The longest journey home

Sun-burnt and exhausted, August 8, 2016 was the end of 2 weeks of a much-needed vacation; my GoGo-connected flight back to the USA welcomed me home with countless work emails and urgent requests. After an hour of barely making a dent in the hundreds of emails, I needed to get my fix of cat videos, memes and to catch up on the news – CNN’s headline had four simple words that still haunt me “Outage grounds Delta flights.”

CNN Headline on 8/8/2016

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 – this was the truest definition of IROPS.  According to Flightradar24, I was one in one of the four Delta flights inbound to the USA. All domestic and international Delta flights that weren’t in-flight were held at the gates because of the outage.  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.

DAL40 SYD-LAX on 8/8/2016

The flight had just over 2’ish hours remaining before landing at LAX, and I was likely the only person on a fully loaded Boeing 777 that had any idea of what we were about to experience.  I showed the flight attendants the article, and the purser’s response was frightening “We have no clue what to expect when we land.”

Delta flight 40 landed safely at LAX around 7 am with the usual arrival announcements; there was no mention from the pilots or flight crew of what was happening or what to expect.

The instant I turned my cell phone on I received a flurry of notifications about my onward flight to TPA: It was delayed but departure time kept changing. I called the reservations line (at the time, a Platinum Medallion with priority phone access) and was shocked to hear there was a 3.5 hour hold time to talk to an agent. By the time we began to deplane, it was clear that unless your destination was LAX, you’re not leaving for a while.

Day 1

I was “stuck behind the eight-ball” since the nation-wide ground stop began hours before my plane landed. Every hotel within a reasonable drive of LAX was sold out; It seemed like no one ever planned for nationwide IROPS.

Delta ticketing, special services, and sky priority queues had thousands of pissed off customers trying to get to their destinations – this was the lead story on all news stations. I managed to find a customer service agent in the LAX Sky Club who put me on standby for a different flight “in the unlikely event my original flight gets canceled.”

Hours came and went, morning became afternoon and then night – stuck at LAX. Almost every flight was canceled because of missing pilots, missing flight crews, or missing planes; nothing stung worse than having pilots, flight crew and a plane but seeing your flight canceled due to duty timeout.

Once evening became late night, my frustration turned into exhaustion I grabbed a spot on the floor and tried to get some sleep. I concocted a nest out of my carry on items and napped for what seemed like minutes. The constant yelling, announcements and audible frustration from fellow passengers awakened me many times; people just wanted to get home.

The situation crossed a critical threshold around 1 am when all of the terminal shops and restaurants (almost harmoniously) 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 3 am, the Los Angeles fire chief was considering evacuating the terminal due to the sheer overcrowding and barely controllable crowds.

Day 2

I had been living in the same clothes for what seemed like a lifetime; Once the terminal stores re-opened, I bought new clothes (since my luggage was checked to my final destination); I wanted to feel less-homeless.

For shits-and-grins, I whipped out my phone, and checked how much it would be to Uber back to Tampa, FL. $3,200 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 reservations desk, I had tickets to DTW, MSP, ATL, and TPA; all eventually canceled.  I was re-booked on a flight to JFK, which (surprisingly) had a plane, flight crew, and pilots. It was one of a few flights that took off that day (with me on it).

I landed in JFK and was greeted by much of the same shit-show as LAX – thousands of pissed off passengers and very few flights taking off. I didn’t have the patience to fight anymore. I found availability at a hotel in NYC and got my first full night of rest (thank god).

Day 3

Another missed day of work and another wasted day of PTO. I called into reservations and was met with 45 minutes of hold time; a glimmer of hope that things were returning to normal.  Being in NYC, I had advantages to get home; I could fly out of EWR, LGA or JFK to get to TPA with some non-stop flights, but the remaining connecting in ATL and DTW.  The first few flights were canceled due to the 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 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.

Day 4

My checked baggage arrived on day 4, having been sitting in TPA baggage claim for 2 days (sigh).

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