Tuesday, June 05, 2018

I Just Flew In...

...and boy are my arms tired...

...from punching American Airlines people in their fracking throats.

I was trying to get to Michigan for Debbie's mom's funeral. American had the best fare with reasonable times both going up and bringing both of us back to Florida. I book the flight no problem. I get to the airport no problem. I get through security no problem. We all board the plane no problem. The plane pushes back from the gate and problem. Some sensor somewhere in the bowels of the airplane was giving nonsense readings. So was the backup sensor. So there we sit, ten feet from the jetway, waiting for maintenance. Maintenance gets there and the first thing they do is shut off the AC inside the plane. This was a completely full flight, mind you, sitting in full sun in Florida with outside temps already edging up to 90. The pilot kept coming on the intercom every 15 minutes or so to assure us that it will be "just a few more minutes."

After about 45 minutes of everyone on the plane getting increasingly sweaty (and ripe), the pilot says he is going to tell the maintenance guys that they have to get the AC back on and to assure everyone that the gate people had verified that we would all be able to make our connections in Chicago. A few minutes later, the AC came on, then numerous minutes after that, we were given the all clear to take off.

Yet oddly, 10 minutes or so later, we were still sitting in the exact same spot where we had been for the last hour. Finally, the pilot comes back on to inform us that turning the AC on while repairs were going on had blown out the power to everything on the port side of the aircraft, including the fuel pumps.

"...and we kinda need those."

Yuk, yuk, yuk.

So more fews of minutes while we wait for the maintenance guys to get back and try to get things working. They fail and the pilot pulls the plug on the whole deal. So over two hours after we pushed back from the gate, we were rolled back up and "de-plane-ed". No idea when or if the plane would ever take off and by that time, that day's flights were already full. Finally, the gate agents are told to clear us out of the gate to make room for another flight, and off we all go out through security to the main American counter at which there was exactly one agent at the customer service station. For an entire plane-load of people. Well, OK, not exactly one agent; more like some fraction of an agent because she was doing double duty as some sort of concierge-to-the-really-really-important-passengers while also trying to work through a line of 100 or so people.

[Aside: There were about a half-dozen people on the plane who were on their second attempt to leave Tampa, as the early morning flight to Chicago the previous day had also been cancelled due to mechanical problems. In other words, I wasn't unlucky; this is a chronic issue.]

An hour or so later, I finally get my turn and I get booked on basically the same flight leaving the next morning. I asked where my checked bag was and found out that it was still sitting in the dead plane waiting for me to request it to be taken off. What?!?! Fine. Get my bag, please. I get boarding passes for the next day and head down to baggage claim to wait for my bag to show up.

That process went something like this. Everyone sits and waits. Eventually, the alarms go off and the lights start flashing and the Friendly Male Voice (tm) comes on advising us to not ride on the luggage carousel and to be sure we have our own bags because many bags look alike and not to stick our tongues in light sockets or poke ourselves in the eye with a screwdriver or run with scissors. Finally, the little garage doors open, the belt begins moving and dozens of hopeful people rush up to the carousel.

And one bag comes out.

Then everything shuts down, only for the entire sequence to repeat again in 15 or 20 minutes. Four hours later, my bag is the one that pops out. I consider myself lucky; there are still a dozen or so people waiting for luggage.

Fortunately, I had decided to drive myself and pay for long-term parking rather than bum a ride from someone. I tell American to shove their hotel voucher deep and on a slant, grab the car and head for home. I hit the Z-hills Domino's for some grub, then eat while making phone calls to let everyone know what was going on.

My flight the next morning leaves at 7am, so I'm supposed to be at the airport at 5am which means leaving here at 4am and getting up at 3:30am. By the time I'm done eating and talking on the phone, it is after 10pm, so I don't even bother with going to bed. I just set an alarm and doze on the recliner.

The next day, getting to Chicago is uneventful. I find my gate, verify my departure time, go grab a (very pricey) bite to eat and wait. The screen at the gate has a count-down clock showing how long until boarding starts. When it has about 15 minutes left, it suddenly jumps back up to 35 minutes.

Crap.

The gate agent grabs the mic and says, "Pftz jpwmzkin fjwnn wkjfhi alakj kj wjpoieajghahf. Klajr fjoinfj klahauoiehjht jlkuotuiwuier jijithe hteh. Thoiuewr oiu."

We find out later that we were delayed because our crew got held up on their previous flight when the door on their inbound plane started to fall off mid-flight. But it was all good; no one got sucked out of the plane like last time(s), and we finally got in the air and made it to Flint in time for me to make it to the viewing and Rosary for Debbie's mom. We got through the funeral, took care of most of the thank-you's, divided up who was going to follow up on what, said our good-byes to everyone and started for home.

Well, we tried to start for home. Due to a big storm making a mess of things in Chicago, our flight couldn't get cleared for take-off. At least this time, we were immediately "de-plane-ed". We had a fairly tight connection in Chicago, but it was also delayed, so we were hopeful we would make it. To make sure we would get home, we had the gate agent grab us seats on the later flight. After less than an hour, we were herded back on the plane and took off. We made it to Chicago in good time and started taxiing up to the gate.

And taxiing. And taxiing. And taxiing. And taxiing. Finally the pilot came on and apologized; we had landed in Indiana and would be driving the rest of the way to Chicago O'Hare.

Yuck, yuck, yuck.

After driving for longer than we had just flown, we were sent off to some sort of penalty box for showing up too fast, where we sat for another 20 minutes or so. Finally we get to the gate, grab our stuff and head for our connecting flight.

Now somewhere along the way, Debbie had tweaked her knee pretty good, so she was moving kinda slow. And naturally, because we came in on a baby jet and were leaving on a 737, we had a little less than five miles to walk through O'Hare to get to our connecting gate. We got there just in time to see our flight being pushed back.

OK. We're OK. We have seats on the next one that leaves in a couple hours. I go up to the gate agent to get boarding passes for the next flight. Before I can say anything, the woman gives me The Hand, and tells me she's too busy and that I need to go stand in line at the customer service desk.

Bitch.

So we go stand in line with a hundred other people at customer "service". After a half-hour or so, some pretentious asshole in a beard and turban announces that the customer service desk was closed and we would all have to go to the other desk in the next terminal.

At this point, I'm getting a little testy. I have a few choice words for Mr. Pretentious as well as a suggestion for where he can... um... store his turban. Oh yea? Go ahead. Call security. Kick me out of the airport. I'll walk to Tampa, and I'll probably get there faster.

Anyway.

We finally gimped to the other customer service desk which, of course, had twice the line as the first one. We spotted some customer service phones, but on closer inspection, they were all out of order. Because this is American. Above the non-functioning customer service phones, a screen was showing scenes of exotic places we could be going to if we weren't trapped at Chicago O'Hare. Mixed in with the idyllic scenes was a slide with a customer service phone number.

Bingo.

Debbie grabbed the cell and in about two minutes we had seats, the flight number and a gate. Off we went at top speed, which wasn't much. I recall being passed by a ninety-year-old woman with a walker. But we got there, Debbie grabbed a seat and I went to stand at the (empty, natch) desk at the gate. There was one person ahead of me who was obviously a newbie air traveler. She asked me why there wasn't anyone working the desk. I said, "Oh, someone will get here fifteen minute before we board. Someone may walk up before that, but they will just use the computer and pretend you don't exist." She looked at me like she was trying to figure out if I was pulling her leg or not. When there was around 25 minutes left on the countdown-to-boarding clock, a guy came up to the desk and started banging away on the computer. She started talking. He never looked up or gave any indication that she existed, then just walked away. The poor woman looked at me in complete amazement. I said, "That's customer service, American Airlines-style." Everyone in line behind us just chuckled. It really is astonishing what you can get used to....

In any case, the gate agent showed up precisely 15 minutes before boarding, we got seat assignments, boarded on-time and made it all the way to Tampa without anything falling off the plane. The one up-side of missing our connection was that our bag had made the connection and was waiting for us outside the American baggage service area. We had our luggage and were in our car heading home while everyone else on our flight were still waiting for the baggage carousel to start up.

So, yea. American Airlines. Never again. If my choices are American or riding a bicycle, look for me peddling in the bike lane.

And please understand; I'm not in any way blaming any of the "customer facing" employees. For the most part, they were as frustrated and clueless as the passengers, doing what they could for as many people as they could as fast as they could. Granted, a couple seem to take perverse pleasure in the suffering of others and even tried to add to it in whatever petty ways their bottom-of-the-totem-pole position afforded them. But they were a distinct minority.

No, this is a management problem. Maybe the flora and fauna growing in American's c-suites should be forced to fly in steerage with the deplorables several times a year, just to get a taste of what their cost-cutting looks like for their employees down in the trenches as well as their customers. The most poignent moment of the entire clusterfuck was waaaaaay back at the very beginning when at around the one-hour mark of sitting 10 feet from the gate, the pilot came on and apologized yet-again and assured everyone that he was doing everything in his power to get the plane off the ground because this was his last flight before getting some down time and seeing his wife and kids.

Yea. Life in these united States.

And I'm going to stop now before this becomes the Great American Novel.

P.S. Dear American; just in case this little diatribe comes to the attention of your Customer Care Department (or whatever you call the people from India you contract with to try to offer freebees to smooth ruffled feathers), don't waste my time calling. I don't care if you give me free airfare for life, I'm never flying American Airlines again. Thank you.

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