Of the “big three” US airlines, American has by far the worst IT, in my opinion. I find their website to be fairly usable, though too basic. Everything else about their IT just seems like a mess, from the lack of functionality of their app, to not even being able to apply mileage or systemwide upgrades through their website.
There’s one aspect of American’s app experience that I consistently receive the most comments about, though. Specifically, I’m talking about American’s upgrade & standby lists, which can only be accessed through the app by passengers traveling on a given flight within four hours of departure (meanwhile United will show anyone these lists starting 24 hours out, and Delta will show the lists to any passengers booked on a flight 24 hours out).
I constantly get reader questions about this, because it’s genuinely confusing. For example, take this Tweet that I just received:
@OneMileataTime how does AA prioritize same day standby list? Seeing #23 clear before me an EXP at #6
— trvlchz (@trvlchz) March 8, 2018
This is a problem with both American’s upgrade and standby lists. Perhaps surprisingly, in a vast majority of cases American is clearing the list correctly, and this isn’t a case of employees just helping out their friends (though I’m sure that happens once in a while). However, that’s not what you’d think based on how the list displays. If you see a numbered list, you’d expect that #1 clears first, #2 clears second, etc. Often that’s not the case though, and understandably it leaves you feeling bitter if you feel like someone was cleared out of order, and that causes you to not clear an upgrade or not get on a flight.
So, what’s the problem? The main issue is that American displays a single upgrade list and a single standby list for customers.
What could cause American to not clear an upgrade list in the correct order?
- American has premium economy and international first class on some planes, so it could be that you show #1 and are trying to upgrade from economy to business, while #10 on the list is the first person on the list looking for an upgrade from business to first, and they clear (in this case, #1-9 aren’t eligible for that upgrade)
- The same is true for planes in premium economy, where someone can be upgraded to premium economy, while you’re looking for an upgrade to business class
- Sometimes the upgrade list doesn’t correctly display the priority for those passengers traveling with companions, and as a result the companion may be cleared in an order that isn’t reflected on the public list
A similar situation is true for standby. For example, non-rev passengers are typically at the bottom of the standby list, so it could be that you’re standing by for economy, while an employee is waitlisted for economy, business, or first class. If there are only first class seats available, they’d get the seat and not you (we can save the merits of that system for another post).
To be constructive, let’s talk about what American should do to fix this. First of all, they should have separate upgrade lists for every class of service on a given flight. This is something that both Delta and United do. For example, below is a three class 777 United is flying from San Francisco to London, where you can see they display separate upgrade lists for business class and first class:
Based on that I can also tell that the last four people on both lists are non-revs that will take any seat that is available. How do we know? Because they show on both lists, and revenue passengers can only upgrade by one class of service, and not double upgrade.
Furthermore, if someone is on standby and clears for a cabin other than economy, it seems logical enough to move them to the upgrade list (and show them as cleared) rather than the standby list (where they may show as #25, when no one else cleared). This is what United does in the above situation.
Of the “big three” US carriers, American does the worst job with displaying upgrade and standby lists. This causes confusion for passengers all the time. I have faith that a vast majority of the time upgrades are being cleared in the correct order, but the optics are really bad if you’re on a standby/upgrade list and get beaten by someone who is listed behind you.
I’m pretty bad with technology so I can’t say how easy of a fix this would be, but it’s something on my IT wishlist for them.
Has anyone else experienced this issue with American’s upgrade and standby lists?