Sunday, July 1, 2012

American Airlines: Story of Shame.

If you are a big fan of American Airlines, you might not like this post.

Once I had a good experience with this airline in 1999, when Mom came to visit Texas. The customer service was excellent. It was a long time ago, however.

On June 28th I was coming back to Dallas, via Helsinki and then via Chicago. A flight to Helsinki was operated by Finnair, so we will discuss that later. Everything was top notch. Hell started in Helsinki. It took us nearly 2 hours to get through security and board the plane. Finnish security trying to implement US security procedures for boarding is also a separate topic.

We already had a boarding pass from checking in to the original Finnair flight in Pulkovo Airport. However, my companion was informed that the boarding pass had to be changed to American Airlines pass (if you are a One World partners, then for Pete's sakes why?) We stood in line to get them changed. Lady that represented Finnair and did the exchange was sweet and efficient, even though she apologized for being new. We proceeded to board. The traffic was held up in the long sausage of a concourse that led to the plane. It was apparent the flight would be full. Swedish Boys Football club was boarding as well. Scandinavia was represented well: Norwegians, Danes, Finns, Swedes. Few Americans and few Russians. Mostly people, who are used to European airlines. 

 When we got to the plane we were greeted by a male flight attendant, who was excellent on all accounts. It was a Boeing 767 that really is not comparable to Airbus 330, not to mention 380. It was narrow and tight, people were cramming in fast and it took a while to notice the condition of the plane.

We were seated and I realized that I have not been on one of these since 1998. It had no TV screens in the seat in front of you, no flat screens, no Internet. Every few feet a big defective box of a TV was hanging from the ceiling. The one closest to us was white at some point, but it does not look like anybody bothered to clean it since it was installed. The display was faulty, the image flickered and stripes ran through the screen. There was a permanent blue spot in the middle of a screen. Yes, it matters when you are likely to look at for 9 hours.

My eyes shifted to the ceiling and along the line of the luggage hatches there was a nasty black film/crust. I know nasty, people, I do evictions. We decided it was dirt and not mold though.

My gaze shifted to the pillow, that was supposed to be your hugging buddy for the duration of flight. The pillow was placed in a case that seemed to be made of a dryer sheet. The plane was preparing for take off grunting and puffing like an old man. We took off. We were sitting right next to engines and their sound was less than comforting, especially to a person-not-mechanically inclined. There was grunting, laboring and weird whirring. Deep down I was afraid I am present at a baby Boeing birth, and that we were going to have a Leviathan baby, like Moya on Farscape. Or crash. Crashing above Finland would be ok, since we were likely to fall in one of many lakes or Baltic sea, but the mosquitoes would get us.

Except for one movie, they showed exceptional crap on TV. One of the flight attendants kept dropping trash on the floor and she was visibly annoyed with her job and having to be there. She was rude to 2 young men and spoke to them in a way a really bad teacher would dress down some students. They were not students, but paying customers. I had never seen a flight attendant speak to customers that way, except in the video that will follow in the end of the blog.

After food everyone got up to the bathroom. If you have seen how many people are on international flights, you know what I am taking about. When the doors started to get opened  the smells came out that brought a memory of an old Soviet country hole-in-the-ground outhouse after a platoon of soldiers. My companion and I looked at each other with resolve to hold it. Swedish football player attempted to enter that toilet only to open the door and turn back around. Should have paced himself on all those Pepsi cans.

With so many representatives of European countries I felt slightly ashamed that supposedly US leading airline had an old dirty plane to greet the tourists. Impression of the country starts with consulates and airlines.

The worst part for us was still ahead.

We had 3 hours n Chicago. It was barely enough to get through immigration, take our bags, pass customs, recheck our bags and  pass TSA. We finally managed to stop by a bathroom.  Food was right out, as we approached our gate, flight was about to board. MD-80 plane to DFW. After 14 hours of travel, we could not wait to get in and be in Dallas in 2 hours.

We found seats (mine was by the window, because a window gives me an illusion of space, otherwise claustrophobia will set in). We waited 10 minutes. It was getting hot. Little nipples above your head that blow air were not managing to keep us cool. Flight attendants asked to close the shutters on the window to keep the plane cool. I took of my jacket. Plane was full of business people, who also took off their jackets. It was getting hot. Flight 2349 was sitting tight. Another ten minutes passed. I unbuttoned my dress shirt. Captain announced that the ramp was closed for some reason. No reason given. No, we can't open shutters, in order to keep the plane cool. No lights either.

I used my asthma inhaler. Plane was getting hotter and in my mind - smaller. In attempt to cheer up my companion, I said that I would take of my pants if we don't take off soon. Everyone was using safety brochures to fan themselves. We did not take off. There was no room to take off my pants. I asked for water. They should have offered it to everybody regardless. Captain said there was a lightning and luggage loading was stopped and it was about to start. We ended up sitting in a tin can with no way to get up, drink and cool off for 1.5 hours. Captain announced that we are going. We went over safety procedures. twice. Waited 10 minutes. Got to Dallas an hour and a half later. I had never been so happy to get off the plane.

On the last flight the crew was decent, but they could offer water and more frequent information.

What I learned:

1. Yes, spending $400-$500 more is worth it to go on Lufthansa all the way. Unless dire emergency happens I shall not board a flight operated by AA partner. If I do fly AA ever again, I will do it a skirt with a swim suit underneath and loose all the clothes the minute they say "ramp is closed".

2. Izod dress shirts don't get wrinkled, but they sure do soak easily.

In conclusion, a recent video surfaced on the bad airlines topic.


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