Archive for February, 2012
Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will.
Murphy’s Law Corollary: Murphy was an optimist
This Saturday I had the bad luck to travel with the esteemed Mr. Murphy, resulting in one of the most fouled-up mileage runs I have ever had. The good news is that none of my flights crashed, but almost everything else that could go wrong did.
My itinerary: Austin to DFW to Los Angeles (LAX) to DFW to Austin. I planned this trip to take advantage of American Airlines’ double Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) promotion between DFW and LAX. I’d depart Austin at 6:35 a.m. and return at 7:55 p.m. It should have been an easy day. My DFW-LAX flight was on a 757 and I managed to reserve seat 10F: there was no seat in front of me and I would have plenty of legroom and the chance to catch up on my sleep, at least that was the plan.
I arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at 5:15 and went to the TSA check-in line. I didn’t bother to check in at the terminal because I had already checked in on Friday using AA’s iPhone application and would use it to display my boarding pass when I went through the security line. I got up to the front of the line and had my first problem: I kept hitting the “boarding pass” icon on the phone but it would not display my boarding pass as it usually does. With no boarding pass I couldn’t go through the checkpoint so I turned around and left the area. Did I draw unwanted attention to myself by walking away from security just before I went through the checkpoint? I don’t know.
I went to a self-serve kiosk to check in, went all the way through the process, hit “continue” and got an error message saying that I could not check in and needed to take the error ticket it printed and give it to a representative. No boarding pass on my iPhone and unable to check in at the kiosk? Now I was really concerned
I gave the error ticket to a representative who looked up my record and asked “Did you get an upgrade?” I told her I doubted that, I hadn’t even requested one. She worked the computer a little bit more then gave me my boarding passes for the two flights to Los Angeles, but she had no explanation for my problems to that point.
I went back to the security line where a TSA agent asked why had I had walked away earlier (Thank you, American Airlines!), I explained the situation, cleared security, went to the Admirals Club and was chatting with the wonderful AAngel behind the counter. I asked her to print my boarding passes for my return trip; she printed them and asked if I wanted her to put me in for an upgrade to first class. I told her no, I was happy with my seats, particularly my seat on the 757 with no seat in front of me. She looked puzzled when I told her that and said “No, you don’t have a seat like that, you’re in the exit row with a bulkhead in front of you.” I told her that couldn’t be, I was in seat 10F on a 757, she replied that I was not, I was in seat 20H on a 767.
767? What happened? She looked and saw that there had been an equipment change from a 757 to a 767. Well, that was okay, that’s a good plane and frankly I like its two aisle configuration more than the single aisle on the 757. Apparently the change in equipment, that I did not know about, caused the problem with me getting my boarding pass. Note to American Airlines: if the change in equipment is such a big deal that I could not get a boarding pass from my iPhone app or the self-service kiosk, then you should have let me know about the change, either by email, text message, or computer-generated phone call. You should never put passengers in a situation where they have to walk away from the front of the TSA security check-in line.
I had a smooth flight to DFW, arriving at 7:40, giving me enough time to change terminals for my 8:40 flight to Los Angeles. I was lucky, my departure gate was next to the Admirals Club, so I had time to go upstairs and relax for a while. I checked my email, drank a cup of coffee, then went down to my gate. As I got there my phone rang: it was AA Flight Status with an update, the flight was delayed and would not depart until 9:10. Good enough, I went back up to the club.
Shortly after that my phone rang, it was AA Flight Status with another update, my gate had changed; instead of the gate next to the club I’d be seven gates farther away. So I left the club and walked down to the new gate. As I waited I got yet another call from AA flight status, the departure time had changed again, this time to 9:25. Still not a big deal, I had a long enough layover at LAX that I would not miss my return flight.
We eventually boarded, I had an exit row seat in the bulkhead row, so I would have plenty of legroom. As I mentioned, I like the 767 and was happy to be on the plane. Then I got another call, departure delayed until 9:40 — a full hour after our scheduled departure. Then the phone rang again, was there another delay for this flight? Actually, it was worse than that. AA flight status let me know that my return flight from LAX was going to be late too! The day was going from bad to worse. As I sat there I was tweeting the latest updates to my friends. At 9:40, our departure time, we were still sitting at the gate. I tweeted additional updates.
So far I had had a boarding pass that would not work, an equipment change, a flight that had already been delayed more than once, a gate change, and the probability of a second flight being delayed. Murphy was right.
Shortly after that they closed the door to the aircraft but I got yet another call letting me know that the departure had changed yet again, this time to 10:00. We finally backed away from the terminal at 9:55 and took off at 10:05. Thankfully it was a smooth flight to LAX, we arrived at 11:06, an hour late.
I turned my phone on and had additional messages from AA flight status, my 1:00 p.m. flight from LAX to DFW would depart at 2:40. Tentative arrival at DFW was after 7 p.m., which would cause me to miss flight 1113 from DFW to AUS, scheduled for 7:00 p.m.
I went to the Admirals Club, ordered lunch and checked my tweets. I had one from @americanair that said “So sorry for the delays! Feel free to leave us feedback.” and had a link to feedback page at AA.com. As I wrote about my delays for the outbound flight they wrote “Hope your weekend improves. Let us know if we can help.” I appreciated their feedback, and they even got a congratulatory tweet from one of my friends for responding to my tweets.
After I finished my meal I looked at my iPhone app, instead of flight 1113 at 7 p.m. it said I was scheduled to be on flight 1550 from DFW to AUS with a 7:55 departure. I was glad to see that, AA had apparently re-booked me to a later flight because of the delays. So, I pulled out my boarding pass and went over to the AAngels to ask for a boarding pass for the flight 1550 when I looked at the one in my hand and saw that I already had a boarding pass for that flight! Somehow they had changed me from the 7 o’clock flight to the 7:55 flight without letting me know: the boarding pass was printed at 5:25 that morning so they could not have known about the delays at that time. Note to American Airlines: if you modify my itinerary and put me on a flight that is one hour later than the one I had originally booked, you should notify me of that change.
After a long wait at the Admirals Club I went down to my gate for my 2:40 departure and noticed one problem: it was 2:10 and there was no plane at the gate! Was this going to be yet another delay?
The inbound plane arrived at 2:25 and then my phone rang again, departure had changed to 3 p.m. I looked at my itinerary on my iPhone and saw a big problem: the flight was scheduled to arrive at DFW at 7:57 meaning I would miss my 7:55 flight to Austin.
We boarded and I thought my day could not get any worse when I found someone who was having a worse day than me. The lady in the seat behind me called over the flight attendant and said “I found this in the seat pocket” and held up an iPad! I’ve left a bottle of water on a plane. I’ve left a copy of Time magazine on a plane. But I’ve never left anything as valuable as an iPad. I hope AA was able to get it back to its owner, they should have his phone number on file and would be able to call him.
Everyone boarded, the plane had a lot of empty seats and I was able to move to a window seat. I was glad to see us push back 10 minutes early at 2:50.
Fortunately, the pilot was able to make up for lost time and we arrived at DFW at 7:38, giving me plenty of time to get to my 7:55 Austin flight that was only three gates away. As we were taxiing to the terminal I heard the lady behind me on the phone, her conversation reminded me that my day could have been much worse.
“No, I don’t know where my bags are. I was supposed to be on the two o’clock flight but it was overbooked so they moved me to the one o’clock flight that did not leave until three o’clock, so I have no idea where my bags are.” I hope she found them.
I was the last person to board the AUS flight; it was completely packed as almost all DFW-AUS flights seem to be. We arrived at AUS on time, and I was home before 10 p.m.
It had been a long frustrating day. I normally get one call from AA flight status for each flight, letting me know my departure time. On this day I got 13 calls as they kept delaying my flights When all was said and done however, I never missed a connection, was not stranded at an airport, and got home at a reasonable hour. With the AA double EQM promotion I’d earn almost 7,000 EQMs, putting me over 70,000 for the year and well within reach of Executive Platinum. I just wish things had gone smoother and AA had let me know abut the various changes.
I own stock in AMR, American Airlines’ parent company. The total value of my holdings in that company is less than $80.
January was over, and with it went the end of the triple Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) promotion that American Airlines was offering. The promotion was very good for me, with only six flights to San Francisco I had already earned Platinum status for the year, a level I did not reach in 2011 until September.
While the triple EQM promotion was over, there was still a double EQM bonus on flights between DFW and San Francisco (SFO), making yet another flight there a good deal. On Saturday I made my seventh mileage run of the year, all of them to SFO without ever leaving the airport.
I arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport before sunrise; it was raining heavily and I wondered if this would affect flight operations. Thunderstorms had passed through the Austin area overnight and, according to the weather map, they were still active in the DFW area.
Fortunately, the rain did not cause any issues. We took off from Austin on time; I always find it interesting to depart when it’s raining. We taxi and take off in the rain, experience turbulence as we pass through the storm clouds, and then pass above them into clear skies and sunshine.
We arrived at DFW 10 minutes early (an impressive number when you realize we are normally in the air for only 34 minutes between AUS and DFW!). I changed terminals, got to my gate and saw that the flight would to SFO would depart 45 minutes late due to early-morning fog in the Bay area. This gave me enough time to visit the Admirals Club, check my email, and call home. I was in no particular rush, the Club was at gate 23 and my flight would depart from gate 22.
I called home, chatted with my wife, and then, 35 minutes before departure, began my short walk to the gate, As I was nearing the elevator in the Admirals Club I heard an announcement that my flight was in final boarding and they were getting ready to close the door. WTH? So I ran to the gate and even though there was still 30 minutes until departure, I was one of the last people to board. Since they had loaded the plane so early I thought we might also leave early but no such luck, even after I boarded we still sat there for another 25 minutes before we took off, 45 minutes late.
Happily, it was an uneventful flight to SFO. No turbulence, no one in the middle seat, just the kind of flight I like. We arrived at SFO 40 minutes behind schedule but that was not a problem, I still had almost two hours until my return flight to DFW. After some of the very fast turn-arounds that I had had on recent trips, I was very happy with that. I had time to relax in the Admirals Club, call home, and then browse through some of the shops in the terminal.
I had originally planned on eating lunch at the terminal, but decided not to. I saw that I was number one on the upgrade list for First Class for the return trip — with a 2:30 departure I expected to get lunch on that flight. If my upgrade did not go though, I at least had an apple and some oranges in my bag, they would hold me until I got to DFW, so I was not too concerned. I was also not too concerned about my seat in coach; the return flight was on a 757 — there are two seats at the front of coach that have no seats or bulkhead in front of them, allowing plenty of room to stretch out. I had reserved one of those seats.
When it was time to board the gate agent told me my upgrade had gone through, so I took my seat in First Class. I did note with some disappointment that the sign said they would only serve a snack in FC on that flight. A snack? That sounded like a cookie, perhaps with some fruit.
We departed SFO on time and once we reached cruising altitude the flight attendant served the bowl of warm nuts as an appetizer. Shortly thereafter it was time for the snack and I have to say I was very happy with it!
I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and appreciated the fact that I had eaten something healthier than the fast food I would get at the food court at DFW.
We had a smooth flight to DFW and actually landed 5 minutes ahead of schedule at 7:45. I had a 1 hour 40 minute layover until my Austin flight at 9:25, but remembered seeing that there was an earlier flight at 8:10, maybe I could get to it in time.
I checked the departures list and had good news and bad news: the good news was that there was a flight to Austin at 8:10, the bad news was that it had already started boarding and would depart from Terminal D — I was in Terminal A.
I ran to the SkyLink, I just missed the train, but another one would come along in 2 minutes. When it arrived I got on board along with an American Airlines pilot. By now it was 7:54. I asked him how close to departure they would still let passengers board, and said my flight was at 8:10.
“Oh, are you on the Los Angeles flight at 8:10? That’s the one I’m going to try for.”
I told him no, I was going to Austin, and as we chatted, I found our flights were at adjacent gates, I was at D-18, his was at D-17. When the train finally arrived at Terminal D the pilot and I both ran to the escalator. He was pulling his flight bag so he couldn’t keep up with me as I ran to my gate. I got there and was glad to see they had not closed the door yet. I asked if they had a seat and gave them my boarding pass for the later flight. As the gate agents were looking at it the pilot ran past our gate and one agent said, “Look at that, we not only make passengers run, we make our pilots run too.!”
They checked and saw they did have a seat for me, and I didn’t even care that it was a middle seat. I got on the plane, the last passenger, and they closed the door behind me. Less than an hour later I was back in Austin, 90 minutes earlier than planned.
It was a good trip. The delay on the outbound flight didn’t cause me much trouble, I had time to relax in San Francisco, flew back in First Class and had a nice meal,, then managed to catch an earlier flight back to Austin. With these flights my EQM total for the year passed 65,000, putting me in very good shape for Executive Platinum, with only 35,000 more EQMs to earn. I should make Exec Plat, but it sure would be nice to see another triple EQM promotion!
I received the following letter yesterday from American Airlines: While I knew this was coming, I was still glad to receive it. In 2011 I did not get a letter like this until September, and by then I had flown a lot more and spent a lot more money then I did in January this year!
Next stop: Executive Platinum!
Dear XXXX YYYYY,
We are happy to welcome you to another year of American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum® membership and benefits!
Your new card will arrive by mail in just a few weeks, but in the meantime I want to express my appreciation for your business. We are pleased that your status is now extended through the next elite membership year, and will work hard to ensure your loyalty is rewarded.
Along with your membership comes a range of benefits designed to make your travel more enjoyable. Whenever you wish to review your membership privileges, we invite you to access your Benefits Guide online at aa.com/aadvantageplatinum.
As one of our valued elite members, you are especially important to us. Thank you for your support of American Airlines and the AAdvantage® program.
Suzanne L. Rubin
AAdvantage® Loyalty Program
As January drew to a close I had two more mileage runs to complete: one on the last Sunday of the month, the other on Tuesday, the last day of the month and the last day of the triple EQM promotion. Although the two trips had the same itinerary, they could not have been more dissimilar.
I had the same itinerary for each trip: depart Austin at 7 a.m., have 1 hour 15 minutes to make my connection at DFW, have 1 hour 10 minutes at San Francisco (SFO), then 40 minutes on one day, 90 minutes on the other at DFW before taking my Austin flight home. At least that was the plan.
Sunday Mileage Run
My Sunday trip precisely followed that schedule. I boarded on time, the plane was less than half full so I was able to get a window seat and get a nice view of downtown Austin when we did our dawn departure. Once we got up in the air we had a nice view of downtown Austin and the Texas Capitol building.
We had a smooth flight to DFW where I easily made my connection for the flight to SFO. Even though this was the last weekend of the triple EQM promotion, the flight had plenty of empty seats; the middle seat in my row was empty, as it was in almost every other row. That made it easier for me to get some sleep and also catch up on my reading. The in-flight movie was one I wanted to see, Moneyball, but I decided not to watch, preferring instead to get the DVD and watch it at home on my big-screen TV.
We arrived at SFO ten minutes early which gave me enough time to go to the Admirals Club, get a bite to eat, meet and chat with some other mileage runners, and then board the same plane and sit in the same seat for the return flight to DFW. I had put my name on the list for an upgrade to first, but there were so many Executive Platinums on the plane that I didn’t come close, I was #19 for the upgrade.
While there were a a lot of empty seat on the inbound flight, the outbound flight was packed, no empty seats in coach or first class. That becomes a major problem if you have to use the rest room. There are almost 180 seats in coach on the 737, but only two lavatories at the rear of the plane. It was not unusual to see 5-10 people standing in the aisle waiting to go to the bathroom. This creates a problem for the people who are leaving the lavatory to get back to their seat: the aisle is narrow enough as it, it’s even worse when you have to try to pass a dozen other passengers. And I imagine it is annoying to the people in the aisle seats in the last few rows to constantly have someone standing next to them waiting for their turn in the lavatory.
Even with all that, it was a smooth flight back to DFW. I had a very short wait until my AUS flight but that was okay, I arrived at gate 35 and would depart from gate 31. Even with the very short amount of time to walk from one gate to another, I still arrived at the gate after they had started to board.
I took my seat for the very short flight back to Austin. I passed on the complimentary beverage they offered and instead finished my bottle of water. Some pilots will announce in advance that the plane is about to begin its descent, that gives the passengers time to use the rest room if needed. But on a DFW-AUS flight where we are only in the air for 34 minutes, the pilots normally do not make that announcement and that was true in this case. Unfortunately, I did not use the rest room while we were in the air and, as we descended over Central Texas I looked forward to our arrival at the gate so I could rush to the men’s room. Little did I know that this would be a Murphy’s Law flight (if anything can go wrong it will go wrong).
By the time we landed on time I was even more anxious for us to get to the gate. But I soon noticed something was wrong, we were taxiing very slowly. Why7 Then I noticed that we were approaching the terminal from a different taxiway, not the one we normally use to get to the American Airlines gates. In fact, we pulled up at the far end of the terminal from AA’s gates and came to a stop. What was going on?
After a moment or two the pilot announced that due to a mechanical problem no AA gate was available for us but they were working on it and we should be at the terminal in 10-15 minutes. Ten to fifteen minutes??? Oh no, I need to use the restroom now!
The seat-belt light was still on so I could not get up and use the restroom on the plane. I knew from past experience that the crew would not allow anyone to get up and walk to the restroom before we arrived at the terminal, so all I could do was sit, very uncomfortably, and wait for us to get to our gate which we did ten minutes later.
As the plane emptied I wished I had a seat near the front of coach and not in the exit row, aisle 21. Eventually everyone ahead of me managed to wrestle their overstuffed bags out of the luggage bin and get off the plane. As soon as it was time for me to get off I literally ran off the plane to the men’s room that was opposite our gate. Lessons learned on this flight: use the restroom on the plane when you can, particularly if you have been drinking water all day as I had done, and take advantage of a seat near the front of the plane if possible.
Tuesday Mileage Run
Two days later I was back in the air for my sixth and final mileage run of January. My itinerary, other than the longer wait at DFW in the evening, was identical to the Sunday trip.
We departed Austin and arrived at DFW on time. My phone rang shortly after we landed, it was an American Airlines flight status update telling me my flight would depart on time at 9:15 a.m. I took the SkyLink to terminal D and was sorry to see my gate was not near the Admirals Club. I made my way to the gate and saw a notice that the flight was delayed and would not depart until 10 a.m. This surprised me because the flight status update normally lets me know of delays but not this time. So, I walked back to the Admirals club where I had time to drink a cup of coffee and eat some fruit.
I spoke to the AAngel behind the counter, she explained that the flight was delayed due to early morning fog in San Francisco; rather than having us take off on time only to circle the area, wasting fuel while waiting for the fog to burn off, they would simply delay our departure on this end. That made sense.
After a while I went back to the gate. We started to board at 9:25 and pushed back from the terminal at 10 a.m. However, the air traffic delay must have still been in effect — instead of taking off we taxied to a holding area where we sat for another 20 minutes, not taking off until 10:25 a.m.
I knew this delay would make a mess of my schedule for the day, but at least I would not miss my return flight form SFO, it would be on the same aircraft and thus could not leave before we landed.
This out bound flight was like my Sunday flight with lots of empty seats, the middle seat was empty on almost every row. We made up some time on the flight, landing at 12 noon, only 50 minutes late. If we had been on time I would have had more than one hour at SFO and might have had enough time to grab a bite to eat, but not on this trip. When I finally got off the plane I had enough time to go to the Admirals Club, use the men’s room, refill my water bottle, grab some fruit and go back to the gate whee they had already started to board the outbound flight. No food at SFO on this day, I was glad I had managed to take the fruit!
We took off at 12:55, 45 minutes behind schedule and were able to make up some time, arriving at DFW at 5:59 p.m., 25 minutes late. I got a call from AA flight status telling me that my flight would depart on time at 7:05, that barely gave me enough time to finally grab a bite to eat. I stopped at the food court, bought a meal and wolfed it down, this was not the day to take my time eating. When I finished the meal I quickly walked to the gate where they should have already started the boarding process. But when I got to the gate I saw they had not only not started to board, they didn’t even have an aircraft. What was going on?
The gate agent explained that a flight was inbound from Sacramento where there had been a weather delay but it would arrive shortly. This really annoyed me; I know the airline cannot control weather delays, but flight status should have told me the flight would be delayed, if I had known that I could have eaten at a more relaxed pace and even stopped at the Admirals Club.
The Sacramento flight eventually arrived, thankfully it was not very full and they were able to empty it quickly and allow us to board. We took off at 7:30, 25 minutes late and arrived in Austin at 8:25, again 25 minutes late. It had been a rough day — four flights and only one was on time, but I got home safely, that was the most important fact.
So January came to an end, a month in which I could ask the question “Where did I go more this month, the grocery store or San Francisco?” The correct answer was San Francisco. A week later all of standard miles and most of my bonus miles had posted to my account.
With 58,396 EQMs I had already earned Gold and Platinum status for the year, and had more EQMs than I did for all of 2011! I still had not received the bonus miles for the problem flights (my rtip on Jet Blue and the trip that ended at DFW); those should post next week. With my two additional mileage runs in February which will give me double EQMs, I should have almost 75,000 EQMs by the end of the month, putting Executive Platinum well within reach for the year. All in all, it was a busy month, but a productive one. I look forward now to taking only two trips in February.
Disclosure: I own stock in AMR, the parent company of American Airlines. As of 2/15/12, my shares are worth less than $80.