Our smiles said it all.
My cousins Mary Ann and Chrissy and I posed for an early morning selfie in Terminal C at Philadelphia International Airport shortly after 7:30 Wednesday morning, fittingly wearing Hollywood smiles.
We were headed to our beloved Southern California, a second home for us East Coast Mastrulls.
But life disappoints at times. On Wednesday, life and American Airlines delivered a doozy that went on and on and on. Thirty-eight hours.
I wrote much of this on Thursday morning, when we were still in Philly more than a day after American Airlines Flight 597 was supposed to lift off, bound for LAX.
One family dinner missed; a “date” with my 5-year-old cousin Carter to watch The Lego Batman Movie, under the stars in Burbank, and then go for ice cream, also scrapped.
That’s because after a couple of canceled flights, we spent a second full day at PHL to await a 5:30 p.m. flight that was to get us to Los Angeles around 8:30 p.m. Thursday. It didn’t take off then, either.
A second day with family lost. A second day at the house we rented gone unused.
This nonvacation vacation stalled early Wednesday when we were supposed to begin boarding at Gate C27, but instead were told there was a mechanical problem and to sit tight.
As the delay grew, we watched another flight to L.A. depart from the gate next to ours.
More waiting ensued with few updates.
Then came word that a part had been found, with one big problem — no one to install it.
More waiting. A lunch of soft pretzels, trail mix, licorice, and chocolate bark.
More waiting. Then rain, thunder, and lightning.
Then, mechanics were found, but they couldn’t go out to the plane because of the lightning.
Then, all traffic in and out of the airport was halted because of the storm.
And yet, American Airlines kept us hoping.
The sun came out, the mechanics installed the needed part, but unfortunately were unable to plug one giant hole — the empty cockpit.
So began a search for a pilot and crew to operate the plane and tend to the passengers.
As carts of sandwiches, chips, and cookies were wheeled in for the hungry and disheartened in Terminal C, tempers started to flare.
And the line to the customer service counter grew longer and longer — past the seating area, Auntie Anne’s, Popeyes, and Chickie’s & Pete’s, with passengers from other flights now delayed because of storms wreaking havoc throughout the Northeast.
The wait in that line was, for some, three hours.
Starbucks sold out of most everything and was short-staffed, not expecting hundreds to be stranded during a casual Wednesday evening in summer.
But finally, seven hours after our flight was to have taken off, I got an email from American Airlines. Finally, an apology and recompense, I figured.
I figured wrong.
It was a marketing effort, an attempt to sell me miles! Sell me something.
What poor timing. What not to do in a business crisis. What an example of disconnect between the business plan and what’s going on on the tarmac or, in our case, not going on.
I was willing to forgive when the answer to Flight 597’s prayers seemed to arrive.
A gate attendant stood before the frustrated, weary masses pressed up to the counter and declared: “We are getting you a new aircraft from Dallas. We will get you to Los Angeles tonight. It will leave from Gate C30.”
A cheer went up. Then a rush for backpacks, purses, and our new gate. That short trek from C27 to C30 felt like a victory walk. A short-lived victory.
Ten minutes later, an agent told us the promised flight was canceled.
Raised voices. Wild gesticulating. Cursing. And then to the phones I went, where a soft-spoken angel named Mary worked for a half-hour, thanking me for my patience, to find my cousins and me flights Thursday morning to Austin, Texas, where we would get on a connection to L.A. I called her a lifesaver.
To a cab we went, to get five hours of sleep before returning for our 9:15 a.m. departure. All smiles again.
Until we got to the airport and learned our flight to Austin had been canceled sometime before 2 a.m.
Back to the phones.
After reading my complaint, an American rep at noon Thursday said she had put 10,000 more frequent-flier miles into my account.
Next came an email sporting an “Aviator Redemption Guide” from my American MasterCard offering me ways to spend my miles.
And finally, minutes before boarding, a text arrived to one of my cousins indicating American intends to send each of us a voucher. Later the airline would clarify this, saying we could have either a $200 voucher or 10,000 frequent-flier miles, not both.
By 5:15 p.m., we had finally boarded Flight 717. Then came an announcement that there would be a delay in backing away from the gate due to a problem with the door handle. An hour later, the airline announced that it was taking the plane out of service. So we all got off. At the time, the airline said it didn’t know what it was going to do.
A little after 7 p.m., we were all moved to Gate A12 to await an 8:30 departure. And in a repeat of Wednesday night, the airline wheeled out a free snack cart of sandwiches and chips.
This time, success! Boarding was completed by 8:30 and we all settled back for a 5½-hour flight that would get us to L.A. around 11. Then we waited on the runway, and waited some more.
Finally, we took off just after 9:30 — 38 hours later than we originally planned. We landed at 11:30 p.m., L.A. time, and found, waiting for us in baggage claim, our luggage, which we had checked Wednesday morning and was sent to LAX on an early-morning flight Thursday.