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Photo courtesy of American Airlines.
Photo courtesy of American Airlines.

American Airlines Wild Weekend

As an American Airlines Executive Platinum I do my best to book flights with them whenever possible. It actually turns out that they were also the cheapest airline for my seemingly simple journey last weekend to the Washington DC area for FTU Advanced. Cheaper of course doesn’t always mean better and in this case I am certain that is true.

My journey began at 5am last Thursday when I awoke to find that my 6:45am flight out of Las Vegas was delayed two hours despite the fact that the plane had been parked at the gate since the night before. I was flying LAS-PHX-BWI with a 59 minute connection and thus I needed to be re-booked. Luckily American had already taken care of that while I was sleeping and booked me LAS-CLT-BWI.

Since I actually needed to be near DCA, I called American and after a few go arounds with the agent at the Executive Platinum desk, I was able to get the segment out of Charlotte changed to DCA instead of BWI. A big win given the saved transport time and what could have been a negative turned into a positive. I was feeling good.

Getting to the Airport

Unfortunately all of these changes made my AA app act all crazy. At one point I did get my LAS-CLT boarding pass in the app, but changing the connecting segment caused an error. I like paper boarding passes anyway so I went to a kiosk at the airport about 50 minutes before departure. The kiosk gave me an error too and said I needed to see an agent. At this point I probably should have used my saved boarding pass to go through security and dealt with the problem at the gate, but I went to the Priority Desk.

My experiences with AA priority desks are normally pretty good, but not this time. I walked up and there was one woman in front of me in line and one agent at the desk. She was on the phone and never looked up or acknowledged anyone. Then five minutes passed and then ten. Eventually the line grew and someone behind me asked her if she was going to help anyone. She raised her voice at scolded him saying that she was busy on this call. Meanwhile about 10 agents were happily helping others in the normal line.

At this point it was 35 minutes until my departure and I was just about to leave to chance it at the gate when a man came out to help. He told me that there wasn’t an error, but a boarding pass cannot be “re-printed” so close to departure. He also says that they will drop me from the flight if I don’t get on the plane 15 minutes prior to departure. (What happened to 10 minutes?) I asked if he could phone to the gate to tell them I was on my way. He acknowledged he would but that they would drop me anyway. He almost seemed giddy about the idea.

Getting on the Plane

Luckily McCarran is my home airport and I knew I could get to the gate in 20 minutes since I have PreCheck. I did indeed walk briskly, but I made it to the gate 18 minutes before departure to find them still scanning the boarding passes of the last group. There were 50 people lined up in the jetway to board as well. I eventually made it on the plane and occupied my seat. A few minutes later a gate agent boards the plane and starts interrogating me.

“Who are you?” “Are you supposed to be in that seat?” Were you in seat 8A?” I said, “No, this is my seat.” She asked for my boarding pass and I gave it. She said, “Oh, you’re the guy who ran from the ticket counter.” I said, “No, I walked from the ticket counter.” I don’t know how to describe it. It was also as if she seemed happy at the idea of dropping me from the flight and was startled that I made it.

american airlines review
Some of the awesome landmarks you see flying into DCA!

Returning Was Worse

So I made it to Charlotte where I got to geek out and take a picture of Carowinds during the descent and eventually to DCA. It was a success That is, until the return. On Sunday I was scheduled to fly BWI-PHX-LAS with a 48 minute connection. I had been hoping for some sort of a delay so I could move my flight to DCA from BWI. Alas, as the day went on there wasn’t a delay announced and when the time came I grabbed an Uber for the 45 minute ride up to BWI.

Just as I cleared security a notice went off on my phone. My flight was delayed 20 minutes. I then looked at the inbound plane and it hadn’t even left Charlotte. There was no way we were only delayed 20 minutes. But American decided to play their favorite game and every 20 minutes they pushed back the delay. Eventually it grew to about 90 minutes.

My day on Sunday was great, but long. I had given two presentations at FTU and was wiped. I just wanted to get home. Had they announced the delay when they knew about it, I would have still been near DCA and could have changed my flight. Either way, I decided to call up to Executive Platinum desk and get myself booked onto a Monday morning flight from PHX-LAS. My flight was the last one out of BWI for the night on American and there were no more flights for the night to LAS. If I missed my connection in PHX, then I would be spending the night.

A Less Than Premium Experience

The agent I spoke to started out friendly but turned sour. At first she offered to give me a travel voucher, but apparently that was only if I stopped my trip in Phoenix. When I asked for both the voucher and to be re-booked, she put me on hold for a long time and came back with an attitude but did give me a $50 credit. She also said, “She would get me a hotel.” I took that to mean she would arrange for a hotel voucher in Phoenix, but that wasn’t the case. At the end of the call she transferred me to a travel agent. Wow!

I was angry and tired and clearly we weren’t on the same page about the hotel, but I did feel misled. I called back and was told I needed to speak to the Phoenix ground staff, but because the delay was supposedly caused by air traffic, they probably wouldn’t give me anything. This new agent sounded like she didn’t believe that the previous agent had promised anything. There was no use in fighting. On to Phoenix I went.

american airlines review
Carowinds as seen flying into Charlotte.

Arriving in Phoenix – A Happy Ending (Sort Of)

The flight from BWI-PHX was fine and they did make up time. So much time in fact that I only missed my connection by 8 minutes. So sad. After landing as I was walking to the Admiral’s Club to request a voucher, I saw the regular customer service desk. It didn’t have a line and a friendly looking agent was sitting there. I decided to go ask him. I told him that I had already called the Executive Platinum desk and had my flight changed to tomorrow, but was told to ask in Phoenix for a hotel voucher. He looked at his computer, smiled and printed up a hotel and food voucher just like that.

I made it home to Las Vegas on Monday morning on a flight out of Phoenix that was only delayed a few minutes. It was the end to a very strange trip on American Airlines and one that shows how the airline clearly has a long way to go. I have experienced many of the same issues at other times, but this was the first time that they all kind of happened at once.

Takeaways

  • American Airlines continues to withhold the announcement of delays even if they are well aware of the delay ahead of time. I was busy on Sunday but should have paid even more attention to the inbound aircraft, but my delay should have been announced at least 90 minutes before it was.
  • The American Airlines staff in Las Vegas is rude. I have had other smaller run-ins with them, but at best they are indifferent. No one smiles, no one is welcoming and it is noticeable.
  • It is ok to push for compensation, even if it isn’t guaranteed. The contract of carriage didn’t guarantee me anything if it was indeed air traffic related (I never confirmed this was true), but I did get compensated anyway. Most other people on my flight were told in BWI they would not get compensation and I would say about 70% missed their connections.
  • Don’t take one employee’s word for it. Just because the BWI employees told those passengers that they wouldn’t be compensated doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have asked in Phoenix. Had they asked, they might have received a voucher like me. (Maybe some of them did.)
  • It pays to scope out friendly looking employees. They do exist and finding someone who is friendly can be the best thing after a long day. The last thing I needed in PHX was someone being rude to me after the long day that I had had.
  • Stuff happens when you travel. As we saw on Monday with Delta’s computers, it can happen to any airline and does. With that said, American seems to have more problems than most and I’m not sure they offer the value proposition for frequent flyers that they once did.

Conclusion

While this is a long story and no doubt most of you simply skimmed it, I want to be clear that this isn’t a complaint. It is born out of my experiences this year with an airline that has so very far to go. I am not mad at American Airlines, but rather sad that they aren’t better. I am a top tier elite and thus it benefits me to fly with them, but I don’t always want to. I sort of just wish they were like Delta and I think that says a lot.

 

27 COMMENTS

  1. AA staff in LAS are definitely rude! Only been through there once and thought I must have caught them on a bad day, but all I ever read online are similar negative experiences. What a shame. And they really need an Admirals Club there. Really a sub-par experience considering Dl, UA, and Amex have lounges there.

  2. Interesting but not shocking story. I really love AA but I don’t love they way the handle delays, at all. Just tell us up front so we can plan a little.
    I like the Las Vegas airport. I don’t like the rental car center being so far from the terminal but not that bad I guess. I haven’t had any negative issues there with the AA staff….yet but I don’t remember them being overly awesome either. Since I forget if they are good or bad is that really a marketing win for AA?

    I would love for someone to do a comprehensive blog post about what we should ask for on delays or IROPS. I know the rules in Europe are different on this as well. I think of my self as fairly experienced with airlines but I’m also fairly clueless on vouchers or when to ask, etc.

    • I don’t think they really owe you anything in the US unless you are bumped. Everything they give you is out of the goodness of their hearts. There is actually a write up on it on TPG today.

      • In this case, American does say in their contract of carriage that they will provide accommodation if a delay that is their fault causes you to be delayed overnight. Weather/air traffic are not included. You are correct that there really aren’t any laws governing this in the U.S. and in most cases outside of maintenance issues, etc. it is up to the airline.

        Technically in my case the airline didn’t owe anything as long as the delay was caused by air traffic issues.

  3. AA is the worst. They left me stranded at a remote airport at 1am and neither the hotel or cable would take their vouchers. On my return flight they left my checked bag behind. They offered me a a few miles in “good faith “. I sent American Express after them and got my money back. Never again!

  4. I had the same problem with the App not loading my BP on Saturday even though it acknowledged I was checked in. Kiosk gave me an error then waited forever for an agent and nearly missed my flight (after groveling to cut in line at security). I called the EP help desk to report the issue with the App. Very empathetic to this entry.

  5. +1 on the extremely rude AA staff at LAS. My experience is only limited to the priority line and they are the absolutely worst that I’ve ever dealt with at AA. Even united has better employees than that.

  6. I take it as a personal challenge to try to break through the ice on the rude staff.
    Even though they signed up for the job, it has to be hard dealing with pax who are not happy.
    I’ve had success just going in, albeit tired and pissed off, with an attitude of gratitude. “It has to be tough dealing with unhappy customers all day, every day. I really appreciate what you have to do – I couldn’t do it”.

    Typically that works for me and I walk away with more than I expected. YMMV. Either way – everyone seems to cool down –

  7. AA delayed my flight due to mechanical issues a few months back. When I proactively called and asked to be rebooked, the agent said the delay wasn’t her problem even though it was mechanical. She said some other very nasty things and I lost it and I told her you f**k off and then hung up. The nastiest airline ever.

  8. I had flown on Japan Air in January and requested miles to AA. It took American almost 6 months to credit the miles into my account. It was a business class flight to Singapore so it was a good chunk of miles. I contacted AA every 30 days and they said the same thing each time that it would be fixed in 4 weeks. Finally, I sent a scathing letter to their marketing department with every email correspondence I had with them and I included the email address of 10 executives. Sucky part of it was I had intended to use the miles before they did the devaluation back in march. They did nothing to compensate me. But that’s ok I won’t be flying AA for a long time.

  9. I’ve been considering jumping over to Alaska as my primary airline after constant issues with AA. If there are no glitches AA is fine but the smallest glitch and expect at least 3 more problems as they don’t know how to recover from issues. They were able to lose my luggage at my home airport after my flight was cancelled, never boarded, never left the building and managed to lose my luggage. If it wasn’t for my elite status I would def jump ship.

  10. I love AA, in any business there will be people who are not great..thats life…traveling is hard and not convenient so we have to get used to that. Stuff happens. AA is always helpful….im glad they dont give in and let a plane fly with mechanical problems just cause people complain…lol

    • Excellent points Erica! In my case, we couldn’t land in New Orleans because of weather conditions so we landed in Shreveport Louisiana at about 10pm. When we landed we were told that there were “maintenance issues ” and that AA was trying to get a mechanic to check out the plane. After over an hour waiting on the tarmac we were told that no Mechanic was available so they were going to try to get another plane to pick us up. That didn’t happen either so at about 1am they started giving out vouchers.

      The vouchers we were given for the room and taxi were not accepted by either party. I ended up catching a ride with some other passengers who were picked up by a friend at about 3am and we drove 5 hours to New Orleans. My friends were coming in from Canada to meet me in New Orleans and ran into weather issues as well. Delta chartered a bus and got them to New Orleans. Well done Delta and shame on you AA!

  11. I was loyal to AA but this past year I am questioning. The devaluation and rule changes are terrible. But lately I have experienced so many delays it’s beyond frustrating. I also have experienced the boarding pass error last month. United has reached out to me with some better offers and I am giving them a try.

  12. In all sincerity, I’m naturally biased to fly AA…..I worked there for 10 years and still have many good friends there. I’m looking at a relo to an AA mini-hub within the next 6 months and I’m honestly thinking of sticking with Delta even though AA has far more nonstop flights in the market. I may change my mind given that more nonstop options should be better, but AA just can’t be relied upon to operate right now.

    • The employees were great during my situation. There were 2 people trying to voucher a plane full of people. They kept there cool under a high stress situation. The airport was closed when we arrived but was left open for us and the few employees that were still there when we arrived were the ones charged with this task. I feel bad for the workers who have to answer to passengers for what is obviously bad management. I used to love AA but now I avoid them like the plague. Delta seems to be solid from what I hear. Good luck my fellow weary travelers!

  13. As a former gate agent, I can assure you that most of these issues are related to poor training and inadequate staffing. Agents are sent helter skelter from one fire to another with little information regarding the nature of the delays. Airlines change the rules regarding ticket reissues and waivers for incidents constantly. If an agent becomes creative with anything they are called on the carpet and threatened with costing the airline money. Rarely are agents trained properly. It’s a very overwhelming and unappreciated job. I worked for a good airline but I’m still glad I retired.

    • Ugh yeah I totally get that. I’m always nice to airline staff because they have a tough job. I work with the public myself so I can relate. I think that management should take better care of their staff so that they can take better care of their passengers. Airlines are a greedy lot and I don’t see that changing. Congratulations on your retirement!

  14. Used to fly AA constantly for a decade or so. Loved them. Over the last year, they have canceled 4 out of the 5 flights I have been on — with the alleged reason of weather but the other carriers kept flying. They have moved seats and flights without reason or warning. They have lost me.

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