By Stanley Bing
March 10, 2008

Lord knows I complain enough about things. Maybe we all do, but I’m a master at it. I complain about American Airlines (AMR) all the time, since I am their prisoner half a dozen times a month, if you count a round trip as two trips, which it is. It’s possible that it should count as three in certain cases, like last night.

For some reason, they have a hard time with the redeye at San Francisco airport. The “equipment” comes in from New York late, of course, God forbid they should actually have a plane on the ground ready and waiting for people to board, no, they have to use those poor mothers incessantly until their wings fall off, I guess. So the plane comes in and it seems like, you know, a complete surprise to the airline that it needs to be cleaned before it’s boarded again. I’ve taken the 10:30 PM several times and each time there’s a total fire drill as the grouchy American gate agent runs around looking for a phantom cleaning crew. Last night, he thanked us for our patience no fewer than four times. I don’t know about you, but as soon as somebody thanks me for my patience I lose mine.

Anyhow, last night the situation seems to have been that on the incoming flight a service dog had befouled the aircraft and somebody needed to clean up the mess. Nobody appeared willing to do so. They all ran around like maniacs for about half an hour, which made us just late enough into NY Kennedy that we hit the guts of rush hour and it took me 75 minutes to get the ten or so miles into Manhattan. So here’s a note to American:

Hello, American Airlines. Pleased be advised. Every Sunday night at 10:30 PM, a redeye flight leaves from San Francisco Airport. The equipment that is utilized for this regularly-scheduled flight comes in at about 9:30 or perhaps 10:00 PM, depending on weather and other considerations, including the fact that it comes from Kennedy Airport in New York, the worst airport in North America. When this equipment arrives, it will need to be serviced, re-catered and prepared for boarding. In advance knowledge of this, you might have a cleaning and catering crew on hand as a matter of course, rather than not. Thank you for our patience.

There. That felt pretty good.

But I don’t want you to think I only report the aggravations and incomprehensible shortfalls. So I will tell you the story of Bobbi at Washington Reagan Airport. She works for American Airlines, too.

Bobbi is an agent at that airport, which is a very nice one, by the way, quite new and sort of spiffy all over. Last Friday, I had to make a connection — Washington to Dallas, Dallas to SFO. The day before, it had snowed a little in Dallas, which threw the entire system into a tizzy. They can rope a steer down there and shoot a hunting buddy at 600 yards, but they can’t deal with a couple of inches of snow.

Be that as it may, the airport was a nightmare. People had been waiting 48 hours to board their flights, confusion reigned supreme, the food stands were out of food, there was no place to sit. As a business traveler, I can join the premium club for my main airline. It’s really no big deal. They don’t have butlers there or anything. For a few hundred dollars a year, you can have a place to sit, wireless internet, a working cash bar, coffee, a few magazines. It’s nice. I appreciate it.

Mostly, I appreciate the agents there. After a while, you get to know them and vice versa. On the day in question, I was very nervous that I wouldn’t make my Dallas to SFO connection and would not, therefore, get home at all until the next day. Something happens to my heart when I think I’m stranded. I lose the will to live.

Everything was delayed. My own flight out of Reagan was supposed to leave 20 minutes late, but naturally the plane itself, coming in from “snowbound” Dallas, was somewhere over Kentucky. Nobody really knew when it would actually leave. That’s the new thing in the last few years. Planes don’t run on a schedule. Airports are like hospital clinics. Once you’re into the system, you wait. But I couldn’t wait. I knew that if one thing was certain, it was that my connecting flight in Dallas would leave on time… because I probably needed it to be a little late.

Bobbi was behind the desk and went to work on my situation immediately. She noticed there were two Business Class seats in a flight that had been delayed from 11:30 AM. As it happened, a Texas congressman was in the chair next to me. She helped him too. She watched that flight like a hawk. She ascertained that, against all odds, those two seats remained a possibility. She watched her screen. She waited until the exact right minute and then did the absolutely unheard of: calling on some backup assistance from the other beleaguered and valiant colleagues there in the madhouse, she took the congressman and me by the hand and led us to the teeming gate. A few moments later, we were on the plane.

The rain was coming down hard. I never really believe that a plane will take off anymore, not even when its doors are closed and its waiting on the tarmac. But take off we did. And I made my connection. And had a late dinner in San Francisco.

So thank you, Bobbi. Thanks a lot. Thanks to you too, American Airlines. What you take away a lot of the time, you also give.  That’s saying a lot these days, I think.

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