Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Messy Flight on American Airlines, Boston To Los Angeles

There are many reasons why this year is going to see a Democratic landslide, with the probable exception of California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seems bound to be reelected. Certainly, Iraq is the key factor, since President Bush has had more than three years to win the war AFTER he claimed the mission had been accomplished, but has not done so.

But there are other reasons as well, and I saw one of them yesterday, returning on American Airlines, Flight 145 from Boston to Los Angeles. Both the airline and the airport, LAX, fell down on the job.

This was a terrible flight, and it points up the business shortcomings all too common in American life, at a time when the Bush Administration has seemed dominated by corporate lobbying.

For an airline and an airport to function as poorly as American and LAX did yesterday is a disgrace. But, according to my travel agent, it is all too common a disgrace. She told me this morning that hardly a day goes by but she doesn't hear customer complaints about airlines and their terrible service.

As soon as boarding occurred yesterday afternoon in Boston, things did not seem right. The airplane was stifling as it sat there on the tarmac, and the pilot announced the auxiliary air conditioner was not working, and told us that his attempts, over an hour, to get a replacement had failed. None was available, he said.

Then, when we got aloft, American quickly ran out of snacks it was selling for $4. You don't get a meal in coach any more, even on a six-hour flight like this, but the airline has signs posted in the terminal that it will have snacks available for a charge.

With half the plane's passengers unserved, American ran out on Wednesday, and a stewardess told me this happens on virtually every flight. "We've told them time and again we need more than 25 snacks," she said of her airline. "They never listen."

Even the beverage servings on this flight seemed few and far between.

But the crowning display of incompetence and overcrowding of an airport came when we landed, on time, at LAX about 7:55 p.m.

The pilot came on to explain that no gates were available for the moment at the American terminal, due to a plane that had maintenance problems and was stuck at our gate. However, he assured us, it would be towed away from the gate in "five to ten minutes, so the wait won't be long."

As it turned out, we didn't get to the gate for an hour. About half way through the long wait, the pilot came on again to say they had not yet towed away the apparently disabled aircraft and that a second possible gate had failed to open, because there was another plane with a maintenance problem there.

As passengers with connections grew ever more anxious, the whole imbroglio seemed to reflect the fact that Los Angeles International (LAX) has become very dysfunctional. One of the strange parts of this episode was that our aircraft actually circled on the runways, passing one plane in a hangar three separate times. This could not but cause worry, since LAX has seen several recent episodes of planes almost running into each other.

Normally, I try to avoid LAX, using the more efficient Burbank airport instead, and traveling Southwest rather than American or United. Southwest seems much more efficient, even for functions as simple as loading an aircraft. It takes no more than 15 minutes on Southwest. For American, both in L.A. going East and Boston coming west, it took 45. Southwest's turnaround time is so much better, this explains in part, alone, why Southwest is consistently more profitable than American or United.

Wednesday's experience soured me finally on American Airlines, and further soured me on LAX. And it occurred to me, as I sat there with fellow-passengers that the time has certainly come in this country for a change, if only to help shut down these business lobbies in Washington who persistently seek special favors for themselves, while adopting a customer-be-damned attitude.

It seems as if Dennis FitzSimons, the inept Tribune Co. CEO, is spreading his wings to other corporations as well. They are cutting back on service, all in the interest of profits.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Jon said...

Traveling to NYC and back, my family and I had the exact same experience, almost to a T - except you can add in that we were traveling with a 2- and 4-year old, and AA made a conscious decision, on top of everything else, not to put our stroller on the plane on our return flight - then didn't tell us until well after we had landed and disembarked. Might also add that on our outbound flight, it took 105 minutes to get our luggage from baggage claim.

10/19/2006 7:48 PM  
Blogger Ed Padgett said...

Ken,

Sounds like your flight was out of a horror movie, as minutes probably felt like hours.

I fly with Mexicana, and the only problem I have encountered, are slight delays in departing from LAX.

We always arrived on the Island of Cozumel on time.

The meals taste like TV dinners of the past, but at least they still offer food.

Welcome home Ken,
Eddie

10/20/2006 8:44 AM  
Anonymous Joe Zekas said...

Ken,

Sorry to hear about your bad experience.

I flew over 100k miles on American last year and 70k+ for the past half dozen years. 25 trips Chicago to California last year (most to LAX), all without a single glitch worth mentioning. Waited several times for a gate on eaerly-morning flights into LAX, but that was because our flight arrived early.

American, in my experience, takes great care of its frequent travelers, providing a level of service that you rarely see from any business today.

And I find LAX to be one of the easiest-to-navigate major airports in the country.

10/20/2006 9:50 PM  

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