After a lovely few days in Washington, DC, it was time for my father and me to fly back to California. I chose Delta Air Lines because it offered a 757-200 with lie-flat beds in “Delta One” business class on its nonstop flight from Washington National to Los Angeles. Little did we know that our aging Delta 757-200 would break, resulting in an 18-hour mechanical delay.
An Extended Mechanical Delay On Delta
I want to start by saying that the delay was very unfortunate, particularly considering both my father and I had commitments the following morning. Yet sometimes life throws you a curveball and you just have to adapt.
We boarded on time, the crew helped everyone to get settled, and then we pushed back on time. But rather than continuing down the apron to takeoff, we returned to the gate after about five minutes.
What was going on?
The captain explained that the engine starter on the left engine was not firing up, so the ground crew would have to do it manually. She assured us we would be on our way in a few minutes.
But even that did not work: the left engine would not start…I’d call that a serious problem, wouldn’t you?
We sat for another half hour onboard before the captain came out and explained over the PA that a part would be flown in from Boston and our revised departure time was 8:30 pm, which was quickly moved back to 10:00 pm.
I looked at Michael, the amazing first class flight attendant who was working the cabin, and said, “We’re not going tonight are we? You’re going illegal, right?” With a wink, he smiled. I knew what was going on….by illegal I meant that the crew would time out. The crew does not originate in DCA but flies a same-day turn from Los Angeles. This is one of the most plum routes in the Delta system since it allows for over 10 hours of flying while still allowing the flight crew to get home in time to sleep in their own bed.
Anyway, I pulled out my phone to check on the availability of United’s 10:05 pm flight from Dulles…only middle seats left and a $500 one-way fare, but I was about to book it to ensure we could get home.
Then I figured why would I come all this way with my dad, only to rush home in middle seats across the aisle from each other? My dad is the most humble man I know, but I did not want to subject him to a middle seat in economy class on a transcontinental flight, especially after a long day.
So we decided to stick it out. I knew the flight would cancel…but until it did I held out a smidgen of hope that we might be able to get home that night.
Delta emailed each passenger a virtual credit card ($25 each) and we headed over to Five Guys for an unexpected dinner. My dad has a weakness for hamburgers and milkshakes (I guess I know where I get that from…) and we enjoyed a nice snack at Five Guys (I skipped the milkshake and French Fries even though dinner was on Delta’s dime…).
I ended up using just one credit and paying a bit out-of-pocket and used the other credit to buy some supplies at Hudson like shaving cream, Airborne supplements, and a pocket bleach pen.
We returned to the gate at 9:00 pm where an announcement was made that the flight was now delayed 18-hours until 8:30 am the next morning.
My heart sank. I knew this would happen and I knew I would now miss a very important meeting the following morning. I could have been home that night…yet we rolled with the delay. It was now too late to make the United flight.
Delta emailed a hotel voucher…for the Westin in Reston (almost all the way to Dulles Airport) or a Comfort Inn in Maryland. No chance. I booked us at the Hyatt Crystal City and we immediately walked out and only had to wait a few minutes for a shuttle. The Hyatt was just over $200 with taxes, but can you imagine taking an Uber out to the Virginia or Maryland suburbs, going to sleep, then getting back early the next morning?
No thank you.
Fast-forward to the following morning. We arrived at the airport at the appointed time, only to find out that the flight was delayed 45 minutes further. Would we even go today?
The part must not have come in the previous night, because I watched as the mechanic worked on the engine.
But to great cheers from the gate area, we finally did board and left for Los Angeles….at 10:45 am.
Was it worthwhile? Well, the flight itself was very lovely, with a comfortable seat, nice bedding, great service, and decent food (though I was really looking forward to the short ribs for dinner). I’ll offer a trip report next week.
At the DC meet-up prior to the flight, I had joked that Delta’s 757s are so old we would probably face a mechanical delay. Sadly, my prediction was prescient. This is still a rare thing on Delta…it is sort of hilarious that it happened on my first Delta flight in more than a year.
But while these old workhorses are getting past their prime, I have to give Delta credit for handling the delay quite professionally and efficiently. The vouchers via email really helped and while no delay is fun, it did give me a chance to spend additional quality time with my father.
When life throws you lemons, you must make lemonade.