In the 1963 classic “Twilight Zone” TV episode “Nightmare at 20,000 feet,” only William Shatner sees a gremlin damaging the wing whenever he looks out his airplane window.

Warren and Donna Worthley told me of their flying nightmare. Only this one was on the ground at the Fort Wayne, Indiana airport, as their delayed flight to Punta Gorda took off.

Without them.

The Punta Gorda couple was scheduled to depart Fort Wayne on a Thursday afternoon at around 5 p.m. on Allegiant Air Flight 1661. But they received numerous text alerts announcing the flight’s delay. The most recent had the flight “delayed to at 8:03 p.m., subject to change earlier/later.”

The Worthleys said they relied on “this precise time” and arrived at the airport a little before 7:00 p.m., “in plenty of time to board the flight.”

But Flight 1661 began boarding at 6:05 p.m. and the doors closed at 6:57 p.m.

Unable to wait until the next scheduled Allegiant flight to Punta Gorda three days later, the couple was booked the following day on an Allegiant flight to the St. Pete-Clearwater airport, 100 miles from Punta Gorda, where a friend picked them up.

The Worthleys sent me a letter they wrote to Allegiant demanding compensation “for a very stressful loss of time in our lives” with the promise of a small claims suit if denied. Perhaps it was the threat of a lawsuit, but Allegiant didn’t acknowledge their letter.

So, I contacted Allegiant. A corporate spokesperson told me Flight 1661’s delay that day “was driven by Air Traffic Control, which issued edicts for operations in the area due to weather, limiting flight traffic and delaying flights for safety reasons.”

“Although an estimated delay was posted, as weather conditions and ATC edicts changed, the flight was able to depart. Passengers in the terminal were advised several times to remain in the gate area for this reason.”

Nonetheless, Allegiant confirmed in situations involving “significant” delays, the airline will attempt rebooking on another available Allegiant flight — as it did with the Worthleys — issue a flight voucher, or refund the unused airfare. Passengers seeking flight delay assistance should contact its customer center at 702-505-8888.

But, understand, Allegiant — or any airline — doesn’t have to do anything.

“In the United States, airlines are not required to compensate passengers when flights are delayed or canceled,” explains the U.S. Department of Transportation. “There are no federal regulations requiring airlines to put you on another airline’s flight or reimburse you if you purchase a ticket on another airline. Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport. Compensation is required by U.S. law only when certain passengers are ‘bumped’ from a flight that is oversold.”

To receive involuntary denied boarding compensation for being bumped, a passenger must have a boarding pass, and arrive at the gate before the flight is “closed,” usually a half hour prior to actual departure.

See your fly rights – including how to file a complaint — in DOT’s “Consumer Guide to Air Travel” at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights.

Flight delays should be anticipated. The DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics documents some 500,000 flights –- about 17 percent — were delayed 15 minutes or more from January to May 2018.

The takeaway here? Be at the gate 30 minutes prior to a scheduled departure, regardless of delays. It’s even more important when flying limited-scheduled airlines like Allegiant, Spirit, and Frontier which often fly out of smaller airports where flight options are limited or non-existent.

“If there is a delay, don’t stray far from the gate,” recommends Farecompare.com. “Eat at a nearby restaurant with a view of the departure board, or bring your food to the gate area. Listen for updates. You could sign up for airline text messages, but you’re better off relying on the gate agent’s public address system. You know that’ll be in real-time.”

David Morris is the Sun’s consumer advocate. Contact him c/o the Sun, 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980, email dmorris@sun-herald.com, or leave a message at 941-206-1114.

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