From Santorini to Hawaii: The Delay from Hell

Just for the sake of having a record of this horrendous journey…

On June 22, I flew from Santorini to Athens with RyanAir, stayed in the airport for about 5 hours, then flew from Athens to Istanbul with Aegean Air. No troubles

I went to my apartment to meet the family staying there for a month while I was away, then spent the night at a friend’s flat.

In the morning, June 23, I flew from Istanbul to Frankfurt. The flight was operated by Turkish Airlines and everything was perfect. I was supposed to fly to San Francisco with United Airlines after a brief layover, but my flight was cancelled due to plane maintenance. During the long delay, the flight crew came out with snacks. Smart move. As soon as they announced the cancellation, they were prepared with hotel vouchers which included meals.

I thought, “No big deal. So I’m stuck in Frankfurt for the night. It happens. I’ll eat some sausage and enjoy a comfortable evening.”

At breakfast the next morning, June 24, I notice that our flight had been delayed, so now lunch at the hotel was provided as well. After lunch, I collected my bags and went to the airport where I was able to call United and tell them I wanted two days put on the other end of my stay in Hawaii. They agreed.

We started boarding on time.

Fun fact: I was selected for extra security checks BOTH days in Frankfurt. Everyone else selected for these “random” checks was different, but I’m clearly special. (I get chosen nearly every time I fly.)

After boarding, we sat on the plane for FIVE HOURS. The air conditioning wasn’t working and they had already given away all the snacks during our long delay the previous day. At about the three hour mark, they started letting people get off the plane. This meant they could also collect their baggage, which is what delayed us the additional two hours.

During this time, the crew was getting antsy because they can only be on duty for so many hours. The delay time plus flight time resulted in the airline trying to find a new crew. When they couldn’t, we took off and then landed in Chicago to change crews. After two hours of sitting on the plane, we were on our way to San Fran.

We arrived in San Fran just before midnight. There was no information provided to those of us who were still connecting. We didn’t know if arrangements had been made for our next flight, where we were staying for the night, etc.

We went through passport control and had to collect our bags. You normally recheck your baggage if you still have a connecting flight, but they weren’t accepting baggage anymore at that hour.

After a bit of a wander, I found where I could collect my hotel voucher. I told them, “If my flight is early in the morning, I don’t need a hotel. I’m plenty happy to just take a shower and rest in the business lounge.” Several others agreed. They told us that the business lounge was closed. I thought the whole point of the business lounge was to always stay open in case something like this happens. Seems silly to spend $200 per passenger on a couple hours at a hotel when we’re plenty content to clean up and rest somewhere comfortable at the airport.

The customer service that night was appalling. United has an agreement with certain hotels, but there were not enough rooms left for all of us at those hotels. One woman said, “Then find us a hotel that you don’t have an agreement with. That’s your job!” The manager that night told us, “Well, we just had a flight to Tel Aviv cancelled, so we’ve been working on that.” The same woman shouted, “You’ve known since we were in FRANKFURT that we would need a hotel tonight!”

This process took two hours. At about 2:00am, we were out the door waiting for a shuttle to come get us. After an hour, it hadn’t arrived, and sure enough, all United employees were no where to be found at that point. We shared taxis to the hotel. I was there no longer than three hours before I had to leave for my flight to Honolulu.

It is now June 25. I ate my breakfast at the airport and went to my gate. My phone buzzes: “Gate change.” I moved. When I got to the gate… You bet! United delayed our flight due to plane maintenance again! Luckily, the delay was only an hour or so and they changed the plane.

I finally arrived in Honolulu just in time to go with my friend on the boat trip we had planned for the afternoon.

4 days. From start to finish, that journey took four days. United was only responsible for 3 of those days, but still. Four. Days.

So, what did I get as compensation for all of this? Two flight vouchers worth $325 combined. Flight vouchers also mean you have to fly with United again. I know a lot of people didn’t accept the vouchers because they know their passenger rights better than I do and knew that they could fight for more money in the form of a refund. They told me that if the flight originates in Europe, a cancelled flight or significant delay is worth a lot more money than what they were offering us. If you accept the voucher, you forfeit your rights to carry the case further, I guess.

What blew my mind? Weeks later when I was in Boston flying to Chicago, I heard American Airlines offer passengers $300 flight vouchers to anyone WILLING to take the next flight out. They get $300 for voluntarily delaying their flight a couple hours, whereas I got $325 total for days of inconvenience? You should work on that, United.

On top of the delays, United didn’t provide food on the flight from San Fran to Hawaii (5 hours) or from Hawaii back to Chicago (8 hours). None of the flights had individual screens like Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines. You’re expected to download their mobile app and watch movies on your personal device, which would be fine if their internet worked during the flights. It just added another layer to the discomfort and frustration many of us were feeling.

I had chosen to fly United because I wanted to collect Star Alliance miles. Additionally, I wanted all my flights to be on one ticket so that my flight allowance through work would cover most of my costs. It would have cost nearly double to fly to Chicago roundtrip through work and purchase a separate roundtrip ticket from Chicago to Hawaii. That said, after all this mess, perhaps it would have been wise to fly around the world the other direction with a different airline. I never want to go through that mess again.

I can’t even begin to express how THRILLED I was when I found out that my return journey to Istanbul would be operated by Lufthansa.

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