Friday, March 21, 2008

On Maintenance...

I can't believe it. I think that maybe I'm not meant to fly. My travel to and from EclipseCon 2008 (which I'll be blogging about in the very near future, once I collect my thoughts) was fraught with yet more joy (or lack thereof). I suppose it was foolish of me to expect things to get better, but what can I say, I'm an optimist at heart (or a sucker for punishment, depending on how you look at it). In hindsight, airline travel pain points aren't all about safety and security... they're often about maintenance.

My flight from Chicago to San Jose last Sunday was initially delayed because of a generator problem which somehow resolved itself, so we were cleared to fly about a half hour late (which was good, I thought, since I figured there was no way we'd all fit on later flights with all the masses heading to mecca). Once on the plane, though, the captain informed us that in addition to having to wait for the plane to finish being refueled (aren't they supposed to do that before people get on the plane?), there was an issue with the "chimes". Apparently, something about the forward lavatory was interfering with the pilots' ability to communicate with the crew. A technician boarded the aircraft and spent 30 minutes trying several things, including rebooting the plane, to resolve the issue. Another announcement informed us that a part needed to be ordered and that we were to stay on the plane and wait for an estimated hour until it arrived. Eventually it became apparent that the part would take longer than expected to arrive, and so those that wished to re-enter the terminal were allowed to de-board the plane. I decided to get off and stretch my legs, so I took my backpack with me and headed to the terminal. About fifteen minutes later, decision was made to abandon the aircraft, soon after which chaos ensued as those that had left their carry-on bags on the plane attempted to re-board the aircraft to retrieve them amidst the mass exodus of passengers whom had decided to wait it out. Miraculously, a replacement aircraft was found and we finally departed almost exactly three hours later than our original departure time.

My return flight (from San Jose to Washington en route to Ottawa) was only marginally better. All passengers had boarded and were ready to depart on time when the captain made an announcement that there was a minor maintenance issue that needed attention. I knew the drill. On comes the mechanic to go through his diagnostic routine which, again, involved "control-alt-deleting" the aircraft (to use the captain's words). Once the plane was restarted, the problem magically disappeared (which wasn't necessarily all that reassuring, especially after the captain admitted that the issue had been with the plane's navigation system), and after the ten minutes or so that were required to reprogram the coordinates of route to Washington, we pulled away from the gate only an hour later than we were supposed to.

When will the madness (maintenance) end?

5 comments:

Nick said...

Here's a workaround that seems to have worked well: fly to Toronto, then from there direct to San Fran. Aside from being 44 minutes late on the return flight, the YYZ-SFO/SFO-YYZ travel was pretty painless, even including the usual ribbing I get from Ed & Dave for having checked baggage. :)

Denis Roy said...

There was a huge snowstorm over Chicago that left most of us Ottawa-bound SJC-ORD-YOW people stranded. With Wayne's sweet-talking and Janet's cleverness, we were able to pull out of ORD to YYZ, then to YOW. We were only 6 hours late, but Toronto saved the day.

Air travel is definitely not fun.

Nick said...

A couple of years ago I got screwed over when our late-arriving plane to Denver missed its baggage connection and while *we* got to San Jose (thanks to a swift jog thru the airport), my suitcase did not - until MUCH later that night. The moral of the story was: if possible, fly to San Fran instead of San Jose, as that route involves more direct flights (from Toronto, anyway).

Bear in mind, however, that cab fare from SFO to the SCCC is about US$120 because of some poorly explained "out of town 50% surcharge."

Kenn Hussey said...

Wow, I guess I got the longer end of the stick on the way back after all. Denis, do you know whether Christian Damus and James Bruck were able to make the same alternate arrangements (I think they were on your flight)?

Denis Roy said...

Kenn, I think the whole bunch of IBMers resorted to taking the 9am flight the next morning, though I think they were able to land rooms at the airport hotel.