American Airlines Service Recovery Efforts

Sometimes, you just want the airline to pretend to care. You get that it isn’t real caring, but you want someone to pretend. It turns out that American Airlines failed at even this basic standard of competence this week until I escalated the issue enough. While I would love to complain just to make myself feel better– and, well, OK, I will do that just a little bit– I figured I might handle the experience a little bit more productively by instead describing how AA handles service recovery efforts and what you should expect when a flight eventually goes wrong. Because if you fly long enough, something will eventually go wrong.

I needed to get from Odessa, TX (MAF) to a conference in Daytona Beach, Florida (DAB). Unfortunately, there is no good way to do this. As a result, my itinerary was MAF-DFW-CLT-DAB. The first leg went off without a hitch, but when I powered my phone back on I got a notice that my flight from DFW to CLT was delayed. That would mean I couldn’t catch the final flight of the night to DAB, so I called the AA Gold Elite desk to rebook. I was pretty sure the error was mechanical- the weather everywhere in the country was good and no other flights were delayed- but no matter. They rebooked me on an earlier flight from Dallas to Charlotte which meant I would still get to Daytona Beach at the same time. That seemed like an excellent resolution to my problem, so I went and had a nice lunch.

When I got on the rescheduled flight, however, things got to be even more fun. That flight had already been delayed with an announced mechanical issue on the inbound from Seattle. When we got on the plane they did a good job of keeping us informed about some minor maintenance issues… and then told us to get off the plane because some critical part was broken and the mechanic couldn’t fix it. Problem, that.

I talked to a very helpful agent in the Terminal C Admiral’s Club at DFW, and we protected me on some other flights but eventually figured out my best chance was to just stay on the badly delayed second flight while they waited for a new plane. I did, and it eventually took off, and the flight itself was perfectly uneventful. The first class flight attendant was delightful, particularly notable given the stress of the situation.

When we landed, I ran over to the gate for my final flight. It was still at the gate, and I was excited. I was going to make it after all. Except that they had closed the door, and they were unwilling to let me on. That seemed like a customer service failure since my delay obviously wasn’t because I spent too long drinking at the bar. Nonetheless, I went to the Admiral’s Club near the E gates in Charlotte and received a voucher for the airport Courtyard by Marriott. Indeed, I am writing this very post from that location. The agent also gave me a $7 breakfast voucher, a $12 dinner voucher, and helpfully offered to call the hotel to have them send the shuttle.

I went outside to the appointed place and recognized some other folks from my flight. We all got on the shuttle and got to the hotel, which had keys waiting for us. There was no problem at all with the hotel vouchers, and I gave them neither ID nor credit card. However, we were informed that the meal vouchers AA gave us wouldn’t work. Nobody bothered to tell me I had to use them at the airport. WHO GIVES DINNER VOUCHERS WHICH DON’T WORK AT THE PLACE YOU ARE SENDING ME TO? It wouldn’t have mattered much, anyway, as the cheapest appetizers on the menu were $8-$9. The hotel itself was perfectly fine, with free wifi, comfortable rooms, and a nice bar. Sadly, it is not located near any stores where I could buy a change of clothes and the hotel shuttle would not take me to any such place.

So in summary, two broken airplanes, they wouldn’t let me on a plane which was still there, and they sent me to a place where their own dinner vouchers don’t work. I am rescheduled for a flight tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. In theory, my luggage will find me in Florida. A quick rundown on what to expect:

  • DO expect to be rescheduled on the next flight they have.
  • DON’T expect to be rescheduled on another airline.
  • DO expect a hotel voucher if the error was in the airline’s control, as a mechanical failing clearly is. The hotel will be of a reasonable class.
  • DO NOT expect any ancillary services related to your stay at the hotel, such as a trip to the store and a change of underwear.
  • DO expect a voucher for meals.
  • DO NOT expect the voucher to be useful outside the airport, nor enough to cover the actual cost of a meal.
  • DO NOT expect them to monitor your late arrival or hold a plane for you. Not even a little bit. Not even on the last flight of the night.

The final DO NOT comes with expectations– do not expect much help beyond a carefully chosen script. They will provide you with a hotel and a rescheduled flight, but it is hard to get anybody to think creatively about a solution to a problem the airline created. I may have gotten into a bit of an unfortunate Twitter rant where the agent was not able to say much more than to call customer service. I hope that knowing what to expect and ask for will prove useful to you, although I hope more that you will never actually need this information. Safe travels.

UPDATE, THE NEXT DAY- I eventually found someone who was quite responsive to my needs, and she explained what had happened and did her best to make it better. I appreciate that very much. My flight also got to Daytona Beach as rescheduled, and my luggage made it with me. Things got better, and I hope this post serves as a useful guide to what to expect.

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