Wednesday, March 16, 2005

We're AA, Doing What We Do Best

Jawbitch and I decide to take the kids away with us on a dream vacation to the lovely island of Anguilla . We pack up our suitcases to leave Saturday morning, and of course, we get 4 inches of fresh snow, by 5:30 a.m. Flight's at 8:05 a.m. from Kennedy, via St. Thomas, and then switch to Anguilla:

GG: Daddy, are we going to make it to the airport?
G-man: Yes, don't worry. We'll be trading our snowmen for sandcastles before the day ends.

Fortunately, our trusty driver Bobby shows up early, we pile in, and head to the airport. As we near the Nassau county line, the snow abates, and we make it there with plenty of time, and little likelihood of a weather-related delay. As we board, the stewardess rejects our seating, as two tickets are in the exit row:

Gatekeeper Stewardess: You can't board, go back to the front desk.
G-man: But you knew this when we booked over a month ago. One of your crew even checked our tickets at that desk well before boarding.
Front-desk man: This flight is full. You’ll have to take another flight.
Jawbitch, with family-in-tow, to the Gatekeeper: G-man and I will sit in the exit row. Somebody else can sit with the kids. Tough break for those people. Let us on now.

Thus, we board on time, renegotiate a non-exit row with persons over 18 who were more than pleased to sit in the amply wide exit rows, but there are no baggage handlers to load the plane. So we sit at the terminal for over an hour:

G-man: I'm concerned that we are not going to make our connecting flight to Anguilla.
Stewardess: Oh, don’t worry. We probably have flights every hour.

Little did I know that we weren’t flying with American, but with a little airline known as LIAT. We arrive two hours after that last-flight to Anguilla left. I wait an additional hour for our baggage to saunter through the dog-door, while Jawbitch negotiates another flight:

G-man: LIAT informs us there are no more flights to Anguilla today. What do you propose?
AA ticket agent: This was a weather related delay, not our fault.
G-man: Baloney . Baggage handling problems, the pilot even announced on the intercom there was no excuse for it. Call your manager.
AA ticket agent, after speaking on the phone: You booked an “illegal” flight.
AA ticket agent: No, that’s what we call it when there is less than an hour between the scheduled arrival and the connecting flight. We can’t do anything for you. Sorry, you’re on your own.

After spending seven hours from this ordeal, I acquiesce in Jawbitch’s demand to feed the kids. So we leave the airport for St. Thomas. After four interrupted cellular phone calls to the travel agent, with interminible wait hold times, probably steeped in roaming charges, I give up. I’ve been told that the flight are not illegal. We’re now taking a 7:40 p.m. flight to St. Martin, and hope to catch the last ferry (by 10 p.m.) to Anguilla.

After a satisfying, double-corona meal at the Green House, we make it back to the airport. I spend the next half-hour on a landline to the travel agent, and was assured that my flight was not illegal, by virtue of the fact that the tickets were issued. I call AA. After getting through to the phone-gatekeeper’s supervisor, I’m told that the decision to put us up for a night is made by the local airport manager, and not by the company itself. They admit the delay was their fault, but can’t make the decision. By this time, the desk is devoid of agents. So, I ask the gentleman:

G-man: Should we get stuck in St. Martin, would American be willing to put us up in a hotel there?
Supervisor: No, you are on your own.
G-man: Then, you at least should put us up in St. Thomas. We paid for our night in Anguilla ($780/night, BTW). You should at least commit to that.
Supervisor: No, that’s the decision of the local airport supervisor. Should you leave, you are on your own.
G-man: Well, since he decided that several hours ago, I’m taking my chances, and I’ll be sending American the bill, whatever happens. At least reimburse us for the ferry and cab rides.
Supervisor: You can send it in, and one of our administrative people will look at your claim. But, you are on your own.
G-man: I hope they make the correct decision, as you are the first person I’ve spoken to that has admitted that American is responsible for the delay. Wish me luck.
I leave the telephone, clear security, and make it into the LIAT lobby 2 minutes before takeoff. The place is packed, and there is no plane. I fret that we wont make the ferry.

Like a bad day on the LIRR, at 8 p.m., the plane arrives, we board, then rush through customs in St. Martin, wait for the bags, load the taxi, and then travel to the ferry. We are the only persons devoid of color. An argument ensues between two drunks on the dock. We have to leave our luggage behind a barrier. But we make it onto the ferry, which is packed full to the brim. Sweating, tired, hungry, and probably smelling like a wet chicken, I gratefully pay $80 for our 15 minute boat ride. I thank God that Jawbitch’s determination turned out to be right, as we wheeled the luggage down a narrow concrete dock into Anguilla customs.

Next post, the letter to American.