American Airlines Sucks

I hate to say this, but American Airlines sucks.

I have flown over 2.5 million miles on American over a period of about 30 years. I was in the top elite tier (Executive Platinum) for many years and the Covid travel crash bumped me off and now I am a “mere” lifetime Platinum member. So I still get some perks.

It’s always been bad and challenging to claim travel credits with American Airlines. Here is a post I made 11 years ago about how their travel vouchers are almost impossible to use. It hasn’t gotten any better – maybe worse.

A couple of months ago my wife and I were in Croatia on vacation. We flew on American, but the connector from London to Zagreb was on their partner, British Airways. We had a layover in London Heathrow. While I am at it, do not get me started on Heathrow. I HATE HEATHROW, everything about it. When going to Europe, I always try to avoid it as a stopover, but that’s another rant for another time….

While in Croatia, my wife tested positive for Covid a few hours before we needed to board our flight home out of Zagreb. She was not allowed to get on the plane. Since business and other matters required that one of us get home, we separated, she stayed marooned in a Croatian hotel for what turned out to be another 9 days, while I went home while I could – while I tested negative. The agent for British Airways told me that in order to get a flight credit, I’d better call my airline before I boarded, so I would not lose her part of the ticket. I called the elite desk for Executive Platinum at American Airlines, and after a two minute tape on how I should go online it told me that they were closed. It was a Saturday afternoon in Croatia, so it was very early AM in the U.S. Then I made another call to the general reservation line, only to get the same message after listening for a few minutes to their drivel.

Now mind you, American’s main reservation line is advertised to be open 24 hours a day, which is what I’d expect from a major airline. People don’t just need help on the phone with the largest airline in the world while it’s business hours in Dallas, Texas.

Eventually, I just had to board my flight home alone, wait for the weekend to pass, until I could get an agent on the phone during normal business hours in Dallas. It then took about an hour with that agent to get about $450 of credit back for her portion of the abandoned ticket. That credit is now in an account in the American Airlines’ system.

I have since tried to use that credit three times for three other bookings, but have not been successful. While the website says I should be able to use a credit when I pay for a ticket, it does not work.

As you can see in the screenshot above, there are two buttons at the beginning of the payment process, where you think you might be able to use your credit. When you click on either of them, it gives you this message:

Not very helpful, right? Why is the button there in the first place if you are not able to use it? When you click on “Contact Reservations”, you get to this screen:

The phone number shown at the yellow arrow is the main reservation line. At the red arrow, you see it’s open 24 hours a day. This is the number I have been calling. When you call this number, you first have to listen to about 2 minutes of bullshit stuff, like how much easier it is to go to their website, and then it finally tells you they are closed! On a Saturday afternoon at 3:00pm!

I just bought my third ticket at full face value without being able to use the flight credit I have on the books. My crime: I am not calling during normal business hours Dallas time. So in order to use my credit, I need to wait to book my next flight at just the right time, on a weekday (while I am working) and be prepared to be on the phone for an hour, first waiting to get an agent who can help me — they are all so busy all the time — and then fumble my way through applying the credit I have on file.

Maybe I need to take my travel business to another airline after 30 years of loyalty to American?

 

AFS Reunion in Croatia

About 30 former AFS exchange students in 1974 from over 14 different countries, many with their spouses, had a reunion in Croatia this week.

We came to this reunion from Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, England, Luxembourg, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Thailand and the US. I maybe forgetting a country or two.

We’re all 64 or 65 years old, and share one life-changing experience, a year abroad in the US with the AFS program. Here is a group picture.

Here are some of us on our first day in the country getting some much needed refreshments.

Here is a shot of us at the initial welcome dinner in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

For about 10 days, all these 65-year-olds were 18 again.

Visiting The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

On a trip to Washington, D.C., where there are more art museums than in any city in America I know, we visited The Phillips Collection.

This boutique museum holds a most incredible collection of astonishing quality. There are several van Gogh works, countless pieces by Monet and Cezanne, and above all, the most Picasso works in one place I have ever seen. There must have been more than 100 Picassos, featuring “the Blue Period” early in his career.

I can highly recommend The Phillips Collection.

Here is a brilliant van Gogh where I lingered for quite a while before I moved on:

House of Auvers by Vincent van Gogh

Marvels of Travel

Back on the road again.

I was at the Dallas / Ft.Worth (DWF) airport on the inter-terminal train and saw this sign above two of the seats:

It made me think of all the great needs I have and promptly sat down.

A little later I boarded my connecting flight, an Airbus 321, and I got a little discombobulated about this little guy staring at me.

Once you see a face, you cannot unsee it. He stared at me for two hours, and it became disconcerting.

A Lanyard with a Message

This week I embarked on my very first business trip since the March 2020 shutdown. I attended a conference at the Cincinnati Convention Center.

Conference attendees had to wear masks at all times in the facility, and there are always name badges, of course. They usually come with a lanyard, which are generally sponsored and paid for by one of the attending vendors and contain the company name for advertising purposes.

Here is mine:

When I picked up my badge, there were three colors of lanyards to choose from with a sign describing the meaning:

Green – I am comfortable with hugs and handshakes.

White – Keep distance and fist bumps only.

Red – Do not come close!

I picked green. There were a few friends I had not seen in two years that were huggers. I was fine with that.

Most people wore green, quite a substantial percentage wore white, and I do not remember seeing any red. I am sure there were some.

And that’s a lanyard with a message.

Oh Maui!

We just came home from a week in Maui. We stayed at Kamaole Beach Club, right across the street from the beach. At the street corner there is a crosswalk.

When we got there on Saturday, there was this “beach bum” who sat on a wooden bench overlooking the ocean just a few feet away. He had long matted hair, wore a bicycle helmet and had a dirty pink backpack. Next to him was a cart presumably holding his various possessions.

He sat there all day long that first day, staring at the ocean without moving, at times holding a papaya in one hand and staring at it. Sometimes we’d see him muttering to himself.

He sat at the same spot every day, from morning till night, not moving. He never took off his helmet, he never removed his backpack. We never saw him come or go, but I must admit I didn’t go out late at night or early in the morning and check.

We took the picture above on the morning of the 7th day as we were leaving. This time he was standing up, motionless, looking at the ocean. We had never seen him standing, or walking, or doing anything before. The overnight low is 72 degrees in Maui, the high is 88 degrees. The trade winds keep the beach cool. So there is no need to move from that spot.

I am now back home, thousands of miles away, but I know exactly where this man is: Sitting on that bench, helmet slightly tilted to the left, dirty pink backpack on his back.

And I am thinking to myself: I have so much to do and so little time to do it.

Off-Roading Challenges in the Anza Borrego Desert


There are some beasts in the Anza Borrego desert.

No, this is not photoshopped. This is a real photograph of me this afternoon.

The End of the Age of the “Superjumbo” Airliners

Lufthansa, Germany’s largest airline and the second-largest in Europe, recently announced that it is retiring all eight of its Airbus A380 planes. Emirates operates 115 such planes, the largest fleet in the world, and it predicts the “end of the era.”

While the large planes are comfortable, they are not efficient, are too costly to maintain and to fly. Smaller widebodies, like the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787, both with only two efficient engines, are much more economical, and being smaller, more versatile. This trend started long before the start of the pandemic, but with air travel now just being a shadow of what it once was, the fate of the world’s largest planes is sealed.

The Boeing 747 had a life of over 50 years and 1,558 were built since 1968. According to travel data firm Cirium there are about 500 747s still in service, of which only 30 are flying passengers. More than 300 fly cargo and the remainder are in storage.

Airbus only built a total of 242 A380s, about half of which went to Emirates. Airbus has already retired the plane.

I have never flown on an A380, and now I probably never will.

I have flown only three times on a Boeing 747. One was my first ever flight when I was just 18 years old. The second time was in England in 1989, on a short-hopper from London to Manchester. Yes, a commuter trip of less than an hour on a 747. It was full of commuting businessmen. And the final trip was in 2012 on British Airways from London to Chicago, and I reported about it here.

To put this into perspective, I am a very frequent air traveler, and I have flown constantly since my youth at a rate of 100,000 miles a year or more. With American Airlines alone I have logged more than 2.5 million miles, and that’s just one airline. If in all these thousands of flights I have only THREE flights on superjumbos, and if I am a good example, it’s not surprising that the era of the large planes is over.

Farewell, A380.

JFK Addresses AFS Students at the White House – 1963

Back on July 18, 1963, as the AFS [see below] students who had spent their high school year in the United States, were preparing to go back to their countries, they got to visit the White House. JFK talked to them.

It would be another 11 years before I had the privilege to be chosen as an AFS student. I arrived in the United States two weeks after Nixon’s resignation on August 20, 1974. Our group did not get to visit the White House when we went home in July of 1975.

All my life I have been proud to have been an AFS student and to carry the mission forward of spreading peace in the world, one person at a time.

It’s gotten a little more difficult in recent years.

[AFS stands for American Field Service, today the largest and most famed high school student exchange program in the world]

The New SoFi Stadium under Construction in Los Angeles

Landing in Los Angeles this afternoon, I had a great view of the new SoFi Stadium under construction in Inglewood.

This is the future home of the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams. It will open in the summer of 2020.

Already, it is scheduled to host the Super Bowl LVI in 2022, and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2028 Olympics.

I am wondering what is happening to the real estate values of the housing developments to the right of it?

You can check with Wikipedia page for more information.

Nerves of Steel – Landing in Heavy Crosswind

I have done my share of flying. I have also had some scary landings, but nothing like this one:

 

 

Statue of Ceres Back on Missouri State Capitol Dome

The Missouri State Capitol building has been under renovation for more than a year. The dome has been wrapped up for construction that long.

Yesterday, during a visit to one of the state office buildings, I was lucky to be there during exactly the time when the statue was installed again after being gone since November 2018.

This is the historic bronze statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, perched 238 feet above  the entry of the building. It took a 550-ton crane to raise the 10′ 4″ statue, weighing 1,407 pounds, on this bitter-cold day in Missouri. 

I was there for a historic moment.

New Painting: Kaua’i

Kauai, oil on canvas, 12/19, 20 x 20

If you want to know why the title of this painting is Kaua’i, here is the story.

We spent Christmas 2018 on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. One of the things we noticed immediately was how many feral chickens and roosters there were everywhere on that island. Where do they all come from and why aren’t there any on the other islands? Here is a post with a picture of chickens in it.

The hurricanes Iwa in 1982, and then Iniki in 1992, destroyed many domestic chicken coops. This released the chickens into the jungles. The domesticated birds then mated with the wild red junglefowl that was brought to the islands by the Polynesians hundreds of years ago.

The current feral chickens have no natural predator, so they are procreating at a prodigious rate.

There is no way that you can travel to Kaua’i and not notice the ubiquitous chickens and roosters. There is no way you can spend a night on Kaua’i and not be woken up at 4:30am by a rooster outside your window. They are everywhere.

Kaua’i is roosters, and roosters are Kaua’i.

メリークリスマス – KFC’s Tradition in Japan

The traditional meal in Japan for Christmas is KFC – Kentucky Fried Chicken. And not just fried chicken, but the brand, KFC? How did that happen?

メリークリスマス

The above says me-rii-ku-ri-su-ma-su written in katakana, the Japanese alphabet used to spell foreign words.

me-rii-ku-ri-su-ma-su, when you say it out loud, means Merry Christmas.

Japan is a nation where only about 1% of the population is Christian. So Christmas, historically, was fairly meaningless. In the post-war years in Japan, everything western became fashionable, and the country imitated the west wherever it could.

The first Kentucky Fried Chicken store opened in Japan in 1970. Shortly after it opened, the manager, Takeshi Okawara, overheard a couple of foreigners in his store talk about how they missed having turkey for Christmas. KFC didn’t have turkey, but it had chicken. What’s the difference, right? So Okawara thought fried chicken would work just fine and began marketing his Party Barrel as a way to celebrate Christmas.

Within a few years, the Japanese corporate office for KFC started advertising クリスマス に わ ケンタキイ (Kentucky for Christmas) and a tradition was born. Japanese now think that everyone in the west eats KFC for Christmas. It is huge in Japan. One third of the annual sales of any KFC store is done during the Christmas season. 3.6 million Japanese families treat themselves to a KFC meal during the Christmas season. To get a Christmas dinner at KFC, you have to reserve it weeks in advance.

Okawara went on to become the CEO of KFC Japan in 1984 and ran the company through 2002. 

So, as this example proves, if you want to get rich and famous, start a tradition based on a religion.

I wonder what the two customers who mentioned they missed turkey for Christmas in that store in 1970 would think if they knew what they started by that innocuous remark? What if they had been Jewish instead and asked for Gefilte Fish?