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The Not-So-Friendly Skies

Mood: Disgruntled
Drinking: Caffeine

An Open Letter to American Airlines

I used to love to fly. I’d arrive at the airport nearly giddy with anticipation. But it wasn’t just arrival at my final destination that was making me tingle — it was the whole process of traveling, from the minute I pulled my suitcase from the closet to the moment I returned it.

I loved arriving at the airport, checking my luggage, watching the planes roll in to the gates and out to the sky. I loved the little bags of peanuts, the repetitive “Thank you, have a good day Thank you, have a good day” mantra of the flight attendants as passengers disembarked. I loved the vertigo of takeoff and the gravitas of landing. I loved it all.

But you, American Airlines, you have ruined it for me.

After years of being a happy traveler, a docile passenger, you have turned me into a disgruntled, truculent, reluctant one.

And this isn’t just a rant about your baggage fees, although those piss me off, too. Why not just raise your fares? Why make already tired and stressed-out people whip open their wallets once again at the airport? Just let us pay your damn fees ahead of time when we buy our tickets.

But my real complaint should worry you a whole lot more, because it’s indicative of everything that is making airlines go bankrupt.

Because it has become painfully obvious that you just don’t give a shit anymore. You don’t care about your employees. You don’t care about your passengers. You don’t care about your planes or your schedules or your flight plans. And you have no problem communicating that arrogant ambivalence to your customers, thanks to your equally disgruntled employees.

I flew on two American Airlines flights within the last week. One from San Francisco to Chicago O’Hare, and one return flight along the same route. Both flights sucked beyond measure, and it was only complicated by the fact that I was flying with my sister and her 6-month-old baby. We were traveling back to where we grew up so her new son could meet his Great-Grandma, who is too old and ill to make the trek to California.

We arrived at the airport without incident and made it through security before any trouble really began. First our flight was delayed a half hour, then an hour, because of “wind” in Chicago.

Yes. Chicago, the windy city, has wind. How inconvenient!

When we finally got on the plane and pushed away from the gate, we thought our troubles were over. But no. It wasn’t until we were safely tucked in and locked up that we were told that we’d be sitting on the runway. For another hour.

So we finally arrived at our destination nearly 6 hours later, and we were happy to be there, so we put it out of our minds. It’s ok, we figured, our flight out was the unlucky one with all the delays, so surely our flight home will be a good one.

Silly, silly hope.

When we made it to our gate at O’Hare on June 11 for our return flight, we were happy to see that the flight was on time. But that was the last time we were happy for the next 8 hours.

I don’t know if you’ve ever traveled with a baby, but no one in this country makes it easy to do so. You’re met with dirty looks, loud sighs, and mumbled complaints of “Oh God, it will just be our luck that they sit next to us” everywhere you go. Doesn’t matter if your baby is incredibly well-behaved. Doesn’t matter how quiet he is. Doesn’t matter how much a young mother has prepared herself for the trip with all the necessary supplies and distractions needed to keep an infant happy. Americans, as a whole, are a loud and selfish people who don’t want their space invaded by small and needy children. And they have no qualms about making that as passive-aggressively clear as possible.

So having to deal with all that discrimination from fellow travelers, it doesn’t help when you get the same treatment from airline employees.

While we were waiting for our flight to board, I asked one of the gate attendants if my sister and her 6-month-old could board early. Not only was I told they could not, but I was given an eye roll to go with it.

When I protested that she had been allowed to board with group 1 in San Francisco, the woman wearing the AA uniform told me, “Well, we don’t do that in Chicago. There’s too many children. If we did that, the plane would be just full of children.”

Blink. Blink-blink.

What kind of sense does that make? The children are going to get on the plane anyway, why not make it easier for them and their parents? I for one would prefer to board the plane without a small toddler dragging a pink princess backpack slowly down the aisle. I’d be happy to have her already in her seat. But apparently there are too many children in Chicago, so they will have to wait until the grown-ups drag their backpacks down the aisle.

I swallowed that one, but then I was told that if my sister had a stroller she was gate-checking (which she did), that she needed to gate-check it immediately. Even though we weren’t boarding for another half-hour. Even though she had just gotten her baby to go to sleep. Even though HE WAS SLEEPING IN THE STROLLER. No. She had to lift him out of the stroller and hold him in her arms for the next 30 minutes while we waited for all the businessmen and first class passengers to file slowly in.

Fine. Whatever. We just wanted to go home. So we stood and waited and finally filed in to our seats at the very back of the plane. We stowed our bags, buckled in, and heaved a sigh of relief when the plane pushed back from the gate.

And then we saw ahead of us on the runway a long, long line of at least 30 planes of all sizes and carriers, just sitting there, waiting. My sister looked at me in disbelief. And then the pilot got on the intercom and said “Well, folks…”

Apparently because of “weather” in Kansas, we had to sit on the runway in that line for over an hour while planes were re-routed. And so our nightmare flight home began.

The entire flight, including the time we spent sitting on the runway, there were 2 flight attendants right behind us in the galley, gossiping. They talked and talked and talked, loudly, about neighbors and boyfriends and fellow employees while all around them babies tried to sleep, or woke up crying because they were so loud, while passengers futilely pressed flight attendant call buttons again and again.

At one point I looked down the plane and saw at least 5 call lights on, but no one answered them. And it wasn’t because the flight attendants were strapped in for take off… One of them walked right past all those lit lights at least twice and never once looked at the passengers who were requesting help.

After about half an hour, one of the flight attendants who was so busy with her tales of soap opera intrigue in the galley finally waddled out to see what all the fuss was about.

Since when do airline passengers rate such poor treatment? Since when do flight attendants get to ignore the people who provide them the reason for their entire job? Since when do airlines not give a shit about the people who keep them in business?

Do you realize that many of the people who fly on your planes are going to visit loved ones or going on a much-needed vacation? These people are usually limited in their vacation time, and when you are so swift to cancel or redirect or delay a flight, you are in effect stealing time from these people. Time they could have spent with family, with friends, with lovers. The very least you could do, then, is act like you actually CARE that you have just ruined people’s day, that you have just shortened their vacation, that you have just stressed them out, that you have just complicated their life. I realize, of course, that weather cannot be prevented and that sometimes things go wrong with planes and with schedules. But when these unavoidable things happen, could you at least work up a sincere apology? Why add insult to injury by being so arrogant, so callous, so annoyed? What’s so hard about acting like actual human beings?

I could go on and on about our awful flight home, about the flight attendant who slept, snoring, directly behind us in the last row that they wouldn’t let anyone sit in because “the oxygen masks are broken”, or the flight attendant whose wide posterior region bumped shoulders of passengers on both sides of the aisle every time she walked past, or the kid who was awakened by the unnecessarily chatty intercom and then screamed for an hour, or the way the pilot gave my sister’s baby a dirty look as we left the plane. But I’m tired of ranting. I’m tired of remembering it. And I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about it. After all, this isn’t the worst travel horror story you’ve heard, is it? So let’s end with an appeal to your business sense:

Do these slogans sound familiar to you?
“We know why you fly.”
“Doing what we do best.”
“Something special in the air.”
They should. Those are a few of American Airlines’ advertising slogans. And after hearing my story, don’t they all sound like complete bullshit?

No wonder you’re going bankrupt.

-Lo, who thinks if this is what airlines do best, we should all start taking the train.

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