Wednesday, December 23, 2009
American Airlines Sucks
I had a special surprise for my readers -- I was going to be writing from Hawaii for three weeks! But thanks to the complete incompetence of American Airlines, my parents and I were never able to take this trip of a lifetime.
So, American Airlines, I am officially ripping you a new asshole and here's the long story why:
My brother left Miami for Los Angeles nearly 20 years ago and he recently moved to Oahu with his wife. My parents, who are in their seventies, have always missed my brother in spite of family visits over the years, so for them it was a big deal to go to an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, especially at their age.
My dad purchased three plane tickets for us early in September -- Miami to Los Angeles, Los Angeles connecting flight to Honolulu -- reverse itinerary on the way back. My dad is old school and doesn't believe in any electronic ticketing business, so he went to the American Airlines office in Coral Gables and purchased the tickets in person. No travel agent, no Expedia or Travelocity; this was straight from the horse's mouth, if you will. He got the traditional ticket stubs in his hands and was happy.
Without much else to do, the retirees were eagerly planning the trip. Travel guides were read. Packing started a month before hand. And in Oahu, my brother was planning fun stuff for us to do. I even planned a tweetup with @neenz, to connect with the social media scene on the island. I was also looking forward to doing some travel writing here on Sex and the Beach, because I'm reviving that part of my career. This was important for me on a professional level.
On Monday morning, we took a taxi at 8:30 am from South Miami and arrived at Miami International Airport around 8:50 am, about two and a half hours before the 11:30 flight to Los Angeles. We had one piece of luggage to check. Not surprisingly, the airport was crowded and lines were long. We decided to check baggage curbside. That line was chaotic, but shorter than the ones inside.
After one hour, we finally reached the counter, the skycap told us that there was a security issue and that we would have to stand in line again inside. This is when the real cluster fuck started.
"What security issue?" I asked. When I got a blank stare and no answer, I asked again: "Do you mean a random security check?" "Yes," he answered hastily, while shooing us off.
At this point, my sister, who was hanging out with us and just happens to be a Miami-Dade County Aviation employee now for nearly 30 years, was livid. She approached an airport staff member who was outside and he told us, in a rather hurried and brutish manner, that we had to get our boarding passes at the self check-in machine and that we would be issued a luggage tag. He pointed to some random location in the lobby, which wasn't the TSA section where travelers normally drop off luggage.
OK, whatever. At this point, we were desperate to have a boarding pass in hand.
The self check-in machine would not issue us boarding passes, so he told us to skip the regular check-in line and speak to a woman behind the counter. He then ran off.
We did speak with her. When we explained the situation, she was disgustingly rude. She literally tossed her hair, raised her nose and said "I'm not dealing with you people" and stormed off. Yes, she walked away, huffing and puffing. I wish I had gotten her name. She was a complete bitch.
We tried self check-in again, to no avail. An American Airlines staff member tried to help us. He was actually very nice, but had no answers. He directed us to a supervisor, but she refused to expedite the process for us, so we had to stand in line.
While we were in line, my mother went to sit down at my sister's office by Concourse C. There was no freakin' place to sit anywhere! Her hip was hurting. She was also short of breath from the anxiety. She has high blood pressure so we thought this was best.
I got on the phone with American Airlines and reached a friendly customer service agent who told me that our dates of birth were missing from the reservation. Apparently, American Airlines started taking this information after September 14th and my dad had purchased the plane tickets earlier. He then asked me to try self check-in again, but it still didn't work.
He then said that in the worst case scenario, we could try again tomorrow, as the same itinerary was still open. He also said that if we took a different flight our bag could still be waiting for us in Honolulu.
By the time we made it to the counter, the flight would be leaving in half an hour. We learned the flight had been delayed twenty minutes, so we had 50 minutes of grace time. The attendant, who was a little harsh at first, called the gate and said that the flight would be boarding in twenty minutes.
So here was the deal: we could in theory make the flight, if we ran and got past security in time; however, the problem was that it was too late to check luggage. And, unlike what the phone agent had told me, we were obligated to be on the same flight with the suitcase, because the bag could not go on a different flight all the way to Honolulu.
And obviously there was another problem: my parents can't run to anything, sheesh! I could, but I wasn't about to leave them behind. And nobody offered to get us wheelchair access.
Already, my dad had resigned himself to missing the flight. I could see the disappointment in his face, which was getting red. He has an arrhythmia condition and I didn't want him to get angry. Luckily, I was there to handle the situation with grace and diplomacy, which I somehow managed to muster. But believe me, I was seething.
The counter attendant hailed over the same supervisor as before. I explained the situation. They had suggested we buy two regular carry-ons and leave the big suitcase behind, which was really ridiculous, because we still wouldn't have made it to the gate in time. Then, after some consulting among themselves, they tried to give us highest priority stand by on the next flight to Los Angeles at 1:45 PM. The connecting flight to Honolulu from Los Angeles was overbooked by three. The supervisor said that odds were good we'd make that too.
Otherwise, there would be no more flights until December 24th, they said, contrary to what the phone agent had told me. My dad was very angry that he could not get his original flight and didn't want to risk a standby nightmare getting stuck in Los Angeles.
This kind of thing might work with young, adventurous travelers, but not with senior citizens.
My parents were so fed up at this point, my mom had to take a tranquilizer, and my sister had to call her boyfriend, interrupting his day at work, to come pick us up, as she didn't want my dad to shell out another $35 for a taxi. My sister took the rest of the day off work, too.
I had asked the supervisor what the security issue was and she had no answer. I was very determined to get to the bottom of this. At least we could learn something from the experience, right? But I never really got a clear answer.
On the way home, I spent an hour on the phone with a very pleasant American Airlines agent. She kept apologizing for putting me on hold, but she said she was searching all the records to get our entire history.
Her conclusion, which she claimed was certain, was this: in October, the Honolulu to Los Angeles flight had been changed. We were never notified of this (we should have been) but my dad, having some presence of mind, went back to the American Airlines ticketing office in Coral Gables earlier this month to make sure everything was still OK. By the way, that office has no phone number. You have to go there in person.
That leg of the itinerary now had a different flight number and was only 15 minutes later than the old flight. This had nothing to do with the airline, she said. Usually it's some FAA regulation that forces airlines to change flight numbers and times.
Very well. No big deal, right? Well, apparently it was, because the self check-in computer did not register the change in flight number, it did what any computer would do: it couldn't process a section of an itinerary that no longer existed. So then it wasn't a security issue, right? It was a computer glitch, apparently. I guess you can't blame my dad for being old school!
And here's where things get even more convoluted. Who was responsible for updating the self check-in computer? Shouldn't that be done automatically? Or was the ticketing agent in the Coral Gables office supposed to notify the computer that we had approved the change? And furthermore, why was my dad never notified of the change? Why were we not told that there'd be a security issue at curbside check-in?
We still don't know what the fuck really happened. Even fucking Sherlock Holmes wouldn't be able to figure this one out.
Listen folks, that same ticketing agent, whom my dad visited today, is not taking responsibility for this. And I'm still not convinced that the flight change was the so-called security issue.
The phone agent I spoke to was very kind. She reimbursed us immediately, but it will take one or two billing cycles on the credit card to get the refund. She also told me to check TSA's website. Apparently, you can send TSA a letter asking you to be removed from a terrorist list if you happen to be on one. "I'm a terror, for sure," I said. "But definitely not a terrorist." We laughed about it. I want to personally thank her for being so patient.
But you, American Airlines? No thank you and here's a hearty fuck-off.
Every single dealing we had with airport and airline staff at was so rife with inconsistent information that at the end of the day, even the nice employees didn't know what the hell they were talking about. We kept getting different answers to our questions.
We purchased those plane tickets fair and square. We were there on time and in spite of the blizzard up north, we should've been on this flight. This happened because American Airlines did not have its shit together, period.
I'm young and can handle this, but you broke my parents' hearts. They are in their seventies and they dreamed of spending Christmas with my brother and his wife. It was all about being there on Christmas Eve. They fucking planned this trip since September, for pete's sake! You have lost some great customers who have been faithfully using your airline for European trips ten years plus and counting. You can't reimburse us for the disappointment, can you?
And you couldn't have picked a better person to piss off, American Airlines. I'm a forum editor and writer at Miami's premiere travel website, Miami Beach 411, where I have already bitched about your airline's incompetence. Millions of people visit that website and thousands of people trust my opinion.
Wow. I am all for being a nice person and supporting prosperity in business, but when you shit on me and my family, I gotta tell it like it is.
So, American Airlines, don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. And as for you, Miami International Airport, that's a whole other blog post.