Tuesday, September 25, 2007

American—The Airline That Never Fails to Disappoint

Another week on the road, and as much as I hate to fly American Airlines, I had little choice this week when it came to booking a multi-city ticket to travel to AUGI CAD Camps in Indianapolis, Indiana and Tulsa, Oklahoma. After leaving my home in Bellingham nearly 30 minutes past my failsafe departure time, I drove madly down I-5 to get to Seatac Airport in time for my 1:40pm American Airlines flight to Chicago, with a connection on to Indianapolis.

I used my frequent flyer privilege to get through the airport security line in record time, bought a pre-wrapped sandwich to eat on the plane, and dashed to the boarding gate, only to discover that the flight was delayed due to a mechanical problem, which supposedly was being repaired. However, after sitting in the boarding gate for nearly an hour, the very nice gate agent announced the flight was being cancelled.

When I went up to the kiosk, she confided that this was the second consecutive day that this flight had been cancelled due to mechanical problems. I suggested that American Airlines needed to purchase some newer equipment, since the airline undoubtedly has some of the oldest planes still in service. She replied that she may have to look for another job, because her current employer was definitely having problems. After my previous experience with AA last spring (see my various postings from last April, in particular "How Do You Spell Incompetent"), I couldn’t disagree with her.

She was able to rebook me on a United Airlines flight leaving two hours later, with a connection that would get me to Indianapolis around 1:30am. That still sounded better than a red-eye, so I accepted her offer. I made my way to the Alaska Airlines Boardroom, which has become a much-used haven for me at Seatac Airport. If you’re a frequent flyer, I highly recommend that you join your favorite airline’s club room.

I booted up my computer and logged onto Kayak.com, my favorite travel site, to see if there were any other flights that might get me to Indianapolis any earlier. It turned out that the American gate agent had indeed found me the best flights.

After a brief stay in the Boardroom, I rode the tram out to the north satellite and got a boarding pass for my United Airlines flight. I tried to purchase a first class upgrade, reasoning that the money would be well spent in exchange for comfort and a decent meal enroute, but the first class cabin was already full. So I resolved myself to the fact that I’d spend the next four hours in a cramped middle seat.

The flight passed quickly thanks to my having brought my own portable DVD player and a selection of movies, since the video system on the United 757 was broken. I was also glad that I had purchased food before boarding the flight, since United’s only food offering was a bag of pretzels.

The only bright spot in the day’s travels was the Embraer 170 aircraft between Chicago and Indianapolis. It was comfortable and roomy compared to the cramped confines of the United 757—a very pleasant surprise.

Now, after the first event of the week, I am off to Tulsa for the next CAD Camp, and back on American Airlines. AA’s commuter airline partner is still using the much smaller (and incredibly cramped) Embraer 145. I have to gate check my small carry-on suitcase and the gate agent is giving me doubtful looks that my computer bag can be compressed enough to fit under the seat in front of me. I already know from past experience that it won’t fit in the miniscule overhead bin. At least the flight is only 35 minutes, followed by a second 90 minute flight in an identical Embraer 145 from St. Louis on to Tulsa.

But then, I don’t expect anything more than this from American Airlines, the airline that never fails to disappoint.

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