#OSH17 Day 0 – Another Airline Scheduling Snafu, but Its All Good

8:04 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor
My flight east to #OSH17 was a typical summer flight when one of the connections is through KORD. I swear, this airport is cursed…at least it is during AirVenture week. Flying the “Friendly” Skies from O’Hare on the short hop up to KATW is always a tricky deal heading inbound to the show, and this year, the score was KORD 1, Dano 0.
After some easy flights KEUG-KDEN-KORD, the day was going perfectly. But on the requisite shuttle bus ride from terminal Charlie to terminal Foxtrot at O’Hare, the scene out the bus window was not encouraging. To the north, blocking my routing to Appleton and #OSH17 was a severe line of TS with lightning. I popped open my Storm app and verified the line stretched from the shoreline west into some guy’s corn field in Iowa. What was worse though, was the warnings for embedded hail up to 2.2 inches.
Sure enough, when I found my gate, the inbound plane from Flint, Michgan was delayed due to "maintenance issues" per the Gate Agent. After a number of announcements with later and later delays, the Agent dropped the hammer and United cancelled the flight. There was one other flight to Appleton at 10:25P but it was, as per usual for this time of year, seriously oversold. But what came up on their reader board at the gate was that the flight was cancelled due to "Air Traffic Control" issues. It would have been great if they got their stories straight.
What miffed the now-stranded FAA Air Traffic Controller in the Customer Service line with me (also headed to #OSH17) was the agent’s excuse du jour for why they pulled the plug on the 535P Appleton flight. She walked up and down the line telling everyone it was cancelled due to “ATC issues” but would not elaborate. When the controller looked at his phone and saw the heavy weather trending south of the airport, he called B.S. on her, telling her and anyone that would listen that O’Hare’s controllers could have easily slipped in that inbound Flint aircraft. As he steamed, he mumbled “I KNEW I should have gone through Detroit.” Yeah, in retrospect as we both stood stranded in Chicagoland, that did appear to be the better plan. 
You see, these controllers at KORD are some of the best in the business. What WX was sliding by the airport as I tried to get to Oshkosh last night was significant, but nothing that would have moved the needle in Chicago Center. It gets me that the Big Airlines sometimes seem to change their story on a whim to whatever sounds best at the time. Was the problem really a maintenance issue, or a perhaps a crew staffing hiccup? Was it a weather issue? They did close the KORD ramps – all of them for about an hour while the storm blew through due to lighting – but if the Flint aircraft was inbound, they should have had him do a couple of laps in a hold and slipped him.
The episode was not the end of my world, I ended up at the O’Hare Hilton Airport (literally at the airport, connected by a tunnel), and enjoyed a plate of incredible Buffalo Raviolini in the hotel restaurant. The waiter did not know if the name meant it had actual Buffalo in it, or if it was like “Buffalo” Wings. I was less than impressed, there goes one star on Yelp.
As I write this, I am waiting to board to head up to Oshkosh, and should set foot on the grounds at about 1P after check-in at the dorms. I would have been on the grounds at 9A if United had flown the flight last night, so with the exception of losing a few hours on the show grounds, no great loss.
In a rare defense of the airlines on this blog, in the grand scheme of things they do a pretty amazing job the vast majority of the time. With thousands of flights crisscrossing the country every day, it makes sense there is going to be maintenance issue here and there. And there will be times when the WX wins. But there also has to be someone at United Dispatch who understands that during the week of the “World’s Largest Aviation Celebration” who thinks they’d add seats into Appleton by using maybe a 737 instead of one of the smallest regional jets flying today, or go an extra mile for those of us who still very much prefer to share the airspace with the airlines when some sort of issue leaves us stranded.
Acknowledging the importance of general and business aviation by working with us going to Oshkosh should be a no-brainer for United when schedules go haywire. Instead, nobody at KORD seemed to do anything more than the usual to rectify a bad situation. Nearly every passenger they stranded Sunday night had important business early today on the field. To just cancel this particular flight was just horrible customer service. Everyone in line at Customer Service thought United could have done more for us, and worked a little harder to help a bunch of nice GA people out.

At #OSH17, the only constant buzz seems to be how we as an industry stop H.R. 2997, ATC Privatization and user fees, it’s what people are all talking about.  However, the problems with some airlines go deeper than just selling our air traffic control system to Controllers “R” Us. When a flight full of aviation people gets screwed on the day before a show this important to ALL of aviation (hello AirVenture Career Fair), it pushes the common theory among the GA community that the airlines just aren't into us.
Av8rdan’s Curse of O’Hare strikes again. But it’s all good, and this little inbound snafu is all just part of the adventure.

Who-hoo, let’s get this party started.

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