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.