Decline

I have time to write this because my return to Amsterdam has been delayed by 34 hours.* To say that I’m angry is a considerable understatement.

The reason I’m delayed (American Airlines declared a plane unfit for flying) is not on its surface objectionable, but let’s step back a moment…

On my flight to a conference here, American changed my connecting flight to one that was 4 hours later, which forced me to stay at a shithole airport hotel in Indianapolis and delayed my reunion (after 25 years) with my family on my mother’s side. That cost me $80 and a lost night of sleep.

I had to rent a car to get to my family because there’s barely any public transportation in a country built around cars. That cost me another $200.

Yesterday, we heard “Flight 204 to Amsterdam is cancelled.” I, along with 250 other people, scrambled. I was able to improve on their initial offer (a flight 48 hours later) by flying to London for a day-long layover. I will be home 34 hours late. In compensation, American gave us sandwiches and a hotel voucher. There was no transportation, so I paid $30 for a taxi.

While I was reveling in the ongoing bad news, I met other passengers who had already had other flights cancelled and delayed. One (un)lucky one knew  what to do, as she’d already been cancelled, so she was one of perhaps a dozen able to escape last night.

(I blame these delays and snags on a corporate culture that trims maintenance and redundancy to a minimum, which leads to cascading failures when anything goes wrong. Second, these corporations “follow the law” in terms of minimum compensation — $12 of food and a hotel room — without regard to the value of our time or other costs. Many people will miss work on Monday without AA paying any damages.**)

When we arrived at the hotel, the taxi driver resisted my credit card (drivers pay massive surcharges to use the credit card terminal). He wanted a tip (for driving?), but I did not pay, so I unloaded the massive bag of my pregnant companion. People on the edge do not have time to help.

Although this hotel room is nice, the lobby looks like a 60s relic. I didn’t feel like going out (City Hall is across the street) as I’d already walked past a dozen homeless people and beggars. I gave one of my sandwiches to a homeless woman who was setting up for the night.

My main goal over the next two days is to not lose my luggage, to use the least dirty of my clothes, and try to enjoy my involuntary 24 hours in Philly and 10 hours in London. Let’s see.  

America’s president is a conman and human rights abuser. Its Congress is a dysfunctional scrum beholden to lobbyists from the swamp. Its streets are lost to the homeless, idiots in cars blasting music after midnight, and predatory cabbies. Farmers are losing their crops to storms caused by climate change their tribe denies. Businesses profit through extortion and lies. Send thoughts and prayers.

This country is not becoming “great again.” Its decline echoes that of the USSR, which imploded from failing systems, corruption, greed, and the departure of anyone who could excape.

I am done with America. It’s no longer the land of my birth, of opportunity, of righteousness, of compassion. I have many friends here. I have family here. I know that there are many innovators, caring individuals and passionate problem solvers here, but I have lost faith that these good people can overcome the downdraft of America’s failing institutions, greedy oligarchs, and corrupt politicians.

It’s time for me to exchange my citizenship for another, so that I can live permanently in the system that’s improved my life for the past 9 years.

What a pity.


Updates from 25 June:

* I ended up changing flights 3 times (routing thru LHR to arrive 34 hours late, then to arrive 30 hours late, then getting on the same flight 24 hours later, which was 4 hours late — thus 28 in total — due to another plane failure). In the process of making these changes, I was told by three different AA staffers that this summer has been hell due to grounded 737Max planes (caused by Boeing’s lies about safety) and weird weather (climate change).  I can see how these problems can cause delays, but I think they are actually caused by a system that’s set up on a “run to fail” basis, overworked staff and undermaintained planes are always on the edge. (The staff are only paid when the plane is in the air, so they got nothing for 4 hours of sitting on the ground.)

** This is AA’s entire apology:

I find it comically inadequate and asked for my $988 ticket to be refunded. Note that I would have received €600 back under EU regulations if I’d booked the flight via KLM, which codeshares with American 🙁

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

One thought on “Decline”

  1. Your snippet portrait here of Indianapolis reminds me of how fervently media still portray idealized versions of most American cities, at odds with the reality. State and corporate media-generated nationalist pap can barely be penetrated, leading to a broad class-based malaise and distrust. And there are penalties and market disincentives linked to truth-telling. Fringe elements hold sway in some realms; as I watch Vice News, I wonder who gets to define “The Narrative” for my ‘politically conservative’ neighbors. I doubt they feel much agency either. We are not troubled enough yet to mimic the street protests of Hong Kong, but the barely-making-it suburban and rural citizens ill from the American malaise don’t have that vocabulary (and don’t have sidewalks or public squares they can walk to). They have attempted Tea Parties (and astroturfing), and protest votes (Trump). Now they have fear, as Trump unlocks his fuller potential. If there was any expedient way to introduce ranked-choice voting across the country I could see an avenue to essential expression, but for now these masses really do feel the Both Parties yoke and More Of The Same. The only political hope I feel is increased voter turnout potential and Florida becoming a swing state again… but that hope is only to prevent further erosion of basic goods, not a hope for lasting change.

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