Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My adventures with American Airlines

Pardon the length of this post, but I think this whole story needs to be told.

This last week, I had one of the worst travel experiences I have ever had. I flew on American Airlines from Philadelphia to Tucson through Dallas/Fort-Worth on August 9, and then returned home via the same route on August 15. There was not just one issue- there were many, many issues on these flights. It is doubtful I will ever fly American again.

I was excited about the flight out- Matthew (my seven year old son) and I were scheduled to leave Philly at 6:30 in the morning on flight 2017. Yes, that's a really early time, but I'm a morning person and it wasn't that bad to me. Plus, we had a quick connection in Dallas and would get into Tucson at 9:50 in the morning. That gave us basically the whole extra day for us to visit with my parents. We were suppose to start boarding the plane at 6:00 am. There were quite a few people waiting at the gate, but yet, no gate agents. So we waited. And waited... And waited.

Finally, a gate agent showed up and started the boarding process at 6:20 am. I'm sorry, but there is no way you are going to board a full plane and be ready for take-off in 10 minutes. Sure enough, it took about 20 minutes for everyone to board the plane. After everyone got on the plane, the flight attendant discovered one seat (which had no one in it, by the way) had a broken headrest. At this point, maintenance was called. It took 20 minutes for the maintenance worker to arrive and put a "Do Not Use" sign on the seat. So it is now 7:00 am- 30 minutes after we were suppose to take off.

We had 45 minutes in Dallas to make our connecting flight to Tucson. At this point, I was hoping that the pilot would be able to make up some time in the air. I've flown quite a bit, and that isn't an uncommon occurrence. That hope was dashed pretty quickly when the pilot announced that due to bad weather we were going to be forced to fly south to Atlanta then over to Dallas. It would take longer than the scheduled 3 hours and we would be late arriving at DFW. He mentioned that there were many people on the plane with connections that would be tight or missed and that the flight attendants would help us rebook flights as needed.

As the flight went on, we didn't hear any more about rebooking our flights. Across the aisle from me was a woman who was about 7 months pregnant and also was facing a tight connection in Dallas due to the delays in Philly. As the pilot announced we would be landing about 9:25, I asked the flight attendant what to do about my flight that was leaving at 9:40. She looked at me, and Matthew, and said "I suggest you run like hell." I was FLOORED. I couldn't believe that this is what I was told. The flight attendant then gave the same advice to the pregnant lady. I mean, really? This is acceptable customer service.

When we landed Matthew and I ran our little hearts out, but we didn't make our flight. Neither did any of the other people on our plane that were trying to get to Tucson. All in all, there were about 20 of us that missed the plane by less than 5 minutes. There were 3 other flights to Tucson that afternoon- 12:45, 2:05. and 5:20. Matthew and I were put on the stand-by list (as numbers 6 and 7) for the 12:45 flight and booked tickets on the 5:20 flight. Um- hello... Our original flight was due to leave at 9:40. This was now an 8 hour delay in DFW. And why couldn't we be booked on the earlier flights- this wasn't OUR fault. This was all due to a late gate agent and a maintenance issue. I asked to speak with a supervisor and was told "This is Philadelphia's fault. We can't do anything." I also learned that there is no customer relations at DFW for American.

Well, Matthew and I killed time riding the Skylink and checking out all the different terminals. We went and waited for the 12:45 flight. They had overbooked the flight and were looking for volunteers to bump to the 5:20 flight. People who voluntarily took this bump got a $300 credit for their trouble. Um- excuse me... What about MY trouble? I went up to the desk and pointed out that I was being bumped from flight after flight due to American's problems, had NO choice in the matter, and was getting nothing in return. The gate agent looked at me and said "Yes, that's correct. That's how we do it" All that came of that conversation was Matthew and I got put on stand-by for the 2:05 flight as number 5 and 6. Well, we didn't make that flight either.

Finally, almost 8 hours after our original flight was scheduled, we were got on the 5:20pm flight to Tucson. What should have been a total of 7 hours travel time turned into a horrible 15 1/2 hour travel day. All I can say is thank goodness Matthew is an excellent traveler. Only once did he break down in tears. After we didn't make the 2:05 flight, he sat there and cried for a few minutes because all he wanted to do was see his grandma. That was truly my lowest point too.

Well, I figured that with a travel day like that, I was due for some good travel luck on the way home, right? Not- especially since I was traveling American. We were scheduled to leave Tucson at 1:40 and fly to DFW were we had 90 minutes to make our connection. Well, our plane to take us to DFW didn't show up until 1:50. We finally got boarded and took off at 2:20. 40 minutes late. I've learned that American is not capable of flights taking off less than 30 minutes late.

We arrived at DFW, changed terminals, grabbed dinner and went to our new gate. So far so good. Hey- we even got on the plane on time. Our plane was scheduled to leave at 7:30pm and arrive in Philly at 11:40pm. I was so excited when we pushed back from the gate on time- I just wanted to get home!

Well, we pushed back from the gate and sat on the tarmac. And sat. And then the air turned off. And we sat. And they turned the air back on. And we sat. And- well, you get the idea. Finally after about 20 minutes, the pilot came on the intercom and announced that we had a maintenance issue (SERIOUSLY!?!) and were being pushed back to the gate. Yep... So, we sat there for about 20 minutes getting quite toasty- they had hooked up the gate AC, but a big metal tube in Dallas in the summer with 200 people gets warm- when they announced it would be a while before they could fix the issue and we all needed to deplane. At 8:15 at night, we were now getting OFF the plane. I was ready to curl up in the corner and cry. Turns out the left ignition box wouldn't work so they had to change it out. This took over an hour. We were finally allowed back on the plane at 9:15 pm. Our plane finally took off about 9:40pm- over 2 hours late. There was not one word of apology from the pilot or any of the flight attendants. I will say the gate agents dealing with this delay were by far the BEST American employees I encountered on this trip.

I am so disgusted by how we were treated and the rude customer service we had from almost every American employee. No one seemed to care that American inconvenienced us. I never heard one word of apology. No one ever tried to make anything better.

Now, I have not yet contacted anyone at American about this issue. I don't know how, or even if, they are going to respond. I am going to do is send them an email with a link to this blog. They can decide to ignore me, in which case they will lose me forever as a customer. If American decides to do the right thing, or anything, I will put it here and update this for all to see.

I will simply say this to anyone who is looking to travel- please seriously think twice before you book on American. Let this story be a lesson to you.

UPDATE: I posted this blog originally about 3 pm Eastern time. It's now 6:30 pm Eastern, and I have been contacted by American about the issue. The original tweet that went out about the blog caught their attention and they read the post. It was discussed internally, and then a resolution issued. I spoke with Steph from the customer relations team who offered an apology for the various issues that occurred. She understood that the major issues that I had were the bad customer service and the lack of information. They have made amends for problems. We will be flying American in the future (although hopefully not through Dallas- I am still tired of that airport).