Monday, August 04, 2008

American Airlines Baggage Failure Gets Personal to Me

I have posted previously about my disdain for the term "glitch", especially when it is misused to describe a major computing problem or failure. "Glitch" just sounds too casual and minor. Such was the case last week when a software defect caused the separation of thousands of bags from their owners and the delay of flights at New York's JFK airport on Wednesday and Thursday.

My wife and I got caught up in the mess. It all began when we missed our connection in Miami. It was close, but the plane left EARLY. Our only recourse was to change routing through JFK. I asked the lady at American, "But isn't that where they're having all the problems with baggage?" She assured me everything was in order. But...we had to spend the night by JFK without our bags, hoping they followed us to our final destination. Guess what? They didn't.

So, we had to buy all the things we needed, plus clothes to wear at the event we were attending, which had a dress code. The "I heart NY" t-shirts just wouldn't cut it. So, the glitch cost an extra $500. I wonder how many other people had similar experiences.

Some people think delays aren't a big deal. Well, with tight connections, cancelled flights and full flights, they can make life miserable is a hurry. Some of my friends had their flight cancelled in this debacle and missed the first day of a vacation they had really looked forward to.

I know, I know....I normally carry on everything. This time I was with my wife who must check a bag, so I thought, "what the heck?" I broke my own rules!

So now I've had a little taste of what the people at London Heathrow's new terminal 5 experienced.

When we think about the cost of computing defects, these are the costs we often forget - loss of time, loss of opportunity, loss of credibility (I trust an airline to get my bags from point A to point C only at my risk. Actually, anymore when I arrive on time at my destination, I'm ahead of the game. I'm so used to being delayed, I've come to expect it.).

OK, now I'm just whining.

In this case, the suspected problem was the interface with the baggage sorter's communication network, which is only less than one year old. Those darn interoperability problems! I wonder...if the system was ever tested end-to-end in the actual operational environment (also known as validation). If anyone knows the answer to that, please let me know.

I am on my way home and I sure hope our bags make it with us. Oh, and yes, we are flying through JFK again!


Susan said...

I know what you mean. Last year, British Air lost my luggage, which had in it some of the materials I needed for a class I was to teach in 2 days. Fortunately, it arrived in time (just barely).

I'm with you on "glitch." A trivial word that belies more dire consequences.

Here's a related peeve of mine: Last night, our flight was late leaving Providence, RI for Cincinnati. The cause for the delay, we were told, was "air traffic control." Huh? Like the air traffic controllers just decided arbitrarily to mess up some schedules. Certainly they were responding to something (weather, gate mismanagement, something else). But when I asked what was really the reason for the delay, the gate agent looked at me like I accused her of lying. "Air traffic control is the reason," she said again, as if it made sense to her.

So we were late, but so was our connecting flight, and at 2am when we pulled into our driveway, I didn't really care why anymore.

Travel is fun, no?


Randy Rice said...

Right! This has been an ongoing dispute between the airlines and the FAA for some time. Unfortunately, both sides keep blaming the other for the problems and it's the travelers that pay the price in getting home at 2 a.m. or sometime the following day.

One of the worst travel nightmares I ever had was back in 1998 when the air traffic got so snarled at Newark that the planes couldn't even move back from the gates. When dawn broke, it looked like an "end of the world" movie with planes just parked all over the place - many loaded with passengers all night! I'm thankful we had a smart pilot who let us get off the plane and find a place in the airport to nap.

Yeah, that's why I travel!