Gary Shteyngart Hates American Airlines

A very short op-ed in The New York Times by Gary Shteyngart titled “A Trans-Atlantic Trip Turns Kafkaesque”:

The aircraft was indeed an interesting one. One of the overhead baggage compartments was held together with masking tape. Halfway across the Atlantic you decided to turn Flight 121 back because your altimeter wasn’t working. Some of us were worried for our safety, but your employees mostly shrugged as if to say, Ah, there goes that altimeter again.

And so you took us to Merrie England for a spell.

At Heathrow, fire trucks met us because we landed “heavy,” i.e., still full of fuel we never got to spend over the Atlantic. At the terminal, a woman in a spiffy red American Airlines blazer was sent to greet us. But the language she spoke — Martian — was not easily understood, versed as we were in Spanish, English, Russian and Urdu.

Is it ironic that the piece feels Kafkaesque? Honestly, I didn’t find it very convincing. Heathrow is the worst airport in the world? I thought that was absurd.

You should skip this op-ed and read Super Sad True Love Story instead. It’s actually one of the best books I’ve read this year.

The Record Frequent Fliers

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on Steven Rothstein and Jacques Vroom, who are above and beyond what one would consider frequent fliers. Both men bought tickets that gave them unlimited first-class travel for life on American Airlines. Each had paid American more than $350,000 for an unlimited AAirpass and a companion ticket that allowed them to take someone along on their adventures. Both agree it was the best purchase they ever made, and their life hasn’t been the same ever since they bought the golden ticket.

In the 2009 film, Up in the Air, the loyal American business traveler played by George Clooney was showered with attention after attaining 10 million frequent flier miles.

Rothstein and Vroom were not impressed.

“I can’t even remember when I cracked 10 million,” said Vroom, 67, a big, amiable Texan, who at last count had logged nearly four times as many. Rothstein, 61, has notched more than 30 million miles.

But all the miles they and 64 other unlimited AAirpass holders racked up went far beyond what American had expected. As its finances began deteriorating a few years ago, the carrier took a hard look at the AAirpass program.

If you’re wondering whether you can still get the AAirpass today, the answer is no. In 2004, American offered the unlimited AAirpass one last time, in the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog. At $3 million, plus a companion pass for $2 million more, not one sold.