Wednesday, November 24, 2010

American Airlines – a goddamn awful airline

Over the past four decades I’ve flown on most of the world’s major airlines – except one that is: American Airlines (AA). Up until 9/11, that wasn’t for any particular reason. It just happened that way. After 9/11, I made a point of avoiding AA because of its name. It seemed to me that AA would be the first choice of Al Qaeda in any future attacks because of its ‘American’ name.

But that was until today when I found myself on a codeshare flight from Toronto to Honolulu that I had booked through Qantas but turned out to be on American Airlines planes. It was actually two flights because it was via Dallas-Fort Worth and we had to change planes there. It was an early departure out of Toronto – 6.45 am – so we checked in at 4.45 am. The lines for immigration and security were a mile long, so we only had time to grab a yoghurt parfait and a coffee before boarding. That didn’t worry us as we knew AA was a full service airline in the One World alliance, so we looked forward having breakfast on board on the three hour flight to DFW.

After take-off the flight attendants came through offering a drink. After an hour or so I was getting hungry and started wondering when the meal service would start. I looked back down the plane to see if there was any activity in the galley – but there was none. So I walked down the back and found the flight attendants sitting in the rear seats, one reading a book and one filling in a crossword puzzle. I asked when breakfast would be served. One of the flight attendants raised her eyebrows, then frowned, and replied: “there is no food on this flight”. She frowned again as if to suggest I was crazy to think the airline would be serving breakfast, and turned back to her crossword puzzle without any further explanation as to why a three hour 6.45 am flight on a supposedly full service airline would not be serving breakfast. There was no food for sale either, so AA wasn’t even offering as good a service as a budget airline.

I had read stories in the past about American airlines cutting costs and imposing extra charges for checking baggage, but I’d not heard anything about them cutting out the food service entirely.

When we got to DFW, I went to an AA service desk and asked the clerk there whether a meal would be served on the flight to Honolulu. I had assumed that perhaps AA had cut out its meal service on shorter flights, but surely on an eight and a half hour flight to Honolulu there would be meal served. But I was wrong. She asked if I was flying first class. I said no, to which she replied “you can buy a sandwich on board”.

There were three hours between the flights so I took the opportunity to have some lunch at the airport and buy some snacks for the rest of the trip, but what I found quite incredulous was the announcement at the boarding gate before our flight left. The gate clerk announced that due to the incoming flight being full, the cleaning of the plane would take longer than usual and therefore the flight would be leaving 15 minutes late. She then went on to suggest that passengers use this time to go buy some food because “we’ve got some food on board to sell but there’s not enough for everyone and eight hours 40 minutes is a long time” (referring to the estimated flight time). Not the sort of announcement I would expect from a full service airline!

The flight actually left 50 minutes late because after the cleaners had finished they announced that there were some “technical problems that had to be fixed” but eventually we were on our way – or so we thought.

About three hours into the flight the pilot came on the PA to advise that we would be diverting to San Francisco because there was a technical problem. He said it was nothing serious but he didn’t want to fly over the Pacific with it. He said parts were available in San Francisco and it should take about an hour to fix on the ground. “Nothing to worry about, folks” he said.

Nothing to worry about? Maybe not, but when we landed in San Francisco we were quickly surrounded by fire engines.


AA never did tell us what was wrong except that they “needed to replace a switch”. That took two and a half hours instead of one. When we were eventually airborne again I wondered whether AA would try and make up for all the delays by offering passengers a meal (after all we were now running over four hours late, and wouldn’t arrive in Honolulu until 3 am Toronto time). But no, all we got was a recorded announcement saying “American Airlines and One World airlines thank you for choosing to fly American Airlines”. I wonder how many passengers would have been thinking “for the last time”?

All we got was a single drink again and then the flight attendants disappeared until it was ready to prepare the cabin for landing in Honolulu. And I wasn’t impressed with the condition of the plane either. The headset socket in my seat wasn’t working so I couldn’t watch the movie (which was only on a small screen about five rows in front of me; so difficult to see) and the passengers about three rows in front of me kept complaining about a bad smell around their seats (fortunately I only got a few whiffs of it).

I’ve not flown on many airlines worse than AA. I’d rate it on a par with Uzbekistan Airlines. Maybe slightly better because Uzbekistan Airlines probably wouldn’t bother landing if they had a technical problem – but at least Uzbekistan Airlines offers a meal service on flights that are eight hours long (although admittedly not very appetizing).

What amazes me most about the atrocious AA service is that they are still part of the One World alliance. Having flown on most of the other One World airlines, I can say without fear of contradiction that AA is not in the same class. It puzzles me that One World would still want to have an airline in its alliance that doesn’t even match the service standards of many budget airlines in the US (e.g. JetBlue who offer free drinks and snacks, and have flight attendants who are attentive throughout the flight).

So I will put my two flights on AA (which turned out to be three) down to experience, but I certainly won’t be flying on them again.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

No age limit for this Cuban model


Whilst walking around Havana’s old town this morning, I came across an old woman sitting against a concrete wall in one of the side-streets, puffing on Cuban cigars and posing for photographs in exchange for dollars.

I don’t normally like to pay for posed photographs - to me they look too touristy - so I just walked on by.  But after walking another couple of blocks I regretted not taking advantage of the photo opportunity, because she looked such a character.  So I turned around and went back, and she was still there, seemingly doing a roaring trade posing for tourists who were snapping away with their cameras and handing over dollars.


I took my photograph (above) and paid my dollar and went on my way. I guess she was making a good living ‘modeling’ for tourists – certainly enough to keep herself well supplied in Cuban cigars. Not sure that the cigars were doing much for her complexion though (click on the photo to enlarge and you'll see what I mean!)