Why I’ll Never Fly American Airlines Again

I’m sitting here, at Gate D5 in Miami, waiting for a gate agent to arrive so I can try to ensure that my wife and I will have tickets home to Boston on our flight in about 2 hours. That doesn’t sound that bad (thought we’ll see what happens when they try to tell us we don’t have seats …), and I’m an easy flyer. Shit happens, flights get delayed, whatever. I’m usually incredibly nice and understanding to the airlines and attendants—they often have crappy jobs and have to deal with rationally (and irrationally) upset people.

But I have zero sympathy for American Airlines and their staff. I will go out of my way to never fly them again. I will pay my own dollars, or take an extra leg, to avoid flying this airline that clearly could give two shits about their customers.

It Begins

Last week, we headed to Logan to get ready for our flight to St. Croix. Got there nice and early, checked in, even though American’s ticket kiosk didn’t print out one of my tickets (the first sign of their incompetence) and even though they had a huge line for baggage drop-off, with 1.5 people working.

We get to our gate, get on the flight, and then …. we sit. We sit for almost an hour because the flight crew had to “file a new flight plan due to weather”. That sounds like a pretty horseshit excuse to me—couldn’t have done that earlier?—but, again, whatever. We take off 40 minutes late but expect to make up some time in the air.

The Cracks Begin to Show

We arrive in Miami just a little later than expected, so no big deal. We’ll hustle to our gate and we should be fine. Except we don’t have a gate. We are stuck on the tarmac. For an hour.

We’ve now, basically, missed our connection to St. Croix.

We get off the flight, the gate agent basically says “The flight’s closed, but you can run and take the skyway, and maybe you’ll get lucky.”

Thanks.

We do, and we make it. In fact, there were about 6 of us in the same boat, and we all made it.

And then we sat for another 40 minutes at the gate. So, you know, we didn’t have to run. They could have just delayed the flight and we would have all felt pretty good. Making it even better? They said they were getting some last minute baggage loaded up and we’d take the extra few minutes because “it could be your bag.”

It probably was.

The First Real Fuck You

But it wasn’t. Our luggage, even though we were at the gate for almost an hour after our flight landed, didn’t make the flight. Rather than leave it to American’s crack staff to deliver it to our hotel, we got a taxi to the airport to pick it up ourselves the next afternoon.

The Beginning of the End

On our way home, we get to the airport to find our flight back to Miami has been delayed almost 2 hours. They’ve already rebooked us on a connection … the next morning.

I say to Katie “let’s just get checked in, and I’ll call and see if there isn’t an earlier flight”. I guess this is my mistake, but really, you’ll see, it’s just another fuck you from American.

They check our bags to Miami, because of our expected layover.

I call American, they find us seats on the 9pm flight. We should be landing at 7:50pm. Should be no problem. Except our luggage. We’d have to go to baggage claim, pick it up, come back, clear security, and make our flight.

No big deal right. We’re still sitting in the airport. Let’s just have some go retag our bag to Boston, and we’ll be golden.

“Not possible.”
“Can’t do it.”
“Once it’s back there, no one can go near it, really.”

Seriously? Seriously? Seriously.

This to me is where American failed us over and over. Either they don’t empower their agents to do anything to help their customers, or they have a bunch of agents who could give two shits. The airport in St. Croix is tiny. It would have taken 15 minutes, tops, to find our bag and put a new tag on it.

We get on the flight and hope for the best.

Things are looking a little rosy when the pilot says we expect to land at 7:30. Fantastic. Good news!

We land at 7:44. We wait on the plane for a gate until 8:50.

Fuck you, American. Fuck you.

We run to our gate, the flight has just left. Ironically, our originally 7:50 connection had been delayed until 9:25pm. We would have had a better shot of making that flight.

No flight, our baggage is in theory at baggage claim, and we’re stuck in Miami. We’ll head to rebooking, get a new flight and a hotel voucher, and just deal with it.

The End of the End

The rebooking line is hundreds of people long. Some folks say they’ve been there for 2 hours and are still an hour away from the front. I call to get our flight changed to the earliest flight on Saturday (today), and wait in line for a hotel voucher.

And wait.

And wait.

Eventually, we overhear that there are no more hotel vouchers. There’s no more hotels.

We’d been in line for 3 hours. Not once did someone come by and express sympathy, or apologize. At 3 hours, we overheard another conversation and learned that we were screwed again. I went to talk to an agent to see if he could help me with our bags and at least book them through to Boston. He didn’t express any sympathy, or even feign caring. He snippily said “I’m busy, you’ll have to wait a few minutes.”

I admit to losing my cool and saying “I’ve been waiting 3 fucking hours. Can you please just help me now?”

That didn’t go over well. But, honestly, I could wait him out. In theory, our bags will be on our flight.

Katie and I walked around the airport, eventually got a few minutes of restless sleep, and now we’re waiting to see if we get on the flight we’re supposed to get on. At 7:52, for a 9:35 flight, we still don’t have a gate agent to give us our seats.

At this point, the odds of both us and our luggage making it to Boston are low. The odds of American doing anything and not royally fucking it up are low.

The End End

In all of this, not a single airport employee has expressed any empathy. Not one has apologized. Actually, I take it back. They apologized by saying how hard a day they had, too. With a multi-hundred person line, they didn’t walk around letting us know what was going on, or even offer water or snacks. They just let us stand there, until all the hotels were booked, and 99% of our food options were gone, and then said “sorry, you’re on your own.”

I don’t usually bitch about service. Bad service happens. People have bad days.

This isn’t “bad days.” This is a broken company who either don’t care, or assume that we have so few options, that we can’t do anything about it.

I’ve written to them on Twitter (and in the end, I’ll admit, I basically spent the night trolling them, responding to anyone else’s complaints to highlight them—including NBA player Ed Davis, who was likewise fucked by American), I’ve filed a formal complaint via the website, I’ve liked other angry missives on Facebook, and I’m writing this.

I fully expect none of it to matter. I fully expect American just doesn’t give a shit.

That works both ways, American.

Wasteful Packaging

Apropos of nothing …

Since we just got married, we’ve had a pretty continuous stream of gifts showing up at our house (we have very generous friends). One of the interesting things has been seeing how different companies ship their wares.

Last week, we got two packages. After removing all the packing materials, this is what was inside:

IMG 3475

IMG 3474

Seriously.

Inside was about 6 cubic feet of bubble wrap and paper wrapping, followed by a single item.

Now, I’m guessing that they were set to ship as soon as each item was ready, but man, that’s a lot of wasted material and probably a lot of wasted space in the warehouse, shipping vehicles, etc.

Amazon, in my experience, tends to be a lot better about their packaging. Not great, but a lot less wasted space and wasted packing material. Bed Bath & Beyond has also tended to ship things reasonably tightly. On the contrary, I’ve had to fill up probably two or three full garbage bins with bubble wrap just from Crate and Barrel. That seems awfully wasteful. There’s a happy medium between packing something safely and filling up a box (a box that has a single grill spatula) with yards of bubble wrap and packing paper.

Big Day

So, I get married today. Happy Independence Day, America.

(Feel free to make all your losing independence jokes. I’ve made them all.)

The Apple Music Strategy

Since Apple’s (poorly) staged announcement for Apple Music, there’s been a lot of “so what” and “big deals”—It’s just another Spotify. I think that’s partially correct, if you think that the logical outcome for the streaming music business is that everything is streamable.

But I don’t think that’s where the music business is going, at least not in the short-term. Not if the labels have anything to say about it. (And today, they do.)

Instead, I think Apple’s strategy (paid streaming only, Beats One radio station, artist outreach) is a 3-pronged approach to become the preferred and select distributor of new music for most artists, and be the only game in town (or at least one of a handful) where you can find every song you want.

Even if you can’t stream it.

Paid Streaming

Apple is only doing paid streaming. No free tier. That’s, potentially, a huge knock against them when it comes to the likes of Spotify and Pandora, with their free, ad-based streaming level [1]. Spotify has 20 million paying subscribers, with another 55 million free subscribers [2]. That’s a lot of people listening for free, paying only with eyeballs and earholes. And, as of 2014, Spotify, with it’s 20 million paying subscribers, was not a profitable business [3]. Now, that’s not to say I think Spotify is going to go out of business tomorrow. Just that it sets the table for why Apple is doing only a paid tier.

Taylor Swift famously pulled her album off of Spotify (and other streaming platforms) because she didn’t think her music should be free:

It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is [4]

So most (major) artists don’t want streaming, and don’t make money off it. Follow any of them on Twitter and they’ll tell you how little they make from streaming, particularly from free streaming. [5] Apple offering only a paid tier is a great way to ingratiate themselves with the labels and the artist—see, we love you, we won’t make you deal with this silly free streaming bit (free trial aside). [6]

Apple gets to walk up to the artists and labels and say “Everything is paid, oh, and Spotify’s 55 million accounts? We have 800 million iTunes accounts.” Apple has 800 million iTunes accounts, most of which likely have a credit card.

Apple comes to the game with the potential to bring 800 million paying customers to the music industry.

Oh, and the Apple Music app will come pre-installed on every iOS device. Of which, there’s been a billion sold.

Let’s even cut it in half and say there’s 500 million active iTunes subscribers. That’s 10x Spotify’s total base. Cut in to 25%. 200 million possible paying customers for Apple Music, 10x Spotify’s paying base.

All of whom just have to click a button to start paying 10 bucks a month for music. It wouldn’t shock me to see Apple Music pass Spotify in the first 6 months.

Doesn’t matter that Apple is late to the game. They’re going to be the biggest player in streaming music by the end of 2016, at the latest.

Beats 1 Radio

If streaming is going to be so important, and users will have all this music at their hands, what’s up with Beats 1 Radio? Besides Russ ‘3 commas’ Hanneman on Silicon Valley, who cares about radio on the internet?

Well, loads of people still use Pandora to discover music. Or listen to something to point them to new stuff (podcasts, youtube, friends). There’s still some need for serendipitous discovery of music. Beats 1 is Pandora, with a human DJ.

Oh, and with shows from major artists, who will come on to promote their own albums, or albums of other artists.

I’m sure both Pandora and Spotify slip promoted artists into their recommendations, but they have to do it subtly. They would jeopardize their existing base if they were obviously shoving paid artists into their algorithmically generated playlists.

“You’re listening to Arcade Fire. Here’s the new one from Taylor Swift.”

Beats 1 can do that. Even if it won’t be as cynical as that, Beats 1 has human DJs. They can promote new songs all the time. They can break artists and new music. Artists can debut new songs and albums on their own shows.

It’ll likely become commonplace for an artist to put together a couple of shows for Beats 1 as part of the lead up to a new release. With an easy one click “add this to your library” button right there to generate more streams for the artist.

Artist Outreach

Beats 1 and paid streaming are two ways to draw artists closer to Apple. And to help Apple start to disintermediate the labels. That’s why Apple has launched Apple Music Connect. It’s another Facebook or Twitter for artists (or their representatives) to reach out to their fans directly, keep them engaged between albums, and oh yeah, remind them that there’s a concert coming out, or that an album from the back catalog happened to have come out 3 years ago today.

I don’t know if it’ll be successful, but it’s an attempt to help bring artists closer to the process, and maybe (over time) show them that they don’t need a label.

The Magic Sauce

If you’re Taylor Swift (or really, any artists), what do you need to launch your new album now? A radio show on Beats 1 (that you promoted across Facebook and Twitter) to get customers streaming it within moments of it being released? Sure, some advertising in the iTunes store or on TV and traditional radio helps too.

But, as the music industry, you’re trading dollars of selling albums for streaming. And, today, that’s not a great tradeoff.

This is where Apple helps the music industry save the day. What if Taylor Swift (or Kanye or Drake or The Shins or whomever) says “sure, you can stream my album, but not until it’s been released for 6 weeks”. The old VHS/DVD rental window.

Now it comes together.

An album gets released, gets real promotion, and for some period of time, you can only buy it physically in stores, or online (at iTunes, Amazon, etc.).

Apple will have hundreds of millions of subscribers who can hear a song on the radio, or Beats 1, or wherever and will be the only place in town to actually hear it (via the iTunes Music Store).

I have to think the music industry is looking at that as a way to stem the erosion from paid music to streaming. The artists get rewarded for their new music, get paid (less) for streaming their older music, and can use their older music as a loss-leader to get people into the newer (paid, non-streaming) albums.

Personally, I think when you look at all of these factors, I don’t think Apple is looking at Apple Music as “oh shit, we need to get into streaming”, but more “oh shit, there’s a bank vault’s worth of money here, if we can get a big enough streaming base.”

If Apple can quickly grow their streaming base, with the paid streaming lever, and the iTunes Music Store, they’re positioned, I think to change the music industry again. From a lot of people’s perspectives, it’ll be a step backwards (“paying for music?!”), but I think it’s the logical next step for music. Apple will have everything (almost), whether it’s brand new music (paid albums/tracks via iTunes Music Store), everything else (paid albums/tracks via iTunes; streaming via Apple music), or serendipitous discovery/promotion (Beats 1 radio, algorithmically generated radio stations).

I’d be willing to bet, we’ll see some of this by the end of 2016. We may start to see the underpinnings when Apple Music launches tomorrow.


  1. I don’t pay for Spotify today. I’m an old-school idiot who uses free Spotify to sample music, and then buys the stuff I like off of iTunes and Amazon for fear that the man may someday shut down Spotify. (I’m old-school because I buy downloadable content. Weird.)  ↩
  2. http://press.spotify.com/us/information/  ↩
  3. http://recode.net/2014/11/25/spotify-is-a-booming-billion-dollar-business/  ↩
  4. http://time.com/3544039/taylor-swift–1989-spotify/  ↩
  5. Though someone is making the billions of dollars going from streaming services to the music companies. I wonder who that is. I wonder who it is that signs these agreements with the streaming services that result in billions of dollars for the labels, and pennies for the artists. I wonder.  ↩
  6. Of course, last week, Taylor Swift and Apple had a little back and forth about Apple’s decision to not pay artists during the three month trial of Apple Music. Apple relented (as they should have from the start) and will pay artists during the free trial period. As you might have guessed, the quid pro quo of that decision is Taylor allowing 1989 to be streamed on Apple Music.  ↩

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