We finally arrived in DC, after a bit of an adventure...
Our flight was supposed to be on United Airlines, leaving Orlando at 11:15AM.
It's a good thing I called the day before to confirm the flight, as they told me it had
been changed to a different flight number, departing at 9:35AM.
When we got to the airport, we found out that we were no longer flying on United,
but were instead flying with their new 'budget airline' called 'Ted', as in 'Ted is part
of United'. All major airlines are starting these low-cost arms - I believe Qantas has
either just started or is about to start a low-cost domestic airline called something like
Anyway, we boarded the plane, and seemed to be on target for a 9:35 takeoff. Once
we taxied out to the runway, the pilot announced that they had a warning light on
the dashboard for the air-conditioning system, and had to verify that there was
actually nothing wrong with it prior to departure. After about ten minutes he
announced that there was no problem and we were good to go.
After a little bit longer in the queue of other planes, we were cleared for takeoff.
The pilot commenced the takeoff run in the normal fashion. The plane accelerated
down the runway, gathering speed in the usual way. A few seconds later, the
brakes were applied, accompanied by full reverse thrust, as the plane came to a halt
Our 11 year old daughter was totally distraught at this, and many of the passengers
didn't look too pleased either. I am aware that some of the worst aviation disasters
have involved a plane on takeoff hitting another plane that is still on the runway,
so I was hoping to God we were not about to slam into another plane.
After stopping, the pilot announced they had had a warning light appear for one of the
engines as they throttled up for the takeoff. They would have to get maintenance to
check it out. One of the channels on the plane's audio system is tuned into the cockpit’s
communication with the control tower, so we could hear the pilot calling to them to get
maintenance out to examine the problem. After about ten minutes the control tower
answered that the United maintenance crew had assumed we got away OK and had
left the tarmac!
A further delay ensued while they called San Francisco looking for guidance as to how
to resolve the problem. A while later, the pilot told us they basically had a computer
problem, and they had to restart one of the engines, much as we would have to reboot a
PC at home. This occurred, and the pilot tested the engines at full thrust, as in a takeoff
situation, which alarmed our daughter even more, as it is very noisy and the plane shudders
and shakes as he applies full power while holding the plane with the brakes. All seemed
to be OK.
We then went into another queue for takeoff. Then the captain announced that he had
burned up so much fuel in idling and testing the engines that he now had to return to
the terminal and take on 3000 pounds more fuel. The passengers were none too
pleased at this news, and were offered the chance to get off if they wished. We
were however told that all flights to Washington were pretty much booked until
6:30 that night.
While this was all happening, we got to talking with a group of passengers in the row
in front of us. They had flown down to Orlando from Washington, also on Ted a few
days earlier for a company meeting. They were not at all impressed with Ted’s
performance on either flight.
They told us that during their flight down to Florida, the plane had suddenly started
shaking, causing much alarm among the passengers. Some minutes later the pilot had
come on the intercom to apologize for this, saying that he had needed to deploy the
landing gear for a few minutes to cool down the brakes which had somehow become
overheated! Obviously putting down the landing gear during flight would greatly
increase the drag on the plane, which would account for the buffeting which so
alarmed the passengers. These passengers felt, perhaps not unreasonably, that it might
have been best for the captain to have given the passengers some warning of what
he was about to do, before actually deploying the landing gear…
Long story short, we finally got off about 2 1/2 hours late. I went to the galley and got
some Cokes etc for the kids, and asked the stewardess if there was any food on the plane.
She replied 'only pretzels'. At least she had the decency to later refuse the $5 bill that I
was going to pay her with for a beer!
Anyway, after we got back, we complained to United Airlines about this, mainly on the
grounds that we had paid, through our travel agent, for a fare on what is considered
a ‘full service’ airline (United) and ended up with a flight on what is definitely a
‘discount’ carrier (Ted). We also asked them to explain how they intended to notify us
that we were leaving Orlando two hours earlier than our scheduled flight, had I not called
them the day before to confirm the flight.
A few weeks later, we received an email from the United Airlines’ customer relations division.
This was a bland piece of corporate boilerplate. They were sorry that we had not enjoyed
our experience with Ted, but concluded by saying that they hoped we could continue to have
a fruitful relationship, or words to that effect.
The advertising for Ted makes what they must think are clever wordplays such as
‘ExciTED’ and ‘DelighTED’. We came up with a few of our own, like FrustraTED,