There’s a story going viral about what happened to an American Airlines flight earlier this month from Lima to Dallas. American Airlines can barely run a decent operation on a good day, so when you combine that with a plane having four separate mechanical problems across three days, you’re looking at what’s possibly the worst delay story I have ever heard…
What Happened To American’s Lima To Dallas Flight?
Let’s start with the basics:
- This story involves American flight 988 from Lima to Dallas
- The flight was supposed to depart at 11:47PM on September 9, 2019
- The flight had 171 passengers onboard
- The plane operating the flight was a roughly 18 year old Boeing 757-200
This is where the problems begin…
What Went Wrong The First Time
The first night it was determined there was a problem with the intercom system that pilots and flight attendants use to communicate. This was discovered before the flight departed, and this is a critical system, and a problem that couldn’t be deferred. Maintenance determined it would take about 24 hours for the parts to arrive, so they delayed the flight until the next night.
What Went Wrong The Second Time
The second night they fixed the first issue, but then discovered an indicator showed a problem with a door and emergency slide. This was repaired while passengers were onboard.
The plane then taxied out to the runway. At 1:30AM the captain announced that paperwork hadn’t been completed before the airport closed at 1:30AM for runway repair work. So they had to return to the gate and delay the flight by nearly 24 hours… again.
What Went Wrong The Third Time
The third night the crew only showed up for the flight about 15 minutes before departure because they were stuck in traffic.
Before boarding a battery failure was discovered on the plane. The flight was delayed by over two hours, and then after 2AM the plane began taxiing. But as they started taxiing out they discovered an engine problem, and had to return to the gate.
What American Says About This Delay
American’s Managing Director of Latin American operations had the following to say regarding this situation:
“I would describe it as one of those perfect storms, unfortunately. The reality is that if we knew Monday that we would be having a conversation about this on Wednesday, I think different decisions would have been made.”
How American Handled This Situation
American Airlines handled this situation about as well as you’d expect. Interactions with American’s ground staff typically leave something to be desired on a good day, let alone during a situation like this. When you add in the fact that this was an outstation, it was a recipe for disaster:
- Every night passengers had to go back through immigration, which was a time consuming process since there were only two immigration officers at that time of the night; some passengers only got to hotels around 4AM
- American didn’t even set up separate counters for stranded passengers to check-in at, but rather they had to get in the regular lines each night
- American didn’t offer to rebook a vast majority of passengers on other flights, and informed them they’d have to buy new tickets if they wanted to fly other airlines
- American didn’t increase staffing in light of the situation
- American didn’t fly a larger plane in to rescue stranded passengers, or fly in an extra plane, since they always assumed the fastest solution would be to just fix the plane
By the third night, 115 of the 171 passengers were still booked on the flight (at that point a small number of people had been rebooked, some passengers had canceled, and some passengers booked separate tickets at their own expense). After the third straight day of mechanical delays, American managed to rebook everyone on other flights.
What I (Sort Of) Give American A Pass For
Maybe this will surprise some, but I’ll largely give American Airlines a pass for the fact that they had four unrelated mechanicals on the same plane within a few days:
- I would assume this wasn’t any sort of a coordinated work slowdown on the part of mechanics, given that American doesn’t have any union mechanics in Lima
- Mechanicals do happen, in particular with older planes; American’s fleet of 757s is smaller and on average marginally younger than the 757 fleets of Delta and United
So my point is, four back-to-back mechanicals is a freak incident that’s incredibly rare, but with enough flights it’s bound to happen at some point. As such, that could have happened on another airline as well.
What I Don’t Give American A Pass For
What I don’t give American a pass for is that every single part of this story sounds oh-so-American Airlines.
There are two major problems. The first problem is that in order to save money, American has a policy of not rebooking passengers on other airlines. The exception is status passengers, but this means that a vast majority of passengers weren’t authorized to be booked on other airlines, at least not without authorization from a supervisor.
So these passengers could have gotten home much faster, but didn’t due to American’s greed.
The second problem is that American is unimaginative and has a culture of “no.” They’re not a company that finds solutions to problems. They’re just a company with a culture of people clocking in and clocking out, with little regard for passengers beyond that.
To be clear, I think there are lots of individuals at American who care, but the company certainly doesn’t create a culture of caring.
To add insult to injury, many passengers hadn’t heard from American more than two weeks after the flight. That’s not surprising either, unfortunately.
What do you make of this nightmare American Airlines delay?