Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

American Airlines & American Eagle: Bold Innovators Of Travel Misery

If you have read my past blog posts about AA abnd AE, you won’t be surprised to learn that American Airlines and their Eagle operation have once again brought to bear great creativity in their seemingly endless ways to make my life miserable on the road.

Since mid-September I have been traveling to Marquette, Michigan (MQT) in the Upper Peninsula, a truly beautiful part of the world which is home to sincere and kind people.

But getting to and from Marquette by air is a challenge, no matter whether by Midwest through MKE, Northworst through DTW, or American (Eagle) through ORD. To date, most of my flights to MQT have been on American Eagle, and more than half have been either disastrously late (defined by me as more than 120 minutes) or just plain cancelled.

In the most recent full week of flying to Marquette, this report: Last Monday night's sole nonstop flight from O'Hare, scheduled to depart at 6:10 PM, was delayed, delayed, delayed, and finally cancelled just before 10:00 PM--too late for me to have grabbed the last seat on the only other flight that night, which went through Madison before flying on to Marquette.

But then it turned out it didn't matter, since the flight through Madison stopped in Madison overnight (the crew ran out of time). So I would have been stranded in Madison instead of Chicago.

I had a very important 7:30 AM-Noon Tuesday meeting in Marquette that I could not miss, so I reserved a car from National at Milwaukee and made AA put me on the last flight of the night ORD to Milwaukee, which at least got me 70 miles closer to Marquette than Chicago--Marquette's a mere 300 mile drive from Milwaukee.

After the very delayed flight to Milwaukee those short 70 miles (truth be told, I could have driven faster), I picked up the rental car at 11:30 PM and dashed up the Interstate to Green Bay and thence east and north through rural Wisconsin and Michigan towards Marquette.

National at MKE had run out of nonsmoking cars except for a brand new Cadillac DTS, which they gave me as a free upgrade. This made the 300+ mile drive at least slightly more bearable. Utterly exhuasted, I arrived at the Marquette Holiday Inn at 5:30 AM in time for my Tuesday morning meeting.

Of course the Holiday Inn charged me for the full night Monday night even though I arrived at 5:30 AM Tuesday morning after spending the entire night driving to Marquette.

Fast forward now two nights to Thursday evening: Knowing AA Eagle's propensity to cancel flights, and knowing that the 8:35 PM arrival Thursday night makes up the aircraft and crew for my usual 6:30 AM Friday departure to ORD, I phoned the local AA folks at Marquette Sawyer International Airport to be sure my Friday flight would be operating, and would be on time.

Good thing I called, because the airplane had suffered a mechanical in Chicago, an all-too common problem with AE's RJ fleet. It arrived MQT not at 8:35 PM, but instead after midnight, and that caused Friday morning’s flight back to Chicago to be delayed 4 hrs due to crew rest requirements.

Thanks to the nice American Eagle people at MQT, I found out about that at 11:00 PM Thursday night, forcing me and two colleagues, who like me would otherwise have misconnected in Chicago Friday morning, to drive all night to ORD.

Of course the Marquette Holiday Inn charged me for the full night Thursday night because I checked out at 11:00 PM Thursday even though I would spend the entire night in a rental car driving to Chicago.

In an ironic twist, National rental Car at Marquette Airport gave me the same Cadillac DTS Thursday night that I had driven up to Marquette all night the previous Monday night when my AA flight was cancelled in Chicago.

And to top it off, I hit a sizable young buck (about 125 lbs) broadside going about 55 MPH (me, not the deer) at around 1:00 AM just north of Escanaba, Michigan. Bambi on steroids demolished the right front side of the rental car before rolling over the top of the car and off the trunk. I’m sure he’s dead, and we were very glad and very lucky to be alive and not injured.

We lost a headlight and crumpled the right front quarter panel, but the car was drivable, so we just kept going in order to get to Chicago in time for our flights. In fact, we never even stopped completely after hitting the deer. After determining that none of us were hurt, we shook off the temporary trauma, and I floored the Caddy's big V8 back up to highway speed so that we would make it all those 377 long miles to Chicago.

National Car Rental at ORD was not pleased, of course, when I turned the car in and completed an accident report. There was substantial damage to the car, which had just 1750 miles on it. Lucky I had full liability and collision coverage through my American Express Platinum Card because I had declined all such insurance coverage when renting the car Thursday night. Otherwise it would have cost me thousands.

We made the 377 miles in just over 5 hours to ORD. After the shock of colliding with the deer had worn off a bit, we regretted that we had not been able to sling the carcass in the trunk for a team dinner of venison barbecue this week. (Michigan law says you can legally keep a deer you killed with your vehicle if it's reported to a trooper.) I can only imagine trying to put a 125 lb buck through a TSA x-ray machine at O'Hare.

Here's another galling AA fact about Thursday night: I phoned AA's Executive Platinum line to have them delete the MQT/ORD segment since I would not be able to fly it. I knew to do this because otherwise AA's systems would automatically cancel the downline segment ORD/RDU when I didn't turn up for the Marquette to O'Hare flight Friday morning.

But when I got an Exec Platinum agent on the line, she stated that the Friday morning flight was showing that it was on time and not delayed at all. She lectured me harshly, implying that I was manipulating the AA system, and made a big deal about how she was granting me a "one-time exception" to null the flight segment from MQT to ORD.

Incensed that she thought I might be lying in order to experience the perverse thrill of driving all night 377 miles to Chicago, I challenged her to call the local Marquette Airport AA office to verify what I was telling her. I even gave her the local number, which she was surprised they had given me. Yet even after speaking with them and verifying that I wasn't a kook, she persisted in hectoring me, her supposedly valued Executive Platinum customer, before finally deleting the now-four-hour-delayed morning flight to O'Hare from my itinerary.

And do you think AA or AE has offered an apology, let alone any compensation, for my two nights of sleepless misery or the two nights at the Holiday Inn that I paid for but did not receive any value for, not to mention the demolished rental car?

If you do, think again. Instead, they left my electronic reservation record documented so that it appeared American Airlines had done me a magnanimous favor by not charging me for the change to my itinerary caused by the blundering fools at Eagle.

As I have said before, you just can't make this stuff up! Welcome to Travel Hell all who book American Eagle.


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