Maybe American Airlines could just step up

Couldn't you just step in general, first?


I'm going to re-run a blog post I wrote a few years ago about an American Airlines experience because I was reading an article that said they were increasing mask mandates.


All customers must comply with the requirement from the time they enter their departure airport until they leave the airport at their destination.
 
“Customers and team members have been clear that they feel more safe when everyone is wearing a face covering,” said Alison Taylor, the chief customer officer at American. “In light of this important feedback, we are expanding and enhancing our requirements onboard and at airports.”
 
The guidelines do allow for no face mask while eating or drinking.
 
The airline says anyone unwilling to comply with the requirement could be barred from future travel with American.


I would take that last line as not a threat but instead, demand to know if that's a promise.

I've seen some people getting around this mask mandate by posting videos of themselves eating snacks extremely slow, much like the DMV sloth from Zootopia. It's pretty funny, watching a guy take 20 minutes to eat a peanut just to keep his mask down.

Anyway, here is the original post I wrote about an experience on American Airlines. We continue to let corporations and other powers control us, ridiculously so, in the name of safety. You'll see it in the story below, too.

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Why American Airlines sucks.

February 24, 2015

Some of us started to cry. Not because the journey was never ending, but because you can be told that you are not a human being only so many times.
— Gary Shtenyngart, writing about American Airlines: “A Trans-Atlantic Trip Turns Kafkaesque

~

When you are traveling, the last thing you want is for your flight to be cancelled.

Do you remember the scene from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” where he and his father think they have made their escape on a blimp only to have it turn around and head back towards the Nazis?

Yes, I dropped the Nazi reference that early in this blog post.

On February 14, 2015, American Airlines celebrated Valentine’s Day by flying flight 3208 from Dallas enroute to Bismarck halfway, only to turn around an hour into the flight, over Wichita, Kansas. Yes, the airline made it halfway. At 35,000 feet, however, halfway is a useless place to be for passengers.

The pilot initially announced that there was a mechanical issue with the de-icing equipment. This is important. Bismarck, at the time, was getting a few inches of snow. Nothing major, mind you. Other airlines continued to fly in.



Heck, even a Piper from UND was giving it a go. My friend, a corporate pilot, checked the TAFS and METARS to see what the weather around Bismarck truly was. It was nothing you would cancel a flight for. One gal on the plane had called her boyfriend in Bismarck when we landed, and he was incredulous because he said, while talking to her, other airlines had landed.




But American decided to turn around and go back and get their airplane back to their hub for their convenience. Even without de-icing equipment, they could have landed and delivered the plane full of people safely home. They simply could not have taken off again, unless they got their own equipment working, or found a replacement. There is more than one de-icing truck at the Bismarck airport. Arrangements could have been made if American Airlines had had the will to do it.

De-icing equipment is used because of weather, but it is not the weather. Being unable to land because of weather means low visibility, high winds, clouds below minimums, or ice on the runway which prevented braking action. Other airplanes were getting in, so weather was not the problem.

This is important. The weather did not prevent the plane from landing, meaning that normally, American would have to foot the bill for the passengers they chose to strand back in Texas.

We then proceeded to head far west and zigzag back and forth, making the return to Dallas even longer than the flight out. My guess was to burn fuel.

Why turn back a plane full of people?

  1. Because you are a sadist.

  2. Because you are a sadist fresh out of bankruptcy with an eye on the bottom line.

It was during that return flight when I recalled the marketing email I received from American Airline’s president, detailing all of the wonderful new changes they were going to make…to business and first class. Instead of pouring more perks to the overly perked, why not treat all passengers like humans and actually focus on getting people from point A to point B?

The flight attendant walked down the aisle giving us the 1-800 re-booking number, and tried to alleviate our stress by saying that maybe we could get a flight in to Fargo or Rapid City.

Not exactly an easy drive to Bismarck. She would have been better off not saying anything. At one point she talked about the need to “de-ice the runway” which is a serious lack of understanding of how things work. The folks at the back of the airplane were somewhere between a guffaw and a popped forehead vein.

By the time we landed, the flight attendant informed us via an announcement that she’d been trying to rebook our flights in the air and there was nothing available and that a few would have been automatically rebooked but that some of us might not make it out of Dallas until Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday if at all. And also, because it was a “weather” issue — by the time we landed, American had changed the official story to weather — American would not be providing any assistance. We were on our own. They were not going to give any of the passengers any help beyond “discount partners.”

There were some unhappy people. They asked why American couldn’t send the flight out tomorrow. (Delta had done this for my friend an I last year in a similar situation). Her answer?

American couldn’t disrupt the travel plans of those who had tickets for the flight tomorrow. “We promised them to fly tomorrow, and we can’t go against that.” But never mind the promise to this plane.

Broke their promise to deliver us to Bismarck? Check.

Lied so they didn’t have to provide vouchers or assistance? Check.

When we landed and were able to get on our phones, my friend had received an email that said “sorry, we can’t re-accomodate you.” That’s it. There were also no agents at the gate where we arrived. You would think in such a situation there would be employees there ready to help a plane load of passengers. Nope.

No one.

We were all left to run around the airport to find an American employee to help them.

My friend had called the toll free rebooking number when we landed, and he had to press the woman on the end of the line. Her first response?

Can’t do it. Nothing available. Sorry.

He asked again. And again. Find a different airline. Get us back. Try through Minneapolis. He led her, quite forcefully, to possible options.

Finally, she found us a flight on American to Minneapolis the next morning, and then from Minneapolis to Bismarck on Delta. But her initial reaction was “sorry, can’t help, so sorry.” We had to be rude to get anywhere. Being nice and calm did nothing.

My friend then called to see if they wouldn’t provide a voucher for a hotel. He pressed the American employee but because it was attributed to weather, she wouldn’t budge. On Twitter, the most they would say is they cared about our safety, and “anything else” they could help with.


The woman on the phone finally told my friend that she would connect us with their discount partners, and promptly forwarded his call to a credit card application department. I guess she had her bit of “screw you customer” fun. He hung up and we ended up getting hotel rooms on Hotels.com.

We had rebooked our flight. We found our own hotel. What about our checked bags?

On the flight, the flight attendant had told us not to get our checked bags, but since we were changing airlines, we were told upon receiving our new printed tickets to get them. By this point, it was quite late, more than an hour after the plane landed. We wandered down to the baggage department office, and the woman there told us that they were dumping the baggage from the plane on carousel B30 (or 39) and we should go get it.

I can tell you that only a handful of the flight were down their claiming the baggage. The rest had been told not to get it, and had been encouraged to not get their bags.


The result?

Those who didn’t get their checked bags that night…lost them.

There sits American Airlines’ Twitter account, silent, not helping on social media (go read the full exchange), no doubt overwhelmed with trying to extract thousands of other customers from the purgatory they have sent them to. Which ring did you send them to, American? Perhaps somewhere in the Eighth Circle, near the schismatics and nowhere near their bags, where otherwise pleasant people are turned into raging beasts as they realize they are getting robbed and have no advocate to truly care and help?

We ran into others down at the baggage claim who had managed to get a flight to Fargo or Jamestown and would have to find a ride to Bismarck. I guess with American, getting you inside the state boundary ought to be good enough. One fellow said he found a flight the next day to Bismarck online on his own using Expedia, but the American Airlines employee couldn’t “see” that flight and so, unless he wanted to pay out of pocket for an expensive one-way ticket, had to take the flight to Fargo that American offered and rent a car on his own dime to drive several hours back to Bismarck.

All American Airlines was thinking about, as they turned that 737 around over Kansas, was probably that keeping the plane in rotation at their hub was the best thing for their airline, rather than risk having it stuck in Bismarck until their de-icing equipment could be repaired. Never mind the lost bags, angry customers, poor social media employees dealing with frustration, and the money spent on hotels and cabs and food. Never mind the people at the other end in Bismarck waiting to take that plane back out to Dallas whose vacation never got started.

That was the kind of decision some ill-equipped manager makes who has an accountant’s view of the world, caring very little for the human beings who in good faith purchased a ticket (on an over-booked flight, even) and were abandoned into the care of rude employees who spread disinformation.

It wouldn’t be a trip without Delta screwing up, too.

Back in Bismarck, my bag wasn’t on the carousel. I wanted to just bawl. How much hatred can one industry have for its customers?

My friend and I stood 40 minutes at the Delta counter, no employee in sight. One guy walked by and we told him we had a lost bag and had been waiting and he informed us, with that slight bit of glee born out of a loathing for customers, that he had to first close a United flight and the other Delta employees were busy and then he walked away.

My friend started tweeting to Delta help. Eventually Delta Assist called the office behind the counter and we watched through the closed door as an employee answered the phone, hung up, opened the door, and warily walked to the counter.


She tried tracking my bag. But it had an American Airlines tracking number. “All we can see is that you checked it,” she said, trying to be helpful.

By this point the first fellow, who was so busy with United, started to walk over, perhaps deeming it safe now that there were a greater number of airport employees that irate customers. Then the manager appeared. He asked how long we’d been waiting, no doubt having been in on the phone call from Delta.

“40 minutes,” my friend said.

“We’ll review the security tapes and see if you really were here that long. If you were, we’ll have to consider some changes,” he said with a smirk, suggesting he didn’t believe us and that he really didn’t care.

That was his reaction: we’ll see if you’re lying. It should have been: we’re sorry and we’ll help. The manager, named Logan, was a snarky jerk towards me the last time Delta lost my bag, too.

You need someone at the counter when a flight arrives. If you don’t have enough staff to cover an outgoing and incoming flight, you have a problem.

By this point the first fellow was at the counter, and looked at my baggage claim ticket that had been sitting there on the counter all this time. “Oh, your name is Neidlinger?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Just a sec,” he said, and walked through the door into the room behind the counter. He came back with my bag. It had arrived on an earlier flight, he knew it had been there, and yet at no point did anyone bother to do anything until they were good and ready. Nor did they say anything that might reassure me they actually cared. Instead, it was always a flippant “we’ll get to you when we get to you.”

What other supposedly regulated industry can run this way, selling more tickets than available seats, returning a service that isn’t what was paid for, doling out endless fees for merely existing, and allowing employees to be so flippant towards stressed and tired travelers who are concerned about money and plans?

If you are from Bismarck, don’t even consider American Airlines. Just yesterday they cancelled their one flight out of Bismarck, stranding passengers as the airplane sat on the ramp. American is a terrible airline that has no respect for its customers, is known for losing luggage, and is completely unreliable. At least with Delta, you might be able to drive to and from Minneapolis. You can’t do that to Dallas.

I’d have better luck taking a long-haul trip in my dad’s 172 than with American Airlines.

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