Back on September 9th, American Airlines flight 988 going from Lima to Dallas was set to depart at just before midnight. According to One Mile at a Time (OMAAT), the Boeing 757-200 operating the flight had 171 passengers onboard. Little did they know that it would be two more days before they would be able to get to their destination…
A series of unfortunate events
So how was this flight delayed by three days? The first delay was due to an onboard intercom system failure – a system considered critical. With the parts coming from abroad, maintenance personnel determined it would take another 24 hours.
With the intercom system fixed, the second delay was due to something completely unrelated: a door and emergency slide. Even though this was repaired while the passengers remained onboard, the runway was closed for its scheduled repair work by the time the plane was ready to go. Apparently the paperwork hadn’t been completed in time. Back to the terminal the passengers went.
On night number three of this ordeal, the crew was stuck in traffic en route to the airport. They showed up for the flight 15 minutes before departure. But that wasn’t the end of it. A battery failure occurred on the aircraft shortly before boarding causing an additional two hour delay. Then, as the plane taxied out to the runway, an engine problem was discovered.
When all was said and done, American Airlines rebooked all passengers on other flights.
Other factors to consider
There were several factors that made this ordeal even worse:
- As the flight is scheduled close to midnight, any delay meant passengers had to be awake late into the night.
- Passengers had to go back and forth through immigration with each delay as the hotel was landside. Customs officials were sparse at that time of night and so there were lengthy delays getting back to the hotel.
- Apparently only status members were able to rebook on other airlines. For the rest – American Airlines has a policy of not doing this unless authorization is given by a supervisor. So for many, rebooking would have been at their own expense.
What the airline had to say
According to OMAAT, this is what American’s Managing Director of Latin American operations had to say about this situation:
“I would describe it as one of those perfect storms, unfortunately. The reality is that if we knew Monday that we would be having a conversation about this on Wednesday, I think different decisions would have been made.”
We reached out to the airline for additional remarks and the responded to us just before publishing this article. In their statement they said:
“We know our customers went through a really difficult experience with this particular flight, which was a highly unusual, extreme situation exacerbated due to a runway closure. American has reached out to our customer[s], apologized and offered compensation…Our team is also reviewing this situation internally to ensure something like this does not happen again.”
Hopefully, a thorough after-action report can result in some new policies and procedures to prevent another situation like this.
Mechanical issues happen from time to time, even with new aircraft. However, this incident took things to a whole new level. It’s an important question to ask: At what point do you draw the line and rebook passengers on another plane as opposed to keeping them with the original flight?
Without a doubt, I think this should have been done after the second delay at the latest. Some people might disagree and say it should be sooner – I think very few would say later was acceptable. The airline should remember that many of their passengers have jobs to return to. Some have vacation bookings that they are losing with each passing day, considering a three-day delay would mean at least half of a week-long vacation is lost.
Let us know how you think this “Five Star Airline” should have handled this situation by leaving a comment!