Regular readers will know that I’m in a bit of a dilemma regarding my relationship with American Airlines. Truth is, that since I started flying as a paying passenger, American has mostly served me well. I love the AAdvantage program, and American’s Admirals Clubs, but since the summer, I’ve faced a seemingly excessive number of delayed/canceled/jacked up flights. I’ve flown American a lot less this year than last, but my number of issues seems to have risen.

You might remember that following snafus on 2 pretty big European trips, I asked American to do the right thing, and refund previously purchased tickets to Miami for Mrs MJ on Travel and I to catch a cruise. Knowing that these tickets were non-refundable, I had really low expectations of American’s Customer Relations folks, and they did not disappoint. They refused to refund the tickets, which was admittedly in compliance with the rules of the fare that I chose to purchase. I normally would not have even considered asking, but due to some impossible to change schedules, we were forced to fly into Miami the morning of our cruise, something I NEVER recommend. Given American’s performance over the summer, I just didn’t have faith in their ability to operate a published schedule for our November flights.

Again, they did not disappoint. I had booked the first flight to Miami the morning of November 22. My thinking was that by taking the earliest possible departure, we would have a few back up flights in case we ran into issues. Things were looking good when we pushed back from the gate right on time last Monday and taxied out to Runway 1 at DCA. We pulled over to the side at the end and a couple of flights taxied past and took off. I thought “no problem.” But then a few more flights blasted off…..and still more. Twenty-five minutes after leaving the gate, we were still sitting at the end of the runway with not one word from the cockpit as to what the problem was. Then we powered up and started moving, but unfortunately, not towards the runway, but to the gate.

We arrived at the gate, and maintenance came on board and entered into a discussion with the pilots. Not until some 40 minutes after originally leaving the gate was an announcement made that there was a problem. And this was by the agent that met our flight whom had been given no information by the cockpit either. My worst fears had come true. We were stuck in a maintenance delay on the way to our cruise!

As my iPhone returned to life, I received automated messages from AA.com, first advising me of the obvious flight delay, and the second indicating that the 7:10am departure was operating on time. Ah ha! Mrs MJ on Travel and I had been rebooked onto the next departure leaving 2 gates away. I stuck around for a couple of minutes hoping to glean some morsel of information about what was wrong, and whether or not it would be a quick fix, but none was forthcoming. A few of my fellow First Class passengers were on their phones making arrangements for the next flight as well. I made the decision, collected our things, and booked it down to gate 32, as did 2 of my fellow passengers. Boarding had already started for the next flight when we arrived at the gate. We received a window and aisle with an empty seat in between us in coach. Alas, no upgrade, but we were happy to be making forward progress. Even though we were among the last passengers to board, there was even space for our carry on luggage. Not half bad all things considered!

Two minutes to departure, and I suddenly realize that I’d left my jacket hanging behind 6B on the now broken airplane! Ugh. No one’s fault but my own, but still, a hassle. I asked one of the flight attendants if they’d mind asking the cockpit to radio operations and have them stash the jacket in the office, and I’d pick it up when I returned. She politely obliged. Much to my surprise, within a minute or 2, she came back to tell me they’d made contact and the jacket would be in ops when I returned. And with that, we blasted off for Miami.

After an uneventful, and frankly pleasant flight, we were on the ground in Miami. After powering up my iPhone, I decided to check the status of our original flight just for grins. What do you know?! It departed DCA only 8 minutes after our new flight! Great for the folks that remained on board, and great for us that we had a new flight. If we’d stayed on board, the original one probably would’ve canceled knowing my luck of late. Mrs MJ on Travel and I still had a few hours to kill before it would make any sense to head over to the Port of Miami, so we occupied our time with a mimosa in the lovely (and newly reopened) Admirals Club by gate D15 in Miami. Mrs MJ on Travel suggested that given the departure time of our original flight, my jacket might just still be on there. I brushed it off at first, but not for long when my phone rang.

Turns out, it was a DCA Premium Services agent calling to let me know that they were unable to retrieve my jacket and it was actually onboard my original flight which was arriving Miami’s gate D30 in just a few minutes. I thanked her for the call, and she said she’d call the gate as we were hanging up. Score! This was actually the best outcome as the “jacket” was really my suit jacket that I took for the cruise’s formal evening. I booked it down to gate D30 and found my jacket hanging on the boarding pass reader under the watchful eye of the gate agent. Crisis averted, and a note of thanks on the way to AA and the DCA agent that called me. By contrast, our return flight was spotless. Left right on time, and arrived DCA early. Upgrades cleared at the window, and inflight service was stellar. I even got to try AA’s First Class cheeseburger for the first time! 🙂

I have to admit that for just a few minutes, I was tempted to write AA Customer Relations again with a big “I told you so” rant, but I got over that fairly quickly! That said, I can’t help but note the irony. Truth is, if they’d done what I asked, I would not have experienced that frustrating delay the morning of our cruise, they would’ve moved up several notches on my list for doing the right thing when they had a chance, and I’d be less likely to stick to my pledge to temporarily avoid American until they figure out what operational reliability means. At the same time, I would not have experienced the service recovery or the interaction with the DCA agent that saved my attendance at dinner on formal night, and the positive feelings that those good service experiences provided. The bottom line: I’ll fly American when it makes the most sense to do so. Otherwise, I’ll fly United where I’m 9 for 9 in on-time departures in the last 6 weeks. Thanks for listening. 🙂