On Thursday, the Washington Post published a story (“Shame on American!”) about how a woman was bullied by an American Airlines flight attendant to the point of tears and forced off the plane for doing nothing wrong according to the other passengers.
Earlier the same week, American Airlines showed off its shameful company values when it blamed someone else in a sad effort to cover up its own incompetence and poor security (The events occurred on USAirways, owned and operated by AA. Indeed, USAirways ceased entirely to exist as a separate carrier this weekend.)
On USAirways Flight 1718 from Orlando MCO to Washington DCA on October 12th, the plane taxied to the runway but then returned to the gate and asked a passenger to leave the plane. It then took off around an hour after its scheduled departure time.
Roughly 15 minutes into the flight, the pilot announced that we had to return to Orlando because the passenger who was removed from the flight had “faked a ticket” but his luggage was still on the plane. The pilot explained that he did not believe that there was any significant security threat, but as we were heading to “DC,” he didn’t want to take any chances.
I contacted American Airlines after the flight to investigate. After all, faking your way on to a plane is a serious matter. Was anyone arrested? How did this occur?
Turns out that no one “faked a ticket.” There were two people with the same name. Apparently, both were headed to DCA (or AA thought they were both going to DCA). An AA agent issued a boarding pass mistakenly for “John Smith” #2 after checking his driver’s license, according to AA.
Both passengers managed to board the plane. Indeed, when they had the same seat, the airline announced an overbooking situation and offered vouchers to induce someone to leave the plane. We ended up returning to the gate the first time because the wrong John Smith was still on the plane.
At this point, one wonders how two people with the same seat could be allowed to board the same flight without the second one being flagged since the first had already boarded. Additionally, why did AA fail to sort out the problem properly before we left the gate?
We had to return to Orlando after takeoff because only then–after we had already returned to the gate one time and finally left for DC– did AA realized that the wrong John Smith’s luggage was still on the plane.
The pilot’s announcement that a passenger had “faked a ticket” was “incorrect” according to Alexis Coello, AA’s Corporate Communications Manager at American Airlines Miami Hub. She explained that the pilot had made a safety call to return to Orlando because the wrong man’s luggage was still on the plane.
Of course, this doesn’t explain why AA did not remove Smith’s luggage after we returned to the gate the first time. When I asked if AA should have removed his luggage at that point, Coello stated “I’m not going to answer that question,” which is a nonetheless a very revealing answer.
Letting the wrong person get on a plane is bad enough but failing to sort out whether his luggage was on the plane after he had already been removed was flat out negligent. It also doesn’t explain why the passengers were misinformed about a faked ticket or why AA has not corrected the record.
While Coello says that pilot did not have complete information, “faked a ticket” comes across as an attempt to evade responsibility for poor security and why the flight that took more than twice as long as scheduled on a clear, sunny day with no traffic issues at either airport.
No apology for either the incompetence or the incorrect information has yet been issued by AA. When I asked Coello if AA had plans to do so, she sounded shocked by the very idea and asked: “How would we be able to do that?” Um, perhaps it wouldn’t be so difficult because AA has the addresses and phone numbers and probably email addresses of the passengers.
So AA doesn’t just bully customers off its planes, it mishandles security issues and then tries to mislead their customers in order to minimize responsibility.