I received both an e-mail and a call from American Airlines yesterday, from someone in the Executive Offices.  Apparently, I got someone's attention on last week's 3.5 hour tarmac delay.
The person on the other end of the phone/e-mail has actually done some real legwork on this.  It sounds, credibly, like she interviewed the cabin crew and captain from my flight as well as checked out the overall situation.  She agreed that the Captain needed to keep us better informed of status, but otherwise, said that things happened the only way they could happen in a situation like this.  As for why the later flight got off the ground first, the finger continues to be pointed at Air Traffic Control for how they slotted flights.  I think that nullifies the captain's whole "saving our place in line" routine, but they're sticking to the story.
While I'm still not totally satisfied with the explanation, it is obvious that AA took my complaint seriously and didn't just come back with a form lettter.  They also didn't try to buy me off with some miles or something, which I really didn't want (or need).  It was just a human to human discussion.  That, I appreciate.
(Oh, and my first class upgrade for the flight to Tokyo next week just cleared.  Maybe it's coincidence.)

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