Feb 27th 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.
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