I suppose I should have known better. My departure was, after all, scheduled for Friday the 13th. Foolishly, I had expected that, having bought a ticket from American Airlines for travel from a specific airport, on a specific day, at a specific time that, in exchange for my payment, American would provide air transport from that airport, on that day, at approximately the time that I had selected. My expectation in this regard was even greater given the clear, perfect weather that day. My travel plans, along with all expectations of anything approximating a timely departure -- or even one on the planned day or from the right airport -- were dashed in spectacularly rude fashion by American Airlines.
To make the most of a long holiday weekend and to celebrate my birthday, I had planned a four-day respite in Los Angeles. I checked in that Friday around 2:00 at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. in plenty of time for my 3:30 p.m. flight. I was booked on a flight to Los Angeles, connecting through Nashville at 5:10 and arriving LAX before 8:00. Assuming an on time departure from DCA, I would have 40 minutes to make my connection in Nashville.
Even though I had a boarding pass and assigned seat, I checked in with the gate agent after I cleared security. The agent told me to expect an on time departure, that the aircraft was there and the flight crew on its way. When 3:00 came and went and boarding had not begun nor any announcement made I began to become concerned. I checked the terminal monitors which still indicated an on time departure. Shortly before 3:30, the flight disappeared altogether from the monitor so I returned to the gate agent. Seemingly irritated, he asked me why I had not come up to him earlier because -- since the flight crew had still not arrived (how was I to have known this??) -- the flight would be significantly late, meaning that I now would miss my Nashville connection. He advised that I should leave the airport right away and the baggage I had checked and go to Dulles Airport in suburban Virginia to try to make a direct flight to LAX that was leaving in less than 90 minutes. Knowing that it was then rush hour, that Dulles is a good 40 minute drive from Washington under even the best conditions, and that I would still have to clear security at Dulles, I knew this re-accommodation was nothing but a sure route to both pointless stress and missing the flight out of Dulles, or as Al Franken would say: a suffering invitation. Therefore, I declined this suggestion.
The gate agent said that there were no other American flights that would get me to LA the same day and that American would not re-accommodate me on another airline that could get me to LA the same day. Instead, I was told that the earliest American could get me there was on its flight leaving the next morning at 8:15 from Dulles. Due to American's abrupt and unilateral changes to my itinerary, however, the agent promised an upgrade on the Dulles flight, vouchers for transport to Dulles, and cab fare reimbursement. He handed me a slip of paper with a special phone number, 800-446-7834, to call for these accommodations. The paper warned ominously, in bold, capital letters:
VALID TODAY, FOR THIS LOCATION ONLY.
When I called the number, however, I was rudely informed by American representative Kimberly Worthington that American would provide none of the promised accommodations, but that I should simply cancel my long-planned trip, go home, and receive a refund of the ticket price in a few weeks. Ms. Worthington must have been a debater in college, though not a very persuasive one, for she argued, belittled, dodged questions, and ignored every plea for any sort of rational or helpful response. Finally, after Ms. Worthington stated that I could see someone in person at the airport and that perhaps they could make good on the gate agent's promises or otherwise remedy the situation, she hung up on me.
I then went to the main American ticket desk at National where I had the misfortune of meeting Carl Willis, a visibly disgruntled American employee who, I would guess, continues to show up at work for the sole purpose of lasting long enough to retire with pension benefits. For although he identified himself as the Customer Service Manager for American at Reagan National Airport, he demonstrated absolutely no interest in serving customers, or in doing much of anything else for that matter. Rather, like Ms. Worthington, he was only to glad too tell me that I would receive nothing in compensation for the delays or additional costs that I would incur if I was to get to LA at all. When I asked him why the gate agent would have told me otherwise he suggested I almost couldn't believe it that I return to the gate to confront the American gate agent who had made those representations. What, I asked, would this accomplish and what did he want me to convey to the agent, someone who was clearly in a subordinate position to Mr. Willis?? Mr. Willis would shed no light on these questions, so I pointed out that, aside from the futility of such a venture, I would have to clear security again, an impossibility without a valid boarding pass dated January 13. At this point Mr. Willis turned and walked into the back office and did not return.
The most galling part of all was not having to go back home during rush hour traffic, then out to Dulles to depart the next morning, disrobing to clear security again, or even being delayed a day in my departure, but being treated to the scorn and palpable enmity of the embittered American employees with whom I had the misfortune of interacting. These people had no problem conveying to me that: (1) I had no reasonable expectation of leaving on the scheduled date, at approximately the scheduled time, or even from the same airport indicated on my ticket, and (2) despite this, I should be grateful to be the object of their mistreatment and mockery. They include Mr. Willis, American's customer service supervisor at DC National and Ms. Worthington, an American toll free customer service representative. These are people who really should find some other line of work, ideally one where they are not in direct contact with human beings. Failing that, American should change their titles to something more descriptively accurate. Perhaps customer alienation representative or senior duplicity manager. Just a thought.
Judging by their reactions, to these American employees, I was nothing more than a crazy person. Who else, after all, would request reimbursement for additional costs, such as cab fares, directly caused by American's conduct? Apparently, any sane person should know that this is how American does business with impunity. American is not in the business of transporting passengers from Point A to Point B, I learned, but of maximizing its revenues and minimizing its expenditures, preferably at the direct cost and to the detriment of its customers. In a perverse way, it makes a kind of sense: for every one of its expenses American can foist upon its customers, it can prolong its existence and continue to operate for another moment as a sub-par air carrier and agent of dishonest, uncaring employees. Needless to say, never did these American representatives offer anything even approaching an apology for the inconvenience and treatment I had endured by American's employees. Even under the circumstances, a simple apology would have been nice to hear.
As a result of American's conduct, my long birthday weekend turned into less than 48 hours in Los Angeles a great disappointment, to say the least. I have long been a loyal American Airlines customer, having accumulated nearly 100,000 AAdvantage frequent flyer miles over the past several years. In that time, I have experienced some good service along with a few problems with American. As a result of this most recent experience, however, I will never buy another ticket from American Airlines and have suggested the same to my traveling friends, colleagues, relatives, and vague acquaintances. If you want to avoid treatment like this, you may want to do the same.
Washington, District of Columbia