There’s a story going viral at the moment with the title “Dear American Airlines, I Hate You With My Whole Heart.” The story contains a lot of bad language, though I think it’s actually a good lesson for travelers, because the airline industry is really complex.
Let me start by summarizing what happened, and then sharing my take.
The basics of what happened
I’ll try to summarize the situation as objectively and concisely as possible:
- A guy booked a multi-city ticket from Washington to Dallas to Atlanta to Washington for roughly $1,300 for him and his wife
- A week before the wedding he found out the wedding ceremony was scheduled to start 15 minutes after he was scheduled to land in Dallas, so he needed to change his flights
- He called American and was informed he had bought a basic economy ticket, and he’d have to book a new ticket if he needed to change it (basic economy tickets don’t allow changes of any kind)
- So he booked new flights from Washington Dallas for about $500
- Less than 24 hours before his Dallas to Atlanta flight he received a notice from Orbitz indicating that his itinerary had been canceled
- As is the norm in the airline industry, if you miss the segment of an itinerary, the rest of your ticket is canceled
- He was basically told to pound sand, so had to spend another $1,400 buying tickets from Dallas to Atlanta to Washington
Before I share my take on this, I just have to point out my disbelief at this part:
A week before the wedding, I talked to the bride and she let me know that the actual wedding ceremony was happening the day we arrived at 7 p.m. CT.
I don’t know where the fault here lies, but who only tells someone a week out when a wedding ceremony is, especially when they’re flying out for it over July 4th weekend?!?
My take on all of this
I think the author’s anger at American Airlines is misdirected (he repeatedly says f*** American Airlines, says how he hates them, etc.). Unfortunately this could have happened on any US airline, because they all have the same policies. Well, perhaps except Southwest — they’re awesome.
I think the much bigger issue is that being an airline passenger is really freaking complicated, to the point that I sometimes wonder how the airline industry runs as smoothly as it does.
Now, I do think there are two sides to this.
The airline industry as such is incredibly complicated to run, and I often think we don’t give enough credit to airlines for how things run fairly smoothly overall. It’s one of the most complex industries out there, and for the most part margins are razor thin.
But the other side is true as well. Airlines are both profitable and offering among the lowest fares ever. Unfortunately they have some really annoying policies.
There’s no doubt the author didn’t do all of his research:
- He should have known he booked a basic economy fare, as this is shown at several points during the Orbitz booking process
- Based on the contract of carriage that he agreed to, he should have known that skipping a flight makes you forfeit the rest of your ticket
But the reality is that almost no one reads the contract of carriage when booking their tickets, and for good reason — it’s long.
I feel bad for people in situations like this. I think a vast majority of people genuinely don’t know most of the more punitive policies that airlines have.
I’d say airlines should do a better job disclosing these things, though the challenge is that for consumers there’s already so much information overload during the booking process, and I’m not sure there’s an easy way to share all that.
The thing is, even after this entire fiasco, he still doesn’t understand the policy, which further shows just how complicated it is:
I’d have done better to check myself into that first flight even if I didn’t actually board the plane. I didn’t know. I know now though. Oh yeah, I KNOW NOW.
That wouldn’t have made a difference — you can check in for a flight, but if you don’t board, you won’t be marked as having taken it.
What do you guys think — was the traveler in the wrong, was American Airlines in the wrong, are they both wrong, or is the airline industry just too darn complicated?