Monday, May 21, 2012

Flight 231 MIA to LAX - Is American trying to lose customers?

The initial delay of Flight 231 seemed reasonable

If a guidebook exists on how to gracefully handle flight delays, American Airlines desperately needs a copy at its gates at Miami International Airport.  Last night, the playbook used seemed designed to make passengers either give up on air travel entirely or never fly again or never again book a flight on American.

At our initial 5:35 p.m. boarding time for Flight 231, the gate agent at Gate D3 announced: "Your plane is here, but needs to be cleaned.  We'll be boarding a few minutes later than scheduled."  

Fifteen minutes or more passed with no additional announcement.  Then my iPhone received a text, followed by a voice call from American Airlines' automated system advising that our flight was delayed and would now be departing from Gate D25.  Five or ten minutes thereafter, the gate agent confirmed this info but offered no reason for the move or delay. No equipment problems were mentioned.

All the passengers agreeably made this initial schlep to a gate at least a six-minute walk away.  But when we arrived at Gate D25, a new gate agent told us: "We are waiting on your flight to arrive from Los Angeles."  At that point, we all wondered "what about the first plane?"  

After first gate change passengers wait patiently at Gate D25 for AA Flight 231

At this point, if American Airlines had told us there was an equipment problem with our first plane rather than acting as if we never had a first plane, a lot of frustration, anxiety and the need for airport police could have been avoided.

I began tweeting about our flight delay in the hope that social media would help.  When I tweeted @AmericanAir that my flight was delayed, @AmericanAir responded: "Have a nice flight." (What?!) When my next tweet was a complaint, I received an apology but no information.  So unlike JetBlue and Southwest Airlines, apparently American Airlines doesn't actually address customer service issues via Twitter.

When the second plane arrived, we were told it would be cleaned and then we'd be leaving.  At that point, our flight was due to leave sometime after 8 p.m.  As more than 15 minutes passed, I began wondering if the plane was receiving its spring cleaning or getting a facelift.  While we sat wondering what was happening, passengers who had deplaned began telling other passengers that their plane left LAX two hours later than scheduled due to a problem with the plane's air conditioning.  Thereafter, the gate agent advised that they were no longer "cleaning the plane," maintenance was actually trying to repair something.

At least 20 more minutes passed before the gate agent announced that we would be getting another aircraft, and we would probably be boarding it at Gate E9.  He asked us to standby until he confirmed the info.  At that point, I believe passengers remained calm, apparently grateful to receive any information - even if the news was bad and meant a gate change to another terminal.

Numerous times throughout our five-plus hour delay, I heard passengers express their desire for safety.  Even though passengers had begun missing connections, everyone wanted to fly in a safe aircraft.

People began photographing this board as our delay grew longer and longer

By the time we arrived at our third gate, nerves were beginning to fray.  Our flight seemed an international mix of Americans, Asians, Latin Americans, Australians and others with the international passengers appearing to be the most agitated.

Although the American Airlines agents at Gate E9 were the most communicative all night, many passengers seemed to have run out of patience, even though the gate agents seemed to be diligently rerouting people.

Unfortunately, the Gate E9 agents told us twice that our plane was being cleaned before finally telling us that there was an equipment issue with yet another 767. I honestly believe the gate agents imparted info as they received it, so I was grateful for at least receiving reliable information.

As passengers began surrounding the gate desk after it was announced that maintenance was working on something, I became worried about the safety of the two female gate agents.

Passengers begin surrounding the gate counter, and I began worrying
about the safety of the gate agents.  

An Asian man in a white cap (center of the above picture) began pounding on the counter and other passengers were raising their voices. Since I saw no security personnel in sight, I called 911 and asked for the non-emergency department.  I explained my concern for the safety of the two female gate agents and requested security come to Gate E9 right away.

When no one came within five minutes, and the situation continued to escalate, I used my phone's browser to find a number for the Miami International Airport Police.  I was told help was on the way.

The two Airport Police Officers initially on the scene were Officer Julio Nolasco and Officer Montrial (whose last name I didn't get because he was quite agitated).  Julio seemed very calming, but Montrial demanded immediate obedience.  He asked the man in the white cap three times to go sit down, but the man refused to budge.  So Montrial began pushing him from the gate podium into a seat in the passenger area.

Montrial is to the left towering over the man (unseen).
Two passengers seem to be videotaping the incident.  
As Montrial demanded the man calm down, at least four other passengers seemed to start using their cell phones to videotape the police officers and the man in the white cap. (Video may surface on YouTube.)

Many passengers became protective of the man in the white cap as if the officer was too
aggressive in removing the man from the gate podium. 
When I asked Montrial for his name and badge number, he asked me for my name and said that the FAA gave him the authority to arrest anyone at the podium, who didn't immediately sit down.  I gave him my card and sat down.  I had already told both officers that I was the passenger who had called them.

A supervisor with American Airlines (Luz) appeared after more police officers arrived, and she offered passengers $12 meal vouchers to go get something to eat.  We would have to go back to Terminal D and needed to be back in approximately 20 minutes, so very few passengers accepted the voucher.  It would have been more sensible to give us vouchers to use for food on the plane, but that didn't occur to anyone.

When Flight 231 finally left at approximately 11:45 p.m. last night, the flight crew seemed embarrassed. The pilot apologized for the delay and said he would dim the lights and not make many announcements in the hope that we could get some sleep.  If our wait could have been as pleasant as our flight, American wouldn't have lost customers last night.  When our flight landed, our pilot thanked us for flying with him and said he hoped that someday we'd give American Airlines another chance.  In Miami, many passengers were saying they would never fly American again.

As a frequent flyer with American Airlines, I hoped the airline would redeem itself when we landed at LAX.  But instead of several gate agents to greet all the passengers with missed connections who would need a hotel for the night, there was one lone gate agent when our flight landed after 1:30 a.m., who was directing all passengers needing rerouting to the Customer Relations office next to Gate 42A.

One lone gate agent when Flight 231 landed at LAX

When a flight has a weather or equipment issue, passengers want to be kept informed and told the truth, preferably every 15 or 20 minutes so that they can determine if they have time to grab food or go to the bathroom.  If a gate agent doesn't have an update, announcing "no news" is better than feeling trapped at the gate, dependent on an automated text or voicemail for a flight update.

SuperShuttle then leaves passengers stranded

Nothing is worse than repeatedly that a plane is being cleaned, when that is not the fact or the issue -- except relying on SuperShuttle.  When it became clear our flight would land after midnight, I couldn't take the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus home as planned, so I used my SuperShuttle app to book transportation home.  I attempted to email SuperShuttle about the additional two-hour delay from Miami because I held for eight minutes without getting a human to answer the phone.

I checked in with SuperShuttle at 2:00 a.m., the girl clocked me in and said my shuttle to Santa Monica would arrive in ten minutes.  When my shuttle didn't come, she told me to go sit down, that it was coming. Then she told three of us our shuttle numbers and said she was leaving for another terminal.  My shuttle was number 820.  It never came.  At 3:00 a.m., a kind American Airlines employee named Carlos in American's baggage claim office wrote up the scenario in my flight record to help me get reimbursed by American for a taxi.  At that point, SuperShuttle even had told me to take a taxi.

At 3:15 a.m., I caught a taxi home.  I called and a Yellow Cab actually arrived within minutes.  Maybe if Yellow Cab bought out American, we'd all arrive on time and in a good mood.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

American Airlines & DFW welcome the Boeing Dreamliner Test Plane

Boeing 787 Dreamliner test plane heads to American Airlines'
Hangar 15 for the May 11 press conference.

Last Friday, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner test plane landed at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW) to “Wow” a group of journalists and American Airlines employees.

American Airlines is reinvigorating its brand with new, more fuel efficient airplanes including Boeing 777-300ERs, 737-800s along with the 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft as it reorganizes and streamlines its business in Bankruptcy Court. American’s fleet renewal includes retrofitting some of its Boeing 738-800s and its 757s.  The airline says that over the next five years this fleet renewal will give American Airlines the youngest fleet of any major U.S. carrier. 

In 2008, American Airlines ordered 42 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.  The first 787-9 Dreamliner is due at the end of 2014.  The Boeing Dreamliner is a long haul aircraft (routes haven't been determined yet). This year and next American will take delivery of 10 Boeing 777-300ERs, and it continues to receive the fuel-efficient 737-800 airplanes that will replace American’s MD-80 fleet.

In May 2011, American began receiving new 737-800s with the Boeing Sky Interior that adds LED lighting and a roomier interior with larger overhead bins for carry-on luggage.  I was a bit disappointed to see that the coach seats looked the same as on current 737-800s, and there is no back of seat entertainment.

A new 737-800 landed on Friday too.  Although this plane features LED lighting,
it wasn't turned on when I checked out the plane. Notice the additional head room.

In 2013, American expects to begin receiving 130 current generation Airbus 319 and 321 aircraft.  In 2017, American is set to begin receiving Airbus planes with the  “Neo” next- generation engine technology.

Highlights of the press conference and Dreamliner tour

American Airlines CEO, Tom Horton welcomed employees and media to the press conference saying: “This good looking airplane is going to look a lot better in silver.”  Welcoming the Dreamliner to DFW was aimed at showing what “the new American looks like.”

American Airlines CEO, Tom Horton

During a tour of the test plane, 787 Brand Manager, Katherine Overby said that the plane has state of the art engine technology and reduced maintenance features.  Last December, the Dreamliner set the speed and distance record by flying around the World in 42 hours (22 hours from Seattle to Dhaka, Bangladash and 20 hours from Dhaka back to Seattle). 

Although the test Dreamliner that visited DFW had a Rolls Royce engine, Vice President of Sales for Boeing North America, John Wojick, says that the Dreamliners American has ordered will have General Electric engines.  All the 787 engines are tested to withstand bird strikes.  I asked how airplane engines are tested to “ingest birds” and he said that frozen chickens are used.

John Wojick, V.P. Sales for Boeing North America in the Dreamliner's economy cabin

Wojick says that ANA and Japan Airlines currently have the 11 Boeing Dreamliners currently in service.  Since Continental was the first U.S. carrier to order a Dreamliner back in 2007, I asked when United (which completed its merger with Continental earlier this year) should get its first 787, and Wojick anticipates it will be delivered sometime this Fall.

Business class seats on the test plane.  Six different vendors
supply seats for the Dreamliner, so American's may look a bit different.

American employees (L to R) Jim Lorentsen and Rick Briggs
check out Biz class.  The test plane didn't display First Class,
but both Business and First will have seats that fully recline.

Brooke and Paige (L to R), whose Dad works for
American Airlines, appear very comfy in Biz class     

Wojick loves the 787’s sleek wing and raked wing tip. Overby loves the fact the airplane improves passenger comfort and that the windows are up higher to allow passengers to see the horizon.  

Sleek wing of the Dreamliner

Overby highlighted some of the window features for me in this  video tour.

My favorite features were the LED lighting, the window tint adjustments and the large screens on the back of seat entertainment modules on all the coach seats.  

Signs of Eco-Friendliness – quieter and more fuel efficient

The Dreamliner burns approximately 20% less fuel than similarly sized aircraft due to its new engines, increased use of lightweight composite materials, more-efficient systems applications and modern aerodynamics.  Reducing fuel consumption lowers the aircraft’s carbon emissions and the engines of the Dreamliner have been designed to also emit less nitrogen oxide (NOx), which further reduces the plane’s environmental impact.  And Boeing reports that the noise footprint of the 787 Dreamliner is 60% smaller than similarly sized planes currently flying our environmentally challenged skies.

Captain Randy Neville showed off the cockpit of the Boeing Test Dreamliner.

On my flight home from Dallas, I flew on an older American 737.  We were packed in the plane like sardines and the shade for my window was cracked and difficult to raise or lower.  The sooner  American Airlines gets new planes, the better flying should be for passengers.  And the Boeing Dreamliner with its fuel efficiency and smaller carbon footprint is this eco-nut's dream airplane.

This was the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner to land at DFW

Monday, May 14, 2012

Woman plus baby equals miserable flight

Mother and baby that create seat turbulence

No flight is pleasant when babies are crying.  The same can be said about being kicked in the back for almost three hours between Dallas and Los Angeles.  This woman looks nice and attractive, but she is the mother to avoid on a plane.

I should have tried to switch seats with her when she arrived at the end of my row, looked at a man by the window and announced: "I think you want to switch seats with me - unless you want to babysit my daughter."  I was pinned against the window.  The passenger next to me (in the middle seat) had already commandeered both armrests.  As I pondered whether a packed flight can cause claustrophobia, the man in the window seat in row 17, moved up to our row, and the mother sat in his seat, directly behind me.

At times it seemed like her toddler was grabbing my seat, but most discomfort was caused by the baby.  I repositioned my seat without any recline to see if that would help, but I still felt like my back was being constantly kicked.  I attempted to sit without my back against the seat, but that didn't help.  I kept praying that I would slip into a three hour coma.  No luck.

After at least 30 minutes of continuous kicking, I looked back at the mother and even asked twice that she please do something so my seat wasn't being constantly kicked.  She shrugged her shoulders.  (I can't remember if she denied being about to do anything, but that's how I read her look.)   It felt like she, her baby and her toddler kicked my seat nonstop for two hours and 50 minutes - mainly because the Mom kept putting her baby on the tray table where the creature wiggled and kicked nonstop.  (Had the baby been seated elsewhere, I would have thought she was precious rather than a creature from the Kung Fu Lagoon.)   After I asked the Mother twice to please make the constant kicking stop, I realized that I should have insisted or asked a flight attendant to insist that she hold the dang baby on her lap.

If you have ever been tortured by a Mom and a baby or a toddler on a plane, please comment and let me know if you had a better result.  Flight attendants don't seem to ever intercede so I didn't ask for help on this flight.  If any flight attendants read this and have a suggestion, please comment.  I want to create self-defense tips for passengers who have been tortured by children and/or neglectful parents on a plane.  On trips to Hawaii, I have regretted being in First Class, when the kids were positioned to kick my seat while their parents sat across the aisle, ignoring their children.  In the future, I believe I will request parents change seats with me so that their kids can kick them in the back for five hours.

Below is a second photo.  This woman was so inconsiderate, and yet I didn't have the guts to boldly snap her photo and announce I planned to post it online -- as a warning to other passengers.  Instead both pictures were snapped discreetly over my head as we deplaned at LAX.

The toddler's arm is in front of the baby (directly behind the second seat).
If you see this Mama sitting down behind you, BEG TO SWITCH SEATS!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dino Bones visit Santa Monica to whet appetites for Alberta

Royal Tyrell Museum creates a dinosaur dig just off Santa Monica Pier on April 25
"In Alberta, there's a location called Dinosaur Provincial Park, about two and a half hours east of Calgary, it's one of the richest places in the world.   When you go on guided hikes, in places, it's impossible to take a step without crushing dinosaur bones under your feet," says Palaeontologist, Franciois Therrien, of the Royal Tyrrell Museum.  He says the bones are actually in bedrock, and you walk around them in a guided area, so the bones are protected. Dr. Therrien and a group from Travel Alberta visited Santa Monica on April 25 to highlight the Canadian Badlands in eastern Alberta along with the Alberta's outdoor adventures ranging from the Calgary Stampede to hiking in Banff.

The Royal Tyrell has three T. Rex on display along with Albertosaurus, a 27 foot (nose to tail) replica of which was planted on the beach at the Santa Monica Pier in April to whet the appetite of locals for dino bones.  Dr. Therrien says that visitors to Drumheller, Alberta, where the museum is located, get to see a treasure trove of dinosaur bones, and  kids (including those over 18 sometimes posing as adults) can spend 90 minutes in a Dino Dig for $15 during the summer. 

Palaeontologist Francois Thierren of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in
Alberta, Canada shows off a dinosaur bone replica (the real bone is in Canada ).

I told Therrien I loved seeing Sue the Dinosaur on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. He said that Sue is the largest, most complete T. Rex ever discovered.  But he pointed out  that Alberta's Badlands are chock full of dino bones.   The closest thing to a dinosaur I might find on Chicago's Lakeshore Drive would be an overweight, trudging pedestrian.

The Royal Tyrrell Museum is Canada's only museum dedicated to Palaeontology.  With more than 130,000 specimens, the museum's galleries and exhibitions cover 3.9 billion years of life on earth from the dinosaurs to the Ice Age and the Age of Mammals.   The cost for one-day admission at the Royal Tyrrell is $11 for adults (18+); $8 for seniors and $6 for kids (7-17) or $30 for a family (limit of 8).  Two-day admission costs $16.50 for adults with discounts for seniors and kids.

Students from a school in West Hollywood took a field trip to learn about dinosaurs 

Dr. Therrien studies and excavates real dinosaur fossils in Alberta and says: “Alberta is home to some of the world’s richest fossil beds and draws tourists from around the world to experience authentic dinosaur adventures." has put together several summer experience packages that include horseback riding (from $175 per night in Jasper National Park), a Calgary Stampede Thrill Package (from $150 per night during the Centennial Stampede from ) and several dinosaur experiences, including:
Dinotour 2012 (June 29-July 2) – from $325 per night—A four day tour of the Canadian Badlands to dinosaur excavation sites and museums, guided by leading Canadian palaeontologists.  

Rockies, Edmonton and the Badlands - from $160 per night includes admission to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, a Seven Wonders of the Badlands walk in Drumheller and overnight accommodations in Banff, Jasper, Edmonton and Calgary.
Info: Travel Alberta;  1-800-Alberta