Dear American Airlines

Unlike you, I will get straight to the point. I am properly appalled at the cavalier attitude with which I was treated on my trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and back. At this moment, almost at the end of what has to have been the most strenuous journey I have ever made, I can’t fathom why I still am to receive so much as a courtesy e-mail from a company that has caused me to miss the two first days of the very (and quite expensive) program I was traveling for and cost my students two more lectures than they should have to retake, especially now that the semester is quickly coming to a close; all this after 1 canceled flight, 4 delayed ones and 3 missed connecting flights as well as two forced overnight stays in London and New York. But let’s start at the beginning.

On Friday, 13th 2015, I arrived at the Toussaint Louverture Airport in Port-au-Prince, at 12:27. I was booked for New York on flight AA2179, the first leg of a long trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The next stop was Heathrow Airport in London from where I was to reach my final destination. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, I sat on the plane for 5 hours and 32 minutes, waiting for a hydraulic problem to be fixed, only to hear the flight was canceled and would resume at 9:00 AM the following day. A bit dejected, I went home, still hoping to get to New York early enough to catch a flight to London.

All passengers were instructed to be at the airport at 7:00 AM to make sure the flight leave on time. On Saturday morning, at 7:00, I was at the airport, going through an extremely long and chaotic line to get my new boarding pass, even if my bag had already been checked the day before. The situation was even more dire at immigration as no arrangement had been made to accommodate us, travelers from a past dimension, and the workers seemed overbooked and overwhelmed.

At 9:35, after telling myself for more than an hour to keep calm and zen on, I approached an American Airlines agent who informed me that, from what he heard, the plane would leave at 11:00 and that there would be a formal announcement. It came, about and hour later, at 10:30 to let us know we’d be leaving at 11:30 and that vouchers were available for lunch. By that point, I had already ordered and not really eaten a sandwich and what I needed to keep the zen attitude was alcohol. However, wouldn’t you know, vouchers aren’t accepted at bars. Drinks, it turned out, was to be on me. Luckily, the barman was the chatty type – and quite charmingly so, the alcohol also likely helped – so when 11:30 came and went, my zen attitude had reached a new high. Or low. Depending.

I had the chance by then to have been joined by a famous Haitian singer who was his affable self and managed to infuse me with even more calm, even though he too had been on the canceled flight and was a bit worried he might have to cancel a concert for the first time in 10 years. Soon after 12:00, he received a message from his assistant telling him the flight had been rescheduled for 2:00 PM. The alcohol and pleasant company helping, I reacted to the news with philosophy. We both did. And kept chatting. Until it was time to board the plane. We had a bit of a scare when it seemed the plane wouldn’t leave an hour in but, thank the loas for small mercies, we finally left for New York. I was still going to miss the first (introductory) afternoon in KL but I’d be at the University of Malaya on Monday morning when the program started.

How wrong I was. It took some time to get my bag – double the flight, double the number of bags to convey – but even if I was traveling empty-handed, I still wouldn’t have made it as the plane didn’t get there in time for check-in. I was booked on the next flight to London at 8:00 PM and told to run so I would be on time. And run, I did. I would arrive in KL on the 16th in the morning. That meant I’d at least get to participate in the second part of the day.

Wrong again. My flight  to London was delayed for 2 hours and 46 minutes. My 3rd delay so far. Now, I am not much for flying and drinking so I had to bear all this sober. At long last, we landed at Heathrow Airport where I engaged into some (mild) retail therapy and treated myself to some really quite tasty meal. I tried to work, I did, but I was too jittery/worried/trying-to-stay-zen-ed to get anything done. I thus decided to indulge in some mindless Internet surfing, chatting up with friends and generally fighting the boredom.

At 6:50 PM, I hopped on a British Airways flight to Kuala Lumpur and, would you believe it, there was no (substantial) delay. My luck had started to turn. Everything would be alright from now on. We got to KL an hour earlier than scheduled. I got my bags, passed through immigration and found a taxi in quite a rapid manner and was finally content.

I stayed at the Hotel Pullman Bangsar in KL whose excellent staff took such great care of me that I almost forgot about my travails to get there. On Saturday morning, in quite happy spirits – the hotel staff had reserved me a taxi and made sure to wake me up on time – I headed back to the KL airport. Again, praise Malaysia, it was a breeze. I bought some Malaysian trinkets at a gift shop and was on my way to…

Nowhere. The airplane was going nowhere. I was back in hell. After three hours of announcements that didn’t announce much, two false starts – the engine had to be turned on and off – a sick passenger who needed urgent medical attention and a trip back to the terminal before they, miraculously, healed themselves, we finally left KL.

We arrived in London at 7:45. Naturally, I had, once again, missed my connection flight. Malaysia Airlines graciously provided me with a hotel name – Park Inn Hotel – and two vouchers for a bus to and back from the hotel. When I arrived at the Radisson Blu Edwardian, I had to find a bed for the night and pay it for it myself – thank the goddesses for credit cards. In need of some comfort, I decided to go all-in and order a big, juicy British burger from room service – as it was already too late for my choice of creamy, delicious lobster.

On Sunday, November 22nd, at 8:00 AM, I checked out and was on my way back to Heathrow, hoping that I could maybe change my next flight to Miami and be able to reach Haiti on the same day. No such luck. After two back and forth too many and not wanting to risk missing another flight, I decided to go for a slice of the big Apple and spend a day there trying to convince myself not to shop til I drop as this trip was proving expensive enough as it is. (New York, dear, I promise, next time, I’ll be my normal self and engage in some « light » shopping.)

Tomorrow, I am heading home. With some luck, everything will go well. But I am not holding my breath. This here story might go on. And you might keep reading on, dear American Airlines. I apologize for the overly long letter but it was an incredibly long trip. As, that « in-flight supervisor » guy from Malaysia Airlines would say, repeatedly, « thank you for your understanding patience ».

A Properly Appalled Customer

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  1. Even more ironic when we know American Airlines Advertising slogans for the past years were : We know why you fly. We’re American Airlines, doing what we do best. Something special in the air. Fly the American way.
    Referring to your experience all these slogans are intended to you PC. And as always, I keep the best for the last : Rest, keep warm and drink liquids (AA advertising slogan 1973). So the key words to keep calm are Zen and alcohol !


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