How American Airlines Kind of Impressed Me After They Almost Killed Meby david daly on 10/16/12
I was not looking forward to flying American Airlines after all of the recent news about their plummeting on-time performance as the unions rebel against management. But, for a short flight to Chicago and $100 in savings versus Delta and United I decided to give it a go. Big mistake.
My first disappointment came when I tried to select my seat for the flight. American now charges a fee for all aisle and window seats, so in order to secure the advertised price it is necessary to select a middle seat. Thankfully, this was not supposed to be long flight.
To my delight, it appeared that my flight was going to be on time and boarding was fairly smooth. The aging McDonnell-Douglas S80 was clearly on the wait list for a bed at Shady Pines. The carpets, seats, and overhead bins were worn and torn and the flight attendant call buttons oozed 1970s flare. I soon figured out that the ashtray at my seat made for a perfect ipod holder.
As we taxied to the runway at LGA my usual visions of impending doom from the film Castaway, the tv show Lost, and the real life Miracle On The Hudson filled my mind. As much as I love traveling, I cannot seem to shake my pre-departure fear of flying. Usually I enforce a 2 drink minimum prior to take-off, but at 9:30 in the morning that seemed a bit aggressive- even for me.
Before long we were airborne and for a few moments it seemed like American Airlines was actually going to deliver me safely and on-time to my final destination. Then came an announcement from the pilot:
Ladies and gentlemen we are having an issue with the galley door. It is not shutting properly and the cabin is not pressurizing. We are carrying a lot of fuel so we are going to turn back and land at JFK.
As I quickly tried to process this unexpected information, the woman behind me decided to scream for the flight attendant- asking if we were ok and if it was safe. The flight attendant assured her that everything was under control. Meanwhile, I noticed that my ears were popping rapidly and I decided to tighten my seatbelt in case people suddenly started to get sucked out of this problematic galley door.
The next 20 minutes felt like an eternity. I kept wondering why no one had noticed that the door was broken before we took off. I thought these planes had safety checks and computerized monitoring systems? Were we going to have to take a crash landing brace position? Will I get frequent flyer miles for this unplanned flight leg from LGA to JFK?
Finally we were on the ground at JFK and everyone let out a huge sigh of relief. It seemed that we were not going to become a CNN breaking news story. I cursed myself for putting my life in the hands of American Airlines and swore that I would never fly them again. The passengers all deplaned and we were told to wait for information from the maintenance crew.
It was at this low point when I could not have had more horrible things to say about American Airlines and their aging fleet and penny-pinching schemes that things actually started to turn around. The gate agent announced that they were handing out food vouchers to all passengers! I ran up to claim my $12 in airport funny money and ran to the nearest deli to claim a sandwich, drink and cookie courtesy of AA. A freebie goes a long way with me.
We finally did get under way after two hours at JFK and the gate agents did a wonderful job of keeping us informed about the progress of the maintenance. The flight attendants cheerfully distributed granola bars and free drinks (it was now early afternoon and perfectly appropriate cocktail time). With all of the concessions that the unions have made to keep AA afloat all of these years and all of the current uncertainty, it amazes me that any of them can still crack a smile. Finally we made it to Chicago and our plane, hopefully, was put out to pasture.
I arrived at the airport with tons of time to spare for my return flight home the next day. I checked the monitors and saw that there was an earlier flight to LGA and I decided to see if I could swindle my way onto the earlier flight. To my astonishment, the gate agent confirmed me on the earlier flight without any fees or hesitation! Even Delta charges $50 to do a same-day standby for an earlier flight, no matter how empty the plane is. Wow! Could I actually be having warm fuzzy feelings about American?
The final redeeming moment came the following day when I saw an email from American in my inbox. Due to the unfortunate delays I had experienced as a passenger on flight 319, I was being awarded 3,000 AAdvantage miles in my frequent flyer account! I did not have to ask for anything, call anybody to complain, or write to the CEO- they were just giving this extra award to me proactively to ease my pain and suffering!
At a time when almost no one has anything nice to say about American Airlines- and mostly for good reason- I was shocked to find that they could actually impress me, especially after nearly killing me.