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American Airlines is ‘Kafkaesque maze of monstrous ineptitude’

August 2, 2016 by norman lebrecht

6 comments.


Inna Faliks, Head of Piano at UCLA, shares a tale of summer woe with Slippedisc:

american air luggage

 

I was engaged this weekend to perform the Clara Schumann Piano Concerto at the Wintergreen Festival in the mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia.

Immediately after my second performance, I was scheduled to leave for Europe from Dulles Airport, Washington DC.

My trip originated in Chicago. From the start, I became a victim to the Kafka-esque maze of monstrous ineptitude of American Airlines. It began with a flight cancellation. Then another one. When I finally made it to my destination after two days in the airport, missing the first rehearsal of this rarely played concerto, my suitcase (packed for a month in Europe, containing allergy medication, not to mention concert clothes) went to Reagan Airport, where I had no intention of being.

The real surrealism began when I tried to get the airline to deliver my property. Each call resulted in a 2-3 hour wait, and then the “luggage specialist” on the other line usually dropped the call halfway through any process which meant another two hour wait. There was no cellphone reception in the mountains; I spent a total of 14 hrs in 2.5 days, on calls (from my host’s house). I was told a series of lies about my bag being out for delivery when it never left Reagan Airport. I had to leave from Dulles in two days, and chances of getting AA to cooperate were nil.

The unexpectedly beautiful thing here was the way the Wintergreen Festival musicians, administration, artistic director and staff came together to help. This was humanity at its finest. The musicians donated clothes for me to wear. Festival Coordinator Karyn Galvin spent as many hours as me, perhaps more, on the phone, exhausted but persistent. My host, David Litchfield (many pianists, including Angela Hewitt, know him to be a devoted piano lover and friend to pianists) patiently stayed home for days, by the phone, to guard it for an AA call back, so that I could rehearse and practice. Erin Freeman, the brilliant conductor, not only led two great, adventurously programmed concerts but lent me one of her dresses (which the audiences had seen during her Mahler 4 performance the previous week).  When we saw our efforts were to no avail, we knew we had to get the stuff ourselves. Sharan Leventhal, wonderful violinist at the festival, volunteered to drive me to DC at 5 am, to get back before the 2nd concert. Erin had a brilliant idea. She and her husband Drew Calhoon found a cab driver friend named Yossef, in DC. Karyn spent hours on hold, getting permission to release my hostage bag to Yossef. While I played my second performance of the beautiful concerto, Yossef drove to Reagan airport. There, he was told there was no bag. He proceeded to find the bag and met me at Dulles, right before I got on my flight to Geneva.

The festival’s motto this year is Expect The Unexpected. The kindness, ingenuity, patience and generosity of everyone I came across is unusual, unexpected, and truly commendable.

erin freeman inna faliks

Erin Freeman, Inna Faliks

Beware at all times of flying AA.


Comments (6)

  1. Nick says:

    I wholeheartedly sympathise with Inna Faliks (although surely putting required medication in hold baggage is far from a good idea)! I have flown several million miles and realise I am lucky that I have never lost a bag and have had a bag delayed on less than half a dozen occasions. On two occasions travelling with Asian based airlines, my bag was located within less than 12 hours, I was informed immediately and the bag was delivered to my address about 12 hours later. Even arriving in New York from the west coast via DFW on American Airlines, the bag was delivered to my hotel less than 12 hours later (just before my insurance would have paid out $600 for immediate supplies)!

    On the other hand, two occasions involving British Airways were a disaster. In one, an incoming flight from part of Europe was late leaving around 1 hour for the connection to Lyon. I twice expressed my concern to the gate agent, saying I’d happily take a later flight. Twice I was assured the bag was “being loaded now”. Arriving at Lyon, no bag. For some reason BA had a 2-day backlog into that airport and were flying bags in date order of original flights. So the agent lied. Over my two days in Lyon prior to flying to Boston, I spent a great deal of money on calls to BA with absolutely no resolution. They did not know where my bag was or when it would arrive. When I finally returned to Lyon airport, guess what? There was my bag with a group of others just sitting in the arrivals area. I was informed it had been there for at least 24 hours!

    With airlines having had to cut costs to the bone until the fall in the price of oil, I suspect lost baggage, requiring as it does a lot of man hours, was of little priority to far too many of them. My only suggestions are that everyone uses a bag that is immediately identifiable – so forget black as the colour! – have a photo of it on your phone, there are at least two tags attached to the handles giving at least your phone number and email at your destination, and the same information plus a name card easily visible on the inside.

  2. Peter Phillips says:

    The fault may not be cite toy or only with the airline. I recently flew into Rome Fiumicino and collected my hold bag four hours later and at a different terminal. This involved some unrelenting but non- threatening pressure upon the official of the baggage handling contractor who had no idea what we were talking about – several other
    As senders had followed me to his office. As delays go it wasn’t remarkable but the problem was caused by the inefficiency of the contractor rather than negligence by the airline, easyjet in this case. Their response to my complaint was detailed and specific, assuring me that they intended to leave their Rome base. Yes, I know airlines can be careless, callous and downright bloody minded; I simply say that it’s not always their fault alone.

  3. Peter Phillips says:

    As senders?…Passengers I meant of course.

  4. Bill Way says:

    From a formerly very frequent flier:

    1. Always carry meds with you. Always have copies of your prescriptions (Rx #’s, doctors’ phone #’s etc) with you.

    2. Carry your toilet kit and spare glasses, underwear, socks, etc with your carry-on. Have enough in your carry-on so you can live two days without the suitcase with no big problem.

    3. Airlines let you book connecting flights with 45 minute connections. Never do that. Book two-hour connections at minimum; three-hours is better in the summer when thunderstorms somewhere *will* screw up all schedules. If booking connecting flights, make sure there are three or more later connecting flights after the one you choose, because if you are delayed, you’re gonna need them.

    4. Relax. Almost all travel will take a day. Bring books. Pretend you’re on vacation. While airports aren’t anyone’s idea of great spaces, you *can* take the day to empty your head of all the normal concerns, and just practice chilling out.

    5. Rick Steeves’ backpack/soft suitcase is phenomenal. I can pack for a month in it and it will fit under the seat of all but the tiniest planes. Also, having it on your back rather than on rollers really helps if you have to hustle up or down stairs to make that next connection.

    6. Understand that if you arrive at your destination within 12 hours of the scheduled time, the trip is a success.

  5. John Borstlap says:

    What a story….. In an earlier, discarded version of Kafka’s “Das Schloss”, a cello case is being smuggled into the castle containing an accountant with a revolver. When this man locked himself up in the cupboard to secretly note down the protaginist’s complaints to the supervisor, he fainted and fell-out. This interruption caused great delay in the corridor, where a crowd of disenfranchised victims of bureaucracy hindered the flow of the novel. On that point, the author did not know what to do with him, and cut him out of the story, according to Max Brod because this development ‘was too expected’.

  6. Sharan Leventhal says:

    I was more then ready to drive to DC. My AA experience a few days earlier was also miserable, although not so absurdly extreme as Inna’s. It began with a 4am notifcation that the 8am departure was delayed until 9:30. To make a long story short, the trip from Boston took over 14 hours. Could have gone to Tokyo… But then I would have missed working with the wonderful students at the academy, and seeing Inna.


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