American Airlines Launches Real-Time Tracking For All of Their Lost Bags

“‘It’s something our customers have been asking for [for] a really long time, and we’re excited to make this available to them,’ American Airlines spokeswoman Laura Nedbal tells the Tribune.”

Really, what customers want is to have their bags show up at their destination. That fact that we’ll now know in advance that American lost our luggage is some sort of improvement, I guess.

(Via Consumerist.)

American Airlines Follow-up (or American Airlines Still Sucks)

If you didn’t see the post-script to my post about how awful American Airlines is, and how poorly they treated my wife and I (and thousands of other people), here’s the kicker—we made it onto our final flight and arrived home, and were even treated nicely (and sympathetically) for the first time by a really nice attendant.

And then our luggage wasn’t on our flight. Or the following two flights. It made the last flight out of Miami, meaning, once again, American made us wait an extra 24 hours to get our bags.

They delayed, cancelled, caused a missed connection, or lost our luggage on every leg of our travel. Both ways. Every leg.

I wrote them a long, detailed note while waiting in the line from hell. I actually sort of held it together and didn’t devolve into an array of f-bombs and calling people douchebag. I think that showed restraint.

They responded offering my wife and I each $200 in travel vouchers.

I politely told them to stick it and asked them that they give us a meaningful refund. We’ll see where this goes.

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.

Coda

We made our flight home.

Our luggage didn’t. They lost our luggage both directions. Even though we’d been assured by a snippy gate agent (during our marathon wait in line) that it would be on the flight.

It arrived on the last flight from Miami to Boston on Saturday. We received it Sunday right around noon.

To their, “credit”, American offered us a grand $200 in vouchers to use on their airline. That we will, most certainly not use.

Handy Travel Technology

I’m expecting I’ll be traveling a bit more for work this year and, in preparation for that, I asked for a couple of things for Christmas to help make that a bit easier. There are three devices that I think have become integral to my travel, just in terms of making life a little bit easier.

When you travel, iPhone batteries seem to take a beating. You tend to move around places with weak cell coverage and intermittent wi-fi coverage that keep your phone radios fired up and burning battery. There’s lots of downtime where you’re using your phone to check on fight status, or read the news, or just entertain yourself while waiting for a flight. A couple of years ago I picked up a Mophie Powerstation battery pack. It’s 4000 mAh, which basically means it can charge an iPhone full more than two times, and can also charge an iPad. I charge it, throw it in my bag, and then if I feel like my phone might die that day, it’s small enough to keep in my pocket. One recommendation: get a small cable so that you don’t have to carry the traditional long Lightning cable around with you.

Hotel wifi is notoriously bad. In some hotels, you either pay for each device, or logging one device on bumps another device off. When listening to an episode of Mac Power Users, I heard about the Edimax N150 Travel Router. Basically, it’s a little USB powered wifi router. Once you set it up (it’s not the most straightforward thing), you hook it either into the hotel’s ethernet or wifi. That way, you have one device that’s always connected to the hotel’s internet, and then you connect to it. Since it’s not moving around (the way you often are when using an iPad or iPhone), you don’t worry about losing signal. And, it’s advanced enough to broadcast a hidden (and protected) network so that other folks won’t jump on your connection.

Since it’s USB powered, it fits perfectly right into the Belkin BST300bg. This is a surge protector, USB charger, and outlet expander all in one. So many hotels have only a couple of power outlets, and they’re usually located in the most horrible place possible. You plug the Belkin into any outlet, and it’ll give you 3 surge protected outlets (great for your laptop) and two USB ports. Use one to charge your device, and plug your little Edimax wifi router into the other. Even better at the airport when you need to charge your gear and you’re fighting over one of those airport outlets. Throw this in and share the love.

If you shop smartly (and the links above are to Amazon, so I’ll get a tiny kickback if you buy one), you can pretty much get all three of these for less than $100. That’s $100 well spent, and it’ll make your travel much, much happier.

Losing Your Luggage (and Your Mind)

When we got back from France, I mentioned, in passing, that Air France had kind of blown it with our luggage. I decided to wait a little bit to tell that story, mostly because a) I didn’t want to jeopardize any refund we might get from the airline, and b) I didn’t want to fly off the handle still pissed at the world. Enough time has passed that I figured I can relate the story coherently.

Sunday, the last day in Tuscany was a bit hectic. Getting from the villa to the train station wasn’t as straight forward as we had hoped, but the train ride was nice and relaxing. We had plenty of time to get from the train station in Florence, via bus, to the Florence airport. My experience with the bus driver should have tipped me off that this would be a challenging trip.

Upon getting on the bus, the bus driver wouldn’t give me change (even though he clearly had enough), and wanted an exact fare. Sadly, Katie had used a euro to use the bathroom, and we were one euro short. Thankfully, there was a very nice woman who gave me a euro so that we wouldn’t have to get back off the bus, go into the terminal, get change, and then wait for the next bus.

After arriving at the airport, we made it to pick up our tickets, but both self-service terminals for Alitalia were broken, and there was no one at the service desk to give us our tickets. So, we grabbed some lunch. When we came back, there was a little bit of a line, but it moved quickly. The service agent was super nice, but was surprised when I asked her why she only flagged our luggage as heading to Amsterdam, and not to Paris. She replied that she didn’t even know that we were booked to Paris. We straightened that out, got our tickets (with both legs being in business class!) and headed to our gate.

We waited at the gate for our flight to board. And waited a bit more. And a bit longer. When we finally got going, it became pretty clear that we were going to have a very tight connection. I started making mental plans for catching the first subsequent flight to Paris. As we landed, I said “Well, if our next flight is leaving from a gate within about 50 feet of this one, we might make it.”

We got off the plane. The gate agent told us our flight was just two gates down.

Not bad.

Of course, we didn’t have tickets for this flight yet—we had to get them re-issued. I ran around the terminal while Katie waited in line. Finally, we just got up to our gate and explained our situation, and they issued our tickets (once again, we snuck into an upgraded seat). If we made the tight connection, surely our bags did.

After about 30 minutes of waiting in Paris, it was clear that, surely, our bags did not.

Katie spoke enough French and the really nice Air France woman spoke enough English that we were quickly able to explain the situation and get some answers. Our bags were still in Amsterdam, they’d arrive tomorrow morning, and they would have them to us by noon. They provided us some toiletries, explained the reimbursement policy (100 Euros a day, per person, but save the receipts!)

We could wait one day, so we headed to our lodging.

About 3pm the next day, after following along online, I made the first of what would be many calls to the Air France baggage line. They had a lot of missing bags, weren’t sure why anyone had told us it would be delivered by noon, and they’d let me know as soon as they found it. It would, most definitely, be soon. No big deal, we’d relaxed all day and could wash up a bit and go grab some dinner.

Late Monday night, they called and emailed to let me know they had our luggage and it was delivered to a courier. The courier would call in the morning and setup a time.

Tuesday morning, sure enough, the phone rang. The courier, who spoke little English told me, who speaks little French, that it would be delivered between 10am and 2pm. I only asked that they call my number, so I could meet them downstairs; we were staying in an apartment and did not have a doorman to collect the package. No problem.

2pm rolled by. At 3:30pm, I called and was told it was “traffic”. At 4:30pm, I called again and was told it was “traffic”. I told them, “That’s funny, because your web site says you tried to deliver it, but I wasn’t here. Which is clearly not true, because I’ve been talking to you all day.”

I asked if they could redeliver it. Or if I could pay for the courier to bring it back. Nope. I could have them bring it back to the airport, or wait for the courier.

Now, at this point, I was a bit incredulous, but trying to hold my temper. What was I going to do? Screaming at the poor woman on the phone wouldn’t get me anywhere. I asked that they find out how they didn’t deliver it, if they could contact the courier, and how we could make sure we would get our luggage.

All told, I probably spent $50 on the phone back and forth with Air France and the courier. I was assured that the luggage would be delivered on Wednesday. I told them they were ruining our vacation.

You might ask, “why didn’t you just go buy new clothing?” We did buy some, but spending a bunch of money on new clothes in Paris, in hopes that they’d reimburse me, doesn’t sound fun to me. A better policy would simply be cutting me a check, or issuing us some sort of credit. That way, I wouldn’t be on the hook for stuff I may not get paid back for. Anyway …

Katie’s brother, living in Paris, agreed to hang out at our place, with my phone, and would wait for our luggage while we went and did some sightseeing. We once again got the 10am – 2pm window. These guys make the cable companies look good.

At 1:30ish, they called Katie’s brother and delivered our luggage.

When leaving Paris, somehow, we got bumped up to business class again, priority boarding, the whole nine yards. I’m assuming that’s due to the issues we had, which at least makes me feel like they were trying to make good. At home, I not only asked to be reimbursed for the clothing and toiletries that we bought, but also for the phone calls I made. Delta (who handle the domestic side for Air France) didn’t bat an eyelash; we had the whole amount reimbursed.

I’ve tried to think about what I would have wanted to go differently, other than not having to deal with losing our luggage at all. I think the answer is really simple:

When you screw up, own it. Don’t make it someone else’s problem.

But outsourcing the delivery of the luggage and having zero control over the process, a poor delivery service made Air France look completely second rate. It would have cost them $100 to expedite the luggage, I imagine. Once the first delivery had failed, they should have called and had it delivered special. Had they done that, I wouldn’t be talking about how bad their service was, I would be talking about how they went above and beyond.

Instead, I’ve told a number of people about our experience, I’ll think twice before flying Air France again, and I will go out of my way to not check a bag through them.

It’s not easy to be a big company and empower your service team to do the right thing. This seems like something that, unfortunately, happens often enough that they should have a protocol and empower their team to make it right. Instead, they made it someone else’s problem (first, the delivery company; second, mine).

In the end, we still had a pretty great trip, lost luggage or not.

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European Vacation

Not of the National Lampoon’s variety, but instead a trip to Tuscany for a wedding, followed up by nearly a week in Paris. Aside from a couple of challenges (ahem, Air France not delivering our delayed luggage), it was a pretty remarkable 10 days or so.

We stayed in a town called Bibbiano in the Tuscany region of Italy for a wedding, on a little vineyard. It was simply a beautiful location for a wedding (and a vacation). The only downside was a lack of working wifi—it existed, but you head to stand in exactly the right spot to use it.

(Yeah, yeah. I know I shouldn’t be on the web while I’m on vacation, but given that my Celtics had the NBA Draft and announced a trade of the remaining members of the Big Three, I’m pretty sure I had every reason to be slurping down those handful of bytes that would get through the slow wireless connection.)

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After a train ride from Bibbiano to Florence, we caught a flight (via Amsterdam) to Paris. Our tight connection in Amsterdam meant that our luggage did not make the flight to Paris with us. At some point, when I’ve had some time to process my anger, I’ll relay that story.

We stayed in north eastern Paris, in an apartment we got off of Airbnb. It was very near the Metro and in a sort of hipstery neighborhood. Our first couple of days were spent just walking around a bit, relaxing, and waiting for our luggage. We were able to see Sacré-Cœur and eat lots of good food on our first two days. On Wednesday, we were finally able to really explore the city, and we did our best to hit up every touristy place you might want to see—I’ve never been to Paris before, so it was an opportunity to see all the big stuff.

On the trip, we ate way too much meat and cheese (well, if there were such a thing as too much cheese), but balanced that off with walking miles each day. Thankfully, Katie knows enough French to help us get around without too much trouble, though Paris is very very easy for an English-speaker to get around (and most folks speak at least a little English).

One of our last dinners in Paris was a great dinner with some friends who’d also attended the wedding in Italy. After dinner at Le Relais de l’Entrecôte (so good), we ventured over to a Canadian bar to have a nightcap. There we met a couple of great people which lead to a few too many beers being downed. (Getting good beer in Paris is hard to do, and I was pretty wined out after spending four days at a vineyard.)

Paris (Sacre Coure)

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