My American Airlines Flight Could Have Gone Sideways In So Many Ways

I’m just back from Turks and Caicos. I flew Providenciales – Charlotte – Austin, which turned out to be a much better connection overall than going via Miami (even though it’s about 400 miles’ more flying).

The Providenciales airport is packed, with not nearly enough seating for passenger volumes on a Sunday in-season. The sole lounge doesn’t take Priority Pass. Turks and Caicos is a British Overseas Territory, with no passport control on departure. And they drive on the left side of the road, even though cars are imported from the U.S. with the driver’s seat on the left. I’ll have a separate report on the hotel I stayed at using Hyatt points shortly.

The flight from Providenciales to Charlotte was uneventful, as was the layover. We boarded our connecting flight to Austin on time, and boarding completed 20 minutes prior to departure – the flight wasn’t full with many empty middles.

All in all I expected there wouldn’t be noteworthy about any of my flights where I’d write about them. That all changed once we’d boarded. I was traveling with my wife and daughter, and we had 3 seats in row 3 of first class. The woman in 3A, who had been upgraded, was traveling with her husband (sitting in back) and also with a couple sitting in row 2.

The woman beside me, and the woman in the aisle of row 2 she was traveling with, both had coffee cups. The two woman were probably in their late 50s or early 60s, and were giggling. They talked about what was in the cups, and it wasn’t coffee. That would become important later on in the flight, though at the time I just worried about things ending badly and our diverting. Sometimes passengers bringing their own alcohol on board to drink ends very badly.

With 20 minutes to departure and a clear aisle, I’d hoped for a predeparture beverage. The first class flight attendant on this 737 took predeparture beverage orders but didn’t get around to delivering any. And we wouldn’t see any for at least 90 minutes.

Shortly after takeoff there was a medical emergency on the flight. A man in an aisle seat towards the front of coach was having trouble breathing. An announcement was made asking for anyone with medical experience – a doctor, EMT, or “even a veterinarian.”

The woman who’d been sipping for the past hour talked across me to her friend. She said “I’m a doctor but I’m not going to say anything.” She was clearly drunk! She was in no position to help anyone. On the other hand, that was the entire plot of Alec Baldwin’s 1993 film Malice

She couldn’t help herself, though, and later identified herself to the first class flight attendant as “a medical assistant.” By that time everything was under control. The passenger was breathing well with an oxygen mask and sitting up on his own.

The first class flight attendant spent most of the flight watching what was going on back in coach, not really doing anything to help there. Obviously the medical emergency took precedence but – and the whole thing was easily visible – he really didn’t do much there besides watch from a distance.

So the meal was served 70 minutes prior to landing. It was actually quite decent, though oddly the same exact meal that was served from Providenciales to Charlotte. I imagine it was double catered for that flight out of Charlotte, but the choice was still odd to run on Caribbean – East Coast and on a Westbound flight.

I’m not a fan of short rib, though legacy US Airways management always has been. It’s on the cheaper side for beef, and fatty enough that it reheats well. But note the endives! Those aren’t cheap! An odd place for American’s catering team to invest, since I’d bet most passengers treat them as garnish.

When we landed in Austin everyone was asked to keep their seats. Medical personnel came onto the aircraft to help off the passenger who’d had the onboard emergency. He insisted he was fine, and walked off on his own though the fire department employees who’d responded accompanied him.

Twice I thought we might end of diverting, the two reasons were even linked in an odd way, but we wound up arriving on time – and everyone seemed to be no worse for the wear of the trip in the end.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Therein lies the double whammy problem of flying AA.

    If it’s not the gate agents or flight attendants being unpleasant, it’s the extremely low class of the other passengers. You kind of expect this on a ULCC but AA doesn’t market or operate itself that way.

    I only fly DL UA AS. If only AA flies there then it’s a place I’m not going. If it’s critical I’ll fly to the nearest DL, UA, AS outstation and even rent a Hertz!

  2. I’ve had that endive salad[-ish] plate with the two mashes, it’s really not bad as a light accompaniment.

  3. You are renting from the wrong place at PLS. Always gotten a correct side wheel rental there at Hertz

  4. I am an AA flight attendant with 34 years seniority. I’d like to correct your perception of the performance of the first class flight attendant you seemed to diminish by saying he did nothing but observed from a distance. All crew members are trained to respond to every type of emergency, then to act as a team to aid passengers but also protect the security of the aircraft. The crew member that discovers the need is usually now the primary responder. The #1 or lead flight attendant is not a supervisor or one who “takes over” with some special superpowers. Second and most important, is that any commotion on the aircraft can be a diversion for more sinister actors. The cockpit door and first class may not be abandoned. Indeed, it becomes more imperative that he/she exercises more diligence and a defensive posture to insure the aircraft will not be compromised. Also, there is always one crew member communicating with the cockpit updating the given situation who you are not seeing. We also call a physician on call on the ground, who we coordinate with whether a first responder is on the airplane and is attending or not. It is easy to criticize a situation you do not understand. I once had to pause my first class service since I was the primary responder, only to have a first class passenger later complain to me that he was never offered a second dinner role. So no matter how we professionally perform our jobs and occasionally save lives, someone will find a reason to complain or critidize. Hopefully your understanding is now enhanced.

  5. @Anthony – I did, and I believe it’s the best spot on points there. Is it going to come close to Amanyara or Parrot Cay? No. But staff are excellent ‘for the Caribbean’ and it is very low key with all suites and just 28 rooms on Grace Bay.

  6. @Hyytekk ” The crew member that discovers the need is usually now the primary responder” the flight attendant working first class was not the one who discovered the need.

    “The cockpit door and first class may not be abandoned. Indeed, it becomes more imperative that he/she exercises more diligence and a defensive posture to insure the aircraft will not be compromised.”

    Well first class was abandoned for long stretches.

    I’m sure you did excellent work, and I’d never complain that first class meals were delayed to rescue a passenger in distress! But the events were within full view. I’m not really criticizing here, and not complaining, it was just an… interesting flight.

  7. @Mystery Meat – Pretty sure beets for the red mash, and don’t think you’re right on guac for the green mash. I don’t recall it tasting like guac. Probably some puréed green vegetable like broccoli mixed with potato. Avocado browns in air unless they use some crazy preservative – I can only imagine altitude may exacerbate the problem – plus it’s more expensive as produce goes.

  8. Former AA Flight Attendant here (Purser) Since the merger with U S. Airways there has been a decline in food service in First class on the Carribean flights out of Miami. I use to fly to PLS just about every week. When we had a passenger who became ill I would get on the PA and request a doctor, a DO an EMT or nurse on board who would volunteer there services to ring there F/A call light. Then find out what the problem was with passenger and relay it to the cockpit. Then communicate with medical personel on the victoms vital signs. If we can continue to our destination or land somewhere sooner?

  9. @Yourdaddy of course they can, and no, you’re not legally bound to assist, although most doctors would instinctively do their best to help. It appears in this case this person understood she was in no condition to help, although it is suspect that she told her seatmate she was a “doctor” and then to the FA that she was a “medical assistant”. My wife is a physician and she has at least twice assisted during inflight emergencies. Real doctors are pretty straightforward when communicating their qualifications. The problem with the drinking here is that they were drinking their own, even when they announce specifically it is against regulations. I suppose during an emergency anyone is better than no one helping, but I’d be weary of anyone demonstrating such poor judgment.

  10. Gary brings out another flight attendant/FAM wannabe….
    Princess wasn’t being lazy, they were “protecting the cockpit door”… case the guy who couldn’t breathe decided he would like to now hijack the plane….or at least get some of that blue guacamole that’s being served up front.
    I was on an (ugh) AA flight this morning to PHL…..and wouldn’t you know it, our flight was specially selected to receive a special bonus of special AAdvantage miles. I was soooo excited!….the 7 minute spiel almost sounded like……..BS (I know you don’t like it when I swear)

  11. I pay $200 a month for cable TV yet, for every 8 minutes of news I’m forced to hear 4 minutes of commercials from big pharma and reverse mortgage companies. I hate it. But it’s called Capitalism. Something you’ll stand with your hand over your heart and start wars to defend. So sorry you must endure a several minute credit card PA on a 3 or 5 hour flight, but that loyalty program provides the only income that keeps most airlines afloat and allows average air fares to be almost half what they were in 1979 adjusted for inflation. Those 50 or 60,000 advantage miles equate to 2 round trip domestic tickets for charging as little as one dollar to a new CC promotional account. That might be inconsequential to well healed travelers. But to many middle class wage earners that equals a vacation they might not have been able to afford otherwise. Win for AA, win for many many customers. So sorry to interrupt your 24/7 entertainment cycle for 2 minutes. Perhaps you’d prefer to double your ticket price to make up the income shortfall. Or perhaps just scrap Capitalism and set up an alternate system. We’re all entitled to complain. Just be prepared to accept the alternatives. Happy flying Chris. Oh and by the way, since you’re an expert on diversionary terrorist tactics, including fake medical emergency ploys, the TSA and Homeland Security would love to hire you as an expert consultant. Enjoy your free speech rights.

  12. Wow, what a waste of my time reading this. Must be nice to get paid for writing irrelevant drivel.

  13. Gary, I think you should comment on @Hyytekk post. Or would you just be eating crow by doing that? Thin-skinned much??

  14. Gary did reply to the arrogant AA FA. And a very foolish one, too, paying $200 for cable.

    In the FA’s mind, others are ignorant and quick to criticize.

    ATTENTION AA FAs. You are a blue collar peon aboard America’s worst legacy airline. You are not a smart person. You take home 5 figures a year from manual labor while Gary Leff is pulling in 8 figures sitting at his desk (either working on this blog or at his full time salaried job). NEVER COME HERE TO ACT SUPERIOR because you are not. “CHRIS” might be a misogynistic ass, but he’s right about the AA credit card pitch being uniquely stupid and annoying. The loyalty program was profitable for decades before inflight credit card pitches became a thing and the other airlines pitch their cards far less frequently, with less fanfare, and less outright falsehood.

  15. @Disgruntled Feminist….you certainly are on a roll bright and early this morning. I haven’t even had my first cup of coffee. You, like CHRIS and a few others, have so much anger. I just don’t get it. Must be very tiring to spend your life angry. Anyway, I’m off on a long haul today while my husband stays home and watches our $200 per month cable because we can well afford it. Here’s my advice to you…work hard, save, save, save, pay off your home, have ZERO car loans, pay full balance each month on any credit cards and be completely debt free. You will only owe Uncle Sam and property taxes each year. Keep a lot of your hard earned savings in investments such as real estate and funds and a nice amount in some handy savings accounts and CDs (which by the way have some great rates right now). After all that, you too can choose to work a job that you love and get to work it only because you love it and don’t need to work. As my husband said, isn’t it nice to know you can fly off any day you want and retire any day you choose. Ok, this little peon, who happens to very educated, has to go get ready. Hopefully, I’ll get to meet some very nice and interesting people today as I usually do and you and a few others on here stay off my flights. I’ll throw you one tidbit though, I was just on a plane that had one of those credit card commercials while I was trying to sleep. Annoying. I’m sure the flight attendants banned together and decided, hey let’s sell credit cards for our great company. HAAA!! I have a feeling it was some cubicle dweller that brought that idiotic idea to light.

  16. Good morning “Disgusting”Feminist. I hope you can find a good therapist and some appropriate meds to mitigate your delusions of grandeur. Blue collar peon? 5 figure salary? I won’t even lower myself to address those labels and misinformation. (Though I can’t help correcting, again, my income is statistically well into the top 10% in the U.S. and as a member of Mensa, I can look down on people with your cerebral deficiency floundering in the village idiot category if I chose your pathetic world view. But I don’t waste my energy dwelling on angry malcontents.) I was foolish enough to imagine this was a forum that might appreciate reason and civility. My initial response was to simply explain airline procedures. My second was to remind how capitalism works and is pervasive all around you. Btw, AA invented the loyalty program. Most of our passengers only fly once or a few times a year. So those announcements are to give them an opportunity to get 2 initial tickets and more flights going forward. There is no misinformation presented as you spouted without documenting your claim, though I would expect nothing less from you. I won’t read whatever scholarly response you’ll no doubt attempt but am deleting this blog so won’t see it. My apologies for having one of your personal indentured servants try to insert some factual reality into your phantasmagoria. Fly safe love.


    Btw fwiw @Hyytekk
    “AA invented the loyalty program” isn’t quite accurate, the first distance-based loyalty program earning free airline travel yes, not the first loyalty program nor even the first airline one!

    “There is no misinformation” I’m sure your card announcements stick to the script, but announcements from many of your colleagues do not 😉

  18. @ Disgruntle Feminist ,

    I am a 37yr. FA who makes 6 figures a year. I am also an ER nurse on the weekends.

    And to CHRIS , If you’re so annoyed Fly Private , otherwise learn Business Ethics 101.

  19. My apologies to you personally Gary. I appreciate your valuable contributions regarding airline travel and respect your factual updates and observations. My last post, should have clarified that Robert Crandall was the first to adopt a loyalty program in the “airline” industry. The concept of rewards for loyalty, of course, likely extends to the stone age. In regard to those credit card offer PA’s, I am in full agreement that most of us don’t relish any sales pitches even if they can at times be win/win offers. I despise billboards polluting my morning commute or big pharma’s relentless deluge promoting legal addictions. I am also a published writer with tens of thousands of appreciative comments in regard to consumer product critiques, so sometimes can’t resist inserting a factual correction when I read a skewed perspective or misstatement. I normally echew unprofessional snarkiness, but couldn’t resist the large target one poster presented. I will sign off simply reminding that most of my coworkers are well educated, more than a few with doctoral degrees. It amazes me how someone who starts a successful pizza franchise and so builds a McMansion somehow feels superior to the person who provides some service they feel is inconsequential or beneath them. It is pointless to even address that sad individual and state of affairs especially since it is now pervasive in our, never more divided, culture.

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