Many, many years ago, in the kooky land of Washington, DC, I worked for the federal government. It was a time of great turmoil in which a president rued the day he laid hands on a certain blue dress. It was a time in which the various sectors and parties of the US government just could not get along, play together or pass a budget. A government-wide furlough was mandated and many federal employees got themselves a nice vacation as they were eventually paid for the days they were forced to take off. See, a furlough is supposed to be a temporary unpaid leave of some employees. That crazy furlough from the ‘90s was not so. Mind you, I was considered an essential employee and had to show up day after day of the furlough knowing deep in my gut that my colleagues would eventually get paid and I would be screwed since I actually worked. Who in the world would have considered me, a then 20 year old, an essential employee? My attitude was that of the typical 20 year old who feels so put upon by the workplace with all its rules and protocols. How bad do the other employees have to been for me to have been designated an essential employee? At times government is just not the wisest set of employees. Anyway, furloughs, don’t care for them much.
So, here we go again. Now that I am adult who travels an enormous amount for work, I am extremely attuned to airport, travel and weather reports. While I am aware of the furloughs that are resulting from this federal sequestration, I was somehow taken by surprise by the difficulties I encountered as I tried to fly out of Tennessee.
See, airports in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth are experiencing what they call “staffing challenges” because they are staffing fewer air traffic controllers, and subsequently planes must fly farther apart (to ensure they don’t crash into each other), causing delays for passengers like myself. Obviously, we rather experience delays than plane crashes. Goes without saying. But why can’t we have safety as well as timely service? The government (and at the end of the day the taxpayer) supposedly expects to save about $200 million by creating these staffing challenges. Seems that the ensuing headaches (grumpy employees and travelers and taxpayers) can be just as costly, no? Oh, and get this- that $200 million (a huge number) is just a third of the budget cuts the FAA has to take on. They have warned us that these staffing challenges, this furlough, is going to last through September. Wow. Thanks a lot. If my upcoming August flight to Hawaii gets severely delayed I will be mighty sad thus defeating the purpose somewhat of flying out to Hawaii-my happy place, my moment of zen….
Can you believe that the FAA claims that the worst case scenario is to expect three and a half hour delays? Come on, let’s be real (as often disgruntled employees like to state). Three hour delays are the norm. You really think that with furlough kicking in, the delays won’t be worse than three hours?
Luckily, there are some thinking heads out there. I just received one of those push alerts that the federal government is going to delay the policy of allowing passengers to carry small knives on planes. Seems prudent indeed on their part considering there will be a lot of frustrated passengers out there. That always seemed like a bad idea to me. I am grateful for these small wins.
Anyway, I just went to Nashville, Tennessee on business and it turned out to be one of those trips that has now left me sick at home fighting a fever and an ulcer. Ok. Let me backtrack. I set out merrily on my way to Nashville. My mom always dreamt of going there as she was the self-identified Puerto Rican Cowgirl. Consequently, I have always wanted to go there. I have been to Memphis and was curious as to how Nashville was different. Would the differences be that of the differences you see between San Francisco and Los Angeles –for those are definitely two worlds apart (although despite popular folklore both cities are filled with fake, egotistical people –they just exhibit those traits differently). So, I was excited about listening to some good live music and eating some good southern barbeque in Nashville. Good food, good music. What more do you need? How about collegial colleagues and being able to get out of the city on time?
Sure enough the food was good, the drinks were strong, tasty and cheap and the live music was good ole fun! Nashville can be a yummy town. There was good barbeque, good cheese and lots of pork. There was even good Caribbean food. Go figure. Now when it came to work, business talk became one long screaming match. Didn’t see that coming at all. Perhaps all the pork went to people’s heads. But wow, work didn’t work out quite well. Mind you this was not a business meeting with people from Nashville; they were outsiders as well who couldn’t handle the slow nature of non-profit work. When all was said and done it was time to leave the great soulful city of Nashville.
Off to the airport I went. My flight was originally scheduled for 6pm. At 11am I received a phone call alerting me to the fact that my 6pm flight was being delayed by an hour. Thanks, I guess. I was worried but somewhat hopeful. Sure enough, I arrive at the airport and look at the departures board. About half of the flights were either cancelled or delayed. Amazingly, two different airlines going to the same place had different status updates (one was delayed; the other on time). As I am looking at the board, I get a phone alert that my flight was further delayed. Just 25 minutes this time.
We finally board the plane where I proceed to get a screwdriver cocktail in order to ease the nerves. Being bumped to first class does have its privileges. We waited and waited but finally they closed the doors and we pulled away from the gate. Then we waited some more. There was a groundstop on New York. We waited for 40 more minutes and then we were told the flight was cancelled. Really, canceling a flight while we are already on board? That is just so wrong. Some of my fellow passengers did not take the news too well and started having temper tantrums. A flight attendant threatened having police escort one of them off the plane. Yikes, this is most definitely not a way to travel. Perhaps skype business meetings are the way to go.
I hightailed it out of the airport back to the hotel setting my wake up call for 5:30am the next morning. I woke up at 5 that morning when the airline called me to let me know that my 7:30am flight had been delayed by two hours. Unreal. Eventually we boarded the plane. But we had to wait another 30 minutes while they addressed a non-important mechanical problem (they had a functioning backup) by completing paperwork. A sign of the times. There is no escaping flight delays. You really think things will improve come September when the furlough is supposedly over? You think they will scale back up to the appropriate number of staff? Oftentimes, when an employer downsizes and sees that productivity continues they do not see a reason to increase or fill those old positions. Staffing challenges are here to stay and we either develop high levels of patience, adjust our business schedules or just decrease overall travel. It is not like we can complain to our politicians as they are the ones that created this problem in the first place. Of course, they would just love to have a moment when they can claim they saved the day –meaning they saved us from themselves. Don’t fall for it.
Happy trails. May you enjoy a cocktail or two while you wait out the next flight delay.
FYI: The federal office of personnel management (OPM) has prepared a guidebook for federal employees in the event of several types of furloughs. http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/furlough-guidance/#url=Overview