I was in-flight on DAL40 returning from Australia when Delta’s data center suffered a power outage that caused a system-wide ground stop and havoc for days. According to Flightradar24, I was one in one of the four Delta flights inbound to the USA – all other domestic and international Delta flights had been grounded once the computers crashed. While the outage never caused any risk to in-flight safety, the experience getting home was the worst experience I have endured in the 10+ years of jet setting.
It started a few hours from landing
Returning from 2 weeks of vacation welcomed my GoGo-connected flight home with countless work emails and urgent requests. After an hour of barely making a dent, I needed a sanity-break so I decided to get my fix of cat videos, memes and to catch up on the news – CNN’s headline had four simple words that will haunt me forever “Outage grounds Delta flights.”
It was 2’ish hours from landing at LAX and I was the only person on a fully loaded Boeing 777 that had any idea of what we were about to descend into. I talked with the flight attendants and showed them the CNN article – they too were stunned. The purser said “We have no clue what to expect when we land.”
Descent into madness
Delta flight 40 landed safely at LAX – during the announcements, there was no mention from the pilots or flight crew of what was happening or what to expect – everything was standard operating procedures.
The instant the wheels hit the ground I launched the FlyDelta app and received a flurry of notifications about my flight onward flight to TPA: It was delayed, but had no estimated departure time. This caused concern, so I called the Skymiles line. I was a Platinum Medallion and shocked to hear there was a 3.5 hour hold time to talk to an agent. By the time the jetbridge rolled up and we began to deplane, it was clear that unless your destination was LAX, you’re not leaving for a while.
Delta ticketing, special services and sky priority counters had thousands of pissed off customers trying to get to their destinations. I managed to find a tolerable customer service agent in the LAX Skyclub who put me on standby for a different flight “in the unlikely event my original flight gets cancelled”
Hours came and went. Morning turned into afternoon and then to night – still at LAX. Flights were cancelled because of missing pilots, missing flight crews, missing planes but nothing stung worse than having pilots, flight crew and a plane but seeing your flight cancelled due to duty timeout.
For the infrequent flier, pilots and flight crews have strict guidelines with how long they can work (“duty time”) before having a mandated rest period to ensure a rested, alert crew.
Once evening became late night, my frustration turned into exhaustion I (along with thousands of other stranded passengers) did the only thing we could – grab a spot on the floor and try to get some sleep. Resembling some deranged bird, I concocted a nest out of my carry on items and napped for what seemed like minutes.
I was awakened many times by the screaming passengers demanding answers from anyone with a Delta uniform on. Things became serious after 01:00 when all of the shops in the terminal pulled their gates closed and left for the night. Anxiety turned into desperation when people could no longer get food or drinks – we were left to fend for ourselves. Around 03:00, the Los Angeles fire chief was considering evacuating the terminal due to the sheer overcrowding and barely controllable crowds.
I had been living in the same clothes for what seemed like a year – I had to go buy new clothes since everything was checked from SYD through to TPA. I wasn’t happy – I wanted to get home. For shits and grins, I whipped out my phone and sarcastically asked Uber how much it would cost to get back to Tampa, FL. $2,500 wasn’t a bad price – I considered it on more than a few occasions.
Today’s goal was to get to the east coast – At this point, I didn’t care where – just closer to home. After holding for hours (again) to get through to the Skymiles desk, I was booked on direct flights to DTW, MSP, ATL and TPA – all cancelled. I was re-booked on a late-afternoon flight to JFK, which (surprisingly) had a plane, flight crew and pilots. It was one of a handful of flights that actually took off that day – with me on it.
I arrived in JFK to much of the same shit-show as I experienced in LAX – thousands of pissed off customers and very few flights taking off. I didn’t have the patience to fight any more. I found availability at a hotel in the NYC and and got my first full night of rest (thank god).
Another missed day of work and another wasted day of PTO. I called into the Skymiles desk with only 45 minutes of hold time – a glimmer of hope that things were returning back to normal. Being in NYC, I had advantages to get home, I could fly out of LGA or JFK to get to TPA with connecting airports in ATL and DTW. The first few flights were cancelled due to missing crew, but I was able to get to ATL by late afternoon. Through some miracle, I managed to make the last flight to SRQ, which got me close enough to home to finally call the trip over.
I arrived home to much needed silence – no screaming passengers, no overhead paging announcements blaring in the background. I sat on my bed with a fist full of boarding passes as a testament to one of the worst travel experiences I have ever experienced. My checked baggage eventually arrived on day 4, having been sitting in TPA baggage claim for 2 days (sigh).
I still continue to fly Delta having earned Diamond just a few weeks after the meltdown of 2016.