I had a very bad experience with American Airlines on my way back from the US a couple of weeks ago. Thought I’d describe it here so you can tell me what you think.
So, I get to the airport 2 minutes late to check in my baggage for my flight to Austin from Los Angeles. (If I was travelling just with hand luggage, I would have been fine). No, there was no way they could change the rule to accommodate me. OK, bad luck. I agree it was my mistake I got there late. The solution was to be put on the next flight – which would still get me there in time for my connecting flight to London, but (of course) it was full as they cancelled a flight 3 days ago and were still managing the overflow from it. They’d only be able to put me on standby. Given that I had an international connecting flight to catch, I was advised to go to another airline and see if I could get a confirmed seat by buying a new ticket from them. No, they would not be able to help me despite having a partnership agreement with the international airline I was flying. No, they would not be able to check with the other domestic airline they suggested I go to as they didn’t have any agreement with them. And no, they would not be able to hold my standby position either. So, trying to find my way around an unfamiliar airport, I run downstairs to catch the airport shuttle bus which would take me to the terminal from which the other airline operated. After getting on (and off) a wrong bus, I finally reached and made my way to the ticketing counter of the other airline. There, I waited in a long queue and got to the desk only to learn that they wouldn’t be able to help me as the earliest flight they had would get me to Austin too late for my connecting flight. So I catch the shuttle back, and go back to the original airline to see if I can keep my standby position. No – too late for that, apparently, again by – hold your breath – 2 minutes. The lady at the ticket booth was reasonably polite, given the situation, but referred me to her supervisor standing next to her, who was downright unpleasant. (Marisa at the American Airlines counter in Los Angeles, that’s you). I would have switched the positions of the two. The manager looked like she needed way more front-desk training than the person who was reporting to her.
I then tried calling the international airline (their local ticketing booth at the airport was not yet open so I couldn’t go in person), and was told that due to restrictions on my ticket, I could not change my reservation EVEN THOUGH I OFFERED TO PAY THE DIFFERENCE. The solution they offered? To buy a fresh one-way ticket (of course), but at what cost? Double the cost of my original RETURN ticket.
I was in tears by then but fortunately called family and friends to see what the cost of an alternative ticket would be on any available international airline. Guess what? I was able to get one at LESS THAN ONE-THIRD the cost quoted by the international airline I was originally booked on, which I finally took.
I inferred these things:
- There really is no point being a member of airline miles programmes if you’re looking for help in times of a crisis because unless you are a Gold level member, you might as well be a non-entity.
- It doesn’t matter if an airline is almost broke, they’d rather have empty seats on a flight rather than offer a reasonable price for a ticket, even if you’re a member of their privilege programme (refer point 1).
- Airline alliance programmes are quite pointless if you’re looking for help – it’s the rule of the one airline or the highway, partner relationships be damned.
The whole experience was very distressing, and I tried to think about what other solutions could have been:
- Staff from the first airline could have checked with staff from the other domestic airline by phone to see if anything was available, or at the very least given me a number to call so I wouldn’t have had to waste valuable time dashing all the way across. I was after all a paying customer.
- They could have kept me on standby and given me x number of minutes to get back to them after checking with the other airline so I wouldn’t be late to check my bag in.
- They could have offered to put my bag inside the aircraft in a space chosen by them after everyone else had stored theirs (I had only one suitcase which was only slightly bigger than regular cabin baggage, and I’m not being subjective).
- The international airline could have offered to put me on the next flight for a price that wasn’t ridiculous. I wasn’t changing my ticket for fun after all.
I thought the airline industry was a customer-focussed business. I was grossly mistaken. The attitude is more like ‘You paid money for a ticket on our airline? You poor fool!’
This is the true test of customer service. American Airlines, all I request is to be reimbursed for the cost of my ticket. Let’s see if anyone out there is listening on your behalf.