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June 29, 2012

American Airlines Flight 673

What was that line from the opening song at the beginning of the classic Gilligan's Island television show? " .. a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour."

That's just a little less than what the flight time from New York City's JFK airport to Antigua (ANU) was supposed to be on June 25, 2012 on American Airline's Flight 673.

But instead, I was stuffed in seat 28F of an aluminum tube that's more routinely referred to as a Boeing 737 for just under twelve grueling hours. Oh, and guess what? I wasn't the only person having a bad morning at a New York airport. Read about how an American Eagle flight attendant went ballistic because of the same problems that affected my flight.

I hadn't flown on an American Airlines flight in years because I primarily fly Southwest Airlines. Let me tell you that I totally understand why Southwest Airlines routinely achieves the best ratings from passengers. For one, the culture at Southwest is such that they really and truly care about their passengers. It's not just a drab thank you as you turn off the runway after landing. The Southwest flight attendants and pilots mean it when they say it.

You know how you tend to take things you experience on a frequent basis for granted? That was me with Southwest Airlines. I just thought every airlines loved their passengers. But I got my first slap in the face about two weeks ago when I had to fly US Airways out of Manchester NH. Oh my gosh, US Airways has some very rude employees. But I digress.

NOTE TO CEO OF AMERICAN AIRLINES THOMAS HORTON: Tom, please do your customers and employees a favor and get up from your desk, change into some scruffy clothes, don't shave for three days and take a few long flights around the country on Southwest Airlines.

Keep a journal as you fly about your experience buying the tickets online, boarding the plane and the attitude of the flight crew. Try to be objective. I realize it will be hard for you to do, but please try.

Take a small digital camera with you. Please take photos of all the small food items the Southwest crew hands out for FREE. Be sure your camera's memory is large as on many flights that are the same length as your flight 673 was to Antigua you'll be offered MULTIPLE free items like peanuts, crackers, cookies, etc.

Be sure you save your ticket receipts. If you plan this little field trip exercise far enough in advance, I'm pretty sure you'll not pay Southwest over $275 per one-way ticket for flights over three or four hours in length. Frequently you can get them online for sale for about $89.

You'll notice the flights will be full like my flight 673 was, but I paid over $800 for my round-trip ticket that I had bought nearly six weeks in advance. One would think that your airlines - American Airlines - could have bought a few small bags of peanuts with that extra money I gave you.

Let's get on with my story.

I boarded my plane at 6:55 am from gate 34 at JFK. That's about right for a 7:30 am scheduled departure. I was dead tired having driven through the night from New Hampshire to JFK, so I fell asleep in my seat while we were still parked on the ramp.

I woke up at 8:30 am, I believe, as we were nearing the runway stuck in a line of other planes taking off. That's odd. We should have been in the air for about an hour by now.

But wait, the plane all of a sudden does a U-turn on the taxiway! I mean a U-turn! I've never seen that done before in all my years of flying.

Captain Clark Cochran announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, we need to go back to the gate and get some more gas. Air traffic control has changed our route."

I don't know who designed JFK airport, but there is no doubt he had an undisclosed interest in the local concrete and asphalt paving industry. I think we traveled three or four miles on taxiways.

Once back at Gate 34, Mother Nature chimed in with a 90-minute harsh thunderstorm. The ramp was closed and no way was the plane going to get fuel. I totally understand that. It's far too dangerous with all the lightning flashing.

By the time the storm subsided and we got fuel, it was past 10:30 am. We were supposed to be floating out of 35,000 feet by then gliding into Antigua. Lunch awaited me in a breezy sea-side restaurant minutes from the Antigua airport - at least in my dreams.

Out we went to the runway and Captain Cochran - who had been fantastic at keeping us up to date with all the information about what was going on - politely said over the PA, "Well, the storm has caused a huge traffic jam. There are all sorts of planes now trying to claw their way up into the air to get folks like you on their way. We will not be taking off immediately."

By 11 am, the fully loaded Boeing 737 was fighting the humid air to gain altitude. We were on our way. But not out over the Atlantic Ocean for the relatively short direct route to Antigua. We were flying over land!

"Ladies and Gentleman, Air Traffic Control has closed the over-water routes to us. Because of our late departure, we've lost our slot to other planes that are traveling to the Caribbean. The best way for us to get you to Antigua today is to fly over land stopping in Miami, FL. We'll need to get more gas there and then I can take you to Antigua," he confidently spoke.

I must admit, Captain Cochran was the most accommodating pilot I've ever flown with. He was routinely keeping us informed of what was going on. Kudos to him for that!

If you get out a globe of the world and look at North and South America, you'll quickly see that Antigua is on the border of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It's 1,757 miles from JFK to Antigua in air miles. It's usually a 3.5-hour flight.

The distance from JFK to Miami, FL is 1095 miles, or about a 2-hour 12-minute flight.

Miami FL to Antigua is 1,306 miles which is a tad over 2.5 hours of flight time.

We landed in Miami, FL about 2:30 pm. By then, I was starting to feel the effects of low blood sugar. Surely they would allow us off the plane to get some food.

What we didn't know is that while we were flying to Miami, Captain Cochran was arguing, negotiating, pleading, etc. with American Airlines headquarters to have a concession truck meet us at the gate with FREE FOOD for all of us on the plane.

The truck wasn't there when we landed and it took almost two hours for it to show up. My guess is the conversation between AA headquarters and Captain Cochran was a little tense. He was absolutely going to bat for us. Of that I have no doubt.

We eventually got the food, but by then it was around 4:30 pm. We had fuel, paperwork and sandwiches. I was in row 28 in a plane with 30 rows of seats. I didn't get my turkey and cheese sandwich on wheat until 5:25 pm. I tried to eat it as slowly as possible so as to not look like a crazed ravenous animal. Yes, I realize it's my fault for not being prepared. Yes, I should have packed food. But that's not the point.

Our plane finally touched down in Antigua at 6:45 pm Eastern Time - that's just under twelve hours after I boarded the aircraft.

Here's how I feel about all of this. What kind of price do you think American Airlines has to pay for a tiny bag of peanuts if they bought truckloads each day? Do you think they would cost a nickel? Even a dime?

Do you think I would not have bought the ticket if it had been priced $829 instead of the $828 I paid? That one dollar could have bought lots of peanuts.

Southwest Airlines GETS IT. They just go ahead and give you the food. Sure, I'm paying for it. But the average cost of the ticket is far less than what you pay American Airlines.

Yes, I had six honey and nut granola bars for my return flight from ANU to JFK. I was prepared. Make sure you are too the next time you fly. Those three-hour tours can easily become 12-hour nightmares.

Posted by Tim Carter at June 29, 2012 3:37 PM



I am an airline pilot. It sounds like your crew went above and beyond.

In the airline industry our customers on the whole have demonstrated that they are not willing to pay even one dollar more for better services or more convenient schedules. They will overwhelmingly select the cheapest airfare available and most companies have realized that and cut everything they can to try to be that lowest fare. An $800 airfare is a bargain. Airfares have never been cheaper (adjusted for inflation) and your crew that did such a wonderful job for you will be again taking large pay cuts (after taking nearly 30% cuts in 2003) in the AA Bankruptcy. On our flights we carry granola bars for extended ground delays. Because the aircraft returned to the gate you must have had an opportunity to deplane (admittedly you would have not continued on to Antigua if you did this but this complies with the requirements of the law) and get food from inside the terminal, and the crew was not legally required to provide you with food.

Traveling on weather days is extremely difficult and you are lucky that you made it to your destination without the flight cancelling. The impacts that weather has on flight operations and airports seems to be one of the most difficult things for our customers to understand. Pack some granola bars and bring an empty bottle from home through security and fill up in the terminal before your next flight. Consider driving in the day before and starting your day well rested in a local hotel as well if you book the early flight. Hope your next Antigua adventure goes better.

Blue Skies and Tailwinds,



The pilot did do a great job and I'll bet he only told us so much about the behind-the-scenes negotiations with command central.

In Miami, he made a decision not to let anyone off the plane. I was so hoping to get off to get something in the terminal. He said that they've tried that in the past and then it's impossible to get all the passengers back on the aircraft. Something about not knowing when they get a release from command central.

In any event, we made it. I don't blame the pilot at all. He has to follow orders and regulations. But the folks at command central knew we were in distress on the aircraft. I felt they could have been more accommodating.

Posted by: Andrew at July 3, 2012 11:14 AM

A great story it took me 10 hours to got from Indy to Phila. a couple years age.
But, a little fact you should know. The flight attn. for AA took a 25 to 30 % pay cut 10 years ago to save AA. they were promised increases when the airline became profitable. Fact they never got a nickle back while the CEO and Vice president of AA get million dollar bonuses yearly and some bi-yearly. Those bonuses come from making profit by not putting your peanut and pretzel on the plane. The crew member and ground personnel are trying to live on wages from the late 90's. Oh and that happy pilot you talked about they got there pay cut back year ago.
One way to take the smile off employees faces is to constantly take benefit away from the employees and give exectives million dollars bonuses and expect great service. And now AA has declared bankruptcy and it isn't because of the employees ..Remember the line from the Wallstreet movie "GREED IS GOOD" well you see what has happened to America since GREED has taken over. Remember the people you come in contact with you when you fly are the ones who took all the paycut not the ones behind the scene getting the bonuses. What do you expect.
Signed I was once middle class
PS You got there didn't you

Posted by: James at July 3, 2012 1:47 PM

NO WONDER I AVOID FLYING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! thankfully i flew in the 60's and 70's and it was fantastic. NO WAY ANYMORE! thank you for sharing your story. i'm going to forward it to everyone on my email list. forewarned is fore-armed! better luck with your next flight!

Posted by: valerie at July 3, 2012 3:29 PM

I used to enjoy flying, now I dread it. Airlines are not there to serve us, they are there to get us from Point A to Point B as cheaply as possible and no worry about how we feel as customers.

Posted by: Terry East at July 3, 2012 5:50 PM

Tim, if you thing it hard for you. Try a simple plane trip with two people in manual wheel chairs. We are suppose to be boarded first to get out of the way and let them get the chairs onto the plane. Nope. They leave us last to struggle on our own through the aisle of irritated passengers. Then have the flight attends ask us if we are going to leave our personal wheel chairs behind cause there is no one to load them. At the end of the the trip, we have been left in our seats with every one leaving, including the attendents and pilot. Then sit there until cleaning staff show up asking us why we didn't leave, "cause maybe we use wheel chairs?". Then have them search for someone to unload our wheel chairs and leave them below the plane, "I guess for us to get up walk out somehow outside the plane to get in our wheel chairs and back in. Once they figure that out, they leave the chairs at the end of the planes exit ramp. After more pleading we finally get several irate employees that tell us off, get us off, only to have missed our connecting flight by 7 hours with no apology or help to reconnect or compensation. Flight with a wheel chair? We would be better pushing ourselves there, even it its an over seas trip. By the way, both of our wheel chairs have damage, which we had to get repaired at our cost, cause the airline wouldn't recognize they did it. We better learn to fly a personal plane equipped with adaptions. We filed complains with different BBB and government agencies with no reply. Happen years ago, though left a bitter experience to ever trust flying again.

Posted by: Richard Fries at July 3, 2012 6:12 PM


American Airlines has worked hard and very diligently to become one of if not the worst airline in the USA.

They are now nickel and diming you for every single penny they can grab from your pockets.

If they are in such dire straits, then they should fold and let some of the other better airlines take over.

Posted by: Howard at July 8, 2012 10:54 PM

Reading is a tow-way process; the reader can also write; television viewing is a one-way street: the viewer cannot create television image.

Posted by: Scarpe Hogan at July 9, 2012 7:51 AM
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