Leaving America(n)

The summer of 2016 is only halfway through and it’s already been a long, hot, miserable one with the airlines. From July 5 to July 19, between us Chris and I were on four American Airlines flights, with miserable results and all of them resulting in cancellations. One of the flights for Chris was cancelled due to “excessive air traffic” – and he was thereafter rescheduled on a non-direct flight to his destination. The first leg of the flight sat on the runway for hours and then got to the first stop late; the last connecting flight the night to the original destination, had left 5 minutes earlier. After not paying for overnight accommodations, American then re-booked Chris on a flight the following day not from Charlotte, NC to Washington DC, but from Charlotte, NC to Charleston, SC and then on to Washington DC. A fair amount of negotiating ensued with American and eventually Chris made it to DC, albeit the day after he should have been there.

I had worse luck with a flight out of Philadelphia, PA and a flight out of Birmingham, AL – both of which were cancelled due to “maintenance problems.” At least the one from Birmingham cancelled after two hours of delay so that more time wasn’t wasted waiting at the airport. The one from Philadelphia was a different story – over 5 hours of delay over claimed maintenance issues before the flight was cancelled at midnight. Not a high water moment for American.

The irony of this is that the pilots, flight attendants and gate personnel are pleasant and try to keep their cool, but it’s clear that they also wonder what is going on with American’s fleet. As one of them said, shrugging his shoulders when asked by the passengers what is happening, “This happens all the time and we don’t get any information either.” The other dichotomy is that the airlines are losing business – Q2 results released in July 2016 show that nearly every airline is short of earnings expectations and worried about losing passengers due to delays, equipment issues, and travel concerns overall about terrorism. Yet if the airlines wanted to make flying more friendly, they couldn’t seem to find a better way to do just the opposite.

So this may be the end of the line for us with American – bad weather is one thing to cause delays. Bad product and lack of care about what you provide in service within your control is another. We’re already loyal United fliers and have far fewer issues there (fingers crossed!); American is our back-up airline for travel to places where there are no other direct-route options and time is valuable. But rather than being re-routed to Charlotte (one of the true nadirs in airports in the US) and suffering there, we may start considering less expensive, albeit non-direct flights on Delta through Atlanta.

Don’t get me wrong – maintenance for safety reasons is important. But don’t be too sure that the announcement that an aircraft is “in maintenance” always means that the issue is a safety-related one. Did you ever notice you don’t often get an explanation beyond “maintenance”?  According to www.thepointsguy.com it could just be a coffeemaker issue, and American is the leading culprit on that front. The Points Guy: The Ridiculous Thing That’s Delaying Flights – If it’s come to that, we may as well give up and start staying home.

-Laura Flippin, Travel Blogger

Would You Do It?

One of my favorite travel blogs, The Points Guy, recently ran an article about the – surprising widespread – occurrence of one family member (usually the dad/husband) traveling in first class while the others (mom/wife and kids) travel in coach. You can find the article at http://thepointsguy.com/2016/07/first-class-with-spouse-and-kids-in-coach/

The article is surprisingly retro, making the point that most of these trips involve the husband, as the bread-winner in the family, being the one with enough status or a company willing to pay for business travel – and the family merely getting the dregs because they are lucky enough to have dad purchase a coach ticket for them. From where I sit in the front of the aircraft, this is both false and disturbing. First, I know plenty of women whose travel either includes business/first class travel paid for by their employers and/or earns more enough frequent flier miles than their husbands. I also know very few people – of either gender – who would stick their spouse and kids in economy while they traveled in first class on the same plane.

Chris and I are traveling to London for holiday in a few weeks with the kids, and finding a flight with seats together in business class was not easy. At one point, the airline agent I was working with at United suggested that the kids could be seated in coach and Chris and I could fly business/first class, as that was a configuration she could easily find on various flights. My surprise must have been obvious, as she responded: “I guess you’re not a family that does that?” I explained that part of the fun for us is the trip (yes, even with 14 year-old boys) – getting to talk about whatever awful movie we are watching, what we see when we fly over different places, and even debating what in the world possessed the airline to determine that “”bouillabaisse” was a good idea for an entrée with your meal. If we sit separately, we miss that. It also makes the boys feel like they are second-class (literally). Well, that and one of the boys is 6’2” already at his age – so coach would further be cruel and inhumane for him and his legs.

I am NOT suggesting that if you do not have the money or the miles to spend that flying coach is unacceptable; I have flown and continue to fly plenty of long-haul flights in coach. But if you have the miles or the funds, it seems ridiculous to put some of the family in coach and some in first/business. This summer, after much wrangling and several calls with the airlines, we’re cashing miles to fly everyone in business – albeit with a little more indirect route from Houston to London rather than Chicago to London. On the upside, that means we are flying the 787 Dreamliner, and everyone (me included) is pretty excited about that.  And, yes we are flying on my miles –I earn a lot during the year for business travel, and I’m happy to use them for vacations. 

For more thoughts – and even rage! – on this topic, check out the comments section of the TPS article.

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