American Airlines - American EagleSince moving to the Dominican Republic my family and I have had many opportunities to test out the various airlines that service the DR. American Airlines has never been our favorite. Several of the planes American and American Eagle use are very crowded (I’m 6’1”), the lines for the ticket and check in counters are always among the longest at the airport and on the majority of my trips to the States I’ve had to wait at least once while they work on some equipment failure. Since American Airlines filed bankruptcy back in November of 2011 things have continued to get worse.

Before I continue Yes, there are a number of other companies that fly out of the DR including Delta and JetBlue (my favorite), however, flights to California for a family of 4 are pretty expensive. The difference in ticket prices from the different airlines can be as much as $200 – $300 per ticket. That adds up when you are working with four tickets at a time. So, we usually try for one of the lower priced tickets at the time we want to fly which at times is American Eagle. Given the choice we will usually pay a little more so we can fly with JetBlue but this time the difference was too high.

So, let me describe our most recent experience. Given the choice we will usually pay a little more so we can fly with JetBlue but this time the difference was too high so ”bite the bullet” and book with American.

Santiago International Airport (STI)

Santiago International Airport (STI). For this flight only my wife and one of my sons were heading out. So I unloaded their bags helped them check in and went up to the second floor observation lounge to wait to make sure they got through customs alright. Usually when heading out of Santiago customs goes easily and this time was no exception. The plane though was a different story.

While sitting up in the lounge I noticed them struggling with the door to the plane. There are two main doors on the front of the plane one swung out and the other appeared to move in and then slide over. The main door that they use is the sliding door. While I wasn’t watching for the unloading part, apparently they couldn’t get the door to open and they used a second staircase truck to unload everyone out the other door.

This was actually pretty entertaining as they hammered on the door, tried prying it, shouldered it a couple times, jabbed screwdrivers into the rolling mechanism, and then finally called some sort of tech support (I couldn’t hear anything but it was a rather animated conversation punctuated by occasional rattling of the door.

As entertaining as this was I was starting to get a little concerned because it was time for the flight to leave and they still hadn’t got the hatch open. I wasn’t too happy with the thought of my family getting on a plane with one of the main emergency exits unable to open. Finally they gave up and marked the flight as delayed. 45 minutes later they had new arrangements for the passengers, but on a flight about 5 hours later.

At this point I have to give American Airlines credit. The new flight was to go through New York with an overnight layover. They were provided with food vouchers (Dinner and Breakfast) and a hotel voucher for their stay in New York. When my wife got to New York the counter person noted that the hotel was a 3 hour taxi ride from the airport and changed that to a closer one. All of this was inconvenient, but well handled by the staff.

New York to Chicago

The next morning they got on the plane that would take them to Chicago, there would be a short stop in Chicago where they were instructed that they could stay on the plane or get out for a few minutes before the plane continued to San Jose (California). After boarding the plane a mechanical problem was discovered and everyone waited on the plane for an hour while the plane was repaired.

Once in Chicago it was announce that the passengers that were continuing to San Jose could stay on the plane or get off and stretch their legs a few minutes. Most of the passengers got off while a few decided to wait. After a while those that waited were told that everyone on the plane that was expecting the plane to continue to San Jose, (both the people that were waiting on the plane as well as the others that were in the lobby stretching their legs) had missed their connecting flight to San Jose. The flight attendants were out of the loop and didn’t know what was going on either.

So, about half the plane was now trying to get on the 4 courtesy phones trying to get rescheduled. Once again new tickets were given and after another long layover they finally got on the plane again and made it to their destination.

The Return Trip

The return trip was a bit smoother, all the flights were there and no mechanical problems however the flight was completely full and the overheads were all used up. My wife and son were asked to check in their carry-on luggage. Now usually the carry-on stuff is some of the most important. We put the stuff in here that we really don’t want to get stolen, or that we will need right away when we get to our destination. Assured that the carry-ons would be on the same plane and they could get them at the destination they took a few of the most valuable things out and handed over the bags.

You’ve probably guessed by now but the carry-on bags that were checked in didn’t make it back to the Dominican Republic. Being that in the past we have had quite a few things stolen out of our bags when coming into the DR this just raises the anxiety level. Among other things in the past I have had a suit stolen from my luggage, inside my sons carry on was two new suits.

The bags were finally delivered to us the next day. We were pleased that everything seemed to be there this time.

It wasn’t all Bad

While the list of errors, mechanical failures and missed placed luggage made an already long trip even rougher, at all points the staff was pleasant and did their best to try to make things easier and make up for the problems. So while the overall flight was an embarrassment for the already ailing company my wife would like to give a good review for the staff (airline attendants, people they talked to on the courtesy phone, and ticket counters).

Post Bankruptcy American Airlines

While American Airlines (at least American Eagle) flights seem to usually have some sort of problem it is obvious that things are getting worse for the struggling airline. The restructuring of the company after the bankruptcy has included layoffs and shrinking personnel which is affecting American Airlines maintenance and efficiency. In conversation with the employee at one of the ticket counters (who obviously did not want her name mentioned) it was stated that mechanical problems are becoming more frequent due to insufficient staff the lower number of personnel is also causing more frequent errors in other departments like luggage handling.

American Airlines appears to only be holding on to its business in the Dominican Republic by under pricing the competition, while its reputation continues to slip. After this trip the amount we are willing to pay extra to get on one of the better airlines has once again increased.