Sensing that my flight was getting bad, I kept pulling out my laptop on the plane and wrote about what was going on, minute by minute. Feel free to repost this to let folks know about how "well" they'll be treated on American Airlines.
Wow, how bad can a flight get? I get to the airport and realize my American Airlines flight leaves 20 minutes sooner than I thought. Fortunately, since I'm paranoid about being on time, I arrive early enough that it isn't too much of a problem, but a ridiculously long check-in line still means that I arrive at the gate right as they're boarding. Also, despite flying on three separate tickets (SeaTac/JFK, JFK/Dublin, Dublin/Gatwick), they are able to check my bags all the way through to Gatwick.
7:30 AM: The line itself is uneventful except for an Arab gentleman in front of me who is rather confused and not sure of what he is doing. He keeps stopping airline workers and asking questions about his flight and whether he is going to make it. A soldier in desert camo and a weathered backpack walks by the Arab, pauses, and in a loud voice announces "I don't know if I'm going to catch my flight to Iraq!" I'll leave it to you to speculate what he meant by that.
8:10 AM: Boarding at the Sea-Tac airport gets delayed by a security breach and then, to add to the fun, the captain is announcing that we are getting a brake job and will be delayed even further. I'm also listening to a flight attendant explaining, very patiently, that she'll be happy to help a gentleman if he asks politely. I can't make out what he's saying, but it sounds like he's upset that his family's seats were not adjacent. The flight attendant tells him several times that she'll help him if he's polite.
8:40 AM: the captain comes back on the overhead and announces that there was a "problem" with the brake job. They are replacing the entire wheel assembly and a further 30 minute delay is anticipated. Cell phones come out all over the plane as folks try to reschedule their flights. This is actually a good thing as the loud and annoying lady sitting next to me asks to get off the plane. She leaves along with a few other passengers.
9:45 AM: the captain has just announced that after leaving the plane to inspect the progress, he's seen that the old wheel has, in fact, been removed. The new wheel assembly, however, seems to be causing problems and the technicians can't seem to get it on the plane. We'll be delayed a bit longer.
10:00 AM: seems the technicians left a part on the old wheel which belongs
on the new wheel. They're transferring it over now and the captain announces
that he no longer feels comfortable guessing how much longer we'll be delayed.
ridiculously cute stewardess flight attendant tells me
that I should have no problem with my connecting flight. I'm crossing my
fingers now. Prayer to a non-existent deity will shortly ensue.
10:30 AM: We're still on the ground. Tempers are getting short. A child is crying and someone threw some paper that hit the guy in the seat in front of me. The flight attendant comes on the overhead to inform us that repairs are continuing but if we leave the plane to buy food and the repairs are complete, the plane will leave without them. If they have checked baggage, it will be removed from the plane.
11:05 AM: The flight was supposed to leave at 8:20 AM. The captain has announces that the wheel is on and they are finishing the paperwork and handling some refueling. We should be leaving shortly. I'm probably going to miss my flight to Dublin. And you remember the gentleman who was unhappy that his family wasn't grouped together? As I walk to the bathroom, I I hear a flight attendant telling him to "hang on, I've already given you three cups of water." The man is apparently mad that his child is thirsty and he's not very polite about it. Not surprisingly, it's his child who's doing most of the crying.
11:15 AM: The paperwork is done as is the refueling. They're trying to round up the passengers who are not on the plane. Once that's completed, we'll be taking off. I think I've been very calm about this, but I must confess that this is trying my patience.
2:45 PM (switched to New York time, it's 11:45 Pacific): It's been confirmed that I will miss my flight to Dublin, but the attendant assures me that I will be rebooked. In the meantime, we're being fed turkey sandwiches and muffins -- at five and two dollars respectively. Yes, they're really charging us for the food after making us wait for three hours. I can understand the previous delays -- that can't be helped -- but charging us for food is a damned joke. I've no intention of flying American Airlines again. Meanwhile, an attendant at the back of the plain is telling the angry man that they'll get more water for him shortly and would he please be patient.
3:07 PM: since I didn't expect the flight to last this long, I didn't bring any money with me. The lady sitting next to me offers me five dollars so I could buy a sandwich (to be honest, I asked if she had any cash). I insist she take a £10 note from me (almost $20 US). Later, I give back the five dollars when they announce that they have run out of sandwiches before they got to me. She returns my 10 pounds, but then insists I at least take $2 for a muffin. The muffin, of course, is cold, soggy and tasteless. Also, no napkin is offered. As I'm trying to pick up crumbs from the floor, it occurs to me that I'm trying to be considerate to American Airlines. I pick up the crumbs anyway.
3:30 PM: the angry man's child is now crying a duet with another child in the back of the aircraft. The man is calming the child by yelling "stop it, stop it!" over and over again.
Interlude: meanwhile, I'm reading the book We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. It's about the genocide in Rwanda. This country, formerly a peaceful country that was remarkable in its stability, finally broke under a century of racial identity politics instituted by the Germans and, later, the Belgians. Armed largely by the French, the ruling Hutus decided to kill the Tutsi minority. In 100 days, over 800,000 Tutsi's were murdered, mostly by machete. In one incident, the mayor of a town encouraged the Tutsi's to seek refuge in the local Catholic church. A few days later, he came with the local militia and killed them.
Neighbors murdered neighbors. Doctors murdered their patients. Teachers murdered their students. The United States refused to help, even withholding a shipment of armored vehicles which were to be sent with troops to help stop the fighting. It seems that even though we are billions in arrears in our UN dues, we wanted 15 million for the vehicles and shipping them. We finally agreed to drop 5 million off the price, but we refused to ship them. The Clinton administration gave orders to not use the word "genocide" lest we incur our legal obligation to prevent it under UN Resolution 260A(III), the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
France, meanwhile, sent troops and set up Opération Turquoise, a "peacekeeping" mission which protected the Hutu militia and allowed their massacre of the Tutsis to continue for another month. When the Hutus finally realized that they would be punished for their crime, they fled en masse to other countries. Due in part to their practice of dumping Tutsi bodies in rivers, cholera quickly spread, killing many of the Hutu murderers. The world, in seeing this horror, responded by the largest humanitarian mission in the 20th century, airlifting food, medicine and other supplies to the Hutus 'round the clock. Me whining about missing a flight to Dublin is petty.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch it's 3:45 PM and the flight attendant is trying to get the angry man to stop blaring music in the back of the plane. Seems he has his own headphones and he cranked the music on them. I hate the angry man. I'm having bell tower/deer rifle fantasies. I know I can't say that on a flight, but is writing it a crime?
7:31 PM: I get off the plane at JFK, nine minutes before my flight to Dublin is to leave. Needless to say, I didn't make the flight. That's when my travel plans really started to go sour. I didn't write this as I went along, so the following comments aren't timestamped.
The agent at the desk told me to go to ticketing and they would rebook me.
Seems my travel agent, in order to get me a great rate, booked me on three separate tickets. What I didn't realize is that this means the airlines are not responsible for anything other than their leg of the trip. The American Airlines ticket agents explained to me patiently that they weren't responsible for me missing my flight to London. After all, they explained, if I bought a jacket at one store and pants at another, do I complain about the pants at the jacket store? My response: my pants don't rip if the jacket's tailor can't sew.
I pointed out that not only did I have no idea about the problems with separate tickets, the only reason I missed the Dublin flight is because their mechanics didn't know how to change a wheel. If their mechanics had done their job correctly, I'd be on a flight to Dublin. Plus, they had already checked my baggage through to Gatwick and I had no idea where my luggage was. After a bit of consulting with one another, one of their agents printed out something which looked like a ticket to Heathrow (also in London) but was marked "Not Valid for Transportation." I was then told to take this to the next airline (Delta) on my itinerary and tell them that I need a "FIM".
Ovid: What's a FIM?
Polite American Airlines ticket agent: Don't worry, Delta knows what it is.
Fuck. Since they wouldn't tell me what FIM stood for, it meant that they didn't want to explain it. I trudged to the Delta counter, knowing I was doomed.
If you've been in JFK before, you know that you don't simply move a counter or two over to check in at a different airline. You go down some hallways, take an elevator or escalator to the "AirTrain" and then read the terrible directions with dismay. JFK is not user-friendly. Naturally, having only had a muffin to eat all day, I was exhausted and couldn't figure out the directions. I got on the wrong AirTrain (apparently, they'll all get me to the right spot, but some take considerably longer). A helpful passerby sorted me out after a couple of panicked stops and I got off the AirTrain, got on the right one, returned to where I started and kept going for another couple of stops. Then I got the Delta counter.
Polite Delta Airlines ticket agent: American Airlines said what?
"FIM" apparently stands for "Flight Interrupt Manifest" or something like that. What it means is basically this: if an airline screws up your flight, they'll fix it. Delta didn't screw up my flight but the American Airlines paperwork I had showed that American wanted Delta to book me on a flight to Heathrow. Delta was only flying me to Dublin, at which point British Airways was to fly me from Dublin to London. No, I didn't realize this was a bad idea, but again, if American's mechanics had been competent, I wouldn't be in this mess. However, realizing that part of the problem lay in the nature of my flight plans, I would be willing to give American the benefit of the doubt if they hadn't tried to foist off their problem on Delta.
The Delta agent called in a more experienced agent and he was a gift from the heavens. He told me where my bags were, he rebooked me on the same Delta flight for the next day and also rebooked the British Airways flight from Dublin to Gatwick, adding notes in the booking to explain what had happened with American Airlines. He also explained that British Airways might not honor the ticket since they have no fault in this matter. Still, getting stranded in Dublin is better than getting stranded in New York.
I went back to the American Airlines counter and this time I'm livid. The Delta agent was able to rebook my ticket, why the hell couldn't American Airlines? I tried again to get an earlier flight (they had one to London leaving soon), but they said "no". They just shrugged and said they weren't responsible. I asked how much a they would charge me for a flight to London and the cost was around $800. Finally, I had to ask them to comp me a room at a hotel, which they did without hesitation.
It's now 12:55 in New York City, but I'm so tired I can't even go to the city. Instead, I'm lying in my hotel bed, wondering if I'll get stranded in Dublin or not. Of course, the Ramada is also chaos and I actually got chewed out by one of their employees for crossing off my credit card number on my dinner tab, but that's another story.