American Failure

By Lloyd Graff

It is hard to run an airline, much less make any money doing it. On the other hand, it is hard to be as inept as American Airlines and still manage to be in business. 

My wife Risa and I had a firsthand view of American’s chaos over these past couple of days, trying to get home from a family get-together in Charlotte, North Carolina. We had flown down from Chicago on Thursday, our first visit in two years because of COVID-19. That trip went smoothly despite my vision and hearing issues, which make every plane trip a challenge. We employed a professional driver, Khalid Finley, who we have used many times for airport and medical adventures. It eliminates the parking expenses and other woes that make tough trips even more difficult. It also meant that a mishap that changed our itinerary from O’Hare to Midway would not mean an orphaned vehicle parked at O’Hare.

The not-unexpected cancellations occurred Sunday morning, about five hours before our plane home was scheduled to leave Charlotte. With no warning, we received an email announcing our flight was canceled. No reschedule. No explanation except “weather problems.” The airline did not say it was canceling more than 1,000 flights all over the country because of a few thunderstorms over Dallas on Saturday night.

One of the many aggravating things about American Airlines is that they are dreadfully understaffed and morale is low, which makes it hard for them to hire. They are also struggling with vaccination mandates, which enough employees rejected to make what has been long-term understaffing into a gigantic mess waiting to happen. Thunderstorms over American’s primary hub, Dallas, were the straw that broke the camel’s back, and management immediately went into retreat and cover-up mode.

American has taken in billions of dollars in taxpayer money in the last two years to stay afloat. All of the major airlines have taken money, but only American, one of the largest, seems so precarious.

My wife Risa and I didn’t care about American’s miseries.  We just wanted to get home as close to when we planned to as possible, with little trauma.

Forget about reaching a person at American by phone. That is a big part of their chaos. Everything is on a computer. We got the kind of computerized solutions you would expect. Fly to Washington, switch your plane which might not arrive, and hope to arrive in Chicago by midnight on Monday. Or fly to Kansas City and wait for a connection that might arrive Tuesday if you are lucky.

I suggested we try Southwest Airlines, which still has the great virtue of reachable, friendly, knowledgeable human beings working for them who are not in India or the Philippines. 

Southwest has reduced its schedule to Charlotte, which is why we ended up on American in the first place, but they still have a robust schedule out of Raleigh-Durham Airport. They had two seats left on Monday morning at 6:45 a.m., nonstop to Chicago. We took them, not knowing how we’d get to Raleigh, but knowing we would figure it out.

We considered renting a car but Amtrak had a 3-hour express train from Charlotte to Raleigh, leaving at 3 p.m. for $30 a person, senior fare special, and we thought that was the ticket. An Uber to a reasonable and nice Hilton Garden Hotel within 3 minutes from the airport made it ideal. 

Lloyd Graff takes an Amtrak train to Raleigh

All went smoothly. We arrived in Chicago at 8:00 a.m., and Khalid adjusted his schedule to pick us up at Midway. 

One glitch gives a good picture of the difference between American and Southwest. Risa’s brother used the computer to book our Southwest flight, and he booked Risa’s reservation under her maiden name, Levine. Risa changed it by calling Southwest Airlines, waiting a little while, during which we finished packing, and then explained the mistake to a pleasant, efficient woman who changed the reservation. 

The immense value of a human being, well-trained and used to solving problems, should never be forgotten.

Question: Do you have a travel horror story?

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5 thoughts on “American Failure

  1. Jeff

    Thanks to the Biden vaccination mandate, the life we used to have in the USA is under a constant threat – no garbage collection, not enough drivers for freight, not enough long shoremen, not enough pilots, not enough burger flippers on and on. Some people choose or prefer to not get the shot with enough conviction to quit their jobs. Once the mandate date really hits – it will only get worse. Our congress and leadership does not worry about the average American – they are fine in their private jets living their plush lives. The approval ratings for this president may hit single digits before they are done using him up as a political pawn. Travel is just one small sliver of the problems ahead.

    1. Mike B

      Please direct your frustration to the irresponsible and selfish idiots that won’t get vaccinated.
      The president is trying to save all American peoples lives even the “average ones” by the only means available.
      The only way the we get over Covid is thru vaccinating as many people as possible.

      1. Howard R

        Mike B,

        Why is congress and senate not mandated to get vaccinated?

        “Biden’s vaccine requirements were issued in the form of an executive order – directives that apply only to the executive branch. Congress is the legislative branch, and thus, is not subject to the order. ” USA Today fact check. From a left news paper

        Rules for thee but not me. Enjoy your cool aid!!

  2. KimG

    My travel horror story: We were flying from LA to Budapest through New York for a wedding one summer. When we boarded in LA all was fine, but a summer storm in NY kept us from being able to land there. We circled around Pennsylvania for a while before being forced to land there. There on the tarmac we waited in the plane until finally the storm cleared in NY. Because it was so backed up there, they had to let all the planes leave NY before more could land, so off went our connecting flight to Budapest.

    After 6 hours on the tarmac, we were finally cleared to take off and continue to NY. We arrived there around midnight and were “lucky” to get an expensive airport hotel, and just barely get a meal before the kitchen closed for the night. (We had left LA at dawn and weren’t given much food on the plane.)

    We were able only able to fly out a day later, which unfortunately was too late to make the wedding though we did manage to see the happy couple during our trip.

    I had always worried about winter storms being an issue when traveling through certain cities, but never imagined an August storm would wreck such havoc.

  3. Steve+Krom

    Just got back from a six day trip to Denver from Seattle to see our first grandchild. We flew Delta (Westjet) feeder airline. Our flights left on time and arrived early without a hitch. I’ve been very loyal to Alaska here but felt the service was worth flying again. Not all was well with Westjet a couple of weeks ago when their tech system fell apart which meant hundreds of their flights were cancelled. Our son’s father-in-law had to drive 13 hours back from Yellowstone to Denver during that collapse. Not wanting to brave the skies during the holiday period. Just happy being home and using Zoom to see the kids.


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