I am one of what I believe to be hundreds of ticketed passengers who were prevented from flying into or out of Monterey Regional Airport (MRY) for several days beginning on Wednesday. I believe these disruptive, costly and aggravating cancellations were inexcusable, demonstrating a shocking disregard for passenger needs on the part of MRY management, the airlines and the FAA.
In my case, a trip home from Austin, Tex. took 13 hours and ended at 4 a.m. Saturday with a $173 Uber ride from San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which had become the substitute destination airport. As I write this on Saturday night, I have just heard of yet another unfortunate air traveler stranded in Phoenix after having a ticketed flight to Monterey cancelled. That makes four days and counting of cancelled MRY flights.
According to an article in the Monterey Herald on Friday, the cause of the disruption was a switch on a communication device that links aircraft to MRY. Apparently the switch was inadvertently turned off during construction work on Wednesday. It seems there was a miscommunication of some sort with the Federal Aviation Administration, whose action was required to get the switch turned on. And somehow this miscommunication dragged on day after day. The Monterey airport director is quoted in the Herald as saying he hoped the switch would be back on Saturday but he sounded neither confident of success nor very concerned that flight after flight was being scrubbed.
Is no one paying attention when hundreds of passengers are having their travel plans wrecked by what appears to be a straightforward technical problem at MRY? Is it impossible to find an FAA technician among the thousands of FAA employees who can be bothered to come to Monterey and flip a switch? Where are our Monterey Airport commissioners, who we elected to represent the interests of passengers at MRY?
I can hear the response: This is much more complicated than flipping a switch. To which I say: I cannot imagine this happening at SFO or LAX. A critical system failure like this would either get a crisis-style response and be restored ASAP or else there would be a backup system. If LAX were effectively shut down for days because no one could be bothered to flip a switch, there would be open revolt at the airport. At MRY no one seems bothered in the least. Where is the sense of urgency here? Is MRY really this much of a backwater?
To make matters worse, I found, as I am sure others did, that my carrier, United Airlines, was indifferent to the problem or to my plight. There was no advance warning or indication that Monterey was having days of cancellations. In fact, several United agents told me they had no idea why my connecting flight from LAX to MRY on Friday night was at first delayed or why it was ultimately cancelled, even though the problem had been festering for days. Finally, the fifth agent, after considerable computer-assisted research, discovered the problem and noted with some satisfaction that the cancellation was not the fault of United. So there were no offers of hotel or ground transportation vouchers or any other assistance. I was welcome to take the next available seat to Monterey, which would be 24 hours later. That flight might avoid the epidemic of cancellations. Or not, in which case I guess I could hang around L.A. and try again the next day and then perhaps the next. I suppose the game plan by United was that someday I would get booked on a scheduled flight from LAX to Monterey that would actually fly there. I ended up taking a midnight standby seat to SFO and getting myself home from there. “Friendly Skies of United” indeed.
I related my experience and the underlying problem at MRY to a Monterey County resident who flies frequently, and who immediately replied, “This is why I NEVER fly out of Monterey.” Until now I have not shared this view and in fact have often touted flying out of MRY for the convenience. Recent events have prompted me to reconsider heeding the call of “Fly Monterey.” What kind of airport urges passengers to fly there and then idly stands by when their tickets become worthless?
I would suggest that the airport and its commissioners immediately investigate what has just transpired at the airport and take swift and decisive action that not only resolves the problem but also demonstrates a genuine commitment to passenger interests beyond the bland advertising slogan. If not, Monterey travelers may adopt a slogan of their own: “Don’t Fly Monterey. Ever.”
Speizer lives on the Peninsula.