Airplane woes

After the news of the crashes of the planes going from Brazil to France and from France to Comoros, it seems one should be greatful whenever their flight arrives at its destination and that “minor” inconveniences that result in “just” delays are not so important in the big scheme of things.  And that is probably true.  But, when we returned from Idaho to Santa Fe via Las Vegas, our delay in Vegas was so bizzare that I feel it is worth sharing.

We were on a direct flight between Boise and Albuquerque, stopping in Vegas but we didn’t have to get off.  We got there a little early because of favorable winds, I think, but when we landed, our gate was “broken” (that was the word they used) which caused a delay as they found us another gate.  That took maybe 15 minutes or so.  At the new gate, they unloaded the Vegas passengers and loaded up a full plane of people flying to Albuquerque and beyond.

And now the, to me, really bizarre part.  We just stayed there, for nearly two hours, at the gate, just waiting.  For what?  No one said for maybe one hour, when they finally explained it to us.  It seems that they are doing construction at the airport in Vegas, so the number of runways is reduced.  It also seems that, depending on the wind direction, either one or the other of the two runways in service are used.  Originally, we were to use one runway, which was fine, but then the wind shifted and we were then supposed to use the other runway.  But, that runway has less clearance — it heads into some mountains — so the plane needs to be more powerful than on the other runway.  Our plane, fully loaded, didn’t have the power to safely clear the mountains — it was overweight.  So, they unloaded passengers who were only going through Albuquerque and about 2000 pounds of fuel.  This took about 2 hours total.  All of this was complicated, somehow, by the temperature, which was 110 F.

Through all of this, the flight crew was great.  One of the pilots explained this to us, for which I was very greatful (I much rather be informed about what is going on than be kept in the dark) and one of the flight attendants even ran back to the concourse to get us some fresh milk for our daughter (who, incidentally, did very well considering she was cramped in the plane for an extra 2 hours).  So, I really commend the crew.

What I don’t understand is the company and the airport.  It seems to me that in a place like Vegas, this can’t be a rare occurance, that it gets hot, that the wind shifts, and that a flight is oversold and is at full capacity.  And yet it took 2 hours to diagnose and fix the situation?  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  I wonder how often this does happen and if it always takes this long for them to fix the problem.

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