Adventures in Flying American Airlines: Attack of the Clerks

Well American Eagle/American Airlines was not satisfied with messing up my trip to Halifax; they had to screw with me in my trip back to Raleigh. They lost my luggage on my way up there (see previous posts) and make me find my own way home from Canada on my way back. Moral of the story: American Airlines’ staff sucks, American Airlines’ planes suck, and American Airlines’ sucks in general.

I and two other lab mates started yesterday at a leisurely pace. We didn’t try to do anything in Halifax instead opting to head to the airport after we checked out. We had enough time so we stopped at a Tim Hortons for breakfast before eventually catching an early shuttle to the airport. At the Halifax airport we precleared US customs and ate lunch at the lone restaurant inside the US-bound holding area. We took that time to use up the last of our Canadian currency. As we sat looking through the window at the airstrip, I remarked at how nicely slow-paced the day was—I should have knocked on wood.

We met up with a colleague of ours from NESCent, who was leaving on the American Airlines flight to JFK, which was delayed and managed leave about thirty minutes before we boarded our American Airlines flight to LaGuardia. I even joked that if his plane was any later he may just end up on ours.—Little did I know that that comment would come back to haunt me.

Our plane arrived a little bit after his took off and we got on board, slightly delayed but nothing of major concern. The flight crew closed the doors and we were on our way home.—Then the cabin flooded.—Yes the cabin flooded. Something broke in the plane and water (or some other liquid) was soaking the carpet of the aisle from underneath. It was even puddling on top of the carpet at some points. The passengers alerted the attendant, who got the pilot, who got the gate crew whose jaw dropped in shock when she saw the plane. (I guess someone didn’t do a proper preflight check. Good thing the paying customers were paying attention.) At that point it became obvious that we would be getting off the plane and going back into the terminal. As we walked back, we were able to look back and see that the plane was leaking and making large puddles on the tarmac.—Our plane was not flying anytime soon.

So we stood in line for half-an-hour inside the US-bound holding area trying to get rebooked on another route back to Raleigh. There we met a woman from Halifax, who was traveling to Raleigh as well to see her boyfriend.—We would become good friends.—So after standing in line a long time, while the ticket people tried to figure out how to get other people to their destinations, they abruptly stopped doing it and sent us all back outside to the main lobby to pick up our bags and get rebooked out there. We first went to the baggage area because they told us to pick up our bags.—Little did we know that the American Airlines employees had no idea what they were doing.

So we stood around the baggage area for another half-an-hour until the American Airlines people told us to go get new tickets because the bags were going to be a while. So we all went upstairs and got in line at the American Airlines ticket counter waiting on our luggage to appear. We were at the end of the line so our luggage appeared before we spoke with a ticket person. I went down stairs and grabbed mine while a lab mate who carried everything on stayed in line. The woman who was also Raleigh-bound got her ticket and informed that the next route to Raleigh involved flying out of Halifax at 4:30 Saturday (today), connecting in Chicago, and landing in Raleigh at 10:00 Saturday evening.—Since I am now in Raleigh, you can guess that I found another way home.

So I hatched a plan, roping our new friend into it, to get the four of us that night to an airport in driving distance from Raleigh, where we’d either split a rental car or be picked up by friends or family. The only problem is that the American Airlines staff lacked the training or wisdom to think that we might want to get near Raleigh last night instead arriving at Raleigh late tonight. The were completely unable to help us in this regard, which forced us (me actually) to think up alternative airports. From other passengers on the plane that flooded, who’d been rerouted, I knew that we could make a direct flight to Washington/Dulles Airport that evening. The only difficulty then left to us was making a connection to a city closer to Raleigh. Of course, American Airlines staff lacked the training to help us with this task. So we offered Charlotte and Richmond as a alternative destinations, but they couldn’t get us either place any faster than Raleigh. Now this is the point where a properly trained staff would have come in handy. They could have proposed trying several other airports near Raleigh served by evening flights from Dulles: Greensboro, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Norfolk, etc. However, American Airlines staff did not do this. Thus the only option left to the four of us, if were were going to get to Raleigh Friday night or early Saturday morning, was to go to Dulles and drive the rest of the way.—So the four of us booked flights to Washington/Dulles and reserved a rental car (an SUV actually) a bit later.

Of course, American Airlines refused to pay for the rental car. They’d put the four of us up in separate rooms at the brand new Hilton near the Halifax Airport and pay for four meals for each of us, but paying for a one-night rental car was out of the question. At that point we didn’t care. We were tired of dealing with American Airlines and just wanted to get home. So we worked our way through US customs. Again. Despite the fact that nothing had changed about me or my carry ons, the second time through they required that I get additional screening and had one of my bags hand searched.—But that wasn’t most annoying part.

It was while standing in line to clear US customs that we learned from another passenger that he was able to get booked on a connection from Dulles to Greensboro NC, which is close enough to Raleigh that we could be picked up instead of renting a SUV. With that knowledge in hand, we called American Airlines from the US-bound holding area. We would have talked to someone at Halifax in person, but they did not have a single staff member in the holding area, and it did not appear that the agents of Homeland Security guarding the area would allow us to leave it to find American Airlines staff. Our new Canadian friend called American Airlines and tried to get the four of us on the connection to Greensboro. The agent was very rude and snippy to her, choosing to lecture us on the proper way to make changes to flight itineraries. I guess she’d never been stuck in a Canadian airport because a plane flooded, looking at a five hour drive in the middle of the night we landed, and lacking any way to contact local American Airlines staff because they’d gone home as soon as they processed the last of us bilge rats. Eventually when the lectures ended, American Airlines’ represented rudely informed us that she would not be able to help us make it any closer to our original destination.—With that let down, our adventure was on.

After all the crap that American Airlines put us through, dealing with United Airlines went smoothly. We left Halifax for DC on time and got to fly in a plane of much higher quality than American’s. We arrived in DC on time and after collecting our bags, took the shuttle to Hertz. Washington Dulles Airport has an odd layout and relies on giant above ground trucks to move people around the airport. The more airports I go to, the more I appreciate the efficiency of Atlanta’s airport; Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is probably the only thing in Atlanta that was planned exceedingly well. After standing in line for too long at the Hertz place, we finally made it to the counter and spoke with a clerk. It turns out that despite advertising that Hertz provides computerized directions in the lobby and from the clerks, the direction computer at Hertz at Washington/Dulles did not know where Raleigh was and the best directions that we could get from the clerk was how to get on I-95 headed south toward North Carolina. It wasn’t all that helpful since I knew that we’d be taking I-95. However, I-95 runs east of Raleigh and there are many different choices of how to get from it to Raleigh. It would have been nice if Hertz could have provided a little more customer support than “Head South Young Man”. We asked about splitting the bill four ways, and the clerk said that they’d do that when we returned the rental in Raleigh. About that time I was tired with dealing with clerks, agents, representatives, and all other people put in place by the travel industry to screw with my trip home. So instead of paying more money and taking more time to put people other than me on the rental agreement, I just decided to drive the entire route myself so we could leave sooner rather than later. I’d gotten used to driving for six or more hours at night over this last year when Tiffany lived in Athens and I lived in Raleigh; it wasn’t going to be a problem for me.—Thus, around ten last night we got in our rental car and headed to Raleigh.

From the airport we took the freeway that led to the the DC Beltway (I-495), and took the beltway south heading towards I-95 and Richmond. One of my lab mates is a student from South Korea. On our way to I-95 we stopped at an exit so he could run into a Korean restaurant and get some takeout for his wife, who’d been taking care of two small children by herself for a week. Apparently the Triangle has very crappy Korean food, and taking twenty minutes to pick something up in DC was worth it to them. At least American Airlines peeing all over our trip worked out for them. After that errand was run, I took us back the the beltline and heading again to Richmond, following the signs to I-95 South. We got off the interstate near Quantico and ate dinner at a Waffle House. I had three eggs, over medium, double plate, scattered and smothered and some Coke.—One drawback of my trip to Canada, they didn’t have enough Coke. I’m from Georgia. I bleed red and black and 100% sweet tea and Coke.—We were back on the road a little after midnight.

I’d already talked to Tiffany several times on my cell, and she let me know that the exit from I-85 was a little south of Richmond in Petersberg. Of course, I had to drive through a thunderstorm and Richmond at the same time. In Petersberg, after I’d driven past the storm, but before I took the exit for I-85, I stopped for a bottle of Mountain Dew, to ensure that I didn’t get tired during the drive. From I-85, we took the US Highway 1 exit to Raleigh, and met up with the boyfriend of our new Canadian friend near where US-1 and I-540 intersect. That was a little before four o’clock in the morning. At that point we settled up, and she paid cash for her fourth of the rental. After saying our goodbyes, I took one lab mate home to Morrisville via I-540, and past the Raleigh Airport, only seven and a half hours after we were originally scheduled to be there, but a good eighteen hours before the crappy staff at American Airlines thought they could get us there. Then I dropped the last lab mate off at his car near campus.—Finally I could go home to Tiffany at nearly 4:30 in the morning.

Of course I had to tell Tiffany all the stuff about the trip that she hadn’t heard. And given that I was still wired from that Mountain Dew, I didn’t fall asleep until after 6:00 and the sun came out. This afternoon, my two lab mates and I met at the rental car place at the Raleigh Airport to settle up. And I should have guessed that the attack of the crappy clerks was not over. Having been assured by the clerk in DC that they could split our bill four ways, the clerk in Raleigh said that they could not. So it all ended up on my card, which hopefully won’t mean that I have to fill out extra paper work to justify such an expense when we get reimbursed by NCSU. But if I cross my fingers, close my eyes. and chant enough times, maybe this nightmarish adventure will be finally over.—And I guess one good thing happened on my way home from Canada, my luggage arrived home at the same time I did.

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Posted by Nick (Matzke) on July 1, 2007 6:28 PM

Of course, American Airlines refused to pay for the rental car. They’d put the four of us up in separate rooms at the brand new Hilton near the Halifax Airport and pay for four meals for each of us, but paying for a one-night rental car was out of the question. At that point we didn’t care. We were tired of dealing with American Airlines and just wanted to get home. So we worked our way through US customs. Again. Despite the fact that nothing had changed about me or my carry ons, the second time through they required that I get additional screening and had one of my bags hand searched.

Yeah, but you probably looked like you wanted to kill someone that second time through…

Posted by john logsdon on July 5, 2007 10:01 AM

Sorry that the trip back was so awful.
Good to see you in Halifax in any case.
In the meantime, you have been “tagged”
go to…

Posted by john logsdon on July 5, 2007 10:02 AM

Sorry that the trip back was so awful.
Good to see you in Halifax.
In the meantime, you have been “tagged”
go to….

Posted by Bruce Thompson on July 6, 2007 5:20 PM

Dante described seven circles of hell, the lowest level being of ice. Remember when you reach that level at least it is cold and in the cold you become numb and really don’t feel anything. So once you’ve passed the level filled with clerks and airline agents it’s not far.