Recently, the following story hit the headlines of news outlets:
American Airlines employee allegedly hits woman with stroller, confronts angry passenger
I’ve had many issues with American Airlines. Their planes were old & dirty, their crews were rude & entitled, their seating was cramped – and I’m a short, small guy, their customer service was atrocious. But this is the story I tell when people ask me why I refuse to fly American Airlines (& United) and haven’t flown them for more than 15 years.
I used to cover the Walt Disney Company back in the early 2000’s as a client. I’d just flown on American Airlines into DFW/Dallas Fort Worth from a company sales conference in New Orleans and was taking a connecting flight to MCO/Orlando to get to Disney Imagineering in Florida.
Needless to say, I was pretty tired.
“THE PLANE HAS A MECHANICAL PROBLEM”
But upon arriving at DFW, we had to get on and subsequently get off 3 different planes at three different terminals. The reason? The American Airlines captain announced to the passengers that each of the planes we had boarded had a mysterious & identical “mechanical” issue on each of them – and of course, no details were ever given. We even sat onboard the first plane and were stuck on it for at least 1 hour before deplaning.
Back then you had to take a tram from terminal to terminal and our subsequent “new” planes were all on separate terminals making it an even bigger ordeal for us to drag our hand-carry luggage from gate to gate. It was such an ordeal that I distinctly remember seeing passengers carrying sleeping children over their shoulders, business men with sweat stains under their dress shirts from dragging their stuff between gates, and elderly folks – frightened that they might miss the new flight try to get to the gates on their own without waiting for wheelchairs. I also remember seeing kind people helping others with children or the elderly carry their bags to the new gates.
MY TALK WITH THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT
Delayed more than 6 hours, passengers were near riot-level angry at the 3rd gate we’d arrived at, and I saw one of our crew’s flight attendants – with her hair a total mess – quietly handing out pieces of paper to people waiting at the gate, having just been kicked off the 3rd plane. I walked up to her, and asked her what in God’s name was going on. She took me aside and quietly told me a story similar to this:
“Imagine you lived in Dallas but your destination was Orlando and you only had 6 hours left that the FAA allowed you to fly by law. Now say, if you were the captain, your word about the plane’s flight readiness trumps anything else… so you could conceivably hold a flight on the ground by stating it had a “safety problem” until your 6 hours expired, at which point you & the flight crew would be forced to stay in your home town of Dallas per FAA regulations and a new crew would have fly in and take over.”
I blurted out loudly, “Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me.” She said, “This is all hypothetical, of course. Oh, by the way? Here’s a customer feedback form. Our flight is AA407 & in case you’re wondering, our captain’s name is [pilot name here].” Every passenger in the gateway area was being handed a form.
2 weeks later, I got a written letter signed by the CEO of AA apologizing for the incident and a coupon giving me 25,000 frequent flyer miles, which was the equivalent of a free flight. I tore it up and swore to never flew with them again, if I could manage it.
7 years later, AA was the only choice I had to fly into Dallas. The price difference was too great between American Airlines and any other carrier that was on our company’s preferred vendors list.
So I got on hoping for the best. I should have planned for the worst because sure enough the plane was delayed 4 hours and I had to sit in various gate areas because LAX was under construction and there was no concessions. When we finally got on, I mentioned to the first flight attendant I saw that I was feeling rapidly nauseated and needed to use the bathroom as soon as I boarded. Her comment was something about needing to expedite for “an on-time departure” and I told her, “What? Y’all are already 4 hours late. What do you mean ‘on-time’?”
And that was the end of that – the bat signal must have gone out one me, because every crew member did their best to ignore me for the rest of the flight.
Personally, after years of terrible customer service, I really don’t believe American Airlines employees have any fear of ever being fired. I don’t care about how “they’re only human” and all that jazz: No one with that kind of concern in their mind would ever treat their customers the way they do.