While its response could have been much better, I find myself with a sympathetic take on the recent American Airlines 777 diversion to Bermuda that stranded passengers for almost a full day. Passengers should not be left to fend for themselves, but there is only so much an airline can do.
How Badly Did American Airlines React To Bermuda 777 Diversion?
In one sense, American Airlines did all it could. After all, AA38, a 777-200 traveling from Miami (MIA) to London (LHR) on August 28, 2022, did not divert to Bermuda (BDA) for fun. Instead, pilots diverted to the closest airport after smoke alarms in the electronic equipment compartment raised safety concerns. Do you really want to risk it when there are over 300 souls onboard?
So the plane arrived in Bermuda at 12:57 am and American found itself in a quandary: Bermuda requires testing to enter the country and to further complicate matters, there were not enough hotel rooms available on the island for all the passengers.
A decision was made to keep the passengers in the terminal as American Airlines ferried in a replacement 777 and crew from New York (JFK). That took time not only to gather the crew (it’s not like American Airlines has a 777 with a full crew sitting idle on the tarmac at JFK), but the eventual departure was further delayed because nighttime landings (between 11:30 pm and 6:00 am) at LHR are heavily restricted.
And if that was the whole story, we might all agree that American Airlines did the best it could under the circumstances. But that’s not the whole story.
For 10 hours, passengers were only offered cookies and pretzels to eat:
Only bits of refreshments for the last 10 hours. pic.twitter.com/OC2MNuxVwU
— Jonathan Lo (@jlo_conductor) August 29, 2022
Finally, breakfast arrived around noon, over 11 hours after arriving.
303 passengers were stuck at the L.F. Wade International Airport after being diverted due to a technical fault at 12 40am. AA said a replacement plane is due to leave at 8pm. Passengers cannot check in to a local hotel, according to AA, because of the island’s COVID protocols. pic.twitter.com/0Zhc6DaA3G
— Jasmine Patterson (@_jasminepat) August 29, 2022
A thread on FlyerTalk includes a more or less real-time report of what occurred onboard. The commentary is fascinating:
The worst part is that AA are making it very easy to hate them. We’ve had about two updates in 8.5 hours. During the night not a single AA rep was in the airport. They’re refusing to assist customers such as myself with rebooking connections. As we’re not allowed to enter Bermuda, every passenger here has to get on a plane to London. Obviously, with a 24-hour arrival delay, many passengers now have no reason to travel but are being forced to.
One thing I really don’t understand is that they’ve essentially sectioned off our tiny gate area. Why not let us roam the departure hall, perhaps get a coffee and a bite? Still remaining airside; I don’t see a problem with that. AA/Bermuda for some reason does.
All this is causing passengers to lash out at the 1 ground agent here, she’s in tears, security has been summoned.
No food? Well, good luck coordinating food at an outstation in the middle of the night. Bermuda is not like Miami or New York or London, either…it’s not like there are many 24/7 stores open. In fact, there may not have been any. Plus, the passengers had just been fed dinner on the aircraft. Was everyone suddenly hungry? That said, the breakfast certainly could have been assembled a few hours earlier.
No updates? That’s the real failure. It should not have fallen upon one ground agent to be the scapegoat. Why was AA not sending out text updates about what was going on?
Passengers were left to sleep on the floor in a terminal. Apparently, government health officials were ready and willing to administer rapid antigen tests to let passengers into the country, but only on the condition that passengers had a confirmed hotel booking.
I do not doubt that there were not enough beds for each passenger, but I would think some reseroucesful passengers would have found room to book and even those passengers were not allowed out.
Communication is key. Always.
This was a perfect storm, to a degree. I don’t come down quite as hard on American Airlines as others do because Bermuda is a difficult station. Where would the passengers have gone? Could AA have done better? For sure. But was it a total failure as some have alleged? I just don’t see it.
Incidentally, this whole incident exposes the sort of customer service that thousands face each day when delays or cancellations occur. Particularly, it exposes what happens to passengers who find themselves stranded in a country without a passport or visa to enter. It should make us in the West thankful how easy we usually have it…
image: @_jasminepat / Twitter