One of the more unusual things I get to do when I go out of town to talk about the airline industry and its financial problems is that I also get to go to these events as a ….passenger.
So yes, there is a lot of “hat switching” that goes on. First I am talking airlines from an economic perspective. Then from an investment perspective. Then from a passenger perspective. Then — I fly a plane to get there to talk about all this.
And, if I am lucky, I get to fly one back too.
It’s almost like shooting a movie, only from the perspective of at least three different cameras.
Wednesday morning I had a great time speaking at the Midwest Business Travel Association, which officially, as homage to my presence, changed their name yesterday to the Chicago Business Travel Association. (No, I really had nothing to do with it, but I agree wholeheartedly with the change.)
I flew to Chicago on American Airlines. I returned on American Airlines.
Both flights were noteworthy, but for very different reasons.
Know that old less-than-flattering American descriptor — SkyNazis?
Yes, well, I hate to say this, but my flight attendants on my flight to Chicago were solidly in that camp. “Surly” would have been a good alternative adjective. Three men, and not one smile, not even one hint of a smile as I watched the two in the back of the bus work the crowd. I was in an aisle seat so I had a good view. And nope — never. Nothing close. In fact, they also managed to leave off the last sentence of the what now seems to be the set statement regarding the new buy on board food choices. That’s right. I was deliberately paying attention because, you know me, always adventuresome, I wanted to try something.
But after they announced the beverage service, they forgot a line that I DID catch on the flight home. The one about letting your flight attendant know during the drink service if you were interested.
After they made their humorless (or humanless) trip up the aisle with the beverage cart, I assumed they would make a second pass asking about food. Nada.
At that point I figured it was probably not worth the trouble. I would add that no one around me was enticed to order anything either. They were probably afraid to ask.
But yes, in reflecting back on the flight later — there is no question that the attitude of the inflight crew on this flight was probably one of the worst I have experienced in a very long time.
So yesterday, I arrive at O’Hare in plenty of time for my 1:40 scheduled departure for New Orleans. Aside from one TSA agent who probably should have stayed in bed yesterday, my trek to the gate at K17 (yes, at the very end of the concourse) was uneventful.
The American Airlines person handing me my bag tag was reasonably friendly. Good.
Flight coming into ORD was delayed. No problem.
Flight finally arrives. Good.
Flight now had maintenance folks on it. I don’t like where this is heading.
We get an update from the gate agent. She is not sure now when we are going to depart.
And then it got kind of interesting.
Because at one point our gate agent, who I have observed going down the jetway and coming back more than once, gets on the intercom and informs us that maintenance will not tell her what the problem is, nor will they give her any indication of what is going to happen to the airplane, no timetable, etc.
She then says she is going to call some other sources and she would be back in touch with us.
Now, for those of you who have not heard, there is a little problem going on right now between American and the TWU.
The other night one of our American friends forwarded me a copy of a letter from the JFK local that represents the American mechanics. It seems the airline just fired a few mechanics there for “sleeping on the job.”
To sum up the rest of the letter, the union was advising members that if the airline was going to start enforcing certain rules and regs by the book, then they should too.
Yes, we in the industry know what this is — it’s called “code.”
So I don’t know exactly what was going on with my flight yesterday. Maybe the mechanic working on it was just not sure how much more time it was going to take to fix the problem. Maybe the gate agent was being pushy. Maybe she was being pushy because the mechanic was being too vague. Maybe she was pissed off because he was being a jerk. Maybe she was assuming that he was being a jerk.
Whatever — I thought it unusual that our gate agent would come out of the jetway, obviously not happy, and then proceed to tell us that she was going to try and get us some more information from other sources (tower, dispatch) as to what was going to happen to us. Which she then did.
I got home. Finally. About 4 hours late.
The good part? The flight attendants on my flight home were very friendly and made a big point of pushing the buy on board option. They did their job, and they did it well.
Then again, as my seat mate noted, “You know it would have been nice if at some point onboard the Captain or someone would have just said, “We apologize for the delay coming out of Chicago” instead of reading the usual script about thanking us for flying American Airlines.”
Sometimes the obvious things are those that are the simplest.
Speaking of, to my American Airlines‘ gate agent, Darnell Law, a huge thank you. I was not the only passenger who personally thanked her for doing such a great job at keeping us informed as to what the delay was, how long it would be before we got an update, and why it was that we were not getting any updates.