Why Airlines Suck

The story of American Airlines Flight 1233 on June 12 is basically the same old story. A flight from Dallas to Bradley International was diverted to Boston by thunderstorms and the passengers were abandoned for hours with no information about how they would get home.

We’ve all heard some variation of this tale 100 times. It happens regularly in an industry that, with few exceptions, can no longer muster the resources, the decency or the compassion to take care of its own customers.

The pilots and flight attendants of Flight 1233 left me and 150 or so other passengers, including infants and elderly people, at Logan International Airport at 1:15 a.m. on June 13 with a vague promise of a bus in the morning and instructions to talk to the ticket agents when they arrived at 3:30 a.m. While we gathered in the chilly baggage claim area, the crew got on a hotel shuttle bus and left.

Passengers of Flight 1233, feeling like unclaimed baggage.

When the ticket counter opened hours later, the American employees told us they had no idea a flight had been diverted and told us to wait for a supervisor. Then they quite literally turned their backs on us for another hour.

Finally, at 4:30 a.m., an AA supervisor named Ricardo arrived to take charge. He said he had not been informed that a packed 737 had been diverted to Logan. He found out about it when we passengers told him, four hours after the decision to divert was made.

Ricardo got blankets for those of us who had shivered overnight in the chilly baggage claim area. He arranged a bus and a couple of taxis, which arrived around 6 a.m., and he sent us on to Bradley. He did, in short, all the things that American Airlines should have done many hours earlier.

Meanwhile, many passengers were no longer AA’s problem. Some paid a shuttle driver $50 to take them to Bradley around 2:30 a.m. Others called relatives to drive all the way out to Logan to pick them up.

So it appeared that AA had to transport about only half the passengers, although some may have returned from hotels later in the morning looking for help. If ignoring your customers is now American Airlines policy, it paid off in that sense.

I understand that as airline horror stories go, this one really doesn’t rate. It was, in fact, rather routine.

And that’s the problem. That’s why airlines suck — not so much because they sometimes screw up in spectacular ways but because they no longer care if they screw up all the time.

It was that attitude which prompted the Department of Transportation to set a three-hour limit on tarmac delays. (As one fellow passenger remarked, if AA had kept us on the plane for five hours “they’d be Tasering me by now.”) And it’s the reason DOT is now proposing more regulations, including some on keeping passengers informed about flight delays and diversions.

I’ll concede that my fellow passengers and I endured a screw-up of relatively minor dimensions. What angered us was that most of what we endured was not necessary. It was not caused by the weather and the diversion, but by the callousness of the airline and the airport.

Over and over again, airline passengers have made it clear that they just want information in these situations. We want to know what the plan is so we can make informed decisions.

How hard would it have been to keep one employee awake to take care of our problem? If no bus was available at 12:30 a.m., when the decision to divert was made, how hard would it have been to announce that a bus would be available at 6 a.m., which would have allowed us to find hotels and return then? How hard would it have been to find the blankets at 1 a.m. instead of 5 a.m.?

Apparently it was all too hard for AA and Logan to bother with.

Yes, let’s not forget Logan, which hardly did better for us than AA did. While some workers, presumably from Logan, distributed cots around 2 a.m., there was no other attempt to help us. To make matters worse, we were trying to sleep through a constant barrage of very loud promotional announcements asking us to shop at Logan. When I asked a worker whether someone could turn the announcements down, he laughed and suggested I call 911 if I didn’t like it.

It was snotty, but revealing. If it’s not an emergency, Logan, the Massachusetts Port Authority and their employees don’t care. A policy of turning down the announcements when there are exhausted, stranded passengers trying to sleep would make lots of sense. But why bother?

And that’s why airports suck, too.


4 thoughts on “Why Airlines Suck

    1. Jeanne Leblanc Post author

      I imagine we won’t get anything. The days of “sorry for your inconvenience” and a $500 voucher seem to be long gone. But I do hope the airline reimburses those passengers who paid $50 to take the shuttle.

  1. Don

    Interesting how so many flight crews will invoke “passenger safety” when defending their rigid enforcement of rules on seat backs, tray tables, carry-ons stowed underneath the next seat, electronics (even noise-canceling headphones) being off, no “service items” during approaches or soon after takeoffs … yet when they’re confronted with a real opportunity to ensure passenger safety, this crew high-tailed it to the company-paid hotel.


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