Friday, August 13, 2010

Rant: American Airlines and the TSA

Fernando used to make me laugh with the amount of sentences he could begin with the phrase, "You know what pisses me off?" Well, Fernando, Readers... it's my turn.

Air travelers beware: in the name of your safety, ahem, the United States TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and the airlines seem to have newfound carte blanche when it comes to the appropriation of your personal items.

Redeeming AAdvantage miles for my recent Brazil-US trip, American issued a rather undesireable (if not all-out ridiculous) routing, sending me from São Paulo to Miami to Jacksonville to Chicago. Due to mechanical problems, the second leg was delayed. The AAgent informed us that "the FAA won't let us take off." That was less than reassuring. Why wouldn't you word that, "For your safety, we choose to delay this flight while we further inspect the aircraft," I wondered. In any case, the delay caused me to miss my Jacksonville-Chicago connection and I was bumped to a direct flight. Unsurprisingly, my two pieces of checked luggage were not. Wait, there's more.

I had noticed that the signature orange zip-ties, which Gol Airlines had fastened to my luggage in Porto Alegre, were still in place when I retrieved my two suitcases in Miami. After clearing Customs I left them with the TSA. When I received my bags from American's delivery service the day after I landed, I noticed that one bag was quite misshapen and there were white zip-ties on both. Opening them, I found that several items were missing--weird stuff too: my favorite sweater (hand-knit, from Uruguay), several DVDs (but not the cases), a modem--and others were damaged. There were notices of TSA "inspection" in each.

I called the TSA to complain and they told me that there's no way to prove that the theft and damage happened when they "searched" my bags. Sorry, Charlie. I filled out the online complaint paperwork anyway, just on principle. Unfortunately, I couldn't oblige the request to photo-document most of the missing items as I'm not in the habit of photographing the contents of my suitcases prior to travel.

I also emailed American Airlines, in accordance with their protocol, relaying the details of the event and, a week later, received an email saying, essentially, "too bad." Actually, they instructed me to--conveniently--take my bags back to the airport to file an incident report, presumably to receive that same "too bad" response a few weeks from now. They explained that it was unfortunate that I reportedly suffered a loss but hadn't advised them upon arrival. Of course, that was impossible to do since I didn't actually receive the luggage until the next day, geniuses.

If, in the changing dynamic of travel and security, the government agencies and airlines have ever-increasing authority in the handling of travelers' personal effects, is it too much to ask that they be held accountable for employee theft by adhering marked zip-ties to luggage and ensuring proper channels of recourse to travelers?

For now the answer appears to be yes. I am, we are, outta luck.

In a fit of aggravation, I cancelled my long-time AAdvantage Miles membership and Citi AAdvantage Mastercard. At least it made me feel a little better, and in my experience, United and Gol have provided better customer service and problem resolution. I have no way of protesting the TSA (scowl), so I'm just spouting off here. Harumph.

With that off my chest, I will resume my usual, sunny disposition now.