#AmericanAirlines – Thanks, American Airlines—for teaching me that even a 70th birthday celebration in Hawaii can be ruined. Why, no one could ruin it better than you, American Airlines.

My daughter and I planned this trip way back in March. I charged some things to the wonderful Advantage Card, that your staff spent much of their valuable working time hawking throughout the flight—because I knew I could pay it off before my 70th birthday on October 9th.

We started celebrating my birthday at 3:00am (EST) in Raleigh, NC, by getting up, dressing and rushing out to start the first leg of our trip — a 5:51am flight from RDU to DFW. Little did we know that that would be the last time we would have any control over being “on Time” getting to my dream 70th birthday celebration in Hawaii. And I just want to thank you, American Airlines, for being so spectacular at ruining my dream.

Our plane arrived at DFW on time. After deplaning, I was met at the plane by a transport person, with a wheel chair, who made sure we got to our connecting flight in the knick of time to catch our connecting flight from DFW to PHX.

From there, things, quickly, went down hill. The plane leaving DFW for PHX made weird noises as it taxied down the runway and took off. We, your captive passengers, looked at each other, wide-eyed. A few minutes into the flight, the captain announced over the loudspeaker that our plane would be returning to DFW so the mechanics could check out an, apparent, engine malfunction. We heaved a sigh of relief when we landed safely. We were, oddly, comforted when we realized firetrucks were following us to the gate. I don’t know about the other passengers, but I was, honestly, thankful that our pilot and the control center exercised such caution—got us safely to the ground and off the plane. Before we left the plane, we were told that we would probably be delayed for about two hours. So, my daughter and I went to lunch at the nearby California Pizza. It was lunchtime for us, because we started our day at 3:00am on the east coast. The lovely young lady, in the window seat on our row, who was trying to get home to Phoenix early from her job in Dallas to surprise her young children, said that she might grab breakfast. I mention this so that you will understand that we (my daughter and I) had already had a long day by the time we were traumatized by your plane’s malfunctioning. I cannot help but wonder when that plane was last serviced.

Anyway, my daughter and I had just started to enjoy our lunch when it was announced that passengers on the 520 flight to Phoenix were assigned a different plane and instructed to go to a different gate for boarding. We went back to the original gate and asked how far away the new gate was and if I could get wheelchair assistance to the gate, as was requested on the original ticket. We were advised to stand near the gate entrance and hop on a bus. As we left the gate(with me using my cane) an angel came along with a wheelchair and asked if we needed assistance. When we explained where we were going, she said “Hop on. I’ll get you there.” She, literally, sprinted through the airport, hauled me onto an elevator, pushed me onto the Tram and delivered us to our gate in time for boarding, while chatting and smiling all the way. (By the way, the best people you have working for you are probably the lowest paid—the transport workers. They were all cheerful, professional, knew what they were doing and seemed committed to putting customers at ease, and getting us to our gates on time. )

By the time we arrived in Phoenix, we had missed two connecting flights to Kona, Hawaii. We went to the American Airlines Service Desk. The agent said we had missed the last American flight to Hawaii, but she could book us on a Delta flight out of LAX to KOA. She booked us on an AA flight from PHX to LAX. She said we would have an hour between flights which would give us plenty of time to make the Delta connection. It took a very long time to board all the passengers on the AA plane in PHX. It turns out that American Airlines tends to overbook–meaning they sell imaginary seats. So, the flight, leaving PHX to LAX, was delayed, delayed, delayed. We were seated at the back of the American Airlines plane. By the time we got to the Delta gate, our last hope of getting to Kona, Hawaii to celebrate my 70th birthday vacation at a 5Star resort, was pulling away from the gate. And, because we had been booked on that Delta plane by AA, the Delta service agents could not help us.

We made several phone calls to American Airlines for help. We were instructed to go back to the American Airlines Terminal to get a hotel voucher, while the agent on the phone tried to book us on a nonstop flight to KOA via United for the next day. Of course, the only American Airlines nonstop flight was sold out for the following day. (The clock for my birthday celebration was ticking away.) Our only other option was to fly back to Phoenix to catch an AA flight to Hawaii—not acceptable. At this point, my daughter and I and my cane and rolling carry-on bags had to walk from the Delta Terminal to the American Airlines Terminal to get a hotel voucher. (My daughter suggested we get a taxi, but I thought I could do it. I did not realize that her limbs had swollen from all the time on the planes and walking alongside my wheelchair.)

The AA ticketing agent on site at the terminal found that the telephone agent had not booked us on a flight with United, nor with any other carrier, out of LAX to KOA. The AA ticketing agent in LAX booked the nonstop United flight for us. However, we have to wait until we check-in at United to get seats. We also needed to have someone track our luggage. The AA ticketing agent asked for our baggage tickets to track our bags. (My daughter thinks the agent forgot to give the baggage slips back to her.)

The AA ticketing agent did give us room & dinner vouchers for the night of October 5 at Holiday Inn near LAX. This place is a far cry from the 5-Star Resort with the 2-bedroom suite where I am supposed to celebrate my 70th birthday. The place is being repaired, the carpets are dirty, my daughter and I are sharing a king bed, and we could not use our $24.00 dinner for two voucher for room service.

Your new, huge American Airlines airplanes had so many tiny seats, crammed so close together that even my 5’2” daughter was afraid the person in front of her would have the audacity to lean his seat back onto her knees. Luckily he & his group were real troopers. I think they were headed to Ironman games, according to the ads on their clothing and big backpacks. And, the bathrooms were so tiny that a seven year-old was heard asking her father how her mother was able to get in there to help her little sister use the toilet. But, we all soldiered on.

I realize that we should have checked the your flight “on time” record before booking a trip for my 70th birthday celebration via American Airlines. That was an error on our part. We will do better when we plan a trip in the future. I do want you— and the universe— to know that American Airlines is the best at ruining a birthday celebration. Thanks American Airlines.

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