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Around the World in 11 Days, Leg 4

December 20, 2015

Route: Hyderabad to Raleigh-Durham
Flights: 3
Stops: London Heathrow, Philadelphia
Airlines: British Airways, American
Air Miles: 8678
Time Zones (inclusive): 11

The only drama of this trip took place before it started. I was eating dinner at my hotel in Hyderabad Friday night, feeling very happy to have completed my 71st teaching day of 2015, when I started getting texts from British Airways regarding flight delays. Each one pushed back our departure time further than the previous one, until I was going to miss my connecting flight to JFK on American. When I returned to my room I hopped on Skype to see how I was getting home.

I mentioned back in Leg 1 that I am an elite flyer on Delta. One of the many perks that comes with my diamond status is access to the “Diamond Desk.” This special service even recognizes my phone number, so I don’t have to type in my SkyMiles number every time I call. Instead, I get a “Welcome, Robert” message, then a live agent, in about 15 seconds. I mention this to you now because while I have been an Executive Platinum flyer on American Airlines in the past, I currently have no status with them, and I was about to discover the difference between having status and just being another passenger calling with a problem.

My situation was compounded by my ticket, which I purchased from American’s web site and included a code-shared British Airways flight from Hyderabad to London. The airlines will tell you how wonderful their “global networks” are, letting you buy from one partner while flying with others. While it is great to fly on, say, Korean Air, as I did last week (see Leg 2) and earn miles on my Delta account, it’s also great for Delta and Korean Air because they don’t have to compete with each other between, say, Seattle and Seoul, allowing them to charge higher fares. These alliances also make it tricky when, say, one partner has a delayed flight that impacts your ability to make a connecting flight on another partner. This was my fate Friday night.

I’ll spare you most of the details, but the core problem was that it took me six calls, three to BA and three to American, before my situation was resolved. Twice I called BA and they said, “Your ticket’s with American. Call them to get rebooked.” Twice I called American and they said, “BA’s flight is delayed, have them rebook you.” The third BA agent actually did try to get me rebooked, but when he found flights for me, he could not gain access to the system. I asked him for flight numbers and times, wrote them down, and called American for the third time. By this time American’s system was automatically rebooking me–hence the BA agent’s inability to help me–and I had new flights shortly.

I am usually a patient person, but I will confess that I got pretty upset with American Agent #1 (call #2). First he told me my BA flight was not delayed, even though I had already received emails and texts to that effect. (I do not understand how I could have more updated information than an airline agent had, but there you go.) Then he put me on hold for about 12 minutes before telling me that I had to call BA to get my ticket rebooked. Then he stopped answering my questions. Each time I asked him to explain why, after trying to help me for 12 minutes, he no longer could, or what my options were for getting home on American if I got to London on BA and missed my connection, or any of my other half-dozen questions, his answer was, “You’ll have to ask BA about that.” Like he was staring at a script and would not engage with my problem. This is what does not happen when you call the elite “desk,” because they know you’re a frequent flyer and you’re not going to settle for scripted answers. But this does not excuse my impatience with him, and I very intentionally was very patient and appreciative with the next four agents.

After my ordeal ended, I figured out two things. First, if I got to Heathrow when my delayed BA flight was scheduled to arrive, then American had no way to get me home Saturday night. This meant they’d have to put me up at a hotel and get me home Sunday–and I believe they wanted BA to bear that cost, because it was their flight that was causing the problem. And that is a reasonable request. But American never told me that, they just kept saying, “Call BA and have them rebook. It’s their fault.” If they’d just said, “Here’s the situation,” or even better, if they had called BA for me, then I would have been a happy guy. But their stonewalling ticked me off. Second, BA kept re-estimating the length of the original delay, and when it improved to the point where I could get home Saturday night, their system triggered the automatic rebooking, which was going on during Calls #5 and 6.

Once I was rebooked, I could focus on the upside: after six days of teaching in three countries on two continents, I was going home. I had my first two flights on Boeing’s newest jet, the 787 Dreamliner (see my Hyderabad to London plane below). En route I finished two books (All the Light We Cannot See, and The Martian, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed) and two NY Times crossword puzzles (it always feels extra satisfying to finish a Saturday puzzle), and watched one meh movie (Ricki and the Flash) and one very funny HBO special (Amy Schumer’s). And because I was flying west, my Saturday lasted almost 30 hours. An extra-long Saturday that ends at home with Vicki is my kind of a long weekend.

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2 comments

  1. So glad you’re home safely and that it was a (mostly) satisfying experience. Looking forward to seeing you out here next month. It will feel like a puddle jumper after this trip.


    • Thanks, Kristin, for taking the time to read. I am very happy to be home. Looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks.



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