Last week, Jeff and I went to Our Lucaya Resort/Westin-Grand Bahama on an all-expenses paid trip--a reward to Jeff and a number of other of our work colleagues for a job well-done. The resort was lovely--a palm-shaded oasis from the stresses of the day-to-day work world:
But first, we had to GET there.
And, since our flight was booked on American Airlines, that was no simple feat.
A delay due to mechanical issues, I can live with. It happens. And I surely want the plane to be in tip-top mechanical order before I sit my kiester down in one of its cramp-inducing seats for a flight to anywhere. I can even forgive a delay that extends for four hours, ensuring that everyone with a connecting flight or a cruise to meet in Miami is hosed for the day. What I can't forgive is the perfect storm of ineptitude and rudeness that characterized nearly every single interaction or attempted interaction with an American Airlines employee throughout the more than 24 hours it took us to get to Freeport.
It all began in the line for security check, after we had obtained our boarding passes from a kiosk. I noticed that the time of departure on my pass had changed from 11 to 1. Hmmm. So had Jeff's. I did some quick math in my head--always taxing for someone as math-impaired as I--and even I could figure out that we wouldn't make our connection. What to do? Return to the long ticket line at the international counter? Or head to the gate and settle the matter there? Not one to tolerate long lines much, we decided to go to the gate.
Where there was no gate agent in evidence. The flight being, now, four hours in the future. (Yes, we're those goofballs who take them at their word when they say to arrive two hours early for your international flight.)
So, we go in search of one of the "Rebooking Centers" touted on big canvas banners strung over the throngs of travelers in H and K concourses. We go to H first.
No agent. Three red rotary desk phones. Not only are they not hooked up to a phone jack, the handsets are not even attached to the phones.
On to K concourse.
Where we find the same situation--almost. Here there is ONE operational phone, and line of folks waiting to use it. From the conspicuous way they are checking their watches and sighing, it appears that the person currently on the one phone has been there for, well, a while.
We try one of the red courtesy phones located at intervals along the concourse walls. Actually, we try just about every one we pass on our way back to L concourse, where our gate is. The convenient signs next to the phones instruct us to press "44," upon which we get a busy signal. Every single time.
Then we see it! A banner with an 800 number to call for rebooking, placed above an abandoned gate area. I guess it was just too logical to place these banners AT the completely useless "Rebooking Centers," huh? But, any port in a storm. I bite. I call. I learn that yes, there is a later flight to Freeport this evening, but it is booked solid. Hmmm. No doubt but all of those folks talking to booking agents and causing us to get a busy signal on every red courtesy phone in O'Hare have skunked us in our quest to sit on a Caribbean beach and sip rum-splashed girl-drinks this evening. The friendly phone agent can book us on the 11:35 out of Miami tomorrow morning, though. That's the best she can do. She can't promise anything about a hotel, but not to worry--our luggage will be waiting for us in Miami.
You win some, you lose some.
After a while, an agent shows up at L10 and starts fielding questions. Now, this gal was the one nice person we talked to during this whole ordeal. She told us that since it was a mechanical delay, it was American's fault. That meant they would foot the bill for the hotel, dinner, and breakfast in Miami. We settled in with magazines and books, and eventually we found ourselves winging our way to south Florida.
Where a fresh hell awaited.
We were told that a gate agent would meet us and lead us to the proper place for hotel and meal vouchers... but of course there was no one at the gate. People started lining up at the nearest counter, where a frazzled, harried employee--who obviously didn't sign up for combat duty--got trapped for a couple of hours trying to sort things out. By the time she got to us, she was snapping and spitting... but trying very hard not to. I actually felt kind of sorry for her. Until she informed us that gee! I was booked on the 11:35 tomorrow, but Jeff was not.
Oh, no problem. I've got him on standby.
That's when I turned into queen bitch of Cathy-World. Not ranting and raving, mind you. None of that. Slowly, with a measured voice just oozing barely suppressed rage and obvious disdain, I informed this woman that if she could not take care of this, I wanted to see her supervisor.
"She's busy," snapped the agent.
"Cowering in the back, leaving you to the pissed off victims of American Airlines' efficient and friendly service, huh?" I asked. And informed her that we were not budging until the problem was fixed.
Several phone calls later, she said she was sure he'd get on the flight, but she "pulled strings" to double book me on the 3:00 p.m. flight--the flight he WAS confirmed on--just in case he didn't. I got a boarding pass. Jeff got a standby pass. Well, I have to hand it to her, she did appear to be advocating for us with whatever tight-ass "tell them I can't do anything" type she managed to reach on these phone calls, if indeed there really WAS anyone on the other end. I wouldn't put anything past American Airlines.
We finally made our way to baggage claim, only to find that our bags were on their way to Freeport... at least, we hoped that was where they were headed.
That's when I yelled at the baggage claim guy. I'm not proud of that--after all, HE didn't personally send our bags winging to Grand Bahama--but I had HAD it.
Now... at the hotel, we found out that American Airlines regularly pays for around hundred guests per night--American Airlines refugees all. You would think that with such a track record, American Airlines would have a SYSTEM down for dealing with stuff like this. But obviously, they do not. The desk clerk at the hotel summed it up nicely: "That's why I never fly American Airlines. Ever."
By the way, the hotel gift shop was open until 11:00 p.m. nightly, doing a land-office business in underwear, socks, and Miami t-shirts, as well as deodorant, mouthwash, etc., etc. The hotel graciously provided us, the luggage-less, with toothbrushes and toothpaste packets. They had the drill down so well that they even had a special menu in the bar where American Airlines orphans could choose one of three voucher-worthy entrees. [sarcasm] Yum! [/sarcasm]
Fast forward to the next day, when we show up two and a half hours before our flight only to find that the line for international flights extends through a Disneyland-esque maze and out all the way down the hallway to the next terminal. Clearly, two hours is not going to be enough...we start to despair of ever getting to the Bahamas, and consider, seriously, just getting back on the next plane to Chicago and chucking the whole thing in. Then we overhear that there is another line for folks who don't have any baggage to check!
Oh joy! Because our bags are (supposedly) already in Freeport, we can go in the other line! Thank you Mr. Baggage Claim guy, and sorry--so sorry--I told you to go fuck yourself!
Now, it takes us some searching and some pestering of several o, so pleasant American Airlines passenger wranglers (let's just say Ilsa of the SS would be perfect for this job), but we soon find ourselves at the counter... and lo and behold... Jeff is confirmed on the flight!! Things are looking up.
At the gate, we meet Jeff's boss (who is also being honored on this trip) and her two daughters--her guests--who--get THIS!--THOUGHT they had been booked on the flight, but are now on the standby list themselves. Wonder of wonders, they DO get on--all three of them--and we wing our way over the azure Atlantic for the short hop to Grand Bahama. And wonder of wonders... our luggage IS waiting for us!
The day is lovely. A soft, cool breeze keeps the humidity down and the temperature balmy. We learn that tropical storm Barry made its way over Grand Bahama yesterday evening, right about the time our original flight was supposed to be en route from Miami. Apparently, it was scary. Scary Barry. The resort lost power for about three hours during the worst of the storm. And there we were, only a short jaunt away, high up in the Airport Marriott, steaming and stewing about the ineptitude and rudeness of American Airlines...
So, we got there. And, despite the travel day and a quarter from hell, we enjoyed ourselves once we arrived.
But that's fodder for the next post.
Labels: airport travel angst, American Airlines and why they suck, Freeport, Grand Bahama