Tuesday, January 13, 2009

American Airlines Services Going Downhill - Part Deux

This is a copy of the letter I have sent to American Airlines in regards to my last flight with them.



Today, January 12th, 2009, I flew on AA #648 from San Juan to JFK. The schedule departure time was 8:25am. The flight was delayed until 9am. None of the gate agents made any announcements or updated the passengers as to what the situation is. I know is pretty bad when they are not uploading cargo into the aircraft, as it is a big sign that the flight most likely will be cancelled.

I called AA reservations to find what other options are available for me to get to New York. My very ‘annoyed’ reservation agent (and I use the word ‘annoyed’ loosely) gave me some possibilities as to how to get to New York; one of them via St. Thomas, Miami or the afternoon non-stop flight.

At the new departure time of 9:00am (which actually was the “decision” time, not the new departure – which makes me quite upset that American decides to hide their head in the sand instead of telling us what exactly is going on) it was announced that the mechanical problem has been fixed and that we would start boarding soon with a new departure time of 9:30am. This is the first time we hear of a ‘mechanical’ issue.

The cabin crew boarded and we followed shortly thereafter. I boarded, stowed my bags and wanted to use the lovely lavatories. As I proceeded to the back of the plane, a flight attendant blocked me. She stated that the plane had no water and no galleys! This is a clear indication that the likelihood of the flight being cancelled was greater than I initially thought. This caused the flight to be even further delayed until 9:45am. While onboard, no one from the cockpit, or the crew, made any announcements about the mechanical issue, which would have reassured and calmed antsy passengers.

I am seated in the emergency exit row at door 3L (seat 27B). Just seconds after takeoff, a flight attendant call light a few rows in front of me went off. I saw people looking over to the left side of the aircraft. I alerted the flight attendant seated in front of me about the irregular situation. A woman grabbed a magazine and started to fan air to a passenger. The flight attendant at 3L turned around, saw the call light, rolled his eyes and literally, got off his jumpseat (I am thinking he is going to check on the passenger) and he just walked to the back of the plane where he sat in the last row of passenger seats. If this was truly an emergency, what would have happened? What if passengers were actually looking at something going on outside of the aircraft and wanted to alert the crew?

Just remember, a few years ago, there was an American Airlines A-300 that encountered and emergency out of San Juan. In this incident, the passengers where the ones who alerted the flight attendants that an engine was on fire. The plane turned back to San Juan, had to evacuate passengers via slides and luckily, there were no major injuries. What if this was one of those cases? Or worst? The inaction of this flight attendant (at door 3L) shows how unprofessional and uncaring he is towards a position that is supposed to be based on customer service and safety.

In addition, the flight attendant working the galley in the economy cabin, made the following announcement over the PA system (I am typing this letter as I am seated on my seat – 27B): “Ladies and Gentlemen, we would like to ask all of you who are waiting to use the lavatories in the back of the plane, to move out of the galley area so we can set-up the galley for the drink service. Once again…” and she repeated the announcement.

How unprofessional! Why make this announcement over the PA for over 200 people when is meant for just a handful of people in the back of the plane? Just remember that the lavatories were unusable while on the ground and many of us had to wait until after takeoff to use the facilities.

Which brings me to the fact of the appearance and lavatory conditions of this… actually, of all of American’s Airbus A-300’s. There are carpets and sidewalls being held together by duck tape. Seats are dirty as well and blankets look worn out and dirty. I took two flights to get to San Juan (connection via Miami) and the conditions of those A-300’s were even more appalling. Lavatories smells are just strong enough to make anyone sick. Paint is chipping off the walls and dirt is all over the place. How can anyone on the upper management level can look me in the face and tell me that they are proud of the product they offer to their customers?

As the video started, a lone flight attendant offered headphones for purchase. After a 1.30 hours delay, the least AA and this crew could have done is to offer complimentary headphones. But I guess profits take place before comfort and a simple gesture of apologies from the crew. By the way, the video system audio was cracking (at least on seats 27A/B) rendering watching the video completely useless. My seat tray table is broken and I wonder what else is falling apart on this aircraft.

In addition, on my flights to San Juan, the video systems were also not working properly with some of the monitors not working or in need of tracking and color adjustments. The conditions of the lavatories on those flights were even more appalling and the ‘latrine’ smells even strongest. On the Miami to San Juan flight, I did see the crew run from one side of the plane to another because every time the door of one of the lavatories opened, the smell was so strong and disgusting that they had to get out of that area!

By the way, at least 3 flight attendants have just walked and passed by the passenger ‘call light’ that has been on since takeoff and no one have checked, asked or paid attention to it.

There is something missing with this crew and it is “situational awareness”. In the airline industry, flight attendants (and everyone for that matter) are taught that this is the most important piece of safety as the crew are the “eyes and ears” of the cockpit and the leaders of safety of the cabin.

I am typing this PA announcement from the same galley flight attendant ( the one who made the prior announcement) prior to the beginning of the inflight service:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, in the economy cabin we will start our beverage service. We do have a selection of complimentary drinks. These are: Pepsi, diet Pepsi, sometimes Sierra Mist, sometimes diet Sierra Mist… (she outlined every single soft drink that is available onboard...) Also we have coffee and tea. If you want coffee or tea, make sure to tell us how you like it; with milk or no milk and sugar or no sugar. Also, we have alcoholic drinks for sale for 6 dollars. If you want vodka, is 6 dollars, if you want rum is 6 dollars if you want… (and she continued to outline every single alcoholic drink…). If you want to buy a snack… (and off she went to tell us about every single snack available for purchase and the respective price…)”

This very unprofessional, unnecessary and annoying announcement that went on for about 5 minutes. All I have to say is that I am glad that it was not translated into Spanish. Otherwise, we would be listening to PA announcements for at least 10 minutes. How about those who are trying to watch the movie? Oh, that’s right… there is poor audio for the video… never mind!

Why could the galley flight attendant refer the passengers to the page of the inflight magazine that gives us the full selection and description of drinks and snacks available? Why do I need to be treated like a child and spoken to like one? This is very unprofessional and I do feel quite embarrassed for the only one nice flight attendant on the flight (sorry… I wish I had her name…) but as the say goes: “It takes all of us to make everyone look good but only takes one of us to make everyone look bad”.

And as I am writing this portion of the letter, I do know that I might get a flight attendant in trouble… but the fact that he was violating an FAR, it does need to be brought up to your attention:

After the service was completed in the economy cabin, I decided to go for walk. The same flight attendant that was seated at 3L and refused to check on the passenger after takeoff, I found him sleeping in the last row of the aircraft while wearing noise reduction headphones. He literally slept on the passenger seat for the rest of the flight. I did not see him doing any cabin coverage.

The last time I saw this flight attendant (3L) was when he sat down in the jumpseat for landing. Even then, after the plane landed and was taxing to the gate, he was ready to disarm his door and run to the back of the plane. But because the other flight attendant at 3R was not doing so, he refrain himself from doing it and stayed seated. However, after the announcement to “prepare doors” was made, he disarmed his door and ran to the back of the plane before passengers got up.

This is the most unprofessional crew I’ve witnessed at American. Sadly, it is more the norm than the exception.

I am not one to complaint because I do know about the situation that all flight attendants are going through with job cuts, pay cuts, longer duty days for less rest time. But in this case, I do have to. Service wise, I can let things go. But when I see an FAR violation, I do have to speak up.

In summary, American Airlines management has cut back so much that planes are just too old and falling apart. Interiors are not being refurbished at all with fray carpets, old seats and old video/entertainment systems. Smelly toilets and disgusting bathrooms makes it unbearable to use. Only reason why I flew American? They were cheaper than JetBlue. And I am paying the consequences for the difference in price by giving up the difference in comfort,safety and service.

I do hope you follow up and receive a reply from you soon.


Raul Zambrana

On January 28th, I was surprised to find a letter in my inbox from American Airlines and below, is their response. I sincerely thought that my email would be deleted but it did get someone's attention. I will keep you posted in any outcome. I am not one to get anyone in trouble, but once you read the letter, you will understand why I did write it and "blew-the-whistle".

January 28, 2009

Dear Mr. Zambrana:

We received your email sent to Mr. Arpey, Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Garton. The details you provided to us about flight 648 were very troubling. Your message was immediately sent to our Vice President of Onboard Services and an investigation ensued. We are still in the process of gathering statements from the crew involved but I can assure you that once our investigation has concluded, we will take the appropriate corrective action with those involved. We very much appreciate that you took the time to contact us about all that occurred. Your feedback is especially meaningful because you are a fellow industry employee.

We realize that your disappointment wasn't just due to the actions of the crew but also in the condition of the cabin. The conditions you described are as unacceptable to us as they were to you and I've alerted our Manager of Cabin Services. This is certainly not the image we want to convey.

Mr. Zambrana, please give us another chance to serve you. We are all working hard to provide the high quality service you have every right to expect when traveling on American Airlines. Like you, we are proud of our company and I know we can do better.


Michelle F. Simmons
Customer Relations
American Airlines

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