I admit up front that I am a frequent flier. So, no matter what I say in this post, it is likely to sound to a non-frequent flier like whining. I accept that. I have been flying American Airlines as my primary carrier since 1991. I have flown 1.3 million miles on AA (so I am Gold AAdvantage member for life). I had flown almost 800,000 miles on United previously (yes, I wish I had started with AA as I would be Platinum for life now). I made the switch from UA to AA because even as a high status individual I received poor service way too often. I switched cold turkey to AA (I started with no status) and had better service immediately.
Things had gone along pretty well until this year. AA is in the midst of reconfiguring its planes to provide seats with more leg room in Coach (in rows in front of the exit rows). This is a great idea. As a frequent traveler, my normal practice was to choose the exit row seats for the extra room, but Main Cabin Extra makes these other seats more comfortable (even with people reclining -- I will save my thoughts on that for another rant).
Though I think Main Cabin Extra is a great idea, the way it has been implemented has left much to be desired. To get the extra room they have to eliminate rows so for flights with passengers already booked, they need to reassign their seats. This is where the problems have started. The first time I ran into this, I was booked into bulkhead row as there were no exit row aisle or window seats available. Inexplicably, I was rebooked into the row behind the exit row. So, not only was I relocated, but they did not even put me in the Main Cabin Extra section. I ended up in a much worse seat.
I mentioned this to the gate agent at SFO. It was obvious that I was not the first person to have this problem. She suggested I call the Platinum desk to let them know that this is a problem. I had time before boarding so I called them up. I even had what I considered a reasonable solution to the problem. If there is an equipment change, send a flight status notification to me. Had I known, I would have checked my seat assignment and possibly acted to change it to something better (I did not check in until I got to the airport). They send notifications if the flight is delayed or the gate is changed, why not this? The first person I spoke with didn't get the issue. I still showed in their system as having my original seat. I talked to a supervisor who eventually saw what happened and I pitched her my suggestion. She was nice enough, but it was clear that their training focuses more on conflict resolution than trying to provide better service to customers. I tweeted my dissatisfaction at the time, but did not hear anything from AA.
I had another flight a few weeks later where I had my seat switched, but it was a similar seat so it was fine. Last night, I flew from SFO to ORD (Chicago O'Hare for the uninitiated). I connected through DFW because it was significantly less expensive. The frequent travelers will likely say -- big mistake or bad idea. It was both. The SFO to DFW leg was fine. Per normal practice, when you check-in, you get boarding passes for both flights. When I arrived at DFW, I made the long shlep to the connecting gate (if you have connected at DFW you know what I am talking about). What I did not realize until I got on the plane was that they had a change in equipment from a Super 80 to a 737. For those who do not know, a Super 80 has five seats across while a 737 has six seats across. So, I was in 12B. On a Super 80, that is an aisle seat. On a 737, that is a middle seat. This had nothing to do with the switch to Main Cabin Extra. Again, I had no notification that a change had been made. I did not know until I boarded the plane. I could not get off the plane to try to get it changed without disrupting the boarding process. I was stuck. I tweeted my displeasure, but again nothing from AA.
So, what is all of this leading up to? I checked my AAdvantage account this morning. The machine at the DFW gate was not working so they did not electronically check us in as we boarded. I hope the miles will post today (please do not make me have to follow up for your errors AA). I need another 3 flights to the west coast this year to make Platinum. I will probably do that. However, after that, I am going to try other airlines in search of a better service experience. Since I will be flying AA a few more times in the coming weeks, here is what I would like to see:
- An acknowledgement of my suggestion to add equipment changes to flight status notifications. Even if you won't do it or can't do it right away, it would be nice to know you care about constructive suggestions
- Be more diligent in reassigning seats when there is an equipment change, be it for Main Cabin Extra or not. I know it may not be possible for everyone to get rebooked into an equivalent seat all of the time, but it should not happen to people multiple times within a couple of months
- Improve your social media monitoring. I may not have the most Twitter followers in the world, but I do have a good number and some of those followers have lots of followers themselves. You may not have been able to fix my problems, but even acknowledging them, and possibly saying you're sorry on Twitter, would have gone a long way last night. What would have been even better was if you had communicated it to the gate agents or flight crew so they could do it in person. The technology is there to easily do all of this, at little cost. You just have to care enough to want to do it.
As a postscript, I replied this morning to a tweet from Josh Schwede from HireVue about my experience saying I was going to consider Southwest, Virgin America, and JetBlue as alternatives. Minutes later, there was a tweet from JetBlue pitching what is different about their flying experience. I still have not heard anything from AA and likely never will (I am @jimholincheck in case you have trouble finding me on Twitter). If I do hear from AA, I will update this post.
Update June 24, 2013: I talked to an American Airlines customer representative about the above issues and concerns. They are going to put in my idea to development about adding equipment changes to the flight status notifications. Obviously, they cannot guarantee when, but it was good to hear affirmatively. They apologized about the seat issue and gave me a $100 flight voucher for the inconvenience. When I originally tweeted about my problems, I had used the #aa hashtag expecting that they were monitoring that. It is better to use @americanair. They indicated that they typically respond to issues within 10 minutes. So, I learned something there. So, they have addressed many of my issues. I feel a little better about that.