American Airlines Wild Weekend
As an American Airlines Executive Platinum I do my best to book flights with them whenever possible. It actually turns out that they were also the cheapest airline for my seemingly simple journey last weekend to the Washington DC area for FTU Advanced. Cheaper of course doesn’t always mean better and in this case I am certain that is true.
My journey began at 5am last Thursday when I awoke to find that my 6:45am flight out of Las Vegas was delayed two hours despite the fact that the plane had been parked at the gate since the night before. I was flying LAS-PHX-BWI with a 59 minute connection and thus I needed to be re-booked. Luckily American had already taken care of that while I was sleeping and booked me LAS-CLT-BWI.
Since I actually needed to be near DCA, I called American and after a few go arounds with the agent at the Executive Platinum desk, I was able to get the segment out of Charlotte changed to DCA instead of BWI. A big win given the saved transport time and what could have been a negative turned into a positive. I was feeling good.
Getting to the Airport
Unfortunately all of these changes made my AA app act all crazy. At one point I did get my LAS-CLT boarding pass in the app, but changing the connecting segment caused an error. I like paper boarding passes anyway so I went to a kiosk at the airport about 50 minutes before departure. The kiosk gave me an error too and said I needed to see an agent. At this point I probably should have used my saved boarding pass to go through security and dealt with the problem at the gate, but I went to the Priority Desk.
My experiences with AA priority desks are normally pretty good, but not this time. I walked up and there was one woman in front of me in line and one agent at the desk. She was on the phone and never looked up or acknowledged anyone. Then five minutes passed and then ten. Eventually the line grew and someone behind me asked her if she was going to help anyone. She raised her voice at scolded him saying that she was busy on this call. Meanwhile about 10 agents were happily helping others in the normal line.
At this point it was 35 minutes until my departure and I was just about to leave to chance it at the gate when a man came out to help. He told me that there wasn’t an error, but a boarding pass cannot be “re-printed” so close to departure. He also says that they will drop me from the flight if I don’t get on the plane 15 minutes prior to departure. (What happened to 10 minutes?) I asked if he could phone to the gate to tell them I was on my way. He acknowledged he would but that they would drop me anyway. He almost seemed giddy about the idea.
Getting on the Plane
Luckily McCarran is my home airport and I knew I could get to the gate in 20 minutes since I have PreCheck. I did indeed walk briskly, but I made it to the gate 18 minutes before departure to find them still scanning the boarding passes of the last group. There were 50 people lined up in the jetway to board as well. I eventually made it on the plane and occupied my seat. A few minutes later a gate agent boards the plane and starts interrogating me.
“Who are you?” “Are you supposed to be in that seat?” Were you in seat 8A?” I said, “No, this is my seat.” She asked for my boarding pass and I gave it. She said, “Oh, you’re the guy who ran from the ticket counter.” I said, “No, I walked from the ticket counter.” I don’t know how to describe it. It was also as if she seemed happy at the idea of dropping me from the flight and was startled that I made it.
Returning Was Worse
So I made it to Charlotte where I got to geek out and take a picture of Carowinds during the descent and eventually to DCA. It was a success That is, until the return. On Sunday I was scheduled to fly BWI-PHX-LAS with a 48 minute connection. I had been hoping for some sort of a delay so I could move my flight to DCA from BWI. Alas, as the day went on there wasn’t a delay announced and when the time came I grabbed an Uber for the 45 minute ride up to BWI.
Just as I cleared security a notice went off on my phone. My flight was delayed 20 minutes. I then looked at the inbound plane and it hadn’t even left Charlotte. There was no way we were only delayed 20 minutes. But American decided to play their favorite game and every 20 minutes they pushed back the delay. Eventually it grew to about 90 minutes.
My day on Sunday was great, but long. I had given two presentations at FTU and was wiped. I just wanted to get home. Had they announced the delay when they knew about it, I would have still been near DCA and could have changed my flight. Either way, I decided to call up to Executive Platinum desk and get myself booked onto a Monday morning flight from PHX-LAS. My flight was the last one out of BWI for the night on American and there were no more flights for the night to LAS. If I missed my connection in PHX, then I would be spending the night.
A Less Than Premium Experience
The agent I spoke to started out friendly but turned sour. At first she offered to give me a travel voucher, but apparently that was only if I stopped my trip in Phoenix. When I asked for both the voucher and to be re-booked, she put me on hold for a long time and came back with an attitude but did give me a $50 credit. She also said, “She would get me a hotel.” I took that to mean she would arrange for a hotel voucher in Phoenix, but that wasn’t the case. At the end of the call she transferred me to a travel agent. Wow!
I was angry and tired and clearly we weren’t on the same page about the hotel, but I did feel misled. I called back and was told I needed to speak to the Phoenix ground staff, but because the delay was supposedly caused by air traffic, they probably wouldn’t give me anything. This new agent sounded like she didn’t believe that the previous agent had promised anything. There was no use in fighting. On to Phoenix I went.
Arriving in Phoenix – A Happy Ending (Sort Of)
The flight from BWI-PHX was fine and they did make up time. So much time in fact that I only missed my connection by 8 minutes. So sad. After landing as I was walking to the Admiral’s Club to request a voucher, I saw the regular customer service desk. It didn’t have a line and a friendly looking agent was sitting there. I decided to go ask him. I told him that I had already called the Executive Platinum desk and had my flight changed to tomorrow, but was told to ask in Phoenix for a hotel voucher. He looked at his computer, smiled and printed up a hotel and food voucher just like that.
I made it home to Las Vegas on Monday morning on a flight out of Phoenix that was only delayed a few minutes. It was the end to a very strange trip on American Airlines and one that shows how the airline clearly has a long way to go. I have experienced many of the same issues at other times, but this was the first time that they all kind of happened at once.
- American Airlines continues to withhold the announcement of delays even if they are well aware of the delay ahead of time. I was busy on Sunday but should have paid even more attention to the inbound aircraft, but my delay should have been announced at least 90 minutes before it was.
- The American Airlines staff in Las Vegas is rude. I have had other smaller run-ins with them, but at best they are indifferent. No one smiles, no one is welcoming and it is noticeable.
- It is ok to push for compensation, even if it isn’t guaranteed. The contract of carriage didn’t guarantee me anything if it was indeed air traffic related (I never confirmed this was true), but I did get compensated anyway. Most other people on my flight were told in BWI they would not get compensation and I would say about 70% missed their connections.
- Don’t take one employee’s word for it. Just because the BWI employees told those passengers that they wouldn’t be compensated doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have asked in Phoenix. Had they asked, they might have received a voucher like me. (Maybe some of them did.)
- It pays to scope out friendly looking employees. They do exist and finding someone who is friendly can be the best thing after a long day. The last thing I needed in PHX was someone being rude to me after the long day that I had had.
- Stuff happens when you travel. As we saw on Monday with Delta’s computers, it can happen to any airline and does. With that said, American seems to have more problems than most and I’m not sure they offer the value proposition for frequent flyers that they once did.
While this is a long story and no doubt most of you simply skimmed it, I want to be clear that this isn’t a complaint. It is born out of my experiences this year with an airline that has so very far to go. I am not mad at American Airlines, but rather sad that they aren’t better. I am a top tier elite and thus it benefits me to fly with them, but I don’t always want to. I sort of just wish they were like Delta and I think that says a lot.