American Airlines - travel nightmare

Posted on Wednesday, September 18th, 2002 at 12:00am CDT by a66de67a

Company: American Airlines - travel nightmare

Category: Other received the following consumer message on September 16, 2002:


RE: American Airlines - travel nightmare

Your article on airlines being less, when they should attempt to be more (accommodating), was realized on a recent trip. On 4 different occasions I was told to write a letter listing my complaints to American airlines by their employees.

We searched for months for a decent fare to the Midwest, and after missing on several opportunities found an OK fare on American Airlines. As I was traveling with a wife and 2 small children on only part of the trip, I had to pay special attention to my wife's return leg alone with the children (connections, layover, etc....); but look what happened:

1) American changed the flight itenary at the last minute and separated me from my family, also giving the family only 30 minutes to connect for their return leg.

When I called to correct the oversight, they informed me seating was not guaranteed and I was out of luck . They also informed me that now a 30 minute connection conformed to regulations (where 45 minutes used to be the minimum) and that if I wanted to change it the would have to re-book the flights and charge the difference, despite the fact that their schedule change caused all the mayhem.

After going through three levels to the manager, I finally got American to rectify the problem which entailed changing one of the flight origination airport.

I'm told to "Write a letter to American Airlines".

2) One of my sons (1 1/2 years old) came down with the both ends flu. We had a note from the pediatrician, specifying the risk to the baby and other passengers on the flight, and needed to delay the trip origination by 4 days.

I was informed by American that doctors notes were no longer acceptable and that the remainder of the family wasn't sick, so we could continue on our merry way- leaving the infant behind to fend for himself in California.

Otherwise the flight would have to be re-ticketed at current rates and the difference charged us-especially as they had already changed the itinerary to accommodate us (no mention of the fact that such accommodation was due to their last minute rescheduling). After several levels of managers, I was finally able to convince one to let me change the tickets for $100.00 each ( so a mediocre fare is getting a little pricey).

I'm told to "Write a letter to American Airlines".

3) I then had to appear at the local airport to exchange the tickets for the extra $100 each, only to learn that there are only specific hours when such transactions can occur (not mentioned during conversations with American). I was finally issued E tickets in exchange for my paper tickets, and when I commented on this, was informed that paper tickets would be $25 each extra-despite my pointing out that I had exchanged paper tickets and paid for the (at which time they were only $10 each).

I then returned home and called American and asked them to refund the $10 to my credit card, and they opted to incur extra expense and express next day paper tickets to me.

4) We finally left California headed for the muggy Midwest and my 4 year son became ill with the same flu on the flight, projectiling in the aisle. Our attempts to clean up the ensuing mess were waved off with an explanation it would just soak into the carpet (probably not the best thing for travelers using the plane after us).

5) The 2cnd son recovers and we continue our trip going our separate ways they continuing on and me returning to sunny California. On my return flight, I have the audacity to request a full can of Coke with my snack/sandwich. I was informed they could not give out full cokes to passengers, and that American had gone from 3 drink carts with 4 trays each to 1 drink cart with 3 trays. To the attendants credit, they did return with a full coke after assuring the remainder of the plane had been fully sated.

I'm told to "Write a letter to American Airlines".

6) I land in San Francisco and proceed to the baggage area, only to hear a page for Mr.Babe to the baggage platform. After a few minutes and one more page I decide to investigate ( as I'm Mr. Babb), only to discover my golf clubs have arrived on an earlier flight- what happened to "if you're not on the flight, the bags aren't either."

7) After arriving in San Francisco I have a car circling (as they can't park and wait anymore). After about 45 minutes of waiting for my bags, the baggage carousel shuts off and no more bags appear. I look around and notice fully 1/2 of the flight continues to look beseechingly at the carousel as if to will their bags to appear. I instantly realize there is a problem and head for the lost luggage counter for American.

I inquire about my bags, and am informed "they'll be up shortly". I explain it's been almost an hour by now and the carousel has shut off, and fully half of the flight is aimlessly milling around the carousel waiting for their luggage. The counter attendants finally blink and look at each other, look to the baggage area, see all the people still milling about, and in a rare fit of decisive action send someone to see if the belt is jammed ( I inform them the indicating alarm is not going off). The person sent on the futile mission comes back and confirms the belt is not jammed, the carousel is no longer turning, and half the flight doesn't have their luggage.

Now it finally dawns on them (with a little help from me), that if they don't track down those bags they are going to have a busy night (and following day delivering the bags (which I'm sure isn't budgeted)), taking claims for lost baggage from over a hundred people. I recommend they call down to the baggage area and find out where the bags are, which they do, but no one answers the call.

After 10 more minutes (by now 1 hour 10 minutes after the plane deplaned) of no response from the baggage area ( and proclamations they can't enter the Union controlled baggage area or the Union will shut down the whole airport), I asked "when they will begin taking lost luggage claims" glancing at the as yet unaware passengers still milling around the carousel. I see the first bead of perspiration appear as they realize it is only a matter of time before they are engulfed with complaining passengers, and indeed one other sharp traveler actually shows up, barges past me as if I were invisible and starts to rant and rave.

I smile as the baggage department manager glances nervously my way and suggest that "perhaps a call to the baggage handlers manager might be in order." She calls the manager downstairs and after 5 more minutes gets a call back and is informed by the manager, "that the bags from that plane were delivered to the belt." She relays that information to me and I suggest she explain that "there are a hundred people without their bags up here, maybe they better look again," which she does. She is told they are very busy and shorthanded, but "they'll look when they get a chance."

By this time 10 more people have arrived, are getting the gist of what's going on, and are making angry noises,.I inquire that "in as much as Sunday is proclaimed to be one of the busiest travel days of the week because business travelers use that day to get a jump on the business week (and the fares reflect that thinking), how is it that they are scheduled to be short handed for baggage handlers for such an occasion"? They don't know and:

I'm told to "Write a letter to American Airlines."

By now a full 1 1/2 hour has elapsed and the line of irate travelers has grown to about 30 people ( all of which need to be reminded that I was here first), and they Lost baggage manager is now fully perspiring, with all her subordinates looking toward her for decisive action to head off the impending calamity. I recommend she "go to the door of the baggage area and explain the gravity of the situation or start handing out Claim forms. On her return there are fully 50 people in line and by word of mouth, back through the line have discovered some variation of what's going on. One lady who works for a newspaper is among those passengers in line and steps forward demanding the manager wanting her name. She gets a condensed version of the events, not exactly reflecting the true nature, and sought me out for clarification.

I recommend they start handing out those claim forms, just as my cell phone rings and I am informed my circling car is running short on gas ( naturally I have to repeat the entire scenario for what seems like the 50th time). At that time the manager gets a call and is informed the missing luggage has been located on a cart "pushed off to the side." She informs the crowd. I ask "so when might we expect those bags," and her head does one of those double takes that immediately tells you she didn't ask.

The line has grown to over 50 people by now (don't ask me why the remaining 50 were still glued to the carousel), and she takes the hint to assess arrival of the misguided cart. We are informed 5 minutes later that the bags will start to come up in 10 minutes, and I ask what the delay might be (knowing full well that we were probably impinging on a union break), to which she just shrugged.

The carousel starts 15 minutes later, my cell phone is ringing continuously telling me "it's after midnight, the car is running on fumes, and no gas stations will be open at this hour." I finally get my baggage close to 2 hours after landing, we jump in the car and limp down the freeway in search of an open gas station.

Now you'd think that would be the end of the story, but nooo....

8) My wife calls from her extended leg of vacation 2 days before she's scheduled to return with the youngun's, and informs me that the 1 1/2 year old has a serious double ear infection and the 4 year old has a single ear infection. Knowing what has transpired to date, she doesn't say she needs to delay their return, but reading between the lines as any smart husband will I assess the situation and realize that dealing with American Airlines once again will be childs play against the "wrath of wife" should she get stranded at the layover point with one or 2 children with ruptured eardrums.

Knowing how the system works now, and realizing there must be 3 pages of notes attached to our itenary in American's computers (was told they were extensive and no further changes would be allowed on last change). I went to the trusty keyboard in search of alternative flights and fares (and yes I did search round trips knowing just 1 leg would be used). I then contacted American with my request and was informed by American Airlines that "there is no correlation between flying and ruptured eardrums"-

I started to ask if she had ever worked for the tobacco companies or was a member of the AMA, but decided not to escalate the tensions just yet. As usual I was informed that they would have to cancel the itenary and rebook at regular rates, at which point I suggested they look into it as I already had pricing on "Alternative Airlines."

After being on hold for 15 minutes I was informed they would make one last exception at an additional $100 per ticket; so the less than reasonable fare in the beginning has now grown substantially- but they are home and all is well.

Footnote: looked into the trip interruption clause on my credit card which covers such useful things as meals if flight is delayed due to equipment malfunction and or union.

Footnote II: Being gluttons for punishment I have spent the last month on-line looking for fares for Year end. American evidently decided to respond to Southwest's fare sale by matching the prices. The only problem was when you'd click on a flight combination it wasn't available or in some instances would click you over to another airline (United, Continental, and America West) at increased rates and different routing. A call to the Orbitz helpline confirmed all of the above and the solution offered was to try again in an hour, which I did with the same results.

I finally decided to book the Southwest fare who evidently gets the concept that travelers are still wary, they need to provide incentive to get America moving, and that the 911 disaster doesn't mean the Airline industry shouldn't take the Enron/PG&E approach and gouge the consumer when they're down.

Jim Babb

Monte Sereno, CA


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