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American Airlines: Customer Disservice

Jul
4
2006

Travel is always a hassle. Forget all that Chatwin-ian crap about searching for the miraculous. It’s boring, uncomfortable and only the sanitary conditions compete with the dodginess of the food.

Some trips are worse than others. I got stuck in Heathrow on my way back to Milan from New York. After an O.J. Simpson-worthy dash through the airport (necessary thanks to a two-hour stall on the runway at JFK), I had been “offloaded” — airspeak for bumped — on the connecting flight.

It was an apt term. I already had a boarding pass, but they figured I wouldn’t make it. So they wanted to see my ticket and reissue another seat.

I handed over three additional pieces of paper left in the American Airlines sleeve. They said it wasn’t a ticket. I said, “Huh? Who cares? Here’s a boarding pass. And you have all the info on the computer.”

Upshot: I was definitively offloaded and forced to schlep upstairs (and through security again) to the ticket counter.

Back upstairs, the American Airlines ticket agent was relentlessly rude.

No paper ticket, no flight.

You must’ve lost your ticket, she bellows, because the ticket agents in New York have not reported anything. (Bad customer, bad, bad customer!)

We are not in 1957, I argue, your insistence on paper tickets is absurd when you’ve got plenty of electronic info.

No paper ticket, no flight.

Turns out the fine is the same as a ticket change, $100. With such a high penalty fee, employees are unlikely to report mistakes. So the customer is always wrong? I ask.

“I’m not here to argue logic with you,” she growls.

“No, you’re just here to charge me $100.”

“If you don’t want to fly, then don’t pay.”

My first instinct was to snap her – with my camera phone having spent a week in New York where the papers were full of camera-phone justice stories after Operation Exposure, a bust of local frotteurs and exhibitionists by undercover cops with phone cams. (Next time, despite the jet lag, I’ll remember to tape the conversation with the phone, a la AOLfiasco.)

I mean, shouldn’t there be an “Customer Service Photo Gallery of Shame” for this kind of treatment? Here I am, 3/4 through my trip and because they are insisting on *paper,* of all things, I miss my flight and have to pay a fine.

Her surly attitude didn’t alter when she said my credit card wasn’t valid. I gave her another one. She said it wasn’t valid either, pegging me not only for an irresponsible ticket loser but indigent, too. I asked her to try another terminal. She preferred running the cards through hers again and telling me they weren’t any good before trying her colleague’s. She did not bother to apologize when it turned out to be her fault, nor would she look into making sure my bags were put onto the next flight, insisting that – of course! – they would be.

I was issued a new and proper piece of paper for my troubles, which declared itself an “electronic ticket,” and of course no one asked to see it ever again.

After watching the baggage carousel empty in Milan’s Malpensa with no signs – of course! – of my Samsonite, I thought about how much living in Italy has improved my dealings with petty bureaucrats.

Non rovinarti il fegato” is the usual advice when things like this happen. Italians warn against “ruining your liver” with the kind of bile build-up that these situations cause. And in Italy there are so many of them, it’s never worth it.

But I’m still filing a complaint for a $100 refund.

Share  Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 10:38 PM | Permalink

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