ROMNEY WORDSWORTH – As I alluded to in yesterday’s column, my vacation was marred by the ramshackle state of America’s airline industry.  I flew on United Airlines.


The flight began by finding out that United had oversold the flight.  This had the happy effect of bumping me up to First Class, because United had resold my seat to somebody else.  But this was not an isolated incident, as the United employee at the gate then announced they were looking for two volunteers to take a later flight, because they were still overbooked.  I don’t know if anyone volunteered, but what I did observe from sitting in row one is that United had a member of the public fly using the “jump seat” in the cockpit for the duration of my departing flight.  I was not aware that FAA and Homeland Security permitted this.  Maybe they don’t.

The pain began when my plane sat on the taxi-way so long that we had to go back to the gate for more fuel.  I observed no less than 12 planes backed up under three different approaches, all waiting for runway clearance.  This is endemic across the country at busy airports, where the runways look like traffic during rush hour.  My one hour and 24 minute flight ended up being over 4 hours inside the airplane cabin.  But I did get a complimentary blueberry muffin, being in First Class.

Coming back home was even worse.  After boarding on time, United informed us they were having a mechanical problem with refueling the plane.  From my window I saw 4 ground crew try to fit a fueling nozzle under the wing…for over an hour.  At close to two hours sitting in the plane after boarding, in sweltering heat, the pilot let us “deplane”, i.e. he let us go back to the mercifully air-conditioned airport concourse.

Four hours later, many drinks at the airport bar, and watching many Olympic events, no less than the captain of the plane himself came by, at a run, telling us we could reboard the plane.  I watched as he personally ran down the concourse, repeating his message at every concession.  Amazing.  Is there no one else at United who could do that job?  Did we really have to start the flight with a pilot huffing and puffing from doing impromptu wind sprints?  Was the Public Address system in the airport not working either?

We literally had to wait while the ground crew rebuilt the fueling nozzle under the starboard wing.  I specifically asked if there was no other plane we could use.  Answer:  Nope, none.

Botton line was that a flight that was supposed to get me home at 3:30pm did not see me land until 10:00pm that night.  Glad I didn’t have to make a connecting flight.

The very next day, Delta had its entire computer system go down, and all of its flight operations world-wide were interrupted, suspending over 250 flights and stranding passengers around the globe.

America’s airline industry is falling apart.  I fear it is going to soon yield human casualties.