Opinion: American Airlines

POSTED: 10/10/12 12:10 PM

Tom Stieghorst writes in the cruise industry newsletter about trouble with American Airlines.

“Recently, I took a family member to Miami International Airport to catch an American Airlines flight. After six hours they were still waiting to board. After eight hours they were back home. It was a wasted day.

Next time it could be your client. American is having problems, and if you’re trying to get someone to a Caribbean cruise through Miami, it is worth thinking about alternative arrangements.

Of course, there are other airlines that fly to Miami. But American accounts for nearly two-thirds of the passengers coming and going from Miami International. When American sneezes, Miami isn’t where you want to be.

American’s performance has only gotten worse since July, when the last official numbers (427 cancellations, 193 consumer complaints) were published by the Department of Transportation. Visitors to AA.com will find a standing apology for delays and cancellations.

The Wall Street Journal’s influential Middle Seat column has recommended that fliers avoid the airline for the time being, calling it too unreliable.

All of this underscores how dependent cruise vacations are on transportation to and from the departure port.

The modern cruise industry can trace its beginnings to the development of safe, nonstop transatlantic flights, which made liners virtually obsolete and eventually moved Miami ahead of New York as the world cruise capital.

Even before deregulation of the airlines, cheaper air fares enabled cruise executives to count on customers from California and New York when they ordered bigger ships for the Caribbean trade.

In recent years, cruise lines have taken pains to sail from ports that passengers can drive to. Regional alternatives to Miami include Galveston, Texas; New Orleans, Baltimore and Norfolk, Va. And cruise lines have stepped up efforts to give New Yorkers more Caribbean itineraries that start and end in the Big Apple, forgoing the flight south.

Yet as cruising attracts more passengers, its biggest and newest ships are usually based in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the closest points of departure to the Caribbean.

One alternative for clients on a cruise leaving Miami is to book them to Fort Lauderdale, with ground transport to Miami. Southwest and JetBlue are the big players there, along with Spirit Airlines, (which has almost as many consumer complaints as American, despite being 20 times smaller).

To be sure, other airlines such as Lufthansa, Qantas and Air Canada have had labor problems like American, leading to spotty service. But none are as important to cruisers as American.

American may yet resolve what it calls “operational challenges.” But until then, buying a backup ticket, paying a higher fare on another carrier or leaving a day early might all be worth it if it means not missing the boat.”


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