Monday, May 24, 2010

How I made it from Newark to Dallas in 13.5 hours and why should BI matter to American Airlines

Dear readers,
On the morning of Friday, May 14 I was boarding American Airlines 1971 unaware that a 3 hour flight would become on the longest domestic trips in my consulting career. Everything was going well, I had avoided the early morning flight so I could enjoy a few more hours of sleep, I had completed my morning work calls and the plane had internet connectivity. Everything was set to enjoy a good, comfortable and productive trip in time to make it to my client meetings at 1:00pm CST.
I was aware that there was some potential bad weather coming to Dallas, both everything looked clear in the radars and nobody expected any problems to get to Dallas. We should have known better.
According to my fellow passengers in first class, the pilot of the plane had determined a minor malfunction with some of the control lights but a mechanic signed-off on it and we were on our way to Dallas.
About 10 minutes prior to landing, the pilot was notified that the airport had been closed because of bad weather, given that we had only 1 hour of fuel left and air traffic control could not guarantee that the airport would open before then the pilot directed the aircraft to Shreveport, Louisiana. While annoyed, I have been in this situation many times before; it was always a matter a refueling and wait for the airport to reopen for us to be on our way to DFW. However, this time things would play a little different for me and my fellow passengers. When we landed in Shreveport, there were six other planes ahead of us waiting to be refueled, which meant at least 1 hour wait to be serviced. Further, on the ground the great GOGO wireless does not work and the Shreveport airport does not have 3G coverage from T-mobile. I knew that I was going to miss my 1:00pm CST meeting so I called to cancel, however little I knew I was going to miss all my appointments for the day, including reading to my kids before they go to bed...
Back on the ground on Shreveport the pilot announced that they would let anyone who requested off the plane, being optimistic about the situation I declined this offer and kept working on my laptop. About 30 minutes later, the pilot announced that they could not take off again until a mechanic signed-off on the light problem (same issue that the plane had in Newark). However there was no mechanic available in Shreveport and someone had to fly in from Dallas. All the Dallas-Shreveport-Dallas flights were grounded; because of bad weather (service in this route is through old propeller planes). So, citing the new bill regulations the pilot made the decision to have everyone off the plane. Because the Shreveport airport was not equipped to handle MD80s, deplaning would be through the back engine door rather than using a Jetbridge. This maneuver had given the priority of deplaning first to people who were sited in the very last rows of the plan, while passengers in first class were the last ones to deplane. After 30 minutes, I finally made it to the terminal where long lines of people waited everywhere. American Airlines had 4 employees staffing the counters at the airport, clearly insufficient to handle the additional 120+ passengers who just had deplaned and were looking for options to get to their final destinations. After making a line for 45 minutes to buy sandwich, I came back to the America airlines counter where there were still 20 people ahead of me. After another 45 minutes, they announced that they would get buses to get us to Dallas, given that it was not safe to return to the plane. 15 minutes after making this announce the plane takes-off back to Dallas with half of the bags. Nobody knew what hit us, but for the next three hours we patiently waited for the buses to come. People who had been lucky were given a seat on the last flight from Shreveport to Dallas that Friday; I was one of the lucky ones. Until they announced that flight was going to be cancelled and we had the option of staying the night in Shreveport or running downstairs to catch the buses. People who were able chose to run to catch the bus and then start our 4 hour drive back to DFW. American airlines clearly did care for the welfare of their passengers as they ordered the bus to stop half way there at a Burger King so people could buy then own dinner, how thoughtful of them.
After a high cholesterol dinner, we got back on the way and we had some close encounters on the road because of the winds on the ground, I got three inches away from an 18 wheeler which carried healthy food. Not the kind of gastronomic experience I could have wished for.
Finally at 11:00pm, 13.5 hours after leaving Newark we arrived into Dallas. The driver did not even ask where people had park, if anyone, they took us straight to Terminal A, so I spend another 20 minutes commuting to my car in terminal C. By the time I got home, everybody was slept and it was clear that I had not only missed my business appointments but also playing with my kids.
So, why should Business Intelligence matter to American Airlines?
If you have people who spent an average of 50k per year on airfares, I think it would be worth it to go the extra mile for them when something like this happens. If American Airlines had had better forecasting capabilities they could have loaded the plane with more fuel and make sure the maintenance light was fixed in Newark rather than just signing off on the problem to the Dallas crew. Further you want to make the experience as pleasant as possible; I am sure few of us who were in that flight will ever forget the experience. However American Airlines quickly forgot about it, when I called last week to complain about this travel disruption and request an upgrade on my flight to Dallas from Raleigh , the lady at the executive desk told me very politely that she was sorry for the bad experience but there was nothing she could do, that these were after all unrelated events (never forget that the flight from Raleigh to Dallas was an hour and a half late) and I needed to send a letter independently about each flight to customer service. So, while American Airlines was first with the customer loyalty program, they definitively could use a better Business Intelligence system to truly get to know their customers before someone else will…

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