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delayed flight

delayed flight

The decision by Monterey Regional Airport officials to not notify passengers and potential passengers of the problems that caused some 50 flights to be canceled over the past week was irresponsible and inexcusable. From all appearances, it was a decision made with the airport’s bottom line in mind and with total disregard for the people that the airport is supposed to serve.

Though airport officials are blaming the problem on the Federal Aviation Administration, they acknowledge that they knew a week ago that there was a strong likelihood that flights in and out of the airport would be canceled. So what did they do? Did they alert the newspapers and TV stations? Did they suggest that the airlines notify passengers with reservations during the affected period?

Instead, they posted an understated notice on the airport’s Facebook page, which no one I know had ever looked at since the beginning of recorded history. They didn’t even provide the airlines with a complete picture of what was going on, so people returning here from all over the country booked flights that never had a chance of heading this way.

The problem was this. The airport is nearing the end of a major construction project that involves installation of concrete pads at the ends of the runways that are designed to stop aircraft that have overshot the landing strips. That project also involves adding and moving landing lights. While the lights were being worked on last week, the FAA ruled that the electronic navigational aids should be turned off until the safety of the remaining directional system could be tested. The FAA had previously said the electronic aids could remain in service, but it changed its mind. The testing didn’t occur until Monday and regular service was reinstated.

Did the FAA mess up? Maybe so. It certainly contributed to a terrible situation for many travelers. But it is the airport, and perhaps the airlines as well, that deserve the largest measure of blame for not letting people know.

It’s hard to come to any conclusion other than airport officials didn’t want to make a general announcement because many passengers would have changed their flight plans and flown in or out of San Jose or San Francisco. The airlines would have been upset. The airport would lose out on landing fees and possibly other revenue. That might have been a blow financially. But the inconvenience created for hundreds and hundreds of people completely trumps any other concerns.
Perhaps airport officials were banking on good weather. If there had been no clouds or fog, more flights would have been able to get in and out even without the electronic navigational aids. But anyone betting that there won’t be clouds or fog in August on the Peninsula is betting on a helluva longshot.

The airport tries its best year around to compete with metropolitan airports but it has driven a significant share of its clientele away with this stunt.

What needs to happen now is this. Airport officials need to apologize to those it so seriously inconvenienced and it should look for ways to compensate them in some fashion. The elected board of directors needs to conduct an inquiry into the situation and present a complete report to the public. And if the decision turns out to have been as calculating and boneheaded as it appears from the outside, those responsible should be provided with a one-way ticket out of town.

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delayed flight

delayed flight

Flight service in and out of the Monterey Regional Airport continued to be spotty Monday because of a decision last week by the Federal Aviation Administration to shut down the airport’s radio navigation system because of ongoing construction work.

The airport’s executive director, Mike La Pier, said it was not true as earlier reported that the disruption was caused by an inadvertent shutdown or the lack of technical help. Instead, he said, the FAA suddenly reversed itself last Wednesday on allowing the instrument landing system to remain in operation while the runway lighting system is being reconfigured in connection with a runway safety improvement project.

“We had an agreement but the FAA decided it would not leave the system on until they test it,” La Pier said early Monday. He said he expected the testing, involving an FAA aircraft, to occur sometime today, Monday, but that was not definite.

Numerous flights in and out of Monterey were canceled starting Wednesday and through the weekend but La Pier said he was not prepared to estimate the number or the percentage. He said some commercial flights that needed no navigational assistance were able to use the runway.

The construction work, highly visible because of the huge wall that has been erected between the airport and Tarpey’s restaurant, involves installation of a series of soft concrete pads intended to slow down any aircraft that overshoots the runways. As part of that project, some of the runway lights are now being moved, which concerned the FAA, La Pier said.

The Partisan’s attempts to reach the FAA have so far been unsuccessful.

A first-person article written by a frustrated traveler and related comments from Partisan readers can be found here.

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delayed flightI 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.

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