Friday, April 2, 2010

Airline Rant

Every time I travel, I look forward to seeing new places and faces, doing new things, and simply enjoying a change of scenery. However, I also cringe with nervous anticipation when I think of what I might have to endure at Nassau International Airport, or what shoddy service I may receive from whatever airline I may choose out of Nassau.

There are many airlines connecting Nassau to the United States, even to South Florida there is a choice. When going to Miami or Fort Lauderdale, travellers can choose between (in alphabetical order): American Eagle, Bahamasair, Continental Connection, JetBlue and Spirit. Now, the latter two, while not always perfect, are a class or their own, flying modern, comfortable and clean planes. Bahamasair has so many nasty things said and written about them, I do not - today - want to contribute to that, as in recent times, they've usually gotten me to where I wanted to go on time, safe, and with my bags. (I do remember when things were different.) Continental offers so few seats between Fort Lauderdale and Nassau these days, they're not even worth considering. That leaves American Eagle, offering roughly ten daily flights to Miami, and thus more options than any other carrier.

Sadly, and I have said this for years, American Eagle is also by far the worst airline flying between Nassau and Florida. Underpaid, poorly qualified staff, whose Spanish may be perfect, but whose English is often unintelligible, and airplanes unsuitable for the job, because they cannot carry the amount of cargo demanded on flights from Shopping-Paradise-Florida to the Bahamas, make them often an adventure in and by itself. And that is the service you receive.

Last week, I was returning from Miami on their evening flight, which was delayed. No surprise. However, the experience around that was really what inspires today's rant.

  1. Sitting in the waiting area at Miami, the screen showed that our flight was "boarding," then displayed a "final boarding" call, when the aircraft had not even landed in Miami yet, to be turned around and prepared for our flight to Nassau. Upon enquiring with the gate personnel, they did - absolutely nothing about it.
  2. When we were finally ready to go, we were driven to the aircraft in a bus. The bus driver did not know where to go. He stopped at half a dozen different planes to ask the crews whether this was the flight to Nassau.
  3. In the air, we got the "no cabin service due to turbulence" excuse, which, IIRC, was invented by Bahamasair about 20 years ago. It was, until we began our approach into Nassau, a smooth ride.
  4. In Nassau, we waited at the carousel labelled "AA####" for our bags. Which didn't come. They were already at a different carousel. Because there were only seven bags. For 63 passengers. Some friendly porter finally told us. American Eagle staff were nowhere to be seen.
  5. Surely when this plane left Miami with only seven bags, American Eagle must have been able to anticipate that there'd be lots of passengers in Nassau in need of assistance? You would think that Miami would pick up the phone, call Nassau, and they'd be prepared for the onslaught at the lost luggage counter? Ha!!
  6. When we finally got to the missing bags counter, there was one (1) - Yes, ONE (UNO, EINS, 1) - woman working. She got to deal with the 63 passengers whose bags were not on the plane.
  7. However, she did have the moral support of another American Eagle colleague, who was sitting right next to her, wearing her American uniform, and enjoying her Wendy's dinner.
  8. American's computer system had no idea where the bags were. (Again, I have in the past experienced this with Bahamasair, but every first world carrier that ever misplaced my bags could simply glance at their computer and tell me exactly where my bag was. At least in the past 25 or so years.)
  9. The bags finally arrive, and I get a phone call from baggage services that I can come and pick them up. I get this phone call at 3:30 in the morning!
Thank you, American Eagle. You see, the sad part is that this is *not* an isolated incident, where everything went wrong, but, rather, a fairly common experience for somebody travelling on your airline from Miami to Nassau.

I believe that it is time for our government, through the department of Civil Aviation, to set certain minimum standards that commercial airlines operating in or to the Bahamas must meet. Especially ones operating internationally, who make their profit from tourist dollars. American Eagle, I put it to you, in its current state, does not meet acceptable standards on the Bahamas-Florida runs.

If an airline consistently fails to meet minimum standards, its landing rights in the Bahamas ought to be revoked. We can provide shitty service for ourselves (believe it or not, we can do well, too), we don't need to invite an American operator into the country to treat us badly.

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