Things happen, safety is paramount and ultimately, delays are just inconveniences, even if the consequences have real impact. Yesterday, I experienced the very best and the very worst of American Airlines all in one sitting, and it highlighted everything that drives travellers absolutely nuts.

My flight was delayed because of a non aircraft issue, then over an hour later I boarded, only to encounter an emergency deplaning while the plane was still parked at the gate, after strong odours filled the cabin and smoke was reported in the cockpit. It goes without saying, I’m grateful for how AA handled things in real time, but it was their follow up that was laughable, in the least funny way possible.

aa 787Why, American, Why?

I’ve had an incredibly odd string of luck with American over the years.

On short regional flights, I tend to experience the best almost every time. Nice crews, on time departures, good tech with the AA app and nothing eventful in the slightest. But on transcontinental and intercontinental flights, I’ve had a few weird things – and I don’t even fly AA all that frequently. In the last few years I’ve…

  • Been hit with a beverage cart at high speed after take off roll after it became unlatched in first class and crushed me in economy.
  • Had a flight cancelled after three failed departure attempts, because the pilot went nuts and the crew refused to fly with him, and the co-pilot walked out after the third time we pushed back from the gate only to return.
  • Received the worst inflight service on at least two occasions, including the American Airlines class, the headphone inquisition where the airline is convinced you wish to steal theirs, even though you’re using your own…

Yesterday Though…

Yesterday kinda took the cake, beverage cart aside. I’m not remotely upset about being delayed, it happens and the gate staff tried their best to handle it with care. The emergency evacuation of the plane wasn’t a highlight, but the crew on board were excellent in delivering clear instructions and it happening at the gate versus somewhere else was very fortunate.

I found the incident to be worth reporting, so I simply tweeted what had just happened to me. No drama, just facts. I’ll just let this brief twitter exchange do the talking…

Yeah. American clearly uses bots to reply to most tweets, but somehow in the infinite wisdom of the gurus that created the system, the keywords “evacuation”, “smoke” and “emergency” didn’t stop an absolutely reckless and accusatory tweet from the airline. Within fairly short working order the airline did apologise and attempted to butter me up over direct message. What the…

When Things Go Wrong

As some of you may know, I’m currently in the middle of my #WheresGilbert “catch me if you can” style upgrade challenge where if you find me at the airport or in a city, you can take my first class seat or hotel suite. The entire purpose of my visit to Miami was to give away my seat on the flight down and then to do the hunt to find me in the city and take my suite for the night.

Since the new departure wouldn’t get me into Miami before midnight and I had a flight first thing the next morning to take me to LA to do it all again, I asked American if they could simply put me on a flight to Los Angeles either that night, or the next morning.

It seemed simple enough: they created a problem, they killed my reason for being in Miami, I already had a flight booked with them in the same cabin the very next day. Save us all some trouble and free up a seat on the already overbooked Miami flight.

This seemed like a cut and dry IRROPS (irregular operations) situation with an easy solution, but because there were two separate tickets, and my ticket to Miami had another segment a few days later, the lounge staff said they couldn’t get the system to make it work. They were great, polite and they sympathised. All good. They said to call AA, so that someone could take a manual look.

I was connected to someone who literally couldn’t have been more combative. They almost took pride in saying “our only duty today is to get you to Miami”. They then tried to extract $3k of fare difference out of me, to turn my New York to Miami and my Miami to Los Angeles trip into New York Los Angeles. It’s worth pointing out that it’s against US Department of Transportation rules to try and extract extra fare out of a passenger during irregular operations.

It’s not a DYKWIA, but I do happen to be Oneworld Emerald, the highest level of loyalty within the Oneworld alliance, and good agents tend to be able to see reason to help frequent travellers. I had a long drawn out conversation for over an hour which killed any chance of making dinner with my family and was all but resigned to flying to Miami for no reason, just to sleep in an airport and leave a few hours later.

Until I said… follow your own advice. Hang up, call back is the best advice when you know you’re in the right and that an agent is misinterpreting their own policy. American recognises two separate tickets as one when irregular issues occur when both tickets are on their airline. I called back, was immediately connected to a fantastic gent in Dallas and within a minute, without even a preamble of a spiel, I was offered a seat on the direct flight to LA the next morning, getting me in on time.

It was as refreshing as it as infuriating.

palm trees aviosThis is exactly why people hate airlines. Talk to one person, they tell you not even the CEO or head of operations could make something happen. It almost feels like they enjoy extracting frustration. Talk to another, you don’t even have to ask, and they offer a gesture of goodwill for all the trouble as a cherry on top. Had I been connected to this person on the first shot, my night would’ve been totally different, and a frustrating afternoon of evacuating planes and killing time would’ve come to a close.

American Airlines continues to bewilder me for their ability to excel in some areas, while being an absolute shambles in others. Their flagship lounge renovations are fantastic and their mobile app is amongst the best around, yet a combative attitude towards customers and service failures continue to make me wish I was flying someone else, almost every time I end up on an another AAwful American flight.

Continuing the bewilderment, I’m writing this live from an excellent flight to LA with a top notch crew, good food, and top it all off, we’re looking at an early arrival. You never know what you’re gonna get, and that’s precisely the problem.

BoardingArea
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