Category Archives: American Airlines

TSA Lines: Is Feature Not Bug

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Republicans in Congress cut an agency’s budget, then point to the resulting chaos they’ve created and cry, “See! Government doesn’t work! We must privatize!”

Lather, rinse, repeat. Amiright?

The T.S.A.’s work force and budgets have in fact been shrinking. The agency’s rolls have declined to about 44,900 screeners today from 47,000 in 2013, even as passenger travel has increased by 15 percent. But it is also true that it has been plagued by mismanagement and other problems of its own making. An unloved stepchild of the Department of Homeland Security, the T.S.A. has suffered through continual turnover in leadership, repeated misconduct by senior managers, low staff morale and high rates of attrition among screeners.

[…]

Not all the T.S.A.’s troubles can be blamed on missteps by the agency. The dysfunction has been compounded by an earlier 2013 bipartisan budget deal negotiated between Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and Representative Paul D. Ryan, the current House speaker, to avert a government shutdown.

The deal set the security fee assessed on each segment of a plane trip to $5.60, but called for 60 cents of that fee to be diverted from the T.S.A. to pay down the national debt. This year, $1.25 billion in fees is going into the Treasury instead of paying for screeners and new equipment.

Seriously, we’re diverting funds from TSA to pay down the national debt? That just screams Republican fiscal idiocy, doesn’t it? Republicans keep telling us that “debt is like slavery,” after all. Quit whining America and enjoy your three-hour TSA line. It’s just more freedom!

And gee, I can’t imagine why morale is low, what with folks like TN Rep. Marsha Blackburn constantly attacking TSA employees on everything from their uniforms and badges to alleging “pedophiles and child pornographers” are doing pat-downs.

I try to be nice to the TSA when I travel. They have a thankless job. And honestly, the last few times we’ve traveled, TSA has not been the problem. Our last three trips were to Seattle, New York City and San Francisco — all major international airports — and we changed in O’Hare, D.C., and Dallas. Again: TSA was not the problem. The problem was our airline. The last two times we traveled, there was a “mechanical malfunction” preventing our plane from even getting to the airport. The result was hours and hours and hours of waiting, eventual rebooking of flights, lots of angst and frustration, and a big chunk of our vacation time gone like a fart in the breeze.

TSA was not to blame. American Airlines was to blame. We were kept uninformed about the nature of the delays, instead given new departure updates every hour — only to see that departure time whoosh by just as it approached. Again. And again. Finally we were told our plane is still in Raleigh or wherever because of a mechanical failure (something they’d known from the get-go but hadn’t told us). And even though you’re at a fucking airport filled with planes, they can’t just pull a new one over to the gate. No, that would be too easy. They have to bring one in from somewhere else and that will happen in about three and a half hours and, oh, you’ve already been here for three hours? Sorry and thanks for flying American Airlines.

Seriously, fuck you people. The last time that happened (last month, actually, so yes, the anger is still very fresh) we were at LaGuardia airport, which is like a third world airport. There are literally no services in the American Airlines terminal once you get past TSA. You can’t score a beer or glass of wine, you can’t grab a sandwich. There’s an Au Bon Pain kiosk with cellophane-wrapped sandwiches and soft drinks and people that is it. You know, if you’re going to trap people in a gray linoleum hell for an entire day, at least give us some dang alcohol to soften the blow.

We were actually stuck there for five hours, when we could have been enjoying all that New York City has to offer, if only American Airlines had informed us that our flight was basically cancelled. But noooo. I eventually lost my cool, rebooked us on another flight that went through Washington D.C., whereupon we were ushered onto buses that took us to a different terminal. And helloooo paradise! This terminal was new, had bars, restaurants, air conditioning, there was even blue carpeting, people! I felt like a lost soul who had wandered into an oasis. I had no idea this wonderful place existed at LaGuardia airport. All my life, LaGuardia has been sterile gray linoleum, bags of Doritos, and not enough chairs.

Incidentally, a woman on our flight told us that the exact same “mechanical failure” thing had happened on her last four flights. Either the American Airlines fleet is in serious disrepair, or they’re just trotting out that excuse because they know passengers will accept a delay over a mechanical failure more easily than some other excuse.

Anyway, I’m done with air travel for now. The airlines need to get their shit together. We pay waaaay too much money for airline tickets to be dicked around because you can’t get the actual plane to the airport. I mean, I did my part: I showed up on time. I left enough time for security. I held up my end of the bargain. American Airlines, not so much.

Our next vacation is in August. We’re driving.

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Filed under air travel, American Airlines, travel, TSA

American Airlines Still Sucks

Dear American Airlines: please stop sucking. I’m really, really tired of you people sucking. Seven years ago I complained about how much you sucked and guess what: you still suck!

This trip we were stuck for four hours in an aisle with no window. I don’t mean we didn’t have a window seat, I mean the plane physically had no window on our aisle, something we did not know was even possible on a 737. I’ve certainly never seen such a thing before, but just to prove it, here’s a photo:

An aisle with no window!

I was very puzzled about why our row didn’t have a window. When I pointed it out to the flight attendant she looked at it and said, “Oh. Huh! Weird.” And walked away.

Not to sound petty, but four hours in a cramped cabin with no window was pretty excrutiating for me. But more to the point, I was unhappy that we paid the same for our windowless seat as we would have if we’d had a window. Seems like if you’re stuck in cargo you should at least get a discount. Even worse, when we picked our seats, the online diagram made no mention of the fact that these were windowless seats. Seems like that might be some information you’d want to share with your customers.

I’m still not sure why we didn’t have a window. Maybe someone in the airline biz can explain it to me. Via Twitter I was told that there is a ventilation/air conditioning duct on this part of the plane so it’s not possible to have a window here. That’s fine, but you’d think they’d have the ability to tell people this ahead of time.

But when I complained through their customer relations department, I got a very bizarre email that blamed “the economic realities of our business” and “competition” and low-cost carriers like JetBlue:

I regret the seat you were assigned did not have a window in that row. Unfortunately, the economic realities of our business just won’t allow us to make drastic cabin changes with regard to seating. Because of competition between all airlines, we must use each airplane as efficiently as possible. As low-cost carriers and other major airlines make use of all available space aboard their planes, we must be competitive and do the same.

OH. So in other words, I might as well fly a low-cost carrier because my experience is going to suck just as bad on American. Is that what you mean? Because that’s what you’re saying.

So, duly noted, folks. I’ll definitely keep that in mind for future air travel. After all, I have my own economic realities to take into consideration.

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Maybe It Will Trickle Down, Eventually

One aspect of the whole budget debacle raging in Washington right now is that Congress failed to fund the FAA. This means some 4,000 FAA workers have been laid off and air carriers are raking in millions in an unintentional federal “tax holiday” as the FAA’s revenue-raising authority expired. The FAA says it’s losing $30 million a day.

So, with air carriers no longer required to levy a federal tax, U.S. travelers should see a drop in ticket prices, right? Isn’t that what the righties are always telling us? That these burdensome federal taxes for things like the FAA are just passed on to the consumer, and if we lower these taxes and make the government smaller everything will miraculously get cheaper for consumers?

Um, yeah, not so much:

DALLAS (AP) – Airlines are tossing consumers aside and grabbing the benefit of lower federal taxes on travel tickets.

By Saturday night, nearly all the major U.S. airlines had raised fares to offset taxes that expired the night before.

That means instead of passing along the savings, the airlines are pocketing the money while customers pay the same amount as before.

American, United, Continental, Delta, US Airways, Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue all raised fares, although details sometimes differed. Most of the increases were around 7.5 percent.

The expiring taxes can total $25 or more on a typical $300 round-trip ticket. They died after midnight Friday night when Congress failed to pass legislation to keep the Federal Aviation Administration running.

That gave airlines a choice: They could do nothing — and pass the savings to customers — or grab some of the money themselves.

“We adjusted prices so the bottom-line price of a ticket remains the same as it was before … expiration of federal excise taxes,” said American spokesman Tim Smith. US Airways spokesman John McDonald said much the same thing — passengers will pay the same amount for a ticket as they did before the taxes expired.

And the airlines pocket the difference. Passing the savings on to consumers is so last century! No, when today’s titans of capitalism see a river of cash, they’re going to hoard it for themselves.

Anyone think this extra influx of cash will go towards things like “job creating”? Ha! Dream on! My money’s on this river of cash flowing directly into executive’s pockets. After all, American Airlines’ CEO saw his salary increase 11% last year, despite losing $471 million for the company. Talk about falling upwards! Yeah, I hate to be a cynic but anyone who thinks the airlines are going to let their windfall “trickle down” on the rest of us is delusional.

Mr. Beale and I had to travel to Los Angeles this weekend for an unexpected family situation (and that reminds me: this picture was taken of the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church of Pasadena). Because the trip was last minute, our tickets were quite expensive. I just checked my receipt and noticed we were charged $78.15 in taxes and fees per ticket. That’s more than $150 in taxes and fees, at least some of which were unnecessarily levied and amount to a fare increase by American. With the air carriers already gouging us over things like baggage fees, it frankly pisses me off.

For one thing, I’m going to ask American Airlines for a refund on these FAA taxes, which they’re just keeping for themselves. For another thing, this proves yet again that the righties’ belief that corporations will magically stop being greedy and discover some kind of benevolent bone for their customers is just delusional.

[UPDATE]:

I find this 2009 interview with American Airlines CEO Gerard Arpey extraordinarily ironic.

All about “suffering” and “confronting reality” and “government debt is bad” and “integrity” and “difficult choices,” meanwhile he diverts a river of cash that rightfully belongs to his customers and the American people straight to his company’s coffers. What an ass.

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Filed under American Airlines, corporations, taxes, travel

Doing The Safety Dance

Yesterday, Pam Spaulding over at Pandagon wondered if there are any 2008 travel war stories out there.

I’m sure she’ll get an earful from folks returning from Thanksgiving. I already blogged about the sucky treatment we got from American Airlines on our recent vacation to Costa Rica. The airline changed our flight out of Miami without notifying us, forcing us to miss a connector in country. So instead of taking a 20 minute flight from San Jose to Quepos, we had to hire a driver to take us over land, which with Costa Rica’s notoriously bad roads meant a four-hour-plus ordeal. American said because we didn’t book the San Jose-Quepos flight through them, they had fulfilled their obligation to us. Well guess what, assholes: you don’t fly to Quepos! Only two airlines do that, both Costa Rican.

I still get mad thinking about it.

But the worst part about traveling has to be the ridiculous exercise known as the Transportation Security Administration’s Security Check. Yes, I remember 9/11 and no, those ubiquitous “Threat Level: ORANGE” signs don’t make me tolerate it any better.

And it’s so much worse at American airports than those in Europe. Look, nobody makes you take your shoes off.

Nobody.

Thank God the Maxwell Smart of terrorists didn’t have an exploding pen, or we’d all have our writing implements confiscated at security. How stupid.

Returning from Costa Rica last week, we went through customs at Dallas-Ft. Worth. We had two carry-on bags full of souvenirs, hand-crafted items like clay masks and wooden bowls. When we’d purchased the items, the store clerk had carefully wrapped every item in paper to prevent breakage, and we’d just thrown the whole mess into a backpack. But we’d forgotten about two items: a small bottle of Lizano salsa, a wonderful spicy-sweet concoction that is a staple condiment of virtually every Costa Rican meal, and a Volcano snow globe we’d bought for my six-year-old niece.

After making it through customs, we’d sent our checked bags back on through, and then had to go through the whole TSA security check again to get to our gate. And that’s where we got into trouble.

I got stuck with a sour-faced TSA woman who had to unwrap every single item in the carry-on. When she got to the Lizano sauce she put it aside and snarled, “that’s not going anywhere.”

Then she unwrapped my niece’s volcano snow globe. She picked it up, admired it, turned it upside down.

“Cute,” she said.

She watched the little red sparklies meant to be lava float around inside the globe, then looked at me and said:

“This has water in it. It’s not going anywhere.”

I swear to God if she could have slipped it in her pocket she would have.

Our only choice was to “throw them away” or go back to ticket counter, check another piece of luggage, and go through the whole TSA nonsense again. For a bottle of Costa Rican salsa and a cheap plastic snow globe which cost $4, it wasn’t worth it.

If I’d had my wits about me, I would have reminded her that the liquid in this snow globe was less than 4 oz. I thought of it too late, trying to make sure that our two laptop computers made it back into our possession. I did wonder why she allowed my toiletries to go through–shampoo, lotions, etc.–but had a problem with my souvenirs. She didn’t even check that bag.

I am absolutely convinced that a child of a TSA worker in Texas is getting a volcano snow globe in his or her Christmas stocking this year.

Let’s face it, the whole point of the TSA safety dance is to inconvenience people as much as possible, thereby giving the appearance that something is being done to Keep Us Safe. I’m not buying it, though, and I suspect no one else is, either.

In Salon’s “Ask The Pilot” column a real, live airline pilot pleads with President-elect Obama:

Please, Mr. President, for the love of country, do something, anything, about the Transportation Security Administration.

The fundamental problem, discussed in this column many times, is the agency’s relentless fixation with the in-flight takeover scheme last perpetrated on Sept. 11, 2001; that is, the fallacy that physical weapons, rather than the element of surprise, were ultimately responsible for the hijackers’ successes on that day. In truth, the hijackers’ possession of box cutters was irrelevant — a deadly weapon can be fashioned from virtually anything, including many objects and materials found on planes — and for any number of reasons, none of which have anything to do with the confiscation of pointy objects at the concourse checkpoint, the 9/11 blueprint is all but off the table to a would-be saboteur.

Let’s face reality, folks. The ban on liquids and sharp objects is ridiculous at best, and potentially dangerous. People should be allowed to bring their own food and water on aircraft, especially as airlines are cutting back on such services and charging for such things.

The airlines and TSA are really sucking all of the fun out of travel. I’m still pissed that a TSA agent took my niece’s volcano snow globe, for no earthly reason.

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American Airlines Sucks

I’ll spare you the sordid details for now. Just trust me on this: American Airlines sucks. They’ve basically screwed us royally on our vacation, 36 hours before departure.

In discussing how much American Airlines sucks, Mr. Beale and I realized that American Airlines has sucked on pretty much every major vacation trip we’ve taken. We don’t travel all that often, and yet they’ve managed to ruin virtually every trip. What are the odds?

They sucked when we were stuck on the tarmac for four hours at DFW last November. They sucked when we flew from Italy to London to Chicago to Nashville, delayed every step of the way until finally, we arrived home so late we had to wait on the tarmac for someone to bring those rolling stairs out because BNA was closed and there was no one to open a gate for us.

And now here we are, 36 hours before leaving for vacation, and American Airlines has ruined it for us again. And we’re not even at the airport yet.

I’m really tired of you people sucking. You know who didn’t suck? Continental. I flew to Scandinavia with no troubles at all. I’ve been a loyal AA customer for over 20 years, frequent flyer club member, Gold status, yada yada. I’m tired of being treated like shit by American Airlines.

I’m finished with you. You suck.

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>Airline Travel Just Got Suckier

>Hey, American Airlines! Fuck you!

American Airlines to charge for checked baggage
[…]

Starting June 15 most American passengers must pay $15 for checking a single bag. That comes on top of the airline’s decision two weeks ago to charge $25 for a second bag.

Question: if you’re going to charge us to check our bags, do we get our money back when you lose them? Just wondering.

You know, it’s not like we have an option about traveling without luggage. Of course there are the exceptions, for instance American’s frequent-flyer club members, active duty military, and for items like child car seats. In fact, the whole thing is rather confusing (you can view the policy here.)

For everyone else, don’t think you can skirt this fee by carrying your baggage on board: the airlines already limit how much carry-on you can have, plus there’s that ridiculous dog-and-pony show the TSA makes us go through which technically bans liquids like shampoo and most cosmetics.

All of these extra fees for this or that just pisses people off. Look, it’s simple: just raise the cost of a plane ticket. I know you really, really want to put those full page ads in the newspaper advertising 15 glorious destinations for under $250 but when you leave off all the extra fees and surcharges and taxes, you’re just lying to your customers.

Air travel is bad enough these days, with the flight delays and security nonsense. Don’t treat us like we’re stupid.

On top of which, let me add, who’s the stupid one here? You people didn’t know that fuel was going to get more expensive? No one knew the world is running out of oil? The industry never saw this coming? You just started looking for alternative fuels three years ago?

Looks like someone is feeling the effects of their own bad business decisions.

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