Get a Life

By Judith Welles

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Get a Life!: Airline misery

I happened to fly to Denver when American Airlines grounded hundreds, then thousands, of flights. I was not flying on American but quickly learned that it didn’t matter: Flying is just no longer fun, with unexpected twists and turns that are numbing.

When I worked for the government, I flew throughout the country to recruit for VISTA Volunteers at college campuses. I flew to western states to write about the Department of Interior’s land management, parks and conservation initiatives. I accompanied various Cabinet secretaries and program leaders at the Health and Human Services Department, providing speechwriting and media assistance at conferences and events. So flying came naturally and was something I enjoyed.

By contrast, my trip to Denver was a lesson in endurance. Six people boarded with seat assignments to row 23. To the amazement of flight attendants and passengers, there was no row 23.

It was even stranger because I had flown to Denver in seat 23F. So it turns out that some of the planes had row 23 and some did not. However, the seats on the return flight were booked to that row regardless. Even worse, in addition to the six displaced passengers, the flight was overbooked by three passengers. So the airline offered hotel and meal vouchers to passengers, along with $400 in plane tickets, as an incentive stay in Denver for two days until they could be booked on another flight. 

I stayed glued to seat 15C, but nine courageous, generous souls accepted the offer and got off the plane. It took five hours of waiting for the airline to finally taxi out. Thankfully, one of the passengers who had told me her story while we were waiting for the situation to be solved, was on the plane as it left.

As an Army employee, she said she had flown to her dying mother in Colorado and when she went to the airport to return to Washington, D.C. after the funeral, with ticket in hand, she was not allowed to board an overbooked flight. She said she needed to get back to the Pentagon, having spent two weeks in Colorado and knowing that her office was understaffed and needed her. It didn’t matter, she said, that she was military or that she had a death in the family. She ended up on my flight the next day. 

To top it all off: The airline I had chosen, because it had a reasonably priced direct flight from Washington, D.C., filed for bankruptcy on the day I returned.

Have you had a bad experience on airline travel on government business? How does your office handle unexpected delays that occur on your business travel? Post a comment on this blog (registration required) or send an e-mail to and we will post it for you.

Posted by Judith Welles on Apr 11, 2008 at 12:13 PM


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