Tuesday, July 31, 2007

American Airlines: Ethically Challenged Corporation

The good news is, we're home, safe and sound. And of course, that is the most important thing. On the other hand, we learned firsthand that American Airlines is perfectly willing to jeopardize our lives (and those of hundreds of fellow passengers) to make a few bucks. Harsh? You bet. Accurate? Oh, yeah.
Our return flight from beautiful (and friendly) Jackson Hole, Wyoming was scheduled to take off about 12:30 on a beautiful Monday afternoon (yesterday, in fact). We had purchased a flight with one stop-over, in Dallas/Fort Worth, which cost a bit more than the milk run, but we wanted to be home in time to be at work on Tuesday. The flight was to land at DFW at about 4:30, and our plane home was scheduled to leave at 6:30, leaving a two hour "window" for dinner, etc. When we boarded the plane in Jackson, however, we were informed that, because of "weather" in Jackson, we couldn't take off with full tanks, and would have to stop in Denver to have them topped off. This seemed odd, since it was such a beautiful day.
It got odder still when, about 20 minutes later, the captain told us that due to "weather" in Dallas, we couldn't take off with full tanks, and we'd have to stop in Denver to top off.
(Yeah, deja vu all over again).
At that point, we knew that there was obviously some other reason that they wanted to divert us to Denver, but couldn't quite figure out why. It seemed likely that there was a financially-driven motivation, but it was unclear what that might be.
So, we taxied out to the runway, where we stopped, and were informed that there were mechanical difficulties. These eventually led to a two and a half hour delay, and some other inconveniences. In fairness, though, and presuming that AA was being truthful with us about it (not necessarily a safe assumption, but we have no proof that it was otherwise), this was irrelevant to the primary issue: why Denver?
As we approached Denver, we were once again assured that we were only there for fuel; indeed, we were told that we wouldn't even be going to a gate.
And, of course, these were lies; as soon as we landed, we were informed of the real reason for the stop-over: to pick up 20 additional passengers.
It is well-known that the riskiest, the most dangerous parts of any flight are the take-off and landing. American Airlines, in its greed to squeeze out $5,000 more dollars (I checked, and the economy fare for Denver to DFW is about $250), the airline was willing to literally double our risk of a fiery death. Gee, thanks guys.
Thankfully (for us), the flights all ended safely, for which we are grateful. But that is despite, not because of, American Airlines greed -- its willingness to put its corporate welfare above its passengers' safety. It is unconscionable that this company, which we taxpayers have assisted, is so willing to forego its responsibility to put safety first. As soon as this post is published, I will be sending a letter to the President of American Airlines recounting these events, and then the NTSB to notify them, as well.
This post may not seem to have anything to do with insurance, but it certainly addresses the concept of risk. Proper risk assessment should have told these folks that they were playing a very dangerous game. Risk management should have indicated that the Denver diversion was unacceptable. That American Airlines didn't see it that way tells us a lot about their corporate view of acceptable risk, and what it says isn't pretty.
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