Last week was the OneWorld “MegaDo.” For those not familiar, a MegaDo is basically the equivalent of a press junket, a series of flights to different cities served by different members of an airline alliance, with each stop containing a number of activities sponsored by those airlines designed to the show them off. For this privilege, you usually pay a lower rate than you would for the individual flights otherwise, and the airlines (and often hotels) throw in a huge number of giveaways, raffles, etc.
You can see the schedule for last week’s OneWorld MegaDo here. In brief summary, there was an “optional” European leg, starting with a flight from JFK to London on American, with the premium cabin blocked off only for MegaDoers, a tour of British Airways’ facilities in London, and then an American Airlines flight from London to Dallas for the official start. In Dallas, there was a full American Airlines program, followed by a charter flight on American from Dallas to Seattle. In Seattle there was a special Boeing tour, followed by a charter flight down to Los Angeles, where there were presentations by OneWorld’s Asian Pacific partners Qantas and Cathay Pacific.
Unsurprisingly, many of the most-read travel bloggers and some journalists attended this event. And unsurprisingly they had an amazing time. But reading the details, I was kind of disgusted. Before I explain, three background points
1) As someone who does not have super premium status with an airline, I have come to disregard many bloggers summaries of their experiences. Many are Platinum or Diamond or equivalent levels, and the service they will get is just not a fair baseline to compare my likely experience to. Moreover, many of the bloggers are known by airlines and hotel companies, and it would be corporate malpractice if the social media coordinator didn’t call a hotel property or maybe a lounge agent at an airport and “warn” them that a well-read travel blogger was en route. I judge service providers based on the service they provide to ordinary customers, not to the elite or when they know they are on the stage.
2) I have never had a good experience flying American Airlines, and avoid them if at all possible. Their economy service is mediocre, and not only have I had tons of delays and cancellations on them, but the way they’ve dealt with them is horrible. I stopped flying them domestically after a sadly typical flight cancellation for a 9am Saturday flight from SFO to JFK that unfolded like this:
“Sir, the flight is cancelled due to weather.”
“But it’s beautiful here in San Francisco and in New York, and no other flights are delayed.”
“We can get you back to New York on Tuesday.”
“What? It’s SATURDAY.”
“Well, if you go to San Jose later tonight, we can get you home Monday morning.”
“How am I supposed to get to San Jose?”
“Sir, its weather, it’s not our responsibility. Try supershuttle.”
“Can’t you get me through Chicago or Dallas, you have like 10 flights a day to each?”
“Well, I can get you to Chicago tonight, but the next flight to New York is not until 3pm Sunday.”
“I assume I’d have to put myself up in Chicago.”
“SIR, I TOLD YOU IT WAS WEATHER”
I spent the night in the Des Plaines Radisson, and got to New York 36 hours after I left my hotel. My colleagues had been on an 11am flight and all got home Saturday afternoon.
3) American Airlines is in bankruptcy.
Now, onto the Megado. There were four flights in the Megado. Of the 4, TWO had substantial problems. The Heathrow to Dallas was cancelled, and the Seattle to LA was delayed more than two hours. Yes, delays and cancellations happen. But a 50% rate is pretty bad. And its even worse because if you’re American Airlines in this circumstance, you do everything short of a federal crime to make sure these flights with VIPS go off as scheduled.
But the bloggers who went think the delays were amazing. Because American Airlines treated them really well when the flights got messed up. But going back to Number 1, you can’t judge an airline based on how it treats a group of people on a promotional excursion, who you know will be blogging to wide audiences about it. I agree, American appears to have responded to the flight problems well, but how would a typical American passenger have fared? American seems to have gone absurdly out of its way to cater to these customers, in a way that is mindboggling for a bankrupt company. For example, in response to the 2-hour mechanical delay from Seattle to L.A., the airline gave each passenger 10,000 redeemable and elite qualifying miles, and bought food for its passengers. How about this, American, get your planes in better condition. Because we all know that a typical passenger would have gotten bupkis for a 2 hour mechanical delay. As for the cancelled AA LHR-DFW flight, passengers were rebooked – some on non-OneWorld airlines. And one blogger reports he received a note under his door ” apologizing for the cancellation and notifying me that in addition to the miles and double EQMs I would have gotten if I flew AA, I’ll get an additional 25,000 miles deposited into my account and two additional systemwide upgrades.” Well la di da. I’m curious what the coach passengers on that flight who were *not* part of the MegaDo received.
Only slightly related to the Mega-Do, American rolled out its new interior for its 777-300 planes at a Mega-Do presentation. While many bloggers have accepted American’s focus on the improved business and first class seating, the coach seating is actually a major downgrade. Only one blog I’ve read even touched on this issue: the coach seats are super cramped and go from 9 seats across to 10 seats across, meaning narrow aisles and little breathing room.
I guess I don’t actually think that much less of American after this weekend, but I don’t think that the plaudits for an airline that had significant irrops on 50% of its flights but treated the VIPS well in the ensuing delays mean anything. For most flyers, their experience will still be like mine, and paying for a night at the Radisson Des Plaines. But I caution blogreaders *not* to accept comments about amazing experiences as meaningful when they come from promotional events like this. American should have been on its “best behavior” at this event, and could not deliver the most important thing for an airline: getting people from point A to point B at the time they expect to. Overcompensating bloggers who then say you’re awesome because they got oodles of miles and special treatment isn’t really a fair fix. And as to the bloggers who are willing to overlook the fundamental problems here, they really need to revisit their objectivity or else risk winding up being self-interested PR flacks.