American Airlines does not get it. They don’t know “why we fly”.

Just got on one more plane.  On my way to Atlanta for another business trip.

Flying American Airlines for this visit.  Flight number 3844.  Leaving O’Hare at 8.15AM.

Just for context, I travel a lot.  This past year, I will have been on the road over 225 days.  I have premier status on both American and United Airlines.  I am an Executive Platinum and Global Services member, respectively.  Not something I’m proud of, but believe that this status should result in some level of courtesy and consideration from the airline when I travel with them.  Obviously, I spend a lot of money with them.

So, here’s how I got treated this morning at O’Hare by the staff at American Airlines.

About 5 minutes before we’re ready to board, I hear my name called over the PA system.  When I get to the counter, the lady there says, and I quote, “you have been downgraded, here is your new seat assignment.”

I go from seat 1A (in first class) to seat 16C (last row window, by the bathroom).  All without an explanation.  I reminded them that I had a first class aisle seat and as I suffer from claustrophobia, I could not have the window seat in the back and would like an aisle seat, which is always my preference, somewhere near the front.  At this, one of her colleagues came around and asked me why I was complaining.  “It is not our fault, it is Operations. You will get a refund for the difference”, he said.  We resolved this when they changed my seat to 4A.  A bit better, an aisle near the front of the plane.

Then, as I was getting ready to enter the plane, the pilot, Diego Pena, stopped me and threatened to “throw me off the plane if I so much as made a peep during the flight”.  He was extremely rude, threatening and unprofessional.  All because he did not think i should have asked for a different seat assignment from the one “operations assigned to me”.

Well, I do not like being mistreated.  I do not like being taken for granted.  And, I for sure, do not like being threatened.

Especially by a business that I have flown multi-million miles over the past few years.

And, the steps to avoid this are very simple.  Here’s what they could have done:

One, if the folks at the counter had made an announcement that there would be changes in seating assignments due to an equipment change, I would not be wondering how I went from the first row to the last.

Second, if they had assigned new seats based on status and preferences of their frequent fliers, I would have been given an aisle seat.  This would have managed my personal needs and reduced my anxiety at the change.

Most importantly, if they had just treated me as a person who has specific needs and addressed them in a professional manner, I would not be spending 30 minutes of my plane ride writing this.

I do know one thing.  I am going out of my way to avoid flying American.  I’m not sure if they can continue losing travelers like me, but they just did.

Hello, United!


Categories: about me, Analytics, brand strategy, consumer behavior, crm, emotive, loyalty, marketing

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7 replies

  1. I just had a bad experience on Delta. I usually fly United and am a 1K but due to some scheduling and easier direct flights, I booked Delta. I was headed on an early flight to Michigan to do a presentation and then going to jump on a flight couple hours later to Boston. After everyone had gotten on our flight to Detroit the crew announced that Delta had decided to take a part off our plane and give it to the plane headed to Atlanta. In a nutshell my flight was delayed 2 hours since they had to put a replacement on a plane from Minneapolis.

    I’ve never had an airline take a part off one plane that was scheduled to leave and put it on another. Short term cost savings over angering and potentially losing the 80 or so people on my plane just doesn’t make much sense.

    • That’s what happens when you have an operating model in a service business. I have been delayed in SF because of weather. My United flight was cancelled because of mechanical. So, gues what, I am on board of an American flight, that is an hour late. The joys of travel.

  2. Zain – That’s why I fly SWA whenever possible (and avoid O’Hare in general). The difference in customer service is astounding. I’m curious if they ever reached out to you. Your note should have hit their social network monitoring process and triggered a follow-up response. Words like threatened, unprofessional, and rude, coupled with “Executive Platinum” and “million miles” should be setting off alarms, even in their overworked customer advocacy department. Then again, who am I kidding? This is AA.


  3. Wow, Zain. I call this the “rubber-meets-the-road”
    syndrome. No matter how good are a company’s data, systems,
    programs and policies, if the people who have access to them are
    ignorant of decent, respectful customer service, none of that
    matters one bit. Airlines have all the tools they need to know who
    are their best customers. Their employees simply need to use them
    and listen to themselves when they say on every flight: “We know
    you have a choice in air travel.” I wish my experience told me
    you’d have any different, more consistent experience with United.
    Jay’s right. SWA is the only airline that lives and breathes
    customer service (to an almost goofy fault) … and only because
    Herb gets it.

    • Thanks, Scott. Yes, it is amazing how human capital has the ability to either deliver outstanding service, or in this case, the team at American Airlines, did the exact opposite. As I mentioned in my response to Jay, it has been over a week and I have heard nothing from the airline. Either their social monitoring system is not very responsive or they aren’t. Either way, it is a lose-lose.

  4. Hey there! I’ve been following your site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the good job!

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