American Airlines Still Surprises And Delights. Is It Enough?

I’ve been an unabashed American Airlines fan for years.  It dates back at least 15-20 years when my father used to fly mostly on American Airlines and I was in the awe of the way he got treated.  When we would fly on family trips, we would always get treated well as we headed to explore a new place.

Heck, I can recall back in 2003/2004 being an avid user of the American Airlines Citibank credit cards.  I was so staunchly an AA fan, I wouldn’t even believe a friend when he told me I could earn more American Airlines miles from credit card spending on a hotel chain’s credit card.  I applied for the SPG Amex Card and never looked back, though I still transferred a lot of those points to AA for flights.

For my father’s 70th birthday, we decorated his birthday cake with a small “Happy 70th” and a large “Congrats on 2MM miles on AA” with a big AA logo (thanks to the artistic talents of my lovely wife).

About 5 years ago, some friends convinced me to try out United, arguing it was a better fit for my travel.  I agreed, with the caveat that they try out American.  I ended up at the forefront of the United demise while they kept telling me how much they enjoyed flying on AA.  Yeah, guys, I know.

Boy.  How.  Times.  Have.  Changed

A lot has happened since US Airways and American Airlines merged.  There was a hopeful period where we thought maybe AA would take a different path than Delta and United had.  And, then, they copied pretty much every devaluation their competitors envisioned.

Here’s what that last few years have looked like as American Airlines evolved:

Let’s not forget American’s on-time performance, consistently near the bottom of the pile amongst large and small competitors in the US.

And Then A Story Like This Comes Up

Remember that guy who got me started as an unabashed AA fan?  Yup, dear old dad.  He taught me the value of collecting miles, I taught him the value of mileage runs for elite status.

He stopped by my house the other day to check on the family.  I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks so it was good to give him a hug and catch up.

He started telling me the story about his recent trip out to an Air Force reunion in California.  My father has been involved in planning various events for folks from his time in the Air Force all around the country.  He’s very passionate about keeping tabs on those he served with and their families.  He was speaking with his commander’s widow a few days prior to the event and she informed him that the timing of the reunion had changed.  My father’s flight would land after the reunion was over.

He called the Executive Platinum desk to see if he could change flights.  His first call was more than 24 hours prior to departure and they advised he call back within 24 hours to check about a confirmed same-day change.

He called back at the 24-hour mark but the earlier flights didn’t have the proper inventory to make the switch.  It appeared he’d miss the Air Force reunion after all.  Or, maybe not.

Now, my dad can talk.  He loves to charm the ladies, bringing chocolates to the Admirals Club and on pretty much every AA flight to hand out.  And, he loves to tell stories.  I’m guessing that he told the Executive Platinum agent he was speaking with why he needed that earlier flight based on what happened next.

His phone rang a short while after he hung up with the EXP desk.  It was the same agent he’d been speaking with earlier about switching flights. Some inventory had opened up an earlier flight, she said.  Did he still want to switch?  The answer was an obvious yes.  She made the switch and thanked him for his service.

Earn Loyalty, Don’t Destroy It

American used to do things like that for me quite a bit, and I never served in the Air Force.  It happens less frequently now.  I was really happy to hear my dad’s story.  I’m not sure he realizes how atypical it is in today’s world of less rewarding loyalty programs.  I can’t recall the last time an Executive Platinum agent made an exception on something when I called, let alone proactively called me back.  Those exceptions used to be fairly common.

The whole experience of flying is less rewarding amongst the big 3 US carriers.  I never really needed it to be fireworks and chocolate fountains.  But, a bit more moments like my dad’s experience would go a long way to me considering the new American to be like the American of old.

The post American Airlines Still Surprises And Delights.  Is It Enough? was published first on Pizza in Motion

14 Comments

  1. I’m sorry but.. giving your dad a free flight change because of his service to his country ONE TIME does not negate all the crappy things AA does to its other loyal customers. Not at all.

    1. SinoSoul, we’re in complete agreement that one random act of kindness doesn’t make up for the destruction of so much goodwill. But, I was impressed the agent proactively called him. Not something I see much of nowadays.

  2. I wish I could be optimistic.

    I wasn’t a regular AA flyer when I used credit card miles some six years ago for a family trip to Hawaii. They sort of screwed up (not a big deal though), and I called them on it. They went above and beyond on that trip. I fly enough to get status with someone in a given year, but just barely. I enjoyed AA’s service enough to make sure that was my airline for the next five years.

    Fast forward five years. Family trip to Antigua, flying as AAdvantage Gold. Arrived two hours early – 3:30 AM! Problems at check-in, no Gold service lane staffed at the AA flagship terminal at JFK at 4 AM, no pre-check, son gets pulled aside at security for a random check. Wife goes ahead, gate agent asks her if she will be “coming with us or waiting here for your husband?” We make the flight, barely. Layover in MIA, I see our bags get pulled through puddles. The TSA “we checked your bag” card is soaked when we arrive. On the return, again no dedicated check-in. We somehow fell through a rules exception and were charged for bags (wife and I were on separate reservations on the return, she has the Citi AA card; it only covers domestic bags, almost all int’l routes have a free bag; Antigua is one of the few that don’t). No precheck at the transfer security line, 2-hour+ line for security. No agents, no help. As a regular traveler, I grabbed the family, we went outside, reentered the terminal and found a near-empty pre-check lane. In the end, I value status for helping when things go wrong, and at no point in this trip did my status help.

    I choose not to requalify and start flying other airlines (status matches help). AA sends me an email saying I’m Platinum until Sep, give it a shot. So I book a flight to Toronto. On the return, flight’s delayed. AAdmirals Club agent suggests rebooking on WestJet (“no way your flight’s going tonight”). Then says since it’s a domestic itinerary, she can’t do it for me (no club access, “I have my people to take care of”). I call AA’s Platinum line, get the new flight. It’s already boarding. I run up to the gate, WestJet agent says that the ticket wasn’t reissued, and AA needs to reissue it. No AA gate agents, since by now my flight was cancelled. Platinum line says they can’t help, “go find an agent.” Club won’t help. No one will try and call or page an agent. Finally, the WestJet gate agent leaves her post, goes out and finds an AA agent, brings her over to reissue my ticket, and I board, last one through the door. No thanks to AA.

    I literally can’t think of a single reason to remain loyal if neither Gold nor Platinum results in any meaningful improvement in service. For years, they were head and shoulders above any other US airline. I’d love to chalk this up to two unusual instances, but five of my last six flights had service that was not just bad, but unacceptable to anyone, forgetting status entirely.

    I spoke to a sympathetic customer service person after the Antigua trip. She said that she can’t really help though. All she can do is report the issues, and then management will review the reports and maybe something will improve in the future.

    I really hope they do come back. I liked flying them, but if status gets me only halfway to what I consider baseline, I need to look at the competition.

    1. Menashe, there used to be lots of stories about AA going out of their way to do special things for their customers. I’ve dealt with that ticketing issue you encountered before. It’s frustrating. A lot more negative stories than there used to be.

  3. After 2 mm miles in the air, I am strictly a “free agent.” Show me the best times, non-stop options, airplane, available seats and price and I will pick the best option that works for me. Loyalty is a two way street that the airlines have abandoned en masse. I won’t connect in ATL or DEN or DFW for a (long) shot at an upgrade.
    I don’t stress paying up for a certain airline or making unnecessary connections out of “loyalty.” Want free bags? Get the credit card. Upgrade? These fools will sell it to me cheaper if I’m NOT an elite member. AA is pretty close to the bottom of the list these days but once in a while they win the beauty contest with a cheap flight on a route I need.

    1. rjb, I used to think I’d never abandon AA. But, as you say, upgrades, free bags are all a thing of the past. I was the last guy to clear a recent upgrade from CLT to DEN on a Wednesday midday flight as an EXP. That reminds me a lot of the days after the UA merger. I don’t want to relive that.

  4. I guess I just live right as I haven’t had any issues with AA. I just flew BOS-DFW-HNL-DFW-BOS for a Labor Day vacation using miles booked prior to the devaluation. Each flight was early, the A321 and B737 each had individual monitors, my pre-ordered food was on all 4 flights as ordered, and were all very good. Service was excellent, pre-departure drinks offered on all flights, and each flight arrived early. Schedule changes had occurred after booking – I received notifications (which never happens with Delta), and when I called to make a change as the flights I was put on were unacceptable, they worked with me and ended up offering me better flights than I had originally booked. I’m glad to hear that they took care of your Dad, actions like that remind me that loyalty can matter. BTW – I have no status with AA at all, these were miles earned years ago on USAirways. When jetBlue can’t get me where I want to go, AA is my next option, and I have no complaints with this arrangement.

  5. Nice post. I too am a huge AA fan but their stock went down a huge amount in my book 2 weeks ago when I was boarding a business class (11 months in the planning) vacation flight out of Gate 23 at PHL to Manchester England. After a 1 hour or so delay due to an airplane that was “too hot” (because they left it out on a hard stand in the heat all day and then moved it to a gate and didn’t hook up the ground AC is my guess) we began the boarding process. Good so far. I was standing in the Priority lane with my wife and son about four or so people back. The gate agent begins scanning boarding passes and just as I’m 1 person back from the Priority lane scanner another gate agent comes up the other scanner on the Main Cabin lane about 15 feet to my right and yells and says “NEXT in line” As i’m just about to hand my boarding pass to the agent in my lane she yells twice more very loudly “NEXT IN LINE !!!” so I walked toward her to hand her my boarding pass and she was not being a nice person about it so I mentioned to her in a normal tone that I thought it was rude to yell at us. She loudly denied that she was being rude. Two supervisor types standing a few feet behind her piped up to basically say to me “she WASN’T being rude at all”. So I should have dropped it but said that I think that she was. I was slightly miffed but was not irate or whatever. So I started down the jet bridge and get about half way to the plane with my wife and son in tow. Happy to finally be boarding my flight at 9pm at night when one of the supervisor types comes up and demands that I come with him back out to the gate.
    I follow where he tells me he doesn’t think he is going to let me go on the flight as he is afraid that I am mad and will upset the flight crew and how they are all hot and tired and will walk off the job. I’m in shock. I knew if I stood my ground and let him have it I would not be going on my vacation and would have to deal with him and AA rebooking, etc. It appears that he was having a power trip over the whole deal.
    I told him as nicely as possible that I thought the agent was very rude and was surprised that he was having a problem with this. He then pulled me aside and said to my and my wife (who happens to be deaf) that the agent had a disability and that he couldn’t say anything so close to her so he moved our conversation further away from her and the gate. The conversation continued but in the end I basically had to apologize to him in order to for him to back down and let board the flight. This supervisor turned his badge over so I couldn’t get his name unless I pressed the issue which I couldn’t.
    I control my anger very well but when I go to my seat I was shaking I was so mad. In hindsight I should have just let him take me off the flight and then raised hell with the local management. I would have if my wife and son hadn’t been with me. I had not been drinking at all and you wouldn’t call me upset. Just matter of fact with them in a normal tone. There was no reason for this event to occur. About half way over the Atlantic I made up my mind that my loyalty to AA was now gone. I’m still shocked by this event and the sad part was that the flight crew on my flights turned out to be super awesome. However I’m left with this bad experience to question my loyalty. I’m not the biggest elite flyer and a lowly Gold with AA with a couple hundred thousand miles but this was a deal breaker for me I think.
    Sorry for the long winded comment and thank you for letting me vent about this.

    1. Dan, that’s a crappy story. I’ve had a few personally myself that I couldn’t believe. It sucks to have to apologize and promise to be a good boy just to get on a plane when you did nothing wrong. I’m learning to shut my mouth on more things, but it’s hard. Sorry to hear that such an AA loyalist as you is bailing. Still not sure whether I’m behind you or not.

  6. Edward,
    I have to say that American has to be the biggest piece of crap airline there is. My wife and I flew from DFW to LHR on the first and this is what happened to us. We booked seats 1a and 2a in first class on the 777-300ER using Alaska miles back in January. We were the first to book into first class for that flight. We got to PDX to start our first leg to DFW and we received boarding passed for AA78 with no seat assignments. When we got to the gate at DFW, we were told that we were bumped out of first class to business class. There was no explanation and no offer of any kind of compensation. I was furious at this gate agent for her lack of honesty and concern. I asked for the station manager and got a supervisor. So the story seems to be that a pair of customers booked full fare first class two days before the flight so American took it out on us. No phone call or email from American, just a complete mess at the gate.

    Thank God, our return from LHR was on British Airways which was a completely different experience. The agent at the first class check-in gave us our fast lance passes and took us to the fast lane security line. After security, we were welcomed into the exclusive Concorde room were waiters served us breakfast at our table and Shelly got a massage and facial. The BA F/A at the end of the jetway led us to our first class seats.

    There is no wonder why American rates a lowly two stars on Skytrax. Just read the reviews and notice the common theme – deplorable customer service. British Airways treated us like family, American treated us like crap. Believe me, this is not over, American will pay.

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