Archive for May, 2009
A friend of mine is a chaplain who usually performs 2-3 wedding services on the weekend. I thought I would share this story that he sent me.
On Saturday, May 23rd, I completed officiating a wedding the backyard home of a fine young Austin, Texas couple. After the ceremony, there was a lot visiting and celebrating.I meet a very nice lady who had just flown in from her home in . She was enjoyable and a fine conversationalist. Then, she told me of her airline experience.When she got to the gate to board at O’Hare, a seasoned citizen in front of her was told that her ticket was not for 8:30 that morning, but rather for 8:30 that night. The ‘would be’ passenger was stunned and a bit confused. However, the gate attendant told her they would try to get her on that flight anyway.Sure enough, after everyone boarded that Chicago to Austin flight, that particular lady was allowed to go ahead with her plans…almost twelve hours earlier than scheduled.I was really pleased to hear that story and it made me feel good about that airline. It has renewed my faith in traveling. And, it showed compassion by the employees who were working that day.
I posted a review of the Great Circle Mapper website last month, and ended it with this question:
“American Airlines offers nonstop service from Chicago (ORD) to New Delhi (DEL). Continental offers nonstop service from Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN). Let Great Circle Mapper draw these routes for you, and see if you can tell me what makes them both so unique.”
Answer: It doesn’t matter which city you depart from, you have to fly north to get to your destination.
If I fly from New York to Chicago, I go west. If I fly from Chicago to New York, I go east, the opposite direction. With these two city pairs, there is no opposite direction, you always go north!
BTW, EWR-SIN is more than 2,000 miles longer than ORD-DEL.
American Airlines has a “contact us” feature on its website; it lets users send a compliment or a complaint to Customer Service. After everything that happened on my mileage run to San Francisco I used the feature three times. Two messages were compliments, one for Captain Don and one for the wonderful ladies at the Boston and Los Angeles Admirals Clubs who helped me so much. The complaint, obviously, was about the missed connection in Boston when they would not hold the plane for 4-5 minutes so that I could make the flight.
I sent my complaint message on Sunday, and received a reply from AA on Monday. The quick reply is appreciated.
The letter began with an apology for all that had happened, and let me know they were putting additional AAdvantage miles in my account. I thank them for that.
The customer service representative explained the problem with the late departure from Dallas, saying the ground crew had analyzed the situation and, with the information they had, thought they could fix the problem promptly; thus, other flight arrangements were not made. Anyone who has ever tried to fix their car only to find that something else was causing the problem can certainly understand that.
The rest of the letter dealt with the missed flight at Boston. The representative explained that AA has received a lot of feedback from passengers explaining how important it is that the airline operate on time. To make this happen, they have established a 15-minute cut-off time that says you must be at the gate and checked in 15 minutes before departure (30 minutes for an international flight) to keep your seat. This is done to give the airport staff time to complete important last minute details before departure.
The letter said that the whether or not to hold a flight for a connecting passenger is one of the most “troublesome decisions” they have.
“We take into consideration the inconvenience to those travelers who will miss their flight, as well as the impact to those customers who are already on board, the possible “domino effect” on subsequent flight assignments for the aircraft, the downline misconnections that may disrupt a greater number of people and the chance that we might miss our takeoff assignment, which could lead to a substantial delay for all the customers on board. Weather conditions, as well as air traffic congestion, also influence our actions. It is unfortunate that in this particular case our decision caused you such difficulty.”
All of that from a 4-5 minute delay? If 5 minutes can cause that much trouble, can you imagine how much havoc the pilot of my DFW-AUS flight on Sunday caused by having us leave 25 minutes late?
“We certainly don’t want to leave customers behind and I’m sorry things worked out like they did on this occasion. At the same time, however, we are doing everything we can to make sure that we operate our flights on time. Like our customers, we believe that everyone is best served when we maintain our schedules.”
Let’s take a look at AA’s comment.
They say I needed to be checked in 15 minutes before departure so that the ground personnel could complete the last minute details. I believe that if they knew what incoming flight I was on, knew when it was due in, and knew that it would be at an adjacent gate, they could have checked off every detail they needed with the knowledge that I would be boarding 4-5 minutes after scheduled departure. I once had a late connection in St. Louis. They held the plane for me and I was the last person to board. As I entered the aircraft they closed the door behind me, and by the time I found my seat, put my carry-on in the overhead compartment, and sat down and buckled in, they had already started to push back from the terminal. That could have happened here.
As far as all the additional potential problems listed above, I can certainly see that for a flight that is delayed 30-90 minutes. I find it difficult to believe a delay of only 5 or 6 minutes could cause that much trouble.
Early this year AA announced they had adjusted their schedules to allow more time for ATC and ground delays. The adjustments worked: every single flight I had taken since February (and that includes transcons and trans-Atlantic flights) arrived early. Building spare time into the schedule was a good idea. Apparently, there was not enough spare time though for me to make my connection.
I guess AA and I will agree to disagree on this one.
I went to gate D37 at DFW for the BOS flight. At 12 noon, we had not started to board. At 12:10 still no boarding. At 12:15 my cell phone rang, telling me there was a gate change to D40. (Why did I get the call? Because I had registered for AA flight notifications, one of the best services AA offers. It lets me know about gate changes, changes in departure times, etc. frequently before they are announced at the gate. I sign up for it before every flight as you should.) We all moved down three gates where a different aircraft was waiting for us. At 12:20 we were still not boarding; the gate agent explained that the plane had just gotten in from Calgary and the passengers were just now getting off. Uh oh, doesn’t look like we’ll be leaving at 12:35.
- 12:30 – Passengers finally deplane at D40, our new departure time of 12:57 was announced.
- 1:00 – We finally board the aircraft
- 1:15 – We’ve all boarded, they’ve closed the doors, but the plane has not backed away from the gate. The pilot announces that there is no ground crew to help with the push-back; there had been a fuel spill at an adjacent gate and all the ground personnel were working that issue and would continue to work it until the EPA approved the clean-up.
- 1:20 – Pilot has good news for us, it was not a fuel spill but a leaking toilet at the other gate, so we will be able to get ground personnel to help us depart.
- 1:25 – Still sitting at gate.
- 1:35 – The plane was finally pushed back from the gate, but once the tractor pulled away from us, we did not move. We sat there for another ten minutes, and I was getting concerned about making my connection in Boston.
- 2:00 – One hour after boarding we finally taxied to the runway and were #3 to depart. But now the pilot announces that there is an Air Traffic Control (ATC) delay due to bad weather near DFW. The controllers are requiring ten miles between each aircraft, so there will be an additional delay until we take off.
- 2:05 – Pilot announces that ATC has told him there is additional bad weather over the Southeast, and orders him to shut down the engines. He apologizes for the delay.
- 2:10 – Pilot gets permission to restart the engines.
- 2:15 – We take off for Boston.
We were now 1 hour and 40 minutes late and I knew there was no chance I would make the San Francisco flight at 6:35. I told the flight attendant (FA) about my connection, she said she would see what they could do, maybe the SFO flight would be delayed too. The people sitting in the row in front of me had a similar problem; they were scheduled to take a 6:40 flight from Boston to Paris and it looked like they would miss it too.
Fortunately for me, I had downloaded an electronic copy of the AA flight schedule earlier in the week and saw that there was a flight from Boston to Los Angeles at 7:25, maybe I could get rerouted to that one.
The flight to Boston went smoothly and I was surprised at 6:15 when the pilot announced that we had found a 108 knot tailwind, averaged over 600 miles per hour, and would be landing in 20 minutes.
Twenty minutes? That would put us down at 6:35, the time my SFO flight was scheduled to depart. If they could hold it for a few moments, I’d be able to make the connection! Luggage would not be an issue, I only had my carry-on. I spoke to the FA as did the people going to Paris, and reminded her about our very tight connections. The pilot even announced that he knew there were people trying to connect to Paris and San Francisco and he would try to get us there on time for the transfer.
We touched down at 6:30. I turned on my cell phone and got a flight status update: my SFO flight would leave at 6:35 from gate 34. The FA announced that we would arrive at gate 36, the gate next to my connecting flight! I might make it!
As we pulled up to the terminal I saw my flight at the gate, the boarding ramp had not been pulled away, I would make the connection! All they needed to do was give me enough time to go from one gate to the next one!
We pulled up to our gate at 6:35 and as people started to get off my plane, I was sickened to see my San Francisco flight push back from the terminal and depart! Just as that happened, the FA announced on the public address system that the Paris flight had already left, but the SFO flight was at the gate next to us. Apparently, she did not see it leave.
This made no sense to me. I had told the flight staff about my connection; our crew knew what time we would land. All they needed to do was ask the other plane to hold for an additional five minutes and I would have made the flight. I don’t know if they didn’t ask, or they did and the request was ignored, but either way, I missed my flight, as did the Paris passengers. I can understand the SFO flight leaving if I was 90 minutes late, but cannot comprehend why it could not wait for just five more minutes. I can think of countless times that I have sat in a plane past the departure time as we waited for connecting passengers, particularly when the flight is the last one of the day, as the SFO flight was.
I got off the plane and went to the Admirals Club to see if the AAngels behind the counter could re-route me to Los Angeles. I had to wait a while because they were busy trying to reroute the Paris passengers to JFK for a flight to France.
When it was my turn, I explained to them what I wanted to do, they checked the schedule and said they could get me to Los Angeles, and then send me to Dallas and then home to Austin. Great! The only problem was they had the difficult task of getting my involuntary reroute correctly entered in the computer with the proper codes.
As they tried, I heard the announcement that Group 1 for Los Angeles was boarding, then Group 2. The AAngels tried a different code, but it would not go through. Now Group 3 was boarding. One more try on the computer, but again it did not go through. By now Group 4 was boarding, so the ladies gave me a boarding pass to LAX and told me I could get my additional passes at the Admirals Club in Los Angeles, they would make the appropriate entries to make sure it would go through.
I thanked them, ran to the gate and boarded. I was on the exit row with a middle seat. I started to talk to the man next to me; it turned out that he too was doing a mileage run, flying from Boston to Los Angeles and back. The one way ticket was on sale for only $79 — combine that with double EQMs and triple miles, and it was an offer he could not refuse. In fact, he was also going to do the trip again on the next two weekends.
We had a smooth flight to Los Angeles as my new friend and I traded mileage run stories and solved all the problems of the world for the next six hours. We parted ways at Los Angeles and I went to the Admirals Club.
The AAngel there was able to issue me my boarding passes back to Austin. At 12:10 a.m. I was on a flight back to DFW.
We landed 15 minutes early at 4:45 a.m. At 5:00 the McDonalds in the food court opened and I was able to get my first meal in quite a while. At 5:30 the Admirals Club opened and I was able to take a long hot shower. After all that had gone on, it felt great!
My flight to Austin was scheduled to depart DFW at 8:00 a.m. We boarded and waited for our departure. At 7:55, the FA announced that there would be a delay. After all the delays the day before, I wondered what the reason could be this time. I have to admit I was not expecting what she said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we will be delayed until we can find a pilot. He was supposed to be here by now but isn’t. We’ll wait for him but will also try to find another pilot to get us to Austin.” No pilot? That’s a new one!
At 8:10 he arrived and we took off at 8:25, landing in Austin shortly after 9 a.m. The Good-Bad-Ugly mileage run was over. The delay in Dallas was bad, the missed connection in Boston was ugly, but the assistance from the ladies at the Admirals Club was very good!
It was a tiring and frustrating weekend. But, if my math is correct, I earned almost 13,000 EQMs and over 15,000 total miles. That was worth it. I now have enough miles in my AAdvantage account that I could tell me wife to look at the AA flight schedule and choose where in the world to go for her birthday. We have enough miles to fly anywhere on the OneWorld system in either First Class or Business Class. That makes it all worthwhile to me
Some people go to work just to work. Others love their job and do their best to spread good times to everyone around them. The pilot on my AUS-DFW flight today is in the second category. In the category? Heck, he OWNS that category!
We’ve all heard the boring announcements from the flight deck on every flight, as the Captain welcomes us on board, tells us the flying time to our destination, reminds us not to smoke, etc. Sometimes it sounds like he can hardly wait to finish the speech, but not my pilot today.
As we sat at the AUS terminal, we heard the following. “Good morning everyone, this is your captain speaking.” Five seconds of silence and then, “Oh my gosh, that sounds so cool that I have to say it again! Good morning everyone, this is your captain speaking.”
“Welcome aboard flight 1959, but that sounds so boring that we’ll just call this flight The Scooter. Welcome aboard The Scooter! I am Captain Don.”
“As you look out the right side of the aircraft, you will see a group of burly men jumping up and down on your luggage. Don’t be concerned, this is normal procedure. At American Airlines we believe in the pizza box philosophy of luggage; the flatter we can make it, the easier it will be for us to load.”
Plainly, this was not your average AA pilot.
As we backed away from the terminal, he continued. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have completed the most harrowing part of our flight, backing away from the gate in Austin. We’re now ready for our short 42 minute flight to DFW aboard The Scooter.”
When we got to the end of the runway Captain Don said, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Scooter is now number one for departure. Please sit back with your seatbelts securely fastened as I attempt to get 113,000 pounds of aluminum, nuts and bolts into the air!”
This was great stuff. Sadly, Captain Don was quiet during the flight. This may be because it is such a short flight; not long after leaving Austin it’s time to get in line to land at DFW. It wasn’t long before we arrived at DFW and had one of the smoothest touchdowns I have had in a long time. This guy knows how to fly!
As we taxied to the terminal, Captain Don said, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Scooter has landed! Welcome to Dallas/Fort Worth airport. We hope you had an enjoyable flight and thank you for flying American. Please tell all of your family, everyone you know, your friends and neighbors, and if you run out of them go to the shopping mall and grab strangers and tell them that you flew The Scooter!” Everyone enjoyed that, we all applauded.
As we got off the plane Captain Don did something I rarely see: he stood in the cockpit door and, with a big smile on his face, thanked every single passenger for flying The Scooter. This was not the standard automaton-like “thank you, thank you” that we usually get; it was obvious that Captain Don was speaking from his heart and meant every word of it.
I wish there were more pilots like Captain Don, he truly made my flight, short as it was, enjoyable. Thank you sir!