I had a very bad experience with American Airlines last week. I needed to get from San Antonio, Texas, to Meridian, Mississippi, on Monday, August 14th, so that I could present a workshop in Livingston, Alabama, at 7:45 AM on Tuesday morning. If you want to read in detail about how the typical bad luck of weather delays combined with less-than-stellar American Airlines procedures to create a horrendous travel day, you can do that over here. The short version is:
Because of delays, I had to haul tail in order to catch a flight at DFW after landing from SAT.
We had to deplane the DFW to Laurel to Meridian flight because an instrument panel light came on while on the runway.
The DFW crew/gate agents didn’t give updates from 12:30 – 4:00 on the delayed flight.
At 4:00 I finally asked to be transferred to a 4:30 flight to Jackson so that I could make it to Mississippi by that evening.
My gate-checked carry-on rollerboard and my checked two boxes of books for my presentation were stuck on that delayed flight.
Because my $55 rental car reservation from Meridian had to be switched to Jackson, my rental jumped to $230.
Because my carry-on was stuck on the delayed (later cancelled) flight because they wouldn’t let us deplane with our gate-checked luggage, I had to lay out some cash to get a suit and clean undergarments.
Some genius at American Airlines dropped my return flight from my reservation.
I had to spend an hour on the phone with American when I finally got to Meridian in order to find my bags and get my return flight reinstated.
The following Travel Lessons Learned will make complete sense if you read the details in the longer version, but I think you’ll still be able to understand these tips:
Know all of your options. While the gate agents in San Antonio were fantastically helpful, their computers are limited to flight information. (And if you read my saga, you know that all of my fellow passengers at DFW were on their own for figuring out how to get a flight out.) Your phone has access to maps, drive times, and the almighty Google for research. Use it. Your problem-solving skills might be your only way out.
Find a larger “personal item” bag for carry-on. When I travel overseas, I use a rollerboard for my clothing and a backpack which holds all of my toiletries, chargers, reading materials, itinerary, and one complete extra outfit. But the backpack doesn’t fit my laptop, and it doesn’t look professional. I had to buy very few items at the mall that I truly needed. If I could’ve fit those in my “personal item” bag, then my rollerboard would’ve been purely presentation materials. I have a back-up plan for when I have zero materials, so a missing rollerboard on presentation day would no longer be as big a deal. Or, I could just stick to flying into metropolitan areas and then renting a car to drive to smaller cities. This would prevent flying on a “puddle jumpers” – smaller planes that don’t have room for carry-on rollerboards, hence the need to gate-check.
Save your bag claim tickets. When you check luggage, you should receive a receipt with the bag tag numbers. But many people don’t tear off the little stub on their gate-check luggage tag. They just slap the tag on their rollerboard handle and leave it at the gate-check or valet-check drop off. The number from that little stub allowed American Airlines to eventually get my bag back to me.
Get that delayed baggage report filed ASAP. Based on what happened to me, I know that technically you can file a report when you’re not at an airport, plus I was never given those instructions by the two different airport employees I talked to. But now that I’m aware of the process, I’ll get that report filed ASAP – if I ever check any luggage again.
Label all of your luggage. When I was filing my delayed baggage report, the rep asked if I had my name and address on a tag on my rollerboard. “Why would I have that on my carry-on bag?” I asked. Silly me. You never know when an airline will take and hold onto your carry-on, so you should label every bag you have with your name, address and phone number. (This is of course a given for checked luggage.) Fortunately, I had a brightly colored tag with my first name and an identifying ribbon so that American could verify it was my bag.
Don’t make a client’s emergency yours. When the client called with a last minute request to bring 90 extra books, I should’ve quoted the client the cost for express shipping books over to them. I would’ve had less struggle at the San Antonio airport (the boxes were 46 and 33 pounds), and I would not have had to check any luggage. (I haven’t checked luggage since 2004 in order to avoid hassles. Go figure.) I don’t have to be lousy with customer service and say, “I really don’t feel like being inconvenienced, so, no, I’m not going to break my back to schlep these books around.” Instead, I’d need to phrase it as, “This is the earliest that I can get the books to you, and this is how much the shipping will cost.”
Never fly American Airlines again. Or is that too harsh? After all, I wasn’t beat up like that United Airlines passenger, and I wasn’t bumped from a flight to give someone else a seat. We all make mistakes, and no one’s customer service or job performance is perfect. Maybe I expect too much?
Get compensated. I was told by a fellow delayed passenger that when you file a complaint with American Airlines, they’ll usually give you at least a few miles as an apology. I shared the less narrative version of this saga with American Airlines. If they’d not strung us along at DFW, all of the passengers could’ve gotten their luggage back (at least the valet-checked bags) in a timely manner and transferred to other flights. If they had more adept employees, my phone call would’ve only taken ten minutes instead of an hour. My compensation was 12,500 points – not exactly enough for a round-trip ticket out of state.
As much as I fly, I’m very lucky that this is the only truly bad experience that I’ve had. Hopefully American Airlines will do more than just hand out apology points. If they really do care about customer service, they’ll use this as a case study to improve employee performance.