Thursday, January 29, 2009

A screed for your reading pleasure

CSB wanted me to write a letter of complaint to AA, so of course I complied because it’s been a while since I have applied myself to a really hefty letter of complaint and it seemed like an excellent diversion from proofreading my novel (for the 100000th time). But THEN he had the temerity to suggest that what I produced was on the long side and that the chances of it being read by the president of American Airlines and producing the desired results (an abject apology and a whole lot of money in a shoebox) were de minimis, and that I would do better to post it here, on SQD, and let my vast reading public enjoy the fruits of my spleen. So, please enjoy.

Dear American Airlines:

I suspect that all airline passengers – ourselves among them - are well aware that we live in a post 9/11, post service-oriented and economically-challenged world and have consequently downgraded their expectations for courtesy and logical behavior when traveling. Yet it still remains possible to be astounded and appalled by deliberate misstatements (also known as lying) and hostility coming directly from an airline and its employees.

Take AA# 988 from San José, Costa Rica to Miami last Friday, January 23, 2009. CSB and I arrived at the airport on time, checked in on time and waited patiently at the gate. The flight was scheduled to leave at 12:40 and around midday we were informed that because of mechanical problems it would be leaving 2 hours late. We continued to sit quietly at the gate. As did all the other passengers. Two hours later we learned it would be another 2 hours late and most of us would surely miss our connection in Miami, and possibly miss any possible connection that same day. We continued to wait patiently at the gate.
Around 7 PM we were informed that the mechanics on the ground were unable to fix the plane and that a new plane was being flown in from Miami. We were given vouchers for $10 worth of food.
[I forbore to mention the execrable quality of the only food available. No goats' eyes on any menu. Never mind the huitlacoche.]We were told that our flight would leave around 11 PM for Miami, and that once we arrived in Miami we would be given vouchers for hotels.
Again, the passengers – tired and hungry – waited patiently and finally boarded the plane around 10:30 in the full expectation that once in Miami hotel vouchers would be issued and they would finally get some much-needed rest.
En route to Miami we were informed – repeatedly – over the PA system that ground personal would meet offloading passengers right outside customs and pass out hotel vouchers, as well as information about connecting flights the following day.
Up to and even after our arrival in Miami it should be noted how compliant and orderly all the passengers were, even as it became increasingly obvious that American Airlines had DELIBERATELY & KNOWINGLY misinformed them.
We exited the plane fully expecting that after a long and tiring day of travel, some respite would await us.
That was far from the case.
Outside of customs the AA agent informed us – and many others – that she only had hotel vouchers for those passengers going on to Amsterdam. (Why Amsterdam? Don’t ask me.) The rest of us must walk to Terminal D and speak to an agent there. And by the way, the desk at terminal D did not open until 4 AM and it was now 2:30 AM Miami time. I should point out that the passengers on the flight included parents with very young children and elderly people in wheelchairs.
However, the passengers of AA#988 compliantly slogged across the Miami airport to terminal D to find…. absolutely no one willing to help them. Over the course of the next hour employees in AA uniforms would be occasionally spotted and questioned. Their rudeness, callousness and indifference to the plight of the passengers – their customers, the people who actually PAY to fly on American Airlines – were exceptional.
Yet still, the passengers did not create scenes or shriek or bang the floor, no, they FORMED A LINE in order to greet the mythical AA desk agent if and when he/she ever appeared.
Around 4:30 an agent arrived and began to process the disrupted passengers, who continued to quietly wait their turn. By the time we spoke to an agent day was dawning and we decided to simply take the next available flight back to New York.
Because we had business tickets from Miami to NY (though not from San José to Miami), the agent encouraged us to go to the Admirals’ Club for some rest. This we attempted to do, but the receptionist there (the only name she gave us was “Julia”) was extremely rude and threatened to call the police if we did not leave. We went to the gate, finally boarded a plane and arrived in LGA mid-morning, minus ONE BAG.
Again, while I think we all recognize that certain aspects of air travel are beyond anyone’s control (weather and mechanical problems) I would be hard put to hard to argue that simple courtesy and respect cannot be managed.

And by the way, only after having written and posted this did I recall the wonderful novel I read last summer which also happens to be addressed to American Airlines. Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Though – just this minute– it also occurs to me that I have NOT seen it being sold in any airport bookstore – and I always check what is being sold in airport bookstore so I can be well and truly miserable about the state of booksellerdom in America and the English-speaking world. And, given that it is a very good and amusing and, yes, topical, book, one can only assume that its absence in airport bookstore is the result of a CONSPIRACY or PLOT or CENSORSHIP by the airlines.


Mickey and Flea said...

We're going out toute suite to buy this book, esp. as our owners had a similar plight on Delta Airlines. Maybe our next book could be The Aerial Adventures of Mickey and Flea.
"Dear Baggage Hold..."

Rebecca Rice said...

Loved the letter to American Airlines, but sorry for your troubles. Funny, because flying
used to be so much fun, so very glamourous in our youth...

meg said...

Your letter sounds as polite as you were during the delay. I fear they will take you for more of a milquetoast than I know you to be! Kick it up a notch, and scream bloody murder. Tell them you have a blog and a loyal readership. That fruit basket will be yours in no time.