Passengers forced to wing it // Plenty of grumbling on the ground
Misery reigned over U.S. airports Sunday as a strike by American Airlines flight
attendants hobbled the carrier, leaving passengers stranded and tempers frayed.
From Los Angeles to Dallas and Chicago to Miami, American check-in counters
were unusually quiet as hundreds of flights were canceled or took off without
passengers because there were no flight attendants to staff them. But terminals
were filled with passengers waiting for some plane, any plane, to take them to
their destinations. What they had to say:
Miami International Airport: Newlywed Joanie Smith of Newtown Square, Pa.,
sat in a chair while her husband, David, slept at her feet. The Smiths planned to
spend their honeymoon in the Caribbean.
When the strike canceled their flight from Philadelphia, they managed to hop a
USAir flight to Miami. There, they learned the American flight to Aruba had
been canceled three days straight.
"I feel so angry, I feel like . . . yelling at (the strikers)," Smith said. "It's my
honeymoon. I've had no sleep, no rest."
Nearby, Debbie Williams of Allentown, Pa., waited. Her ordeal started at 3:30
a.m., when she arrived at the Philadelphia International Airport to find her flight
had been canceled.
She managed to get a flight to Miami on another airline but arrived 3 1/2 hours
late, missing her connecting flight to Antigua. By midafternoon she was giving
up hope of making it to the island by midnight in time to board the cruise ship
she was booked on. "Basically, I just lost my vacation."
Los Angeles International Airport: Jack Cauwels, 59, an insurance broker from
Merced, Calif., and 15 family members sprawled among their luggage waiting
for a flight to Honolulu. They'd planned their trip six months earlier and spent
$6,000 on tickets. And they had no idea when, or if, they'd reach their
destination. Cauwels talked to strikers and he wasn't very sympathetic.
"Obviously they picked this time to inflict the most pain on travelers, and I have
mixed feelings about that."
Chicago O'Hare Airport: Julie Somers, 20, a junior at San Diego State
University, was headed back to school after visiting cousins in Chicago.
Her flight was canceled and neither Delta, United nor Northwest would accept
her ticket because she'd gotten it with frequent-flier miles.
She talked American into exchanging the ticket for one written at full-fare, then
used the new ticket to book a 7:30 p.m. flight on United.
But she still wasn't happy. "I wanted to get home at 5:30 p.m.," she said. "I
wanted to spend today with my family."
Barb Dittman, 44, took the uproar in stride. She and her daughter Cyndi were
headed home to Dallas after coming to Chicago for a funeral.
Saturday night she rebooked their return from American to United. Then, after
spending 45 minutes on the phone with an American reservations agent, she
switched back to American. "I've flown American a lot over the years," she said.
"They've been very good to me. I guess I'm very loyal."
Washington-Dulles International Airport: Defense Secretary Les Aspin, a former
pro-labor congressman, crossed the picket line. Aspin, who has been criticized in
the past for using government aircraft on pleasure trips, flew American to the
Caribbean for a Thanksgiving-week vacation.
San Francisco International Airport: Rena Collins, 34, a substitute teacher, came
to pick up her mother-in-law for the Thanksgiving holiday. While her husband
parked the car, she headed for the United terminal but American picketers
blocked her way.
"It makes me feel funny that these people can throw a temper tantrum like this.
They're supposed to be responsible for our lives, aren't they?"
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport: Johnny Johnson has been a skycap for
10 years, the last five at American's terminal.
He sat in an empty baggage area watching strikers. "You see right now how
many flights are coming in. We aren't making any money, that's for sure. It's
Contributing: Sally Dineen, Maria Goodavage, Kevin Johnson, Jonathan T.
Lovitt , and Ken Turetzky
PHOTO,b/w,Marta Lavandier,AP; PHOTO,b/w,John Swart,AP