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.


  1. Yikes, Terry. You make me want to give up traveling. I've never flown American much. From this experience I can understand why they are in bankruptcy. If only we could fly on Asian carriers in the U.S. service would improve. As it is, we're doomed.

  2. I'm trying to blame the Miami airport more than American. I've had negative experiences with my luggage getting lost at that airport on a flight back from Belize or Bonaire. The flight itself was smooth, and the crew competent. I do dream of flying on Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific someday. I hear wonderful things about their customer service.

  3. Replies
    1. Yes, but recovering and glad I don't fly again for two weeks. The worst part was being abandoned by SuperShuttle after my negative flight experience.

  4. Oh wow, quite the looong trip!