It's time for another airline horror story. Cheer me up by sharing your worst experiences...

I was supposed to be in Chicago right now, where I was to appear on a panel tomorrow AM at Blogging While Brown, one of the few conferences I really wanted to attend this year:

Netroots in Action

Panelists will discuss how social media tools can be used to affect changes in policy, improve communities, and influence elections.

Moderator: Carmen Dixon Rosenzweig,

Panelists: Megan Tady,

Pam Spaulding,

Cheryl Contee,

To back up a bit, this is the second time this week my flight has been deep-sixed by this airline. On Monday, American screwed me (and Kate) by canceling the flight to NYC for the Women's Media Center Media Awards. We had planned to go a day early so we could spend time with family. But American couldn't rebook us until almost 4PM the next day, meaning AA stole our day there, and pickpocketed me for a night's hotel stay.

What happened this time? My flight to Chicago today was 2:30 PM. I was to return on Sunday AM around 10:30, so it was a quick trip. The above-mentioned panel was at 11AM on Saturday.

So I arrive at a reasonable hour at RDU and settle in to wait at the gate for about 45 min. I go get a soft drink and look at the board and it says "delayed" with a revised arrival time at 3:30 PM. I figured it was weather, no big deal. I popped open my laptop so I could check mail and blog (which is why you had fresh posts from me this afternoon). I had the AA site open so I could monitor the delays, and it kept creeping up by a half hour.

Eventually someone came on the PA system and mentioned the weather was poor (t-storms). They said the plane was arriving at O'Hare soon and would be taking off around 5PM. Time goes by and across the terminal, a United flight bound for Chicago boards and takes off. My fellow AA passengers take note of this. The man comes back on the PA system and says around 6 that the plane is taking off (actually I wasn't the only one who heard him say it was "in the air") and that it would be here in around 2 hours, putting our departure at 8:04PM.

Well, by this time I was starving so I went and had a bagel. Came back and sat down and popped the computer back open and rechecked the AA site. It said FLIGHT CANCELED. I hadn't heard anything on the PA, and the board didn't show it canceled. I went over to the gate where a line had already formed for people looking to rebook. The word on the line was that there were no direct flights to Chicago now and none tonight.

Well, it's about 7:30 PM now when I reach the counter and the weary AA agent, who had been unfairly taking abuse from (justifiably) irate passengers, asked me what my situation was. I was kind to him despite being pissed beyond belief and said, "Well, I think I'm screwed. Can you get me to Chicago by 11AM tomorrow?" He just shook his head. The problem was that he couldn't get me there earlier than 4PM CT, which kind of defeats the purpose of the trip. Even on other carriers.

My favorite part of this nightmare is when I asked if I could get a voucher or refund. He said no, unless you had bought trip insurance, weather isn't covered. But I told him that I HAD done this when I ordered the ticket, and then received an email the following day from Travelocity that it could not be processed "for technical reasons." So even when I tried to protect my investment, I was screwed.

As I was about leave the counter, a disoriented flight crew was visibly (and audibly) pissed that they were stuck in RDU and another pilot clearly didn't know where he was supposed to be and asked why they (the airline) didn't bother calling to tell him (that his schedule had changed).

Now I know that AA picks traveler's pockets -- and it has a crappy scheduling department that screws over its flight crews as well.

I drove home and I called Travelocity to see if I could beg for mercy there. I explained the situation to the agent and he obviously thought I could be rebooked somehow, so he put me on hold to call AA. I was on hold for about 10 minutes as I contemplated throwing the phone across the room. He came back on and said "American Airlines will credit you the full amount for your ticket."

While that's somewhat good news for me, or at least my wallet, it shows you how f**ked the airline is. AA must have screwed so many people that they couldn't rebook in any sane timeframe that it felt it had no choice but to refund.

But the real mess is that I am missing a conference that I very much wanted to attend. Again, from AA's web site's customer commitment service plan:

American Airlines and American Eagle are in business to provide safe, dependable and friendly air transportation to our customers, along with numerous related services. We are dedicated to making every flight you take with us something special. Your safety, comfort and convenience are our most important concerns.
Screw you AA.