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OPINION: How American Airlines Failed Me

Oh, American Airlines. Whenever I see your fare come up as the lowest in my flight search, I’m always torn. Is the amount of savings worth the near-guarantee that I’ll be delayed? Recently, when I booked a flight from Boston to San Juan, I had to choose between flying non-stop on sweet, sweet, JetBlue, with their free checked bag, delicious in-flight snacks, comfortable coach-seats and always-entertaining free seat-back TVs— or saving $300 and flying American (with a connection) thereby doubling my chances for delays. Since I get paid a writers’ salary, I cheaped out and chose American Airlines. I regret my choice.

My first flight, from Boston to Miami, started off promising. We left on-time, and landed early! But of course, since we landed early, we didn’t have a gate ready… and it wasn’t ready until well after our scheduled arrival time. We sat on the tarmac for a long time (being forced to listen to instrumental Katy Perry music played over the plane’s PA system—thanks for that extra dose of misery, American), but I was able to sprint to the nearby gate and barely make my connecting flight. Fine. My connecting flight also left pretty much on time—success!

Unfortunately, just as they lack on-board amenities, American Airlines also seems to be lacking in gates. Arriving early in San Juan, we were told that another rickety American Airlines plane had to make an emergency detour to San Juan, where it promptly broke down—at our scheduled arrival gate. No problem! Simply let us deplane on the tarmac, or at another gate, right? Wrong. Apparently there was absolutely no staff available that could handle our arriving plane, so we would have to stay trapped on the plane, on the tarmac, until passengers and luggage on the broken plane could be unloaded and the plane pushed off our gate.

Okay. Unexpected things happen. An hour and a half on the tarmac is not the end of the world, especially as the pilot and flight attendants were great about keeping us updated about the situation, and trying to make everyone comfortable. Except, instead of marking our flight as “delayed” on the arrivals board and flight tracking software, American said that our flight had arrived “on time.” (For future reference, American, if your passengers are trapped on the tarmac, they have not arrived, unless you’re giving them the option to open the emergency chute and slide to arrivals.) They also did not have any staff waiting at the airport to assist passengers getting off that flight.

I was scheduled to meet friends at the San Juan airport (who had arrived on time, via a different airline, of course). Upon seeing that my flight had arrived on time, they waited… and waited… and waited. With no staff to ask, and no posted information, they assumed that something terrible had happened to me, a female traveling alone on a flight that arrived late at night. (We did not have cell phone reception in Puerto Rico so I was unable to text them and let them know about the delay.)

Would it really have been so difficult for American Airlines to update their arrivals board? Or even make an announcement in the airport that our flight was delayed? Apparently so, as they did nothing!

American Airline’s response to the incident, was the following e-mail, which offered everyone on-board 3,000 miles—which are redeemable for… no flight anywhere. On an airline that I never want to fly again. Gee, thanks!

“We are writing to follow up with you about the situation you encountered as a passenger on our flight 1299 on May 8. We are very sorry for the tarmac delay you experienced in San Juan. In appreciation for your patience, we have added 3,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles to your account. You should see this mileage adjustment in your account very soon, and you can view this activity via our web site,
Your loyalty is important to us and we would like to assure you that we are committed to getting you to your destination as planned. We’ll do our best to provide a smooth trip the next time you fly with us. We will look forward to welcoming you aboard again soon.”

I’d like to vow that I’ll never fly American Airlines again. And if I have a choice, I’ll gladly pay a little more to fly on a better airline. Yet, I know that if the fare difference is significant, I’ll have to go with the dreaded American Airlines, and hope I don’t get delayed… or that if I do, American Airlines will at least let people know that I haven’t been “Taken.”

What kind of compensation have you been offered for delays? Is there one airline that you absolutely dread flying? Share your stories and rants in the comments!

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