I am sure everyone has been seeing the travel chaos in the news (media) lately. I thought I would share some first hand experiences as well.
It was like all the animals waiting in line to climb in/enter the Ark. I always arrive a few hours early to the airport, but…this time it was a blessing (no pun intended). I am not sure how anyone could get to the gate in 1 hour.
Tip #1: Arrive early and plan for long lines.
If you did NOT check in online and need to see agent, the line to see an agent was 4 hours. If you checked in online and has performed a self-tagged bag drop with SkyPriority, the line was only hour.
Tip #2: Check in online and do not wait to see an agent at the airport.
Tip #3: Take carry-on only. But many people travelling for vacation or internationally will need to check bags. If you do need to check-in a bag, use the self-tag kiosks to print your tag and then go to the shorter drop-off lines.
The airline (Delta) club was not too bad, but it was loud. There were a LOT of families and crowds that had encountered cancelled and delayed flights which created a lot of chaos and people look for a place to stay.
The Tough Decision
Now, here the hard part of the story. Just 15 minutes before my flight was supposed to start boarding…it was delayed by 2.5 hours due to a “safety check” on some of the seats on the plane. They needed to fly up parts from Los Angeles and that was going to take a few hours. Uggghhh,,,back to the lounge.
But the greater challenge for me was the fact that I was making a connection in Europe. Even if the plane had a tail wind and flew almost 700 knots, I would land after the connecting flight is supposed to depart. So I called the Delta Diamond hotline and connected with someone in 5 minutes. Nice!
However, it turns out due to the entire world travelling and everyone swarming the airports, all possible routes and connecting flights to Tel Aviv from Europe…were completely full for 2 days. I could fly to Paris or Amsterdam and put myself on standby, but I could be stuck in airport limbo for days. and where would my luggage end of? (hold that thought for a moment)
I made the decision to back out of the flight and work on finding an alternate flight/route/option. Easy enough, right? Well, it took an hour to reach a gate agent (since everyone is looking for help with their delays and lost connections). I notified that I was cancelling and would not be taking the flight (Delta canceled and refunded the flight for me). She then entered the details in the system to have my bag removed from the plane and returned to me. Great!
Waiting for the Luggage
Then came the next pain point. Waiting for my luggage. I went to the baggage claim office, and that took 45 minutes because there were so many people with lost luggage. Simple answer: they said it will come back to the main carousal by the office after the plane left. OK – the plane had not left. I caught one of the agents and asked, how long does it normally take? “Patience…just be patient. Everyone is challenged”. I waited another hour. I found some other passengers that also had left the flight and were waited for their bags. Two hours have gone by…
Time to be creative. The next time the “oversized luggage” door opened when they deliver golf clubs, strollers, etc. Hijack the worker and ask for help. They were nice. They asked for the gate and flight. They said they will go look. Another 30 minutes pass.
The door opens again. Hijack the worker again. This is when I used technology to help the situation. I had actually purchased and insert a “bag tracker” in my suitcase that uses GPS, cell service, wireless, bluetooth, etc. It is not perfect and not very precise, but it does work. It showed that it had been moved from the gate area and appears to have been put on a luggage cart and moved. I had an estimated spot. I showed the luggage worker…and then ah hah, they had an idea.
10 minutes later, the bag arrived!
Learning from all the above circumstances, I planned a different route, airline, no checked bags.
Tip #5: Use CLEAR and/or TSA pre-check. Despite all the lines, you are usually through the security lines in 5-10 minutes max.
Result? In less than 40 minutes after leaving the house, I was through security and in the lounge.
Yep, this is not the Delta lounge, it is United. It does not look modern or updated, but it is actually decent. The staff was pleasant, the snacks decent and I have to admit, it did not feel crowded.
The United Domestic Experience
I must admit, despite all the naysayers, the United flight was very efficient, good service and departed on time. What a relief! When you board, you get a small snack pack and it met the needs immediately. Hint: short flights to San Francisco do not have meals.
But they will serve a glass of wine and offer it from a full sized bottle and use real glasses!
The downside is the seat power does not have enough voltage or amps to charge a phone. It just barely reduces the draw. Win some, lose some!
Tip #6: Have a battery charger for your phone. and don’t pack these in your checked luggage. The airlines do not like that any more.
The real treat is the Polaris lounge in San Francisco international terminal. They have tons of space, dozens of gender neutral bathrooms and even full service dining! I only had a short connection, so I really only had a chance to do some quick work.
Tip #7: Make sure to get a snack. Despite the flights appearing to be on time, there will be delays and that means the meal you were counting on will be much later than you anticipated
When boarding the new 787 to Israel, they used their new check-in procedure where you must look into a camera and it compares your picture to your uploaded passport. At first it went very slow and then people eventually caught on.
About half the passengers claimed they needed to pre-board, so even after the boarding began, you had to wait another 30 minutes in line to get the opportunity to get on the plane.
The United International Service
The seats and comforts were awesome.
The food was delicious, but…the service was not that friendly. It was so rushed. The flight attendants would run up and ask what you wanted to drink. They did not even bring the cart by. If you say red wine, they will run away, come back and splash the wine into a glass and leave. When they bring the food, they ask if you would like more wine, they would again quickly splash the wine into the glass and I would have to spend 5 minutes finding napkins to clean up the spilled wine so it did not get on my clothes. I did not want any more wine because I was afraid of getting stained with it!
I have to admit the Delta service in business class is much more careful and customer focused. It may not be as fast and the food not as good, but the experience is superior.
Final tip: Don’t stress. Sometimes the views can be incredible.
Summary: the Star Alliance routes appear to be much more reliable than other choices when headed to distant locations in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. But it does not mean the service is better on board the flight.