A Phantom Delay
by John Delach
“Your flight is delayed.” However, you discover this unpleasant news, it means trouble, trouble for you and those traveling with you. Trouble with connections, your ride home from the airport or the plans you made for the rest of the day.
Word that your flight has been delayed may reach you by way of a text or an email from your carrier, from the message board at the airport or by word of mouth from an airline employee. No matter the source, that first notice is a knife wound, a loss of heart and confidence, a silent or half whispered, “Damn,” or “Oh sh**.”
If you are a seasoned traveler, your plan of actions begins with, “How do I determine if the time of the delay is real or if it is going to continue to lengthen until it becomes a nightmare?”
Why? Because, once a delay is posted, it can only get worse. We have all suffered delays, they are part of the process. My approach is to get in front of the delay, find out as much as I can about the cause and seek out realistic alternatives before the enemy; my fellow passengers, wake-up to the problem.
On Friday, December 15, Mary Ann and I left the South Seas Resort in Captiva, Florida at 8:07 AM to begin the return journey to our home in Port Washington, NY. Mary Ann drove our rented Jeep Renegade to the Fort Myers Airport for our Jet Blue flight to JFK scheduled to depart at 11:02 AM. As we waited to check in two bags, I walked over to the departure board. To my chagrin, there was an alert that our departure had slipped forty-minutes to 11:42. “Oh sh**.” I exclaimed to myself as Mary Ann caught my eye.
Once we were at the counter I asked the agent checking us in, “Can you tell if the inbound airplane that will become our flight has taken off?”
She checked her computer and replied, “It left on time and is in the air and will land at 10:18.”
“Interesting,” I replied. “For some reason the departure board is showing a forty-minute delay?”
“That’s not unusual. We don’t control those boards, the airport does. That’s probably some other airline.”
As we walked away, we turned to each other and agreed that it was highly unlikely that two different airlines would have flights departing at an odd time like 11:02. Once we reached the central lobby I excused myself for a pit stop.
After my toilet break I wandered over to the main Departure Board while a middle school band performed their interpretation of Christmas Carols into funeral dirges. How appropriate, I thought. Looking up at the flights my mind registered that it showed Jet Blue Flight 430 departing at 11:02 AM: On Time! WTF! How can this be? My only thought was Mary Ann’s probable reaction, “Are you insane? Delays do not disappear, what did you see on the other board?”
Instead, when Mary Ann rejoined me she said, “I was looking at the board when you went to the Men’s Room. Just like that, the delay disappeared, and our original departure time re-appeared.”
We were stunned. In all of our years of travel, especially me, we have never, ever witnessed a delay reversing itself. Such an event does not happen. What the hell was going on here?
At the gate, departure time remained 11:02 and we began to board accordingly. We were in the last group scheduled to board Jet Blue Flight 430, so we had just lined up when the agent at the gate explained, “The captain has requested a rapid boarding to avoid being delayed. Once everyone is on board, the door will close and once the Jetway pulls away, your flight is considered as departed and not subject to a ground delay.”
Our fellow passengers complied, the ground tug pushed the A320 back at 11:00, we taxied out and went wheels up at 11:07. With a monster tailwind, we made wheels on the ground at JFK at 1:02 PM, less than two-hours in the air. Seriously, RSW to JFK in less than two hours flying time, OMG!
I asked one of the flight attendants just what had happened to the delay? She explained with a mischievous look in her eyes and on her face, “The delay was a warning. The airport posted it, but the Captain took it only as a warning and didn’t confirm he accepted it. He knew he had a window to get ahead of it and that’s what he did.”
Sign me up for that captain, anytime, anywhere!
The stress the captains have to fill the plane, be on time, and judge whether a gauge or light is important enough to delay the schedule flight plus land in all sorts of weather, I would say most are probably underpaid.