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.
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.