I am writing today to voice a few thoughts regarding the mistreatment provided by American Airlines during our recent Christmas (2015) holiday trip to Amarillo, Texas.
On December 23, 2015, my wife, my three daughters (4, 9 and 11) and I traveled from Orange County, California to Amarillo, Texas, first class ($5,000 ticket cost), with a stop and change of planes in Dallas/Fort Worth.
The first portion of the trip, flight #1625, was uneventful; the plane was clean and well-kept, and the flight crew were pleasant. The second portion of the trip, flight #5795, was difficult to say the least.
Imagine if you will an expected layover in Dallas of about 2 hours and 15 minutes, which became a wait of more than 4 hours, all while trying to attend to children. The expected layover is something I bargained for and for this reason I cannot issue a complaint. The unexpected layover of more than 2 additional hours, is not something I expected or bargained for.
Of course, we were not told why the flight delay occurred, and likely we will never know. Instead, we were told via four text messages that arrived well after flight monitors already displayed the updated information, that the flight was delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed.
As one might expect I had more than ample time at the airport, while waiting for the delayed flight, to eat and to talk to airport workers regarding the delayed status of flight #5795. I discovered that employees in the airport were of the opinion that the flight is routinely late, seldom if ever actually on time.
Of course perception is not necessarily reality and the anecdotal statements of a few employees should not necessarily be given a great deal of weight. My return trip however, (discussed later herein) tends to support the employee comments related to the routinely late status of this flight.
Mercifully, flight #5795 finally departed Dallas and we completed our travel into Amarillo, Texas. This small, "regional jet" was in visibly poor condition. It was, as one might expect, cramped. The first class section utilized small seats, albeit with more leg room than is found in coach. Perhaps my angst by this time clouded my recall but I cannot recall a single greeting or other employee acknowledgement as we entered the plane, took or seats, or during the one-hour flight. The exception being an offer to provide my wife, my girls, and I, a complimentary drink.
Now in Amarillo, Texas, my family and I enjoyed our Christmas holiday with my brother and his wife. We were booked to return to Orange County, California on December 27, 2015, on flight #5795 (yes the same flight number from *** as already noted). We were scheduled to change planes in Dallas/Fort Worth to flight #2211. As with the trip into Amarillo, and as is our custom, we were booked into the first class section of the planes.
Having booked early, during October 2015, our first class seats, were located together in the first class cabin, which we believe is important since we were traveling for three young girls (there is story related to this issue later in this letter).
On December 26, 2015, I completed our online check in and printed our boarding passes. I was concerned at this time because the national weather service indicated that Amarillo, Texas was expecting snow and perhaps blizzard conditions later in the night and into the day of December 27, 2015. In other words, we should be prepared for flight delays, perhaps substantial delays. Of course, we do not fault American Airlines for inclement weather. If a blizzard were to occur, we were prepared for the expected delays and we planned accordingly.
On the morning of December 27, 2015, just hours before our flights were scheduled to depart, the American Airlines online flight status system indicated that flight #5795, out of Amarillo and into Dallas, was expected to be on time, without any delays.
Of course, knowing that flight #5795 and its departure from Amarillo presupposes the flight will arrive on time, or will arrive at all, from Dallas (discussed early in this letter as we discussed our flight into Amarillo on the same flight number). Therefore, I checked the American Airlines online flight status information for Dallas, specifically, flight #5795. The Dallas system also indicated that flight #5795 was on time and would depart Dallas without delay.
During the morning of December 27, 2015, I continued to check the flight status of flight #5795. Each time I received information indicating that the flight was on time both with respect to departure from Dallas and the departure from Amarillo. All appeared as it should be, inclement weather notwithstanding.
The assurance provided by the American Airlines online flight status system proved to be false. In fact, at about 12:30 pm (CST), I received a notice that flight #5795, from Amarillo to Dallas, was cancelled. I was provided a customer service number and directed to phone so that my flight could be rebooked.
Thereafter, I checked the online flight status of flight #5795, from Dallas into Amarillo, which, as already noted must occur before my flight, bearing the same number could depart from Amarillo. I discovered that the flight from Dallas into Amarillo had been cancelled, which of course explained why my flight out of Amarillo had been cancelled. As I said, weather is weather and American Airlines does not control the weather.
Therefore, although disappointed that I could not return to Orange County, I accepted the disappointment without complaint. Thereafter, I phoned the customer service number as directed in my cancellation text message. This is where disappointment turned to outrage.
I waited on hold with American Airlines for about thirty minutes and although I remained on hold, since I did not want to lose my place in que, I decided to drive to the Amarillo airport for a face to face conversation with a ticket agent. My plan was that if I resolved my rebooking issues via the phone call prior to my arrival at the airport, I would forego a face to face meeting with the ticket agent and simply return to my brother’s home. If, however, I had not resolved the rebooking issue via the phone call prior to my arrival at the airport, I would handle the rebooking issue via in a person contact with the ticket agent at the airport.
As I arrived at the Amarillo airport, and after being on the phone call hold for sixty-five minutes, a customer service representative answered my phone call. At the same time, I discovered that the Amarillo airport was completely closed. Therefore, I handled or attempted to handle my rebooking via the phone call. Keep in mind that my rebooking phone call, including my wait time on hold, was less than ninety minutes after I received the cancellation notice from American Airlines.
During my phone call with American Airlines I was told that the first available flight out of Amarillo, returning to Orange County, was on Wednesday, December 30, 2015. In other words, a three-day wait. I was also told that my return flight and the rebooking for it would place my wife, my daughters, and I in coach seats, scattered throughout the main cabin. In other words, not only had I paid for first class passage that I could no longer have, and I had booked my young daughters to ride with and near my wife and I, neither was possible with the rebooking.
I protested the denial of my first class, prepaid status, and the fact that my young daughters would be required to sit with nonrelated persons, while scattered throughout the main cabin. If I was being required to return in coach class, I demanded a refund of my first class fare cost. I was told that a refund needed to be addressed in a different forum; the rebooking customer service operator could not handle a request for a refund.
I continued my phone call with the rebooking customer service operator and ultimately she found, after several attempts, some first class tickets were available, however, the operator was not authorized to book me into first class seats; doing so required supervisory approval. I was told that if I wanted the limited first class seats, I would need to remain on hold, perhaps up to another hour, as the customer service operator went into que waiting for a supervisor. My reply was simple: I have already been on hold for well over an hour, what is another hour in the big picture, and I agreed to hold.
Eventually, many, many minutes later, the customer service operator returned to the phone and told me that she spoke with her supervisor. I was told that first class tickets from Amarillo into Dallas had been located, but the remainder of the trip, Dallas to Orange County would be in coach class. I was asked if I would accept the rebooking as offered. I indicated that apparently I had no choice in the matter, but I would not agree to the rebooking until the issue of a refund of the first class fare had been addressed. I was told to continue to hold as the customer service operator reengaged her supervisor in conversation.
Eventually, the customer service operator returned to the phone and I was told that first class tickets had been located for both segments of the flight, Amarillo to Dallas and Dallas to Amarillo. Unfortunately, the seats were scattered throughout the first class cabin and my daughters would be sitting alone. The customer service operator explained that American Airlines has a policy of reseating at the time of boarding, in order to insure that minor’s ride in seats with their parents or in seats immediately adjacent to their parents. Based on the most recent conversation with the customer service operator I accepted the rebooking as offered.
On December 30, 2015, the new flight date, I phoned American Airlines and was told that the flights were on time but I should arrive "very early" because the Christmas holiday travel crowds would cause substantial delay at check in and perhaps at TSA. No problem, although I was booked on the infamous flight #5795, scheduled for boarding at 3:50 pm (CST), and departure at 4:30 pm (CST), I dutifully arrived at the Amarillo airport at 1:00 pm.
I am not certain if you are familiar with the Amarillo airport, I certainly was not, so imagine my surprise when I arrived and the airport, tiny as it is, and discovered the airport was virtually free of travelers and there was certainly no holiday related congestion. I suppose I should be grateful that the expected holiday travel lines did not exist. On the other hand, I was dismayed that an American Airlines employee, who presumably should know the airport, its crowds, and wait times, had me arrive much earlier than was necessary.
I was also shocked to see that the American Airlines ticket counter was unattended. This meant that my wife, my daughters and I were relegated to sitting in the ticketing area, with six pieces of luggage that required checking, and we could not enter the TSA screening area, which would give us access to food and beverage service, until an American Airlines employee returned to the ticket counter. We waited for about forty-five minutes in this holding pattern.
When the ticket agent returned we approached the ticket agent, checked our bags and I asked if our first class seats might be changed so that my minor daughters would sit with or near my wife and I. The ticket agent accommodated the request for a first class seat change but told me that she could not help me with the Dallas leg of the trip. I was told to contact a gate agent in Dallas and see if my first class seat change could be accommodated.
Well, at this point, things have been difficult but it appeared I was making progress toward getting back to Orange County. My wife, my daughters and I cleared TSA and acquired seats near the gate in Amarillo as we awaited the departure of our flight, you know the infamous flight #5795, which must first arrive from Dallas.
We ate some food in a restraint near the gate as we patiently awaited our plane. Our plane was expected to board at 3:50 pm (CST) and depart at 4:20 pm (CST). As it turns out the infamous flight #5795, did not arrive on time from Dallas (surprising). This put us more than one hour late when our flight #5795, finally finished boarding and left Amarillo at about 5:30 pm (CST), perhaps a little later.
Not to worry, since our flight #2211, out of Dallas, was not due to board until 8:00 pm (CST) with departure to Orange County at 8:30 pm (CST). In other words, the most recent delay for flight #5795, although annoying, would not prevent us from successfully connecting to the Dallas flight into Orange County. Brother was I wrong (discussed later herein).
Boarding for the infamous flight #5795 was completed and we took off. The Captain told the passengers that flight time to Amarillo would be about forty-four minutes. Great I thought, that would give my family and I, time in Dallas, a very large airport, to travel from one gate area to another, to perhaps have a snack (remember my family and I have already invested several hours of our time in an airport and hunger is an issue for children). Once again I state, brother was I wrong.
We arrived in Dallas and sat on the tarmac for about one hour while the pilot searched for a gate that could accept our plane. During our one hour wait for a gate, other passengers and I watched, with great annoyance, other planes arrive, join us on the tarmac and quickly take their position at a gate; not us. Remember this is the infamous flight #5795, from ***.
Unrest was afoot in the plane as numerous passengers realized they would miss their connections. Many persons asked the flight attendants questions related to our arrival and what if anything could be done to get us to the gate. One flight attendant, the first class flight attendant, was gracious and demonstrated incredible compassion, empathy and self-control as she was peppered with questions.
Unfortunately, the coach flight attendant, "Tiara" was less than understanding, in fact, she might well be described as overtly hostile and defiant. Tiara barked at the passengers the following statement: "It is not our fault." She said this more than once.
I was shocked when I heard this angry comment. I certainly am aware that a flight attendant and often the Captain have no control over flight delays and gate arrival problems. The angry statement however, demonstrated a complete lack of empathy and understanding for the passengers, who were trapped on a plane, for an extended period of time on the tarmac, many of whom would miss or had missed there connecting flights. The comment was completely inappropriate.
Mercifully, at least I thought, once again wrongly, that our problems were over once the Captain received a gate assignment and our plane pulled into the gate. You see it seems that everything about the infamous flight #5795, is destined for difficulty. In this case, the gate could not be extended to the plane, which meant that we could not deplane. Now, we were sitting at the gate, the passengers had removed their bags from the overhead bins and we waited in line like sheep to leave the plane.
After several minutes, the Captain exited the cockpit, approached the open plane door and spoke with the gate attendant about the problem. The Captain was quite concerned and told the gate attendant that his passengers had been stuck on a tarmac for an hour, unrest was afoot and that the gate problem needed to be resolved immediately. The gate attendant argued with the Captain.
Apparently fed up with the problem and the behavior of the gate attendant the Captain issued orders and directed placement of the gate and an extension for the gate, which solved the problem (kudos to the Captain who showed empathy and concern for his passengers).
Ultimately, we deplaned about two hours after the infamous flight #5795 was expected to arrive and deplane. Therefore, my plan to give my daughters a snack during our leisurely stroll to another terminal as we awaited departure from Dallas to Orange County was not to be. Instead, we hastily moved from the "B" gates to gate A11, where I approached the customer service area.
Once at the customer service area, about twelve minutes before boarding would begin, I asked the American Airlines employee if my daughters first class seats could be changed so that they might ride with or near my wife and I. Perhaps the holiday season and bad weather caused general discontent among American Airlines employees, or perhaps I was hypersensitive and my perceptions were inaccurate, but I my perception was that the employee was not at all interested in helping us (remember in Amarillo I was told to handle the seat issue in Dallas and that American Airlines policy required the minors to fly with the parents, so I expected some help).
Ultimately, the seats were slightly changed as follows: 1D, 1F, 1A, 6D and 6F. Clearly the seats, were not together and in fact the distance between seats 1 and 6 were as far apart as possible. Moreover, seat 1A necessarily placed one of my daughters in a window seat, next to an unrelated male, who was not at all interested in changing positions. So much for the stated policy and help from gate agents and/or flight attendants.
We boarded the plane, with five minutes to spare, from Dallas to Orange County and finished our trip home without further incident.
In closing, in past years I was a frequent flier with U.S. Airways, which explains how I ended up using American Airlines. At various times in the past I have held various preferred status positions with U.S. Airways. I have flown U.S. Airways both domestically and internationally to Europe. In other words, I am not an inexperienced flier. I am accustomed to the occasional difficulties that arise and have patiently worked through each difficulty. I must say however that I have never been treated so poorly, been so ignored, so taken for granted and so inconvenienced in a manner remotely similar to the treatment I experienced during my Christmas holiday trip. Just thought you should know.
MICHAEL D. WILLIAMSON
Product or Service Mentioned: American Airlines Flight.
Reason of review: Poor customer service.
Preferred solution: Let the company propose a solution.
American Airlines Cons: Treatment and delays.