We took a trip from Nashville to Dublin. It was (ahem) not fun. You should consider these issues going forward. I know it’s only us two little old people, but we plan to travel more now, and we will think long and hard about flying American from now on.
We were at the airport with plenty of time to spare—just the way I like it. No rushing. Which meant we had plenty of time to deal with Adventures with American Airlines Part 1: AA emailed us last night to check in on the computer and get boarding passes. This was new to us (on American), and it seemed to only included the first leg of our itinerary (BNA to CLT), so we didn’t do it. (In retrospect, we should have. One lives and learns.) Thus when we were checking in at the airport—all electronic now, and for people like us not accustomed to this new way and thus find it baffling, exasperating, and inefficient (not to mention that human jobs will be eliminated by this technology)—we got a screen that told us we were in boarding group 5 but we could be in an earlier group if we each paid $26! Aha!
Now, my preference in the past has always been to board as close to last as I can get … except these days the Overhead Baggage Wars are brutal—do not get me started on the size and number of carryons, and the people who abuse this aspect of air travel—and sure enough, having declined to pay AA another $52, we were treated to an announcement that was new to us (how long has this been going on?): that only twenty-five* wheeled carryons can be accepted and rest will have to be gate checked. (*This rule is in effect the small airplanes used on regional flights; international flights have plenty of bin room.) Note: we were not traveling with wheeled carryon luggage.
Interestingly, the business-class patrons are in the first group to board, and they are inevitably big users of wheeled carryons to avoid checking luggage. Maddeningly, while we had a “bulkhead” seat, we had to put our (not-wheeled, not huge) carryons in bins about a dozen rows behind us. Why? Because there wasn’t enough room in business class for all those huge carryons, so the business-class folks came into our seating area to store them. (I plan to voice my displeasure to your management about this.) Another issue, of course, is the folks who have seats in row 30 but throw their bags into the bin over row 8—I guess because they don’t want to carry them any farther—which seems rude and also counterproductive.
Seriously, y’all, I used to love air travel, but in the last decade, I’ve grown to hate/dread it. American Airlines might also consider that group boarding—with one’s group determined by how early one checks in—makes sense when there are no assigned seats (as on Southwest); but when seats are reserved in advance, it seems that it would be wiser to assign groups by row numbers. I think my problem with all this is I keep wanting flying to be a civilized thing. But it’s just not any more. It’s very cutthroat, from the reduction in seat size to the carryon situation. Don’t get me started on TSA agents … but that’s not your fault, American, although it does add to the overall negative experience.
We had a very short layover in Charlotte, so I got off the plane with my purse and my laptop and started to the gate for our international flight while G, who walks considerably faster than me, waited for the rest of the plane to unload so he could go back the twelve rows to retrieve our carryon (my CPAP and his little bag). It’s a good thing we did split up because they were about to board the big plane by the time we got there.
Ah. A huge ocean-hopping airplane. Again G had paid extra to have bulkhead seats but instead we were in for Adventures with American Airlines Part 2. When we arrived at the row clearly marked on tickets we’d purchased months earlier, we were not seated in a bulkhead. We consulted with the flight attendant and learned that the plane had been reconfigured like a big ol’ Lego toy. The flight attendants were just getting used to it too. G was sent back outside to the check-in gate to make his complaint and get a refund, and over the next ten or fifteen minutes we were moved to and seated in four different places.
You read that correctly. Four.
Ultimately we were seated in a bulkhead-ish location, right under a large TV screen that was never turned off—this was a night flight—and right at a little crook in the aisle created by this reconfiguration. (American, make a note: aisles should be straight!) This guaranteed that I, sitting on the aisle, was bumped by every cart or person who walked by. No joke. A bump from the drinks cart. A bump from every flight attendant. It was a miserable experience, American Airlines.
And it wasn’t just us. The couple across the aisle from us had also paid extra for seats that no longer existed. There was also a tour group you inconvenienced with your reconfiguration, and that’s why we were late taking off. Sure, sure, the pilots made up for lost time in the air, but the fact is you pissed off not only the people who didn’t get the seats they’d paid for, but everyone around them who had to stand up to let them pass, move their overhead luggage, and on and on and on. Also, we sat on the runway for forty minutes after we arrived—not your fault, I know, but it added to the annoyance factor.
It was not a good public relations event for you, American Airlines. Just sayin’.