Can I get my 2 days back, American Airlines?

March 20, 2008

images9.jpegFootnoted regulars know that I really stay focused on the filings. But on rare occasions, it seems worthwhile to share a personal experience involving a publicly traded company to provide a perspective that’s not readily visible in the filings. And my experience with American Airlines (AMR) these past two days shows just how bad airline customer service has gotten in this country.

On Tuesday, I was scheduled on a 3:35 pm flight from Dallas back to LaGuardia. But because of tornado warnings that oddly seemed to impact American more than other airlines, including Southwest (LUV), whose hub is also in Dallas, I was automatically bounced to a flight a full 24 hours later that was set to depart at 4:05 on Wednesday. Unlike Jet Blue (JBLU), which allows passengers to rebook their flights via their website, American automatically rebooked me, with no regards to my schedule. An automatic message prompted me to accept or reject the change and when I finally got through to a live person, I was told that this was the best they had available.

On my way to the airport a full day later, American’s automatic updates to my mobile alerted me that the flight was now rescheduled to 5:30. Then 6:20. Then 6:40. The final update — announcing a new departure at 7:40 pm came when I was actually on the jetway boarding the plane. Once we pushed back from the gate, the captain informed us that we were going to be sitting there for another hour and 15 minutes and would be getting into New York at around 1 am. The captain said the delays were due to both weather and a last minute crew change. Flight attendants passed out water, but that was the extent of the customer service. Or the information.

Since we were allowed to use our cell phones while we waited, my second call was to American to inquire how they planned to compensate me for getting me to New York more than 24 hours late. There was an extra night in a hotel room, an extra day of a rental car, plus two meetings in New York that I missed on Wednesday. The woman, who was a supervisor, told me that the delays were due to their over-riding concern for my “personal safety”. When I asked whether that deep concern for my “personal safety” extended to me having to drive the Saw Mill — a road that often floods even after a light rain — at 2 am in the morning, I got a sorry that sounded about as genuine as a three-dollar bill. Adding insult to injury, when we finally arrived at LaGuardia at 1 am, we had to wait for someone to tow the plane to the gate and then wait again for someone to move the jetway into place. So we finally got off the plane around 1:30 this morning and I rolled into footnoted world headquarters at 3 am, which required me to cancel two additional meetings today.

In its 10-K, AMR only mentions the “airline passengers bill of rights” in passing. But judging by the $5.4 million it spent on lobbying Congress last year, it’s clear that this legislation is going nowhere fast. In the meantime, those of us that don’t have access to GV’s are left to sit and stew or voice our concerns on boards like this.

Sorry, American, but saying sorry — even several times — just doesn’t cut it here.

UPDATE: Judging by these comments on Consumerist, I was in good company.

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