Friday, December 18, 2009

Flying High (Part Two)

It's been a long week and I couldn't bring myself to throw myself into another blog post today, so I'm cheating a bit. I am reprinting a letter I sent to American Airlines after they lost my luggage on one of my trips to California.

The story in itself is funny enough, but what's really interesting (to me) is reading exactly what I sounded like and what my thought processes were like when I was high. I resisted the very strong urge to take out some of the more embarrassing parts of the letter and I'm printing it in its entirety. Enjoy!

To Whom it May Concern:

I have been flying with American Airlines for several years now, with mixed results. On the whole however, your airline has been marginally better than others I've used over the years. So, when I started my own business at the end of xxxx, I chose American as one of the three airlines I would test for my business travel. Partnerships my business has formed require me to do a significant (significant for a one-person company at least) amount of air travel. I selected the three airlines based on availability of the routes I travel most, fares and ease of frequent flier mileage use.

My thought here was that if I simply chose from those three airlines every time, eventually the winner would self select by virtue of being the airline I opted for most often. Without going through the whole breakdown, it became apparent that AA was at least a better choice than Frontier and Jet Blue.

In fact, I ended up flying AA enough to become a gold elite member on my last trip of xxxx. Sir or madam, if that trip is any indication of how you treat your gold elite members, I beg you to certify me tin or aluminum or whatever worthless metal I was before. I have never had a worse -- or more expensive -- flying experience in my life.

I flew from JFK to LAX on December 26 on flight xxx. I was running a little late, and I knew it was a busy air travel day, so I was neither surprised nor alarmed when my luggage was not on the conveyor belt when I arrived in Los Angeles. Since I needed to check in to my hotel and attend a meeting, I left the airport and called the delayed baggage department from my hotel after I checked in. I was given a locator number and assured that everything would be OK.

I never heard from AA again regarding the delayed luggage. I checked out of the hotel on the morning of the 29th, because I had to attend a meeting in San Diego and my return flight to New York was scheduled (on American Airlines obviously) for 4:30 pm. Imagine my surprise when I received a call from the concierge at the Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood at 11 am telling me that American had JUST delivered my luggage to the hotel. I had received no call from American to say that my luggage was being delivered. However, when I spoke to the woman about the delayed luggage, I explained that I was due to return to New York on Friday and would be checking out of the hotel on that day as well. Since it is standard check-out policy in the United States that all guests check out at either 11 am or noon, I would think any luggage being delivered to a customer on their check-out date would be marked as an exception. I do not believe for one minute, and you don't either so don't even bother, that the typical hotel guest waits until 10:59 or 11:59 am to check out of his or her hotel room. They check out at some point on that last day depending on their flight schedule, their itinerary for the day and probably several other factors. It would never be safe for anyone to assume that a guest would still be at the hotel at 11 am on the morning they are scheduled to check out.

Now, in our new era of air travel, I have tried to be a good citizen by only carrying on board those things that I need either at the airport or on board the plane. 95% of the time, my carry-on bags fit under the seat, with no need for the overhead compartment, leaving that available for all those people who can't part with any of their belongings for three hours. Because of my attempt to adhere to your (and the rest of the air travel industry's) needs, here's what American Airlines' negligent and careless actions caused for me (receipts or credit card statements available upon request):

I had no clothes other than those on my back, so I went casual at Sports Chalet and Old Navy (they were basically all that were open when I realized I wasn't getting my luggage that night) -- $388.86

Phone chargers and laptop charger in checked baggage, so Radio Shack and Circuit City -- $207.34

All toiletries in checked bags (no liquids through security), at Long's Drugs -- $68.41

The ridiculous trip back from San Diego to the Bel Age Hotel, before going to LAX, took five hours, causing me to miss my rescheduled flight at 9:30 pm. That resulted in at least $25 in gas wasted in the rental car, plus $115 for a night at another hotel so I could catch a flight in the morning.

But there's more really. When I originally called to reschedule my flight before heading back to the hotel to get my luggage, the very arrogant woman I spoke to was falling all over herself to do only the bare minimum required for me. She kept me on hold for almost 5 minutes while she went to determine if my luggage "story" was indeed true. When I told her that I would prefer to be on the 11:20 pm flight, but would accept the earlier flight if necessary, she didn't put me on hold form even one second to check the availability of the later flight. She simply told me that I would be on the 9:30 pm flight. Her attitude put me in the position of trying to get back to the hotel and to the airport in what turned out to be an unreasonable amount of time for a Friday afternoon. I don't know if you are aware of how much more difficult it is to get to West Hollywood than to LAX from San Diego, but three of my five hours of driving occurred from Anaheim to West Hollywood, and then I still had another 45-60 minute (due to Friday evening traffic in West Hollywood) drive to LAX.

I haven't included the 45 minutes when I was in a minor traffic accident in Anaheim, where I'd gotten off the highway because of a delay that was reported to be an hour or more. Now, if you've been following this story, you'd know that had I not had to go back to West Hollywood for my luggage, I'd have already been on a plane by this time and the traffic accident would never have occurred. I'm sure the $500 deductible that I have to pay before American Express rental insurance kicks in is of no consequence to you, as you can delude yourselves into believing that this expense is unrelated to my air travel. You may do that if you wish, but you will be wrong.

I also didn't include the $110 in cab fare from LAX back to a hotel in LA and then back to LAX in the morning. It would my choice not to stay in a hotel at the airport, so I accept responsibility for my decision, but I should not have had to make that decision at all, because I should have been back in New York already.

After my absurdly long and stressful day, I arrived at the hotel at approximately 1:30 am. Now, when I again had my flight rescheduled, I told the supervisor that I would really prefer the 8:30 am flight. She responded by handing me a ticket for the 6:30 am flight. Maybe there were no seats available on the 8:30 flight at that point. I have no way of knowing because she didn't explain why she did that. She just walked away. I don't think you will be overly shocked to find out that I overslept and arrived back at the airport at 6:29 am.

Another brutally busy air travel day, I was given no other option except to stand by on a flight after flight after flight to JFK. As my name inched up the stand by list from 17 for the 7:30 flight to 5 for the 2:30 flight, I watched my opportunity to attend the concert for which I had paid $200 for two tickets (would you like two unused tickets to see Jennifer Hudson at the Hammerstein Ballroom at 11pm on December 30th) disappear.

Finally, I spoke to one of the attendants for the only flight to Newark, NJ that day, and begged her to transfer my name to that standby list. Ever the optimist, I clung to the naive hope that since the Newark flight was scheduled to arrive at 11:10 pm, and performers (especially in gay venues) rarely go on on time, and because I live only two blocks from the Hammerstein Ballroom, I might just make it. Thanks to under staffing at the Newark airport, we sat on the runway for more than 20 minutes after landing before getting to the gate. I then went to baggage claim, where I waited for about 15 minutes before I decided that maybe I should ask some questions. You see, no one bothered to inform me that it was only me that would be getting on that plane to Newark. My luggage was tagged for JFK and it was going to JFK regardless of the absurdity or inconvenience to me.

I left the airport and went home. I took a few minutes to wash my face and brush my teeth, and we headed over to the Hammerstein Ballroom. Alas, when we arrived we were told that Jennifer had already performed; in fact, she'd just finished because she went on 45 minutes late.

After sleeping until 10 am, I called AA delayed baggage again on Sunday afternoon. Oh right, the luggage. Still I had no luggage. I was assured that my luggage was at JFK by a delightfully friendly woman. Sadly, it could not be delivered that day because I live on the west side of Manhattan and Times Square would be closed by 4 pm for the New Year's Eve celebration. It might be pointed out to someone, anyone, at your airline, that there are several other ways to get to the west side of Manhattan from JFK airport without going through Times Square. In fact, for about 18 hours of every day, I would recommend NOT going through Times Square to get to the west side of Manhattan. Try above 59th or below 30th streets for easier travel from the east side to the west side. It's unfortunate that no one at your airline would have any way of knowing how to navigate the streets of New York City. It probably puts you at a great competitive disadvantage. Since one aspect of my business is business communications consulting, perhaps I could give some of your department heads some advice on distributing information critical to operating a successful business. If your business finds it necessary to make deliveries in certain areas, it is crucial that the people making these deliveries get the information they need to do it. It would benefit AA greatly to enlist the help of people who can develop routes that circumvent planned traffic problems. Obviously accidents and unpredictable traffic patterns will always throw a wrench in the works, but if I'm not mistaken, they've been dropping that ball in Times Square on New Year's Eve for at least two or three years now. I think it's safe to assume that you could plan for alternate routes on that day, rather than just shutting down the operation at 3 pm because you have no idea how to get around it.

And for the record, as I sit here writing this letter on January 2 at 2 pm, I still do not have my luggage. I don't think we can blame those irresponsible partiers from December 31 any longer. It's time to look in the mirror and see who really is responsible for these screw ups now.

Since I got to JFK on the morning of the 26th, I have been in possession of my luggage for 9,5 hours. The Bel Age hotel had it for slightly longer than I did -- 10 hours. American Airlines has had it for 6 days, 11 hours and counting. Are you kidding me? Let's forget for a minute (but just for a minute) about the itemized $1004 I spent or lost because of this incident. My trip was only supposed to be three days long. How is it that your airline has had possession of my luggage for twice that amount of time? Wait. Before you answer, let's remember that for three of those days, you've known where my luggage is, and that I'm waiting for it, and that I was already inconvenienced for three days prior. Now, how is it that your airline can not make it even the smallest priority to get my luggage back to me?

I don't want a check for $1004. I would be as deluded as the people that work for you if I thought even for one second that I could get that out of you. You have protected your business from responsibility in so many ways that it would cost me three times that to get anything from you, and by the time I got it I would probably have forgotten what it was for.

But regardless of what you think, you have an obligation to make this right. I have lost more than 1000 dollars because of this, plus the lost time and work dealing with this, to say nothing of the damage being done by the anger it's caused.

I do think that a voucher for a round trip flight in business class from New York to Los Angeles, made out in a way that allows me to accrue the miles associated with it, is not too much to expect. The retail value of that covers my monetary loss plus a bit of the intangible and unquantifiable loss as well. And it doesn't cost your airline anywhere close to the 1000 dollars that I spent during this ordeal. So, for a fraction of what your actual obligation is, you can save me the trouble of having to test three more airlines in xxxx and keep the approximately 40,000 - 80,000 miles I'm going to fly this year with your airline exclusively.

I do apologize for the long-winded nature of this letter, but you can take some comfort in the knowledge that I spared you a phone conversation where I would have covered each of these details repeatedly. I am sending this to several people because I'm not sure who the appropriate person is. I'm am not trying to be compensated twice. I am simply trying to make sure it gets into the hands of the right person quickly. I thank you in advance for your help in this matter.



  1. I know you don't read novels, but there's a very good one a read a couple years back, Dear American Airlines. It's a letter to American by a guy stranded at O'Hare but it turns into something much more. Very creative and well-written fiction. (It couldn't be more apt, so I'm compelled to tout it...)

    But your letter, while different, is very compelling and very comical. The elaborate hypothetical with the postulated avoidance of the car accident is my favorite element.
    Are you going to share what the outcome was? Or do I have to wait until the next blog?

  2. Oh yeah. That's kind of mean to leave you all hanging. It's really anti-climactic. I got a $300 voucher, which I still haven't used.

  3. Did I miss something? I am not sure where the embarrassing parts were. If we didn't know the reason for the trip, this could have been a very normal occurrence. In fact, with the addition of a few expletives and some major (very hurtful) name calling, I could have easily written a very similar letter. However, since I don't write as well, and being that my strong suit is in physical/verbal animation, I probably would have made the trip to AA business offices and did it in person. Someone would have been in tears and I assure you it wouldn't have been me.

  4. The fact that you keep referring to this as business travel is what intrigues me. Did you ever get your luggage returned to you?

  5. ...started your own business...LOL. what a euphemism.

  6. omg. i have to agree w/blase about the 'business', my friend, are a piece of work!

  7. I guess it is not surprising that I could see you writing this...

  8. petr -- this letter is amazing. you're right in that the fascinating part is watching you unravel from "business owner" in paragraph one to full-on lunatic by paragraph six. there was much of it i couldn't even read. hilarious but also deeply revealing of your thought processes (such as they were)when you were on crystal meth. one of the funniest sentences but also the most poignant was when you wrote, "It's time to look in the mirror and see who really is responsible for these screw ups now." remarkable.