The Flight From Hell: My 12 Hour Overnight American Air Delay
Miami traffic never ceases to amaze me. One minute you’re cruising down the highway, the palm trees swaying in the winds, and the next minute your Uber driver slams on the brakes and curses in Spanish. On the last Friday in March, my 37 minute trip from South Beach to the airport turned into 1 hour and 15 minutes due to traffic, yet surprisingly this stop and go drive was actually the better part of my night.
I was about to experience a flight from hell, my worst air travel experience to date. Here’s my story:
I arrive pretty early to take advantage of the airport lounges. While having a delicious Cuban dinner in the Avianca Lounge, I get a notification on my phone that my flight will be delayed 25 minutes. Standard, I thought, we’ll make up time in the air anyway. What sucks about delayed flights is that you are supposed to arrive at the gate at your scheduled time just in case the flight ends up departing on time. So I reluctantly leave the comfort of the lounge’s food and wine and head back to the American Airlines terminal.
Little did I know, this one notification was only the first in a series of 10 emails I’d receive from American Airlines, each time pushing my 8:20pm flight further and further away.
First it was 8:45, then it was 9, then it was 9:40 and then it was 10. Ok, a two hour delay is annoying but not totally uncommon. I’ll deal with it.
As the clock came closer to 10, the gate agents gave us mixed updates. First we didn’t have a co-pilot. Then we watched as the staff walked through the gate, and then 20 minutes later departed. Next we heard the plane wasn’t ready. Then they found a plane, but we had to cross the terminal from gate D9 to gate D39 to get to the plane. When we got to that gate, the crew announced they didn’t have flight attendants. Keep in mind there are 10-15 minutes between each of these updates. It’s anyone’s guess as to what could happen next. Maybe they actually just never scheduled our flight and sold us all fake tickets? Who knows.
Once at the new gate, we are told there would be no news for the next hour, and we’d have an “update” at 11:59. Food and refreshments had been ordered and would be arriving shortly – the least they could do after this 3 hour delay.
I receive an email saying the flight has been rescheduled for 7am the following day. Yep, after five hours of waiting, there would be no flight at all that evening! Note to self: Do NOT book the last flight of the day ever again – there’s a reason it’s the cheapest. At this point, people became mad, and the crowd of passengers waiting in front of the agent desk grew. The airline staff announced they would be providing everyone with vouchers for meals, transportation and hotels – the only problem was the nearest available hotel was in Fort Lauderdale, hours outside Miami. I consider the possibility that it may be worth it to just spend the night on a bench at the airport. I try to convince myself that this is a sort of rite of passage for a traveler to be stranded at an airport. I’m not very convincing.
I’m sure you can imagine how mad everyone was. Personally I didn’t care so much at this point, but I felt really bad for the elderly people on the flight – this stuff is really hard on them.
Food finally arrives. At first people surround the tables looking. No one wants to be the first to grab the grub like an animal, but when the staffer who brought it says to go for it, people pounce. Within seconds, the table can barely be seen! There’s soda, juice, water, sandwiches, wraps, chips, and granola bars. Two pilots arrive, giving us false hope that our last minutes in the Miami airport could be approaching. A pilot notices the food and takes a sandwich for himself.
Another update is announced. They had found hotels in Miami and would be giving out vouchers shortly. Luckily by this time, I had made my way to the gate counter and was relatively close to the front of the line to get my voucher.
Around midnight, another email update: the flight was now departing at 8am!
For every angry person, there was a nice person who made light of the situation. One woman even helped translate for two Spanish-speaking passengers with a gate agent who didn’t speak Spanish (rare in Miami!) so they could get their hotel vouchers.
I receive my vouchers. In total I received two shuttle vouchers, one dinner voucher worth $12, one breakfast voucher worth $7, and one hotel voucher at an assigned hotel 30 minutes from the airport. There was no time to complain, and I grabbed some fruit and juice with my dinner voucher (nothing was open at 1am) and headed out. (By the way, getting this juice was a ridiculous ordeal in and of itself, but I’ll only tell that story if someone asks in the comments). Our size quickly grew, and it became clear that this was going to be a long night for some passengers. The shuttle vans held a maximum of 9 passengers and there were about 100 of us who needed seats. I standby and listen to an older European couple complain about literally everything the shuttle employee is doing. It’s going to be a long night.
9 of us are squeezed in like sardines into the blue shuttle van that is to take us to the hotel. I plug my phone in to the USB port behind the seat, but it doesn’t work. The bumpy ride was traffic-free at this late hour and we made it to the hotel in just under 30 minutes.
I walked into the hotel they assigned me, a resort run by Native Americans where the entire lobby was a casino that looked like it was built in the 90s. The room was chock full of your average Joes, trying their luck on the neon flashy slot machines. The hotel was owned by a local Indian tribe in south Florida. We’re right at the edge of the Everglades.
Once inside my room, I want nothing more than to sleep. But of course, American Airlines wouldn’t have any such thing! It was now time to call the shuttle service and schedule my return trip back to the airport in just a few hours. Of course, everyone else had to do the same thing. So when I dialed the number, there were 10 people ahead of me. I got changed into the sweatpants I would wear to the airport and folded the button-up shirt and black pants I was wearing into my suitcase. The room is better than I expected. There’s a gorgeous red velvet chaise in the corner, and the bathroom vanity is made of a gorgeous black marble.
After a 25 minute wait, I got someone on the line. With an 8am flight, the recommended time to leave was 5am. Yes, in less than 3 hours I was to leave the hotel! I knew I had TSA Pre, but wasn’t sure what the traffic would be like in Miami at that hour, so with no other choice, I booked the van.
SLEEP, finally. I wish I could sink into the bed and fully immerse myself into a deep slumber, but I know I have to wake up in 2 hours, so I can’t even fully enjoy this head-hitting-pillow moment.
The sound of my alarm wakes me up from across the room, the only place I could charge my nearly battery-dead phone before sleeping. As I pick up my phone, I see another lovely email from American Airlines came through: The flight has now been moved to 9am! How nice of them to tell me that before I scheduled a van to pick me up 5am – oh wait, they didn’t. I slip on my shoes, and pick up my bags which I barely touched.
As I’m going down the elevator, I feel nauseous. I think I got out of bed too quickly. There are two vans outside. A man takes my name and leads me to the one that will take me to the airport. I’m one of the last in, so we depart shortly after. I try to close my eyes to calm my churning stomach as we sway down the empty highway.
We arrive at the airport. I head to the TSA Pre-Check line, where the lady (again) forces me to stuff my small purse into my larger tote bag – heaven forbid I have two separate bags even though they clearly fit inside each other.
I use my breakfast voucher to get a latte and a banana from Starbucks. This is all $7 gets you at this airport.
Sitting at a new gate – D12. The gate next to us begins to fill up.
I use my free 30 minutes on the Miami airport internet even though I have absolutely nothing to do on it. Coincidentally I forgot my headphones at home so I can’t listen to music from my computer. (Shortly after, a Brazilian three seats down reads my mind and blasts music from his computer – Thanks dude!)
Our gate begins to slowly fill up with familiar faces. I say hello to the hispanic man I met last night who kept the old Hispanic ladies company. I imagine he was a player in his hey day. I feel a sort of connection to the people at our gate. We feel the same pain.
“It’ll be a cold day in hell before I ever take another American Airlines flight again,” I overhear.
Turns out the gate next to us went through the same thing. I overhear their announcement: “Attention, passengers on flight 992 to Sao Paolo, thank you for your patience overnight… We’ve found you a plane but maintenance has discovered an issue with the audio system. We’ll begin boarding as soon as it’s fixed. In the meantime, we’ve ordered refreshments for you.”
Sounds pretty familiar. A hoard of angry Brazilians starts booing and fist-pumping like crazy. I would not mess with these guys!
The Brazilians begin boarding. I am literally praying our flight doesn’t get further delayed but it’s entirely possible the way things have been going so far. (I tell my mother to pray also because I really need all the grace I can get here).
I walk towards the gate, which still posts a 9am departure time. A lone agent mans the desk. Seeing as no one is bothering her, I seize the opportunity to know if my fate is sealed. In my sweetest voice, I hesitantly ask the gate agent if the plane will really depart at 9. She smiles and says, “Yes we are planning to board in the next ten minutes.” These words are music to my ears, but my elation quickly fades. American Airlines has spent the last twelve hours lying to me, so like a cheating ex-boyfriend, I have to do what’s best for my mental health and take these words with a grain of salt. The presence of a flight attendant near the gate gives me a glimmer of hope – though it could be a false alarm as the pilots were.
A small crowd gathers around me as I am standing so close to the boarding lanes. I tell them we are scheduled to depart. Their faces light up – I’ve brought them joy! We start exchanging stories – one man slept at the airport, and said many others did too. One woman has a dying husband in the hospital she needs to reach. This is not cool.
“Group One, you may begin boarding.” As the lucky chosen few begin to walk to the boarding gate, several people begin cheering and clapping, like we’re at the Oscars or something. We are actually boarding. I can’t believe it. It’s happening in front of my eyes so it must be true. Is it a dream?!
I board with group 5, even though I am technically with group 6. If they say anything, I can say, yeah my boarding pass also says departure at 8:20pm, but that didn’t happen now did it?
I’m sitting in my seat on a real, live plane. So are other people. I’m just waiting for the crew to announce there is a mechanical issue or perhaps a pilot missing, or I don’t know, maybe the wheels aren’t there – anything to complete their mission of preventing us from getting to Dulles.
Announcement: “We are fully boarded and the door is closed.” Can it really be?
Wheels up! Again, I’m bracing for some sort of impact where the plane refuses to take off, but up and up we go! Within 10 minutes, the two girls in my row are fast asleep. If we were living the movie The Langoliers, I’m pretty sure 90% of our plane would survive, we are all so sleepy. This will probably be the quietest daytime flight I’ve had in a while.
The pilot apologizes on behalf of the airline for our delay. He says “We’re now on our way to Dulles, as quickly and safely as possible, with only a 12 and a half hour delay!” Everyone laughs.
An announcement comes on telling us to start thinking about our next trip and sign up for their credit card. Are they serious right now?
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and this cloud was particularly massive, but I have to say I was really happy to see the gorgeous Miami shoreline during the daytime on this flight. I love how the tall white skyscrapers clash against the flat turquoise ocean. It’s always one of my favorite parts about flying to Miami. I would have certainly missed this view had I flown in the dark at 8:20pm last night.
I know this is the part where I thank everyone for their support, but I can definitely NOT say Thank You to American Airlines.