to shop for them at AutoZone or maybe another airline that thinks of such things.)

Pilot announcement: "We finally located the part. We are negotiating with United (Airlines) to get the part."

Pilot announcement: "We were able to get the part. Now someone is going to come and install it."

Pilot announcement. "We don't know if this will fix the problem, so we're going to have passengers get off the plane."

Pilot announcement one hour later, after passengers reboard: "The problem is not fixed. We can't fly internationally, but we can fly to Atlanta, where we will change planes and then fly to Amsterdam."

(I would love to tell you why it is OK to fly to Atlanta with bad fuel thingamabobs, and not to Amsterdam, but I have no clue.)

Pilot announcement: "We just realized that since we are flying to Atlanta, we have too much fuel. The plane will be too heavy to land, so we have to drain 10,000 gallons of gas. We are trying to find someone to come drain it."

(Robinson, are you making this up? No.)

Pilot announcement: "We found someone to drain it. We're just waiting for them to get here."

Pilot announcement: "Ok, the fuel has been drained. We're just waiting for someone to install the fuel slip."

(At this point, we suspect they were out on the street asking passers-by if they knew how to fix a whatchamacallit, a fuel thingie.)

Pilot announcement: "We're just waiting for the paperwork to get done."

Pilot announcement: "We got the paperwork done. However, it looks like the work was done incorrectly. So we're going to have to get someone back down here to redo the fuel slip."

Pilot announcement after the plane finally departs and lands in Atlanta: "We have another plane here (to take them to Amsterdam). However, the crew is not here."

What, nobody thought to call a pilot?

Passengers reschedule connecting flights during a two-hour wait at the gate, which proved to be a pointless exercise. In Amsterdam, Preston and Patrick discovered their reservations had been canceled. They made their own arrangements for another flight on Kenyan Air. The departure of that flight was — you guessed it — delayed.

What else could go wrong? Plenty, but thanks for asking. They arrived in Nairobi, but Preston's luggage didn't — for two days. What was scheduled to be 24 hours of travel was actually 40.

Two days before their return flight, Preston and Patrick checked their return reservations online. Surprise! — no reservation. They made new reservations.

Looking back, Preston says: "Delta was very unapologetic. They just shrugged off the whole thing."

Delta did offer a $100 credit toward a future flight — on Delta of course. "I'd rather pay $100 not to fly Delta," says Patrick.

Email: drob@desnews.com

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