This post is long overdue, but the fact that I’m still angry enough to write about the incident a month and a half after it occurred definitely says something.
It took me three days, four airports, and two airlines to get home from spring break. This is my sad, sad story.
The original plan was to fly American from Punta Cana to JFK, JFK to Boston. We checked our flight status online before heading to the airport in Punta Cana, as we knew there was weather in New England and were anticipating some delays. No problems, said the American Airlines website, so we merrily made our way to the check-in counter at PUJ, only to find my flight to JFK seven hours delayed. This would have put me in New York around midnight – three hours after my connecting flight to Boston was scheduled to leave. The representative we dealt with here was very helpful, and got me on a flight to Miami and a different connector to Boston. I was initially trying to avoid the Miami airport, as it is without a doubt the most unorganized and poorly designed airport in the US (and maybe anywhere, definitely the worst I’ve been too), but it was looking like this was the only way I would get back to Boston that day, so we booked the ticket.
As soon as I got through security, I found out the flight to Miami was also delayed, this time by three hours. Originally I had planned on a four hour layover. One hour is not a lot of time to get through customs, security, and the marathon that is MIA, but I knew that it was possible – though not without some serious cardio. So as soon as my plane landed I started running, and didn’t stop until I reached my gate five minutes before the estimated departure time, only to find the gate had been changed to one on the other side of the terminal. This terminal had to be at least a mile long, and I ran the whole way even though I knew I probably wouldn’t make it. I reached the gate to find that plane hadn’t even started boarding yet, and the second I put my bag down the little red ‘delayed’ sign appeared on the screen next to my flight number. I wanted to cry.
Over the next six hours the gate changed twice more (the first time to an entirely different terminal, where I had to go through security yet again). Every hour they announced the flight was delayed one more hour, until we got to the better side of midnight, when they announced the flight was pulling in, and we would be headed out as soon as they deboarded and refueled. About five minutes later they announced the flight was overbooked, and were offering free food and hotel vouchers for volunteers who were willing to go out on the first flight the next morning. I seriously contemplated this option, as at this point there was nothing I wanted more than real food and a bed. But there was already a long line at the ticket counter, and I was just too exhausted to try and battle my way to the front. Maybe ten minutes later they made the announcement the flight had been cancelled.
The next few minutes were a rat race. There was a moment when every person in the waiting area paused to let out a communal ‘Ugh,’ then another of silence, before people literally started sprinting to the rebooking counter located in – surprise! – the other side of the terminal. There were a few who were too exhausted to put up a real fight, and feeling defeated I settled in with that crowd as we broke into a fast walk (as opposed to a full out run) to the desk.
And then we waited. Three. Freaking. Hours. In line.
About half way through an AA agent started handing out flyers. Assuming these were some kind of vouchers people started climbing over each other to get one. When they found out they weren’t vouchers, but a letter informing us that we would not be compensated for food, hotel or our lost airline tickets because the cancellation was due to weather and not the fault of American Airlines, people started rioting. On top of this, they wouldn’t give anyone back their luggage, so we were all forced to either part with our bags or continue to fly American the next day. One woman started screaming profanities at the man passing out the letters, and others soon joined in. As soon as he ran out of flyers he bolted, promising he would return to sort us all out – which he never did. Finally when I reached the front of the line I was greeted by an extremely unprofessional (and very possibly stoned) employee. She took a deep breath, rubbed her eyes and said her first words to me.
Now, I can think of a million things I needed to hear from an AA representative at that moment. “Welcome to my hell,” was not one of them. And I swear to god that’s what this woman said. Welcome to your hell? I don’t know how I kept my composure through the THIRTY MINUTES it took me to be through with her, but I did. This woman seemed to be moving in slow motion. And she kept stopping to chat with her fellow employees, most of which were being a little bit (but not much) more efficient than her. When we finally got to talking about rebooking my ticket, she told me they couldn’t guarantee me a seat on a flight until Wednesday (it was Sunday), and that was only if I didn’t want to fly direct. I could try and fly standby on a flight inbetween now and Wednesday, but all flights to Boston already had at least 20 people on the standby list for the next 3 days. AKA – that wasnt going to work. I wanted to cry. So I did what any rational, strong, independent, dead-tired and on the verge of tears young woman would do: I called my daddy. He told me to book a flight to Tampa (the closest airport to my hometown) and that we would figure it out from there. He also told me I could use my emergency credit card to get a room at the airport hotel instead of sleeping on the floor in the terminal (my original plan). Thank god.
After the whole ordeal I was looking forward to a nice bed and possibly a large order from room service. It ended up taking me another hour to get to the airport hotel – not because I couldn’t find it, just because it was that far away (though still in the airport), and I had to walk the whole way. I had to go through the bar in order to get to the lobby, which I briefly registered looked a lot like a strip club, but I was too exhausted to care. The lobby walls were made up on one side of those cheap, see-through bricks lit up by the strobe lights in the bar area, and on the other side by mirrors. Two hotel employees stood chatting to the guy at the desk while I waited for someone to realize I was standing there. After loudly clearing my throat a few times I finally got their attention, though not in the way I had hoped. The two employees turned around, looked me up and down in a way that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, and greeted me with a ‘hey baby.’ One of them smacked his lips as I walked by.
The guy I actually dealt with wasn’t as rude as his two friends, and soon I was on my way to the bed I was so desperately in need of.
Now, I really don’t want to be judgmental, but I’m 99% sure I shared an elevator with a prostitute. I was getting very close to the edge, and my room pushed me over. For starters, there was no lock on the door. I used my key to get in, but no actual lock beyond that. Thinking about the two guys from the lobby, this was not very comforting. The bed took up almost the entire room, with a tv that didn’t work sitting on the night table beside it. The place was filthy, and on top of everything, there were no windows. Instead, every wall of the room was covered in mirrors. What could I do? I called my dad again.
He found me a nicer hotel not too far from the airport, and booked me a flight on Jetblue from Tampa to Boston for the next day. Falling asleep in my great big overstuffed bed, it finally felt like things were going my way. The free hot breakfast buffet provided by the hotel the next morning helped too, and around 8am, I was finally on my way out of Miami. And done with American Airlines.
I arrived in Tampa to find out my flight to Boston had been delayed. I was exasperated, and noticing that all the later planes to Boston had been canceled was not helping me feel much better. But all it took was five minutes at the JetBlue kiosk and I was sorted out. They happily put me on a plane the next morning free of charge. My dad came and picked me up from the airport, and no sooner did I lay down in my own bed did we find out the plane I was supposed to fly out on had been canceled, so it was a good call to rebook and leave when I did.
The next morning I got to Boston without a hitch. I still had to get my luggage from American, though, and any suspicions I had of just how painful that process would be were confirmed when I arrived at the American desk to find an enormous area roped off full of literally PILES of luggage. No bother with sorting or organization. It took me another hour to find my bag under the mess, but at least it was there, and at least I was back.
And that’s my story I guess. With the exception of the first representative we met in Punta Cana, not a single American Airline employee I encountered on this journey was even a tiny bit professional, friendly or sympathetic. I will never fly American Airlines again if I can help it, and you shouldn’t either.