In “Leaving Las Vegas” a man succumbs to massive amounts of alcohol. It was a movie, a rather sad one at that. Recently, I was starring in my own version of “Leaving Buenos Aires”, it also had liquor, it had despair, it had tears and frustrations. Only … a movie it was not!
It was Saturday, December 16 around 9 PM. When I checked in for flight AA 908 – scheduled to depart Ezeiza for Miami at 11.05 PM – the ground staff nonchalantly informed me of a 2 hour delay. Little did I know that some 9 hours later I still had not left. The time in-between is a tale worth telling. It not only reveals the shortcomings of big airlines but more so the ineptness of making sensible decision with the passenger in mind. Unless, of course, we, the passengers, don’t matter. In that case, they should start advertising differently.
Unlike most of my fellow travelers, I was sitting comfortably in the Admiral’s lounge; thus, I can only begin to imagine their ordeal directly at the gate. Come midnight or a little thereafter, a storm hit. The inbound flight – already delayed by several hours in Miami – had to be rerouted to Rosario airport on account of bad weather. None of this ever happened to be announced properly. It was as if a wall of secrecy was build around the further proceedings. Yes, upon asking AA ground personnel, bits and pieces of information were volunteered, however, a big picture never was established. Why not? Simple! The decision making process is one that is not done by American Airlines locally, it is done by American Airlines headquarters. In Dallas. Or so I was told. Now, picture with me how this might transpire. Taking into account that to this day a fair share of Americans still can’t find Iraq on a map, I imagine a select group of employees staring into Google Earth trying to locate Rosario. Okay, may be I am getting carried away here a little. But, the bottom line is: Important decisions are being delayed because they are being made in a parallel universe. Case in point: At roughly 3.45 AM – the inbound plane had landed in Rosario – it became quite obvious that flight AA 908 would be going nowhere. Upon asking a rather helpful yet increasingly frustrated employee by the name of AndrÃ©s Gonzalez Eiras, I had been briefed the following: The cutoff time for the stand-by crew according to law and/or airline regulations was 6 AM, the flight from Rosario would take approximately 3o minutes, disembarking, cleaning and subsequently boarding the plane 90 minutes. So, to everybody working for AA in Ezeiza it was clear that the chances for the flight to happen were approaching zero as we were heading towards 4 AM. The decision, however, for the final cancellation of AA 908 came around 6.30 AM. By then, even in the lounge, we had people going bonkers. A group of Australian Executive Platinum members gleefully emptied most of the liquor in sight and proceeded to verbally abuse the AA lounge crew, which in turn prompted them to call for security. Cynics might say, that was part of the off-board entertainment program. Even though, getting intoxicated and then start insulting people around you will definitely NOT improve weather conditions, they did have one point: Information politics. More or less up to the final cancellation there really never was an official announcement. Why? Because they were not allowed to make one unless it was authorized by Dallas. Did I mention that no food was offered? Minor detail! Upon the final cancellation, AA – supposedly also in Dallas – came up with the ultimate in both insult and foresight. They rescheduled the flight for 11 AM! The icing of the cake: It is now 6.30 AM, with that kind of time frame, no passenger was able to go for a hotel, not sure if Dallas is aware of the fact that Ezeiza is not exactly a haven of accommodations. At that stage, I could not help myself thinking, that this was a deliberate decision – to wait long enough with an announcement so that the company does not have to dish out the hotel and transportation vouchers. However, another 30 minutes went by and the 11 AM option was canned. Now, the flight was entirely lost and the next one was to be the following night. And I had lost faith, patience and sleep. On top of that, this ordeal lead me to miss my connecting cruise ship in Miami where I was to be on assignment (it will be interesting to see how AA plans to compensate me for forgone income, my editors waiting for my stories indeed were not amused).
In “Leaving Las Vegas”, the hero dies and the actor wins an Oscar. Well, dying I did not, but who won here? American Airlines and their information policy certainly did not! Speaking of which, I tried to secure a few statements from the regional AA Manager in charge, Mr. Sergio Hurtado. He may have actually been willing to render his side of the story, unfortunately his authorization to do so falls just short, the corporate structure is such that all communication related subjects are run through the AA office in Miami. There, Martha Pantin, Director of Corporate Communications, had the following to say: “No comment”. Time to shop around for alternatives … and have another drink.
(Epilogue: AA finally granted hotel and transportation vouchers. As a Platinum member I was booked in the Intercontinental, breakfast/lunch included. So here is a bit of trivia: It is now almost 8 AM – after reentering through immigration and obtaining my luggage – when I reach my 5-star-accomodation. I wake up three hours later looking like I had gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson. What would any sensible traveler do? Indeed, he opts for room service. Same food as downstairs. Now, take a wild guess, if AA foots the bill …?)