Our 2013 trip to Italy starts out on a decidedly wrong foot.
11.05.2013 - 13.05.2013
Exhausted. Grimy. Disheveled. On the verge of hallucinating from lack of sleep. That's how we arrived in beautiful Venezia on the afternoon of May 13th, after a miserable 40 hour transit. The best laid plans of mice and men are at the mercy of....US Airways??
Rewind 40 hours.
We're setting off on our first trip since 2011, a 12 night itinerary that will bring us to Venice, Sorrento, and Rome. With a 2 and half hour drive to the airport, we set off earlier than we need to and arrive at Philadelphia International Airport at 2pm, well before the recommended 3 hour window for our 6:35pm flight on US Airways 714.
We're relaxed and prepared. Mrs. Zukini and I have figured out how to pack for two weeks, each using just a 20" carry-on and a small day pack, thereby avoiding the hassle of checking baggage. We stop by Vino Volo for a light lunch and a celebratory glass of wine, then head over to Gate A13.
At 6pm, boarding begins. We've actually paid US Airways a fee for priority boarding, a ridiculous extravagance, but it ensures that there will be room in the overhead bin for our bags. We settle in and wait for take off....and wait. And wait.
The captain comes on the intercom to let us know there's going to be a delay. They have an indicator light in the cockpit that needs a look-see by maintenance. We've seen this sort of thing countless times before...I've seldom been on a US Air flight without some sort of short equipment delay.
Time wears on. The captain informs us that we have the right to leave the plane, but since there's no gate agent available to let us back on, he advises against it.
Finally, we are asked to exit the plane and return to Gate A13. The problem is proving to be difficult to diagnose, and no one is sure when we will be taking off. A flight attendant tells me that we're going to be switched to a plane that is arriving from San Juan as soon as it's cleaned.
At the gate, we're told that we will depart at 8pm. A substantial delay, but still ok.
That departure slips to 10pm. We're told a replacement plane is on the way from Charlotte.
Customers are getting restive. Warm water is distributed, and dinner vouchers are handed out. Unfortunately, all of the restaurants in Terminal A close at 10pm. A restaurant is open in another terminal, but passengers are advised not to leave the gate area as "the situation is fluid and you might be called to board at any time."
Midnight arrives. The plane from Charlotte hasn't arrived....in fact, it hadn't left Charlotte, as it had equipment problems of its own. I learn that our original plane has a crack in some ductwork that part of the air conditioning and air pressurization system, along with a malfunction in the electronic controls for the first officer's seat. We're told that the plane from Charlotte is finally taxiing to the runway, and we should be on our way by 2am.
There are only three working electrical outlets that can be found in the terminal. Passengers are desperately trying to charge their cell phones so that they can contact their hotels and transportation vendors in Venice. We help a couple from Canada contact their hotel using our Skype connection.
Snack boxes of turkey jerky and junk food are distributed. Philadelphia Airport brings down several crates of pillows, eyemasks, and emergency blankets, and leaves them in the gate area. The gate attendants make an announcement at Gate A13, but the passengers are scattered all through the terminal, trying to find space to lie down, and most don't hear it.
Irate passengers keep coming up to the podium, demanding answers. The US Airways personnel mock their anger and outrage as soon as their backs are turned, in full view of the other passengers.
At 2am, the plane from Charlotte has arrived. It carries replacement parts for our original equipment. It also has malfunctioning rest rooms, so it can't be used as replacement equipment until it is repaired. We're assured that we'll be in the air by 4am, on either the original plane, or the repaired plane from Charlotte.
At 4am, we learn that the plane from Charlotte isn't certified for transatlantic flight. We have to wait for the original to be repaired.
At 6am, we're assured the problem on the original plane has been solved, and the maintenance crew is just putting everything back together. A crew is on the way, and we'll be on our merry way by 8am. A supervisor tells me that the 767's being used for these flights are 30 years old and scheduled to be sold off to another airline. How comforting.
At 8am, they're short a crew member.
At 9am, the remaining crew times out, and the flight is officially cancelled.
Now it's time for 200 miserable people to scramble for a limited number of available seats on alternate flights. Two podiums are open for flight reassignments, but it's taking an average of 20 minutes per person. An emergency re-accommodation phone number is distributed, and those of us with working cell phones try to call that.
We get rebooked, but the flight turns out to be from JFK to Munich to Venice...the problem is, US Airways has no way of getting me from Philadelphia to JFK. We try again, this time pulling a flight from Philadelphia to Newark to Paris to Venice. The problem is, the last leg requires a "paper ticket". How do we get that? "Just see a gate agent".
2 hours and 2 gate agents later, no one has a clue how to get me a "paper ticket". They don't even have ticket printers at the gates. They send me to US Airways Customer Service, in Terminal B.
When I arrive, the customer service is desk is closed, not returning until after my Newark flight is scheduled to leave. A cleaning person helpfully points out one of the personnel, heading to lunch. I run after her, and explain my situation. She sympathizes, but says she has no capability of printing a paper ticket either. The only solution she can suggest is that I leave the security perimeter and visit the check-in desks.
Eventually, I get my paper ticket, (along with a second trip through security screening, including a full body scan AND a pat-down) and I'm also rebooked directly from Philadelphia to Paris, and from there to Venice. My flight leaves at 6:30pm, 24 hours after the original flight.
The flight to Paris does take off on time, although, as the last seats assigned, we're stuck in the row 40 bulkhead seats that don't recline, with the galley on one side of us and the restroom on the other. Sleep? Not a chance.
It's 1pm in the afternoon on Monday, May 13th by the time we finally step off the plane in Venice. It's been 44 hours since we've left our house, with fitful bits of sleep interspersed here and there. US Airways sends an email with an apology and a $300 voucher, good for one year. As if.
Coming up, an abbreviated but wonderful sojourn in Venice.