Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Air Travel Summer 2007: "We're Sick of This Crap!" ... Also, Meltdown at United

Photos from Continental Flight 1970
By Collin Brock, via KING5 News

Oh, this is going to be a honey of a summer in air travel.

I know this will be of little consolation to those of you currently stuck in airports or on planes after the meltdown of United Airlines worldwide schedules today, or those who have been stuck on parked planes for eight and nine hours in recent months as the air-traffic system itself slowly melts down, but it could actually be worse.

Later on this post, there's more on United schedule collapse today. United all day has been claiming that its system is recovering. The real-time statistics I've been looking at say that is not true -- two thirds of United's flights were delayed today, many of them for three hours and more. Read on, but first lookit this report on the literal shit-storm on Continental last week.

Here is a look at this report on a real stinko of a flight last week -- Continental Flight 1970, a 767 with about 200 passengers from Amsterdam to Newark -- on which sewage overflowed from toilets and down the aisle while passengers gagged. The story is from KING5 News in Seattle:

Sewage flows down aisles of trans-Atlantic flight


"I was more nervous than I had ever been on a flight," said passenger Collin Brock.

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash.– Passengers on a Continental Airlines flight had to hold their noses for hours as sewage overflowed from toilets while they were high over the Atlantic.

"To be blatantly honest, I was more nervous than I had ever been on a flight," said Collin Brock. The University Place man was on board Continental Airlines flight 1970 from Amsterdam to Newark, New Jersey last week when things went bad.

"I've never felt so offended in all my life. I felt like I had been physically abused and neglected. I was forced to sit next to human excrement for seven hours," said Brock.

That's after lavatories - in the middle of a flight filled with passengers - started spewing sewage.

"Sickening. It's a nauseating smell. It's very uncomfortable," said Brock.

It was last Wednesday afternoon when his flight left Amsterdam, but roughly two hours into it, the passengers were told the lavatories were out of commission. An unplanned landing in Shannon, Ireland was made to fix the problem.

A pit stop became an overnight stay. The next day, the same plane headed for its original destination of Newark, New Jersey, but just after takeoff, the sewage overflow began. This time, there was no turning around.

"I don't know how you can say a plane needs to be grounded one day for a problem that's not as major as a problem the next day, and it doesn't qualify for being grounded," said Brock.

He says was there was one half-working restroom on the plane for the more than 200 people onboard.

He also says the flight attendants - who were serving meal service in a stinky, unappetizing cabin - told everyone to not eat or drink too much.

"To be told that we were supposed to monitor what comes out the other end of us was insulting," said Brock. "Shame on continental. It was the worst flight experience I have ever had."

Continental gave Collin a $500 voucher for a future flight for the inconvenience. He says he's not sure he'll ever use it.

[Anyone who was on that flight or any other horrible flight in the last week or two and wants to vent, please contact me at]


Returning to the United Airlines meltdown today, United's Web site as of mid-afternoon had a short notice with the headline "Operations Recovering" as if that was some triumphant feat. The usual stenographers in the daily media were obediently parroting this statement, treating the incident as a two-hour glitch and reporting that things were returning to normal.

But when I checked United's real-time performance as of 5 p.m. EDT today on the invaluable, it did not appear that a recovery was underway. Here was the picture:

--Overall on-time departure rate for United, 37 percent -- and the vast majority of late flights were leaving 45 minutes or more behind schedule. Some "recovery."

--At Chicago O'Hare as of 5 p.m., 31 percent of flights had departed on time. The figure was 12 percent at Denver; 29 percent at San Francisco and 30 percent at Los Angeles International. (The vast majority of late flights at those hubs departed more than 45 minutes late).

These figures were worse than the previous statistics I had checked at 3 p.m and worse than 4 p.m. -- meaning the situation was not improving as the day wore on.

At 10 p.m., the overall United on-time rate was 31 percent. More than three-quarters of the 1,671 scheduled flights that were late were at least 45 minutes (and in many cases many hours) late.

So be wary of travel on United for a day or two because the airline has a lot of equipment and crew sorting-out to do.

Here's a note worth reading. The travel guru Joe Brancatelli sent it late this morning to members of his Web site

"Dear JoeSentMe member:

I am writing with urgent travel information for United Airlines passengers.

An as-yet unexplained glitch in United's computers essentially grounded the airline this morning. The grounding lasted for at least two hours throughout the entire system. Although United now claims that its computers have been restarted, several hours worth of flights have simply not left the gate, have been or will be canceled or are stranded on runways at airports.

My advice to you, frankly, is to cancel any travel you may have planned today on United. Planes are now out of position throughout the country and possibly throughout the world. I would also be extremely circumspect about flying United in the next day or two. As we have learned, even a small disruption in aircraft movements can affect schedules for days. This is clearly a large disruption and is certain have a ripple effect on United's schedule throughout the week.

I will contact you if I have further relevant details. I urge you to proceed with extreme caution and disregard most of what United may be publicly saying. Check instead with {} for more accurate and unbiased information."


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