This past week I finished "Dear American Airlines" by Jonathan Miles.
Summary from GoodReads:
Sometimes the planes don’t fly on time.
Bennie Ford, a fifty-three-year-old failed poet turned translator, is traveling to his estranged daughter’s wedding when his flight is canceled. Stuck with thousands of fuming passengers in the purgatory of O’Hare airport, he watches the clock tick and realizes that he will miss the ceremony. Frustrated, irate, and helpless, Bennie does the only thing he can: he starts to write a letter. But what begins as a hilariously excoriating demand for a refund soon becomes a lament for a life gone awry, for years misspent, talent wasted, and happiness lost. A man both sinned against and sinning, Bennie writes in a voice that is a marvel of lacerating wit, heart-on-sleeve emotion, and wide-ranging erudition, underlined by a consistent groundnote of regret for the actions of a lifetimeand made all the more urgent by the fading hope that if he can just make it to the wedding, he might have a chance to do something right.
Having flown out of O'Hare plenty of times, not to mention growing up my dad was flying off on business trips nearly every week, I get the frustration in this book. Getting delayed at an airport sucks. Fortunately for me, I've never been stuck at an airport for more than an hour or so (at least, from what I can recall). And given that I've seen on Twitter various people from Mrs Monologues to washed-up 80s singer Richard Marx (his tweets are pretty hilarious!) complaining about the quality of service American Airlines offers their passengers these days... I'm not surprised that American Airlines is the choice airline villain in the book!
I first heard of this book years ago when it popped up on a Coming Soon or Bestseller email blurb from either Borders (RIP) or Barnes and Noble. I was intrigued by the plot - it seemed like an interesting idea for a book, so when I came across it in a bargain bin during one of Border's infamous summer tent sales I grabbed it.
There are no chapters in this book, as we're reading one very long 192 page angry letter to the airline. It's broken up into small parts (the longest stretch I noticed was about 10 pages) as Bennie leaves the bar or a seat at the gate or wherever to get a smoke or stretch his legs, coming back only to detail an interaction with another stranded traveler as he continues to give his life story, which is detrimental to why it is so important for him to make it to his daughter's wedding.
Basically, he was a drunk and his daughter's mother took her and picked up and left him when his daughter was still a baby, telling him he could see her when he finally sobered up. It took a good 20 years or so and he was essentially an absent father with little to no relationship with his daughter. And was caught off guard when she invited him to her wedding, but he really felt like he should be there to make it up to to her for all their years apart. But now, of course when he really makes an effort to be there, it's the airline holding him back from keeping his word this time.
It was an alright book, short and an easy read. Bennie's past is a bit depressing though, as yeah, he royally screwed things up when it came to being a responsible father. And his childhood sounds like it wasn't much better as his mother was a tad on the crazy side. It does keep you wondering though, as we wait to see if he made it to the wedding on time if at all!