[for those of you who are wondering... American Airlines does have a complaint form on their website. It has a limit of 1500 characters. I had way too much to explain.]
Dear American Airlines:
I think you have a severe morale problem. Actually, I think you have more than that, but I’ll start there.
Last Tuesday, May 8, I was on flight 1448: ORD-DCA departing 10:35 am CDT along with a number of elderly Japanese tourists. As the gate attendant began calling sections, the tourists lined up behind their guide who was able to board early, presumably because of his priority status with the airline. When the first two of this group attempted to board prior to their group number being called, they were turned away with what I can only describe as extreme surliness on the part of the attendant. He actually yelled at them: “Go away” a couple of times with shooing hand motions. Frankly, if anybody deserved to be yelled at, it was their American guide who hadn’t provided sufficient instructions to them regarding the boarding process and who did not stay with his group. I was appalled at the rudeness displayed to these tourists in our country, I was shocked that the gate attendant made no effort whatsoever to communicate with them regarding when they could board. A simple pointing at the group number on their boarding passes and a “wait” probably would have been sufficient, despite the language barrier.
Added to this the fact that all but two of the flight attendants on this flight appeared to be monosyllabic, and it all shouts to me that American Airlines staff are exceedingly unhappy. Nobody would be as actively or passively rude—especially people in positions like these who presumably undergo regular customer service training—unless something was seriously wrong in the workplace. Do these personnel need a reminder of how to treat customers in order to sustain their continued use of the airline? Yes, but perhaps American should also investigate what is happening that causes their workers not to live up to their customer service promise.
And then there was the return flight, 507, on Saturday, May 12. The flight and gate attendants were perfectly courteous and kind, no complaints there (one wonders what would cause such a difference in behavior). However, I’m still trying to figure out why American Airlines would not have fueled the plane with sufficient fuel to survive a few times circling (or in this case, traveling to the west and turning around) O’Hare when O’Hare is notorious for landing delays. Instead, we were diverted to Indianapolis to refuel so we could land safely at O’Hare. I understand in these days of high fuel costs and the relationship of fuel weight to fuel consumption issues with an airplane that it must be tempting to load just enough fuel for any given flight. But diverting could not have been inexpensive for the airline, and it was a significant pain for me.
Because of the diversion, I missed my direct flight to Anchorage by just a few minutes, when I had deliberately scheduled sufficient time for the transfer at O’Hare. I was re-routed to Seattle and then to Anchorage, and what should have been an 11-hour travel day ended up be a 15.5 hour travel day. Then there was the extreme crowding on the ORD-SEA flight: I would have thought some attempt would have been made to accommodate those of use who had been subjects of the diverted flight with slightly more comfortable seats. No, I had a middle seat in such crowded conditions that I couldn’t work on my laptop, work on my needlework, or, in fact, even work on my smartphone—there simply wasn’t elbow room for me to move at all. I’m not a particularly small woman, I’ll admit, but I’ve never had a 4+ hour flight where I could do nothing but sleep or stare at the head of the person in front of me. Under the circumstances, i.e. traveler already significantly discommoded by the airline, an aisle or window seat was the least you could have done. Really, I expect better treatment of your clientele who have had their travel plans disrupted through issues well within the airline’s control. The pilot of the DCA-ORD flight was very communicative and apologized for the diversion, the flight attendants expressed their dismay, but frankly, the airline needed to do more.
If these kinds of events are the result of an airline in serious financial trouble, I’m here to tell you that improving your customer relations can assist in improving the bottom line. I’ve been traveling a fair amount the last year—not weekly or daily, but on average a flight a month—and no other trip has been as bad as this. This experience certainly ensured that I will do my utmost to avoid any either directly booked or code-share flights that involve American in future. It had been years since I’ve traveled on American Airlines. Based on this experience, I’m hoping it will again be years before I need to do so again. I suspect a few of my fellow passengers—in both directions—are making similar comments.