Yesterday I was scheduled to fly American from Santa Barbara to Dallas to Detroit. I didn’t make it to my destination on American — instead I had to just book a separate ticket on Delta — and I got lied to in the process. Let me explain.
The past couple of days have been rough for American
First let me acknowledge that American has had a couple of really tough days when it comes to weather. On Saturday there were storms in Dallas (including hail storms), causing significant cancelations.
Then the East Coast had terrible weather yesterday.
That’s not American’s fault, though I’ll note that the problem with American is that they’re barely holding it together on a good day. So on a bad day, you can imagine what their operations look like. For example, here’s what their customer service line looked like at DFW last night when I was there:
- 5x total points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 3x points on dining
- 2x points on travel purchases
- 3x points on Travel after the $300 Annual Travel Credit
- 3x points on Dining
- $300 Travel Credit
- Earn 3x points on travel
- Earn 3x points on shipping purchases
- Cell Phone Protection
American lying about the cause of a cancelation
Yesterday afternoon my Santa Barbara to Dallas flight was only a little bit delayed. Everything was looking good with my connection when I landed, and the plane scheduled to operate the flight arrived on time.
But then delays started posting — the 8:41PM flight from Dallas to Detroit showed a 9:30PM departure. I headed to the Admirals Club and assumed this was a crewing issue, since the plane was there, it didn’t look like there were any mechanics, and the weather was fine.
Soon enough that 9:30PM departure slipped to 10:30PM — at this point we were looking at arriving in Detroit after 2AM.
I went up to the Admirals Club agent to ask what was going on.
“It looks like the delay is due to crew. Your pilots are here, while the flight attendants are coming in from LaGuardia.”
Then about 15 minutes later I got a notification on my phone that the flight canceled. I went back up to the same Admirals Club agent for help rebooking. The guy was nice enough, though the next flight he could rebook me on was nearly 24 hours later, and that’s including any itineraries with an extra connection.
I then asked about getting a hotel voucher. There’s an important distinction when it comes to weather delays and hotel vouchers:
- If your flight is directly delayed due to weather, you’re not entitled to a hotel voucher
- If your flight is delayed due to a knock-on effect of weather (like American not having the right crew in the right place), you are entitled to a hotel voucher
In this case my flight wasn’t canceled due to weather (the weather was fine in Dallas and Detroit), but rather was canceled due to lack of available crew, and because the airline hasn’t gotten their operations back to normal yet.
Anyway, the guy spent about 20 minutes trying to get me a hotel voucher. Nowadays the way it works is that the agent sends you an email with a link where you can book a hotel, but it simply wouldn’t work. The guy tried and tried and tried.
“Oh, I see the problem now. The notes say that the flight was canceled due to weather conditions at the destination.”
“Well we know that’s not true, you just told me a little bit ago that the flight was delayed due to crew, and it’s obvious they just timed out.”
“I know, I agree with you. Unfortunately there’s nothing I can do.”
So the guy agreed American was lying to me, and he wasn’t empowered to undo that.
I was on my computer at this point looking for other options for getting to Detroit, and decided to book a Delta ticket there, since I couldn’t be delayed by 24 hours.
“Could you go ahead and just cancel the ticket and request a refund for a portion of the ticket, because the new schedule won’t work for me. I’ll just book a separate ticket on Delta since you guys don’t have an interline agreement with them.”
“I can’t do that either. You have to contact customer service to do that.”
Bad weather happens, and while I think American isn’t as well equipped as some other airlines to handle operational challenges, all of this is to be expected.
What I can’t wrap my head around is how American puts frontline employees in a position where they have to outright lie to passengers. The same guy who told me that my flight was delayed due to crew had to tell me a short while later that my flight was delayed due to weather in Detroit.
He knew that wasn’t true, I knew that wasn’t true, and worst of all, he wasn’t empowered to fix it.
And American wonders why only 28% of employees feel favorably towards the statement “leaders at American listen and seek to understand the frontline team member experience.” How can you take pride in your job when you have to lie to customers like this? Obviously this is just a very tiny part of what’s wrong with the relations American has with their employees.
Lastly, let me just note that no wonder the general public hates flying. I’m really lucky —
- I had Admirals Club access (through my Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®), so could get help faster
- I had trip delay insurance (Citi’s delay coverage kicks in after 12 hours, which this definitely passed), so I’ll get reimbursed for my hotel
But could you imagine standing in that customer service line for hours on end, only to be told there’s nothing they can do to help you?