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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Did NOLA air-traffic controllers party too hard, delaying my flight home to N.J.?

Hurricanes, frozen Mango Daiquiris, cold beer and other alcoholic libations flowed freely during the French Quarter Festival, an annual four-day celebration of Louisiana's rich musical heritage.


NEW ORLEANS -- Just when I thought I had beaten despicable United Airlines at its own game, air-traffic controllers threw a wrench into my plans.

My flight to the Crescent City's annual French Quarter Festival this month was most uncomfortable -- I was crammed into an economy seat with my knees up against the seat back in front of me.

On the 3-hour flight from Newark on April 5, stingy flight attendants served me and my wife small plastic cups of complimentary tomato juice, a handful of mints and a bag of salty snacks.

Music, movie and entertainment channels -- once free -- cost extra.

The center aisle was so narrow you couldn't avoid brushing up against other passengers as you squeezed past them to get to the cramped bathroom at the rear of the plane.

Cha Wa, a Mardi Gras Indian funk band, performing on the main stage in New Orleans' Riverfront Park on April 6.

Let the good times roll

But after four days of free music accompanied by Hurricanes and other alcoholic beverages, and great Gulf seafood washed down with wine or beer, I forgot all of that misery.

And checking in online for our flight home on April 10, I made sure to buy five inches of extra-legroom for me and my wife -- a total of 10 inches for more than $100.

Before the airport shuttle picked us up, I downed a half-dozen of those incomparable Gulf oysters on the half shell at the restaurant in our hotel, and we breezed through security with TSA Precheck.

Little did I know as we waited for our boarding call:

There weren't enough air-traffic controllers to handle all of the arriving and departing flights at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, including ours.

2-hour delay

At 2:19 p.m., I received the first of three texts from United Airlines, informing me our 3:35 p.m. flight to Newark "is delayed due to air traffic control," and wouldn't be departing until 3:57 p.m.

Then, the delay grew -- the next text said our flight would depart at 5:01 p.m., and the third text put our departure at 5:45 p.m. -- a more than 2-hour delay.

The big question, of course, is whether those three air-traffic controllers who didn't report for duty on April 10 overdid it the day before on the last day of the French Quarter Festival?

As we waited for our delayed flight that day, I texted a friend who is the drummer for a New Orleans band, and wondered whether those air-traffic controllers called in sick after four days of boozing at the festival.

"It sure sounds possible," he replied. 

Worst airline in world

Flying United has been an ordeal for many years, and its customer service is an insult to paying passengers.

But now that United forcefully removed and injured a ticketed passenger to make room for airline employees on a flight out of Chicago, other customers might be tempted to compare their experiences to his:

"At least they didn't throw me off the airplane."

Seafood lovers flock to New Orleans

President Trump, Stop lying to the America people