Two Wrongs Make a Flight: Fallout from the American-US Airways Merger

The American Airlines customer service desk at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

The American Airlines customer service desk at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

I arrive in Austin, TX for an 8:05 flight to Dallas, with a connecting flight leaving for Boston at 11:20. Nothing major.  Just one connection flight.  I get to the terminal with about 40 minutes to spare. Having time, and being famished from another late night, and a cumulative hangover compounded over the course of a five day bacchanalia, I decided that it was time for a greasy breakfast sandwich.  The 5-day hiatus from business as usual: the bachelor party of a distinguished associate whose name will remain anonymous.  We had the good fortune of having “Knoxville” at our disposal; i.e., Johnnie Knoxville’s former digs in Austin.  Yes, it was like one ridiculously pimp man-cave, with shuffle board, ping pong, billiards, and a deck overlooking Congress Street.  Anyway, back to my less than stellar flight experience.  So I finish my breakfast sandwich and proceed to the gate with a few minutes to spare before boarding.  There is a line collecting in front of the gate.  Presumably, it’s time to board. Oh, what’s that?  There’s an hour delay.  No big deal.  I’ll make my connection, no problem.  I sit and catch up on five days of sleep deprivation.  Falling in and out of an unsatisfactory nap characteristic of the early AM flight hangover variety.  The clerk at the AA counter announces that the plane will be delayed for another hour, so I decide to wait in line to ask what the deal is, and change my 11:20 connection.  After waiting for about 30 minutes to speak with the ticketing clerk, I find out that the flight will be delayed for another 35 minutes. Departure time: 10:35.  The conversation with the ticketing clerk goes as follows:

Me:  I have an 11:20a.m. connection to Boston that I’m likely going to miss, so I need to make a change my flight.

Clerk: We’re sorry about the inconvenience. Let me see what we have…I have a 12:40 leaving Dallas for Boston.  I’ll put you on that flight. I can book you on the 5:45 as well, just in case, but I don’t think that’ll be necessary.

Me: Are you sure? I’m just a little worried that I’ll miss my connection.

Clerk: You’ll make your connection easily. The plane will leave Austin at around 10:35, so you’ll be in Dallas with about an hour to spare.

At this point, I’m reassured.  I won’t have to go through one of those aviation fiascoes that I’ve heard about from friends and family (my brother was once holed up in a motel by US Airways in the ghetto of Dallas).  We board the plane on schedule.  Everything is seemingly copacetic.  I neglected to keep one important factor in mind: American Airlines had just merged with US Airways.  It’s the equivalent of a Fung Wah-Lucky Star merger, but of course, they’re not flying planes through the air at 40,000 feet and their bathrooms are noticeably cleaner.  Upon boarding, there is a man standing in front of my aisle seat.  I ask him to excuse me. He is talking with a man behind me at the window.  Apparently, they had been booked with the same seat number.  The stewardesses shuffle frantically around the cabin without any clear resolution.  The guy standing in front of me apologizes for having to stand in front of my seat.  I tell him not to worry, American Airlines is like a box of chocolates, except you’re pretty much assured of what you’re going to get and it doesn’t taste anything like chocolate.  So I guess it’s nothing like a box of chocolates.  It’s more like a cattle drive.  After about 20 minutes of musical chairs, the stewardess finds a seat for the man standing in the aisle.  As chance would have it, it’s the seat that the man at the window had booked initially.  At this point the man seated at the window is pretty exasperated.  He tells the stewardess, “Just give him my seat.”  The man who was once standing next to my aisle seat proceeds to an emergency exit seat.  A seat that the man at the cramped window seat must have paid a premium for.  Soon after this is resolved the Captain makes an announcement:

“Good morning ladies and gentleman.  It appears that the maintenance technician has lost the flight logbook and we can’t do crosscheck until that has been completed. We’ll get you all out of here as soon as possible.”

A man reading the Wall Street Journal in the adjacent aisle seat crumples his broadsheet and says, “This is unbelievable. Unbelievable.”  The boat-shoed man glowers and continues reading his WSJ.  It was as though one of Peter Sellers’ slap-stick incarnations was manning the plane.  At this point I notice that a man wearing an orange reflective safety vest is in the cockpit.  Time ticks off the clock. We get in the air at about 11:45a.m.  Now I have less than an hour until my connection.  We land in Dallas at 12:40p.m. and I exit the plane.  An AA rep wearing a vest with “flair” (of the Office Space variety) barks out departure gates to hurried passengers.  I tell him I’m on the 12:40 to Boston. He says, “Take the Skylink to A23. You should make it.”  At this point I start running through the airport like OJ Simpson in this old-school Hertz commercial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W1hnR3kLwo). I get to the gate short of breath only to see that the destination had changed.  I missed my flight.  I tell the clerk that I need to be rebooked.  Our conversation goes as follows:

Clerk: You’re on standby for the 5:45 to Boston.

Me: This is pretty ridiculous.  The ticket clerk in Boston was going to book me on the 5:45, but he said that I would make my connection without a problem.

Clerk: I’m sorry there’s nothing I can do.

Me: Well, can you tell me where I am in line?

Clerk: You’re…1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 on the list.

Me: So what’s the likelihood that I’m going make my flight?

Clerk: I’m really not sure, but I can tell you that flights are routinely delayed, so your chances are pretty good that other passengers will miss their connection.

I leave the ticket counter a bit dumbfounded by the conversation.  What kind of airline employee tells you that you’re likely to make a standby flight because their flights are routinely delayed?  Answer: American Airlines.  At that time I was getting pretty pissed, so a trip to the customer service desk was in the offing.  Shocking!  The customer service desk had been deserted (see the photo above).  The gate was about 50 yards away, so I proceed to the gate.  I tell the clerk about the delays, the seating problem, and the missing maintenance logbook.  She says in a noticeably cavalier way, “I heard about the logbook. I know, it’s pretty ridiculous.”  She then proceeds to agree with me that AA is notorious for just this type of situation.  You know things are pretty bad when a service-sector employee tells you that mismanagement is par for the course.  I mention the US Airways merger and she, without hesitation, says that it hasn’t made matters better.  I wait in what appears to have been a reclaimed smoking lounge by my gate.  At least a dozen distraught AA customers wait for boarding.  I ask the employee working the desk, Joseph Flemons, what the likelihood is that I’m going to make my flight.  He looks at me with a look like I somehow inconvenienced him by even asking the question.  He says, “I don’t know.” I ask, “How far am I down the list?”  Flemons, “You’ll see your name come up on the screen.”  Clearly, he easily could have just told me, but he seemed to have zero interest in manning the desk, as though he had been dealing with distraught passengers all day.  The day in the life of an AA employe.  It seemed very disconnected from the cheery multi-ethnic visages of the employees in the new commercial announcing the beginning of the American Airline-US Airways nexus.  In the commercial, the narrator says:

“To be greater than expected, and more than you hoped for. So starting now we’re beginning a new chapter. One written in passion and skill. Ambition and sweat. One where two companies take the best of themselves to create something better. And when all is said and done, we’ve not only become a bigger airline, but also something so much greater. So let’s introduce ourselves to the world. Not again, but for the very first time. The new American is arriving.”

One written in passion and skill?  It was certainly not being showcased in terminal A.  I was tempted to quote the entire commercial here as every sentence was more ludicrous than the last.  If it were a Super Bowl commercial, it would indubitably be the most hilarious commercial in the broadcast.  To take it seriously is about as ridiculous as when Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne (Dumb and Dumber) sob during a phone company commercial in their Hotel Danbury Presidential suite.  Seriously, watch it for yourself (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68xF-j9h6us)

Sadly, this wasn’t the end of the debacle.  The time had come to board the plane.  As my boarding the plane now seemed as likely as beating Usain Bolt in the 100 meter, I decided to visit the AA desk and speak with the employee that had just arrived.  I asked if there were a supervisor at the terminal with whom I could speak.  She told me that has was “wandering” around terminal A and that I should be able to find him if I look for an AA employee wearing a vest.  I then asked her if it was possible to page him since there were only 15 minutes left to board.  She said that she would try.  Soon after telling AA that I’m going to write about my lackluster experience they tell me that I’m the last passenger to be ticketed.  Pissed off patrons surrounded the desk.  I didn’t want to leave without the name of the supervisor, as I was interested in asking what “the new American” meant to him.  The agent who was admittedly sweet, said “His name is Koeeke.  I’m not sure how it’s pronounced.”  I replied, “What’s his first name?” Flemons interrupted, “We’re not supposed to give out the name of supervisors. You’ll just have to go through our website at AA.com.”  Thanks, so I can talk to a customer service rep in Bangalore.  Awesome.  Something special indeed was in the air.  The problem: it smelled like a Taco Bell bathroom.

Here are some AA and US Air slogans I came across that more accurately reflect, “The new American”:

“Something leveraged in the air.”

“Two wrongs make a flight.”

“We’re in chapter eleven, and it shows!”

“Misery loves company”

And my personal favorite, “Be advised, our pilots always carry less than $20.”

Email me with your favorite US Air-AA slogans and stories, and best of luck to you if you happen to fly the friendly skies.

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