Where is Jack?

Making Air Travel Safe for Pets

Cocaine and Cats and Corporate Negligence

36 Comments

Since the New York Times published the story about the cocaine smuggling ring that operated out of the American Airlines baggage department at JFK for almost 10 years (and check out the DEA report here), I have been angry.  Very very angry.

It’s not that I think that Jack was lost because of cocaine smugglers.  It’s not that I think that no one looked for Jack in the ceiling because there was cocaine there (indeed, if there had been cocaine in the ceiling during the period Jack was lost, I think there would have been a much higher chance he would have been found).  I don’t even think the problem is that the current baggage handlers were so busy smuggling cocaine that they wouldn’t look for a lost kitty.

Graphic by Broadcast Jones.

I’m angry because, as Adam Hartung at Forbes.com has also pointed out,  AMERICAN AIRLINES JUST DOESN’T GET IT.

American Airlines has been consistently named one of the worst airlines in the U.S., as has its subsidiary, American Eagle.  Parent Corporation AMR recently filed for bankruptcy, and after  2 months of dealing with AA employees in various capacities, it is clear that these folks are beaten down and absolutely dejected.  The fact that AA’s people are overwhelmed and demoralized is (one reason) why a cocaine smuggling ring could go undetected AT A MAJOR AIRPORT for so long.

During the search for Jack, one of the things AA stressed repeatedly is that no outside searchers could go into the baggage area because of security concerns.  Fair enough, I thought at the time – the 3rd weekend that Jack was lost was the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and tensions were understandably high.  And this was New York City, after all.

BUT.  But but but… before, during and after the 9/11 tragedy the smugglers and their cohorts had been running their operation our of JFK airport!!!  Despite the “heightened security” and all the other measures that passengers have had to endure for the last 10 years, nothing substantial changed for the smugglers.  Increased security had NO IMPACT on a group of people’s ability to SMUGGLE COCAINE?? REALLY????

But, in AA’s mind, it would seem it is not the baggage handlers that are the problem.  Clearly, the fact that the baggage handlers got caught is a problem.  But for AA — IT IS THE CUSTOMERS THAT ARE REALLY THE PROBLEM.  And especially problematic is the fact that customers think it is reasonable to have their things — and especially  their animals! – returned to them in the same condition as they were in when travel began.  From AA’s perspective, that seems to be too much to ask.  Indeed, this disregard for passengers and their belongings was (is?) a part of AA’s culture at JFK: according to the Times, “[Baggage handlers] stowed drugs in secret panels inside planes; stole laptops, lobsters and fine clothing flown as freight; and rifled through passengers’ belongings for perfume, liquor and electronics.‘Everybody did it.’ That’s a line that a lot of the witnesses said…”

In my mind, this constitutes MAJOR misconduct among baggage handlers over a 10 year period.  From AA’s perspective, clearly this was not really a big issue.  If this had cost AA money, it would have been fixed.  But because passengers have almost no recourse when checked baggage or cargo is LOST, stolen, or damaged, this really isn’t a problem AA saw as a priority.

And Jack was part of the “checked baggage or cargo that was lost, stolen or damaged.”  After 3 days, it was clear AA wasn’t going to look for him.  We told them we would find others who would search… but that still wasn’t enough.  AA fed us the line about “security.”  In their eyes, a bunch of “crazy cat ladies” in their 40s and 50s had the potential to constitute a “terrorist threat.”

And now this cocaine smuggling news breaks.  And all becomes clearer: the real problem was not “security.”  The problem was that AA didn’t want to be bothered.  That was the message that was sent from Dallas-Ft. Worth to everyone in the organization.  And it is the message the corporate bigwigs had sent down long before that.  If it wasn’t, the cocaine smugglers wouldn’t have gotten away with their business for almost 10 years.  And so a beautiful boy named Jack remained lost for 61 days and eventually died from the effects of this ordeal.

IT DIDN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.  Wenty went missing and Alaska Airlines promised to do whatever it would take to find him – they grounded a plane to search it and even offered to disassemble a luggage conveyor.  They notified ALL the employees at SeaTac quickly, and a baggage handler for United – quite a distance away from Alaska Airlines terminal – found Wenty and she was returned to her family within 100 hours.

Of course, it took 66 hours for AA to just call Karen about the situation.

What to do??

First off, don’t fly American Airlines.  Whether or not you’re flying with pets, expensive jewelry and perfume, or with nothing at all – just don’t give them your money.  Protest their negligent, disrespectful corporate philosophy by taking your money somewhere else.

Secondly, tell everyone you know.  Tell them about Jack, tell them about the cocaine smuggling ring, tell them about the fact that pets aren’t safe when they travel in checked baggage or cargo with any airline.  Talk about what has happened to airline travel and its impact on us as people and on our pets.

Third, (if you’re in the U.S.), contact your Senators and your member of the House of Representatives.  Tell them that deregulation of the airlines should not mean that passengers have no recourse when their baggage – and especially when their pets!! – are not treated respectfully.  The airline business has a variety of regulations it must adhere to that insure our safety: why isn’t the safety of our pets (and our stuff) on the priority list as well?!?

Finally: hang tight with us here and on the Facebook page.  We are creating pages that will be posted SOON with information about how to keep pets safe when you travel, and what options are available when you have to travel by air and your fur-kids simply won’t fit under the seat.

My last word: OY. Nothing else even begins to cover how much this upsets me.  Well, nothing else that would have a G-rating.

36 thoughts on “Cocaine and Cats and Corporate Negligence

  1. MB-
    I flew Delta last weekend, with a pet, and told everyone I knew about Jack. I was actually surprised that the ladies at the Delta Help Desk in Atlanta, did not know a thing about Jack. Amazing! Well, they know now! :)…..as do many passengers!

  2. Wow! I mean seriously…I will do all the “What to do?” you wrote about. I am just at a loss for words and poor Jack and numerous other pets and people had to suffer because of them. Unreal.

  3. I am amazed more everytime I read another negative item about AA! How does an organization like this continue to function? I guess perhaps they won’t! I too tell everyone I meet and travel with about Jack and AA’s treatment of him. There is NO excuse for Jack not being found in time and saved….except AA DID NOT care! They must figure this out or they may lose their airline and many jobs. Perhaps the employees will care then!

  4. When the news about the cocaine smuggling broke, it crossed my mind that whoever was in charge of the security cameras and tapes knew what was going on and didn’t want anyone else to view them.

    • First thing I thought of too or maybe the sting was almost at its conclusion.

    • Wow Susan, I think you got it!!!! No wonder they did not have any tapes for Karen to see! Plenty of footage, but only for them so they could increase their “business”!!!!!

    • No kidding. There was far too much hesitation in the beginning of Jack’s harrowing experience that sent up red flags for me. Not a fan. I don’t fly much anyway, but it will never bee with AA.

  5. you might be interested to know that all of the things confiscated from passengers in the immediate post-9/11 crackdown (including swiss army knives, tweezers and nail clippers) were taken before the passenger passed through security, but then were discarded in dumpsters inside the secure area at the airport, where employees would then dive into the dumpsters, retrieve them, and redistribute as they saw fit.

    there are so many things wrong with the way airlines do business, starting with how they treat their employees. AA isn’t the only airline where your dealings with employees will leave you feeling they are beaten down. they are abused and taken for granted, and one airline’s CEO once said your paycheck should be enough incentive for you to come in to work every day, healthcare benefits and time off are perks that most employees didn’t even deserve, and if they didn’t like it go find another job. sure, because there’s such a huge market in (insert large hub city here) for aircraft mechanics, aircraft engineers and support, pilots, flight attendants…

  6. Well said, great post. American Airlines (and countless other giant corporations) are completely out of touch with reality. I myself plan to never give AA any more of my money as a tribute to Jack. Alaska Airlines’s response to Wenty proves that AA had many options, but they choose apathy.

  7. Very Well Said Mary Beth!!! American Airlines will get whats coming to them. You are doing a GREAT JOB in getting the word out.

  8. Please keep up the great work you are doing. Jack’s death will not be in vain.

  9. Suggest we buy a share of American Airlines stock and submit a proposal to be included at the stockholders’ meeting to change the way pets are treated. Since it is only 68 cents (as of today) maybe we can afford to buy shares of stock in most of the US airlines and submit proposals. In the meantime, I am writing my representatives.

    • i LIKE YOUR IDEA! (sry weird caps lock) 68 cents; I can afford to buy a coupla bucks worth, but is it worth it? I would rather spend those few bucks on helping a no-kill shelter, cus those big muckity mucks could give 2 rats asses about what we think.

  10. Mary Beth, you are an extremely talented writer . Did you know this or are you just discovering it???!! Next thing I know, (with a little help from Homer!), you’ll write a kitty best seller!!! I remember in the 70’s, Pan Am & TWA were fading, American was growing & anybody who wanted to be a flight attendant wanted to get with AA if they could. What a shame that they have also now gone by the wayside. I think Susan Todd (see above) hit the nail on the head with her comment about security cameras!!! A whole lotta smuggling goin’ on!!!!!!!

  11. Mary Beth: Another outstanding post! In light of latest even more reason to demand to see the security tapes. May see some drugs being moved about but more important it may shed some light on exactly what happened when poor Jack’s cage was dropped Did employee’s act in rage throwing things further scaring the poor little fellow. If indeed someone mistreated the cat it should be bought to light. A pound of flesh is well past due…

  12. Well said. I’m angry too. We need to get things changed!

  13. I have to say I think our dear sweet departed Jack has a hand in all that is coming to light now. I always did think it was very fishy that they wouldn’t let Karen see what was on the security tapes. I kept wondering what are they hiding. And now we know.

    Keep up the great work, MB. We’re all with you and we’re not going anywhere (well, at least we’re not going anywhere on American Airlines).

  14. American won’t have to bother with us pesky customers any more…with this kind of news they won’t have many left.

    As an aside, I’m in Japan and yesterday I helped an animal rescue worker get through the airport here with a rescued dog she was traveling home with (not on AA). Standing in line to check in, I counted 8 dog crates and 1 cat crate waiting to go on to their various U.S. destinations. The carriers all looked tied well and one of them was inside a large net. That seemed like a pretty good idea. The check in staff checked each carrier to make sure they were properly bolted together and locked, giving out bolts when one carrier was found missing some. Still, it felt wrong to just let the animals go….Today I am on pins and needles hoping they all got home safely. This was just one moment of one day in one city…..

    I eagerly await what you’ll have to say about traveling safely with larger animals.

  15. Well done,MB. Sue’s right abt the tapes,i agree. And yes,Jack is at work helping to expose all..what a good Angel-boy he is. It’s just more sad than ever now that we know all that was really going on..our dear boy..sigh,it’s like another kick in the heart.

  16. Another great piece Mary Beth!
    And Sue, I have been wondering about that as well since this news came out about the cocaine smuggling.

  17. This is very informative! Some I’d read about, but a lot I didn’t know. Thank you, Mary Beth, for keeping us informed!! This whole thing makes me very angry!

  18. Intense update but so full of awesome points! Also, I did not hear about this in the news, so I am very glad that you have brought it to our attention.
    It is some really infuriating news. I am so tired of these large corporations taking advantage of their customers. I hope that FoJs stick together because strength is in numbers!!

  19. Bravo MaryBeth!

  20. More and more I detest American Airlines. They are 100% responsible for Jack’s death. As usual, Mary Beth, you did a fine job of writing this latest installment to “whereisjack”. I am so ready to take on the fight to make change. I am sorry that so many people will lose their jobs, but AA needs to go.

  21. It is really all about caring and the world we live in. Thank goodness we are not all the same, going through life trampling everything around us with our self interest and importance. Why I love animals, they are more honest and caring and only hurt each other for what they absolutely need to survive, not what they think they need to live well. Recall that very old “story” mentioning the camel passing through the eye of the needle.

  22. Slowly, but surely, your actions and the actions of others are exposing the underbelly, the real focus of the airlines…I think it’s important to show people that in many ways passengers are viewed as cargo. We are a means to an end. Every business has a right to make money. But how they get from Point A to Point B ought to be just as important to them. Even more important is the fact that making a profit has become the reason d’etra of the airlines. Profitability at all costs. Even though, Southwest Airlines is generally held in high esteem by the flying public (I fly them almost exclusively), I will be the first to admit that we are handled like cattle, stuffed into seats just barely large enough to handle the average sized adult. Obviously to maximize their carrying capacity to the fullest. A bean counters delight. But in that “need” to maximize profits, something is lost and that loss is a loss of humanity. If that is the mindset of the airlines towards its human cargo, can we really expect anything more for their animal cargo? I am not excusing them…not one bit. It’s how they think about us…we are merchandise. I’d bet you that the airlines, if they could, would rather handle inanimate cargo. Boxes don’t complain about cramped quarters, boxes don’t care if they remain on the tarmac for 6 hrs without functioning AC much less bathrooms. WE, the traveling public are an unavoidable inconvenience to the airlines! If the FAA could do one thing to perhaps turn this around system wide, it would be to place at top management level a specialist in Ethics. This person would have the power to force a change in the attitude of our commercial carriers. The problem is however, the flying public doesn’t want to pay the extra costs (ticket prices) that would be necessary to accomplish this. Hence the “like cattle” mentality has run and continues to run rampant within our commercial airlines. I am not excusing their behaviors, just trying to illuminate the possible reasons for their general disdain for the flying public and their needs.

  23. Vwey interesting read. All of a sudden, just washed over mevery intensely, a wave of fresh grief and pain. I’m sitting in an airport gate and I always seem to feel Jack’s loss more strongly in airports.

  24. This really pisses me off. Jack was sacrificed, plain and simple, because AA couldn’t afford the scrutiny of searching that steaming pile of criminal activity, Terminal 8. Poor boy, and all of us who love him.

  25. Dear Mary Beth, I haven`t been watching the news, too upsetting for me, and it is two years, this Christmas, when my beautiful “Boys”went to Heaven. I know that they are happy now, and so is sweet Jack, but did it have to be that way. I always felt that AA was covering something up, but thought it was the way that Jack, got out of his cage. I still feel that his cage was thrown, in the first place, because the baggage handler was in a shit!!!!!! Sorry my Aussie background is coming up, I, and I am sure all of FoJ and jsut as upset over this as you, Karen and even Barry are. Once again, if I can do ANYTHING TO HELP please let me know. For some reason I haven`t been able to get on to my msn.mail, so I am emailing thru` cloudsntrees@yahoo,com, or cloudsntrees@g.mail.com. My heart is just breaking over what goes on in this country, and I feel that the AA Corp. should NEVER BE ALLOWED TO OPEN UP AGAIN. In fact I am so mad at this new news, that I hope that all concerned, in this cover-up BURN IN HELL, the only thing that has come out of this horrific story of Jack, is that I have found that there are nice people, still here, who care. Has Karen ever thought about getting in touch with Nicholas Sparks, to write a book, and forever immortalize our Beloved Jack. Take Care, Carene Williams.

  26. Yes I so agree especially on “secondly tell everyone you know” that pets are not safe when they travel in checked baggage or in cargo.” ( Getting these laws to protect our pets takes time, tho) And thirdly ” tell your senators and your members of the House of Representatives.”
    I wish there was a way to get media attention regarding the dangers of flying animals in baggage or cargo. Thru Jack’s page we can reach a great deal of people. However there are alot that do not know the risks, and they need to know. They need a few 20/20 programs covering this subject. Some way to alert the public! Great Blog!

  27. Great post, very informative…And I will certainly not travel with my furbabies….on any airline at all!

  28. Yes…AA (AMR) is in bankruptcy and with good reason! Inept, uncaring, and now unethical as well! I will NEVER fly AA again, and was even tempted to send the CEO one of the “Jack” t-shirts with a nasty note! These people DO NOT deserve to be in business! Keep up the wonderful posting, MB! Jack’s passing has not been in vain, despite the fact that apparently, his trauma was only widely publicized on the East coast! Yes, the power of the Internet, and YOU!, have helped greatly!

  29. I just wanted to say that I am still totally devastated at Jack’s passing. He was a sweet, innocent angel who did nothing but give love and get love. We must all honor his legacy by making sure this never happens again.

  30. Mary Beth, it sure looks as though you have a new “calling” ! Thank you for the information, the time and the energy to keep everyone informed. No one that I know will ever fly AA again – if they stay in business. It is beyond deplorable the things that have happened, and I find it marvelous in these days of hardship and emotional exhaustion to find people willing to band together and fight the good fight. I know we all miss Jack, and will never forget. I will keep reading and doing what I can. Happy Christmas to you and yours!

  31. MaryBeth, I really enjoy reading your blogs. This one made me cry thinking of Jack and what he must have endured and why. I say it all the time…care more. People just don’t care. We are not here for ourselves but for each other and the animals. Our lives when we look back should be filled with warm memories of things we did not of what we got.

  32. Cocaine use and smuggling was going on at PanAm when I worked for them in 1981…..I and one other person continually petitioned the airline and the Teamsters Union for investigation …. and we were harrassed, threatened. abused and finally laid off(we were relieved we got pink slips and not worse. This has been going on for decades…and also thefts,,,all kinds of illegitimate “work” instead of taking care of business professionally. The stakes are too high ….sometthing must be done now!

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