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.
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?