Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Uganda: The Adventure Begins! And hits a roadblock!

I'm heading to Uganda for what was supposed to be 11 full days of birding before the African Birding Expo. Yesterday I was supposed to fly from Minneapolis to Detroit, where I'd meet some of our group for the flight to Amsterdam, and then spend today flying into Entebbe. My group will be birding on Lake Victoria and heading to Lake Mburo National Park tomorrow.

My flight was listed as on time, we boarded fine, and then as we were taxiing, the pilot said there was some electrical problem and we were heading back to the gate. We sat patiently on the plane--I showed the flight attendant that my next flight was supposed to be boarding at the new estimated landing time for this flight, but she said they'd expedite me making the connection. And then the pilot said the delay would be longer. And then a nice Delta guy took me off the plane to help me rebook. And then pandemonium, when they said the plane was disabled and they'd have to change flights.

It took over an hour (with the TV blasting away election news to add to everyone's stress levels) before I was rebooked, and the best they can do is get me into Entebbe 24 hours (well, 25 counting DST) later than the original plans. This means I'll be missing all the Lake Victoria birding, plus lose the morning on Tuesday trying to catch up to my group, so actually I'll be missing a day and a half of birding.

This is rather vexatious. The election is making it worse. Reading the delighted posts of participants who are already there is making me feel more left out.

But, as I keep telling myself, I'm headed to UGANDA!!  I'll probably miss out on 50 or so lifers, but I'll still see many!

I'm blaming this on corporate airline managers who make some of their profits, and exorbitant wages, by keeping down the number of maintenance people who could be keeping up better on preventing these problems. Instead, we have small maintenance staffs who are run ragged trying to fix problems as they happen. Delta is far from the only airline with this problem.

The people who helped rebook passengers were shockingly patient and helpful, but again, there were only 2 or 3 people dealing with a large flight. It was a logistical nightmare when everyone started flooding off the plane, no one realizing they were supposed to get their boarding pass scanned, and the only people there to scan them were the people trying to rebook the people already off the plane. During the time he was helping me, the Delta agent rebooked at least 5 other passengers, scanned dozens of boarding passes, and tried to explain to people where to get in line (it was far from obvious) so someone could help everyone in a timely way.

I tried to get into Zen mode, but the loss of 24 hours, the bewilderment of not knowing how I'd catch up to my group, the disappointment of missing the whole first day and becoming part of my group from the start--it was very hard to keep from crying or being cranky or both. I'd paid extra to get a window seat on the KLM flight to Entebbe, but both the seat and my $22 are lost now, and KLM will not let me pick a seat, even paying again, for the rebooked flight.

The staff at Delta who helped all of us are to be commended. But the top level managers who make the decisions about how big their maintenance crew should be, and how best to maintain planes for the long haul, and how many staff to keep on hand for this kind of emergency? Not so much. Yet those decision makers, not the ones cleaning up after the problems, are the ones making the millions of dollars each year. We need a Joe Maddon in the airline business telling these airlines to try not to suck.

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