I’ve had it with American Airlines

Recommendations, or not — Sean Bonner @ 12:48 am
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I’ve been flying American Airlines for many years, and have maintained AAdvantage Platinum status for several years due to how often I travel. The service on AA which used to be great has been steadily declining over the last year and it’s been most obvious to me when I fly somewhere with a stop over where one leg of the trip is on AA and the other is on another One World partner airline. I’ve been sticking with AA hoping it’s something that will just pass, but what just happened was the final straw.

As many folks know Tara and I are basically traveling around the world for the next 9 months with our new baby, Ripley (he’s 3 months old right now). The first leg of this trip was from Los Angeles to Singapore through Narita. The first leg of this flight was on AA, the second on JAL. If you haven’t flown with a baby you might not even know that planes have some seats with bassinet’s that make travel easier. I didn’t even know about this option until last year. When I booked the flight I asked about reserving the bassinet seat, I was told that this spot was unreservable and I had to go to the gate the day of the flight and request it then and they would be given out on a first come first serve basis. I spoke to several people at AA and AA Platinum service who told me that same story. The day before the flight I called again and confirmed the only way to get the gate and request it. The representative I spoke to suggested I get there 2 hours early, I got there 4 hours early.

I waited and was the first person to speak to the gate agent when she arrived, I asked about the bassinet and she told me it was already reserved but that the best she could do was move me to row with a little more legroom. She apologized and said I should have requested it in advance, when I told her I did she said there was no record of my request. Once on the plane we noticed that there was a bassinet attachment in our row and asked the flight attendant about it. She confirmed they had a bassinet we could use and brought it out, however when she did another family stood up saying they had also requested the bassinet. The flight attendant told us that whoever had made a prior reservation for the bassinet could have it, and the other family said they had. Later on I asked the father of the family how he reserved it and he said he simply requested it when he bought his ticket.

To be fair I didn’t ask the family who they bought their ticket from, and it’s possible they bought it via some other airline or through a service like Expedia. That said, we were both on the same AA flight and if you can get better service on an AA flight by going around AA, the problem is only compounded and seems to suggest if you are flying with a baby, don’t fly AA.

Upon arriving at Narita we asked the gate agent again about getting a seat with the bassinet and were again told that those seats were already reserved. To be fair, the second leg of the flight was JAL not AA, and the bassinets are built into certain seats, however the flight attendants did tell us that if it had been requested when we purchased the tickets we could have gotten those seats, and even though the tickets were bought from AA they could have put in that request.

When we arrived in Singapore I immediately sent an e-mail to the Platinum customer service department detailing the above and asking what we did wrong that we weren’t able to reserve these bassinet seats, and how we could do it in the future. I received a boilerplate e-mail saying that bulkhead seats are very popular and given out on first come first serve basis. Frustrating as I wasn’t asking about bulkhead seats, but even moreso because there was no way to reply to that note and if I wanted to follow up or respond I had to submit a brand new complaint. Rather than risk the same thing I called the desk directly, even though I’m currently on the other side of the world and international calling rates aren’t cheap.

The first person I spoke to said there is no way to reserve the bassinet seats end of story. I asked to speak with a supervisor, who I was transferred to and who I relayed the above situation to. The first thing she told me what that they don’t offer bassinet seats any longer, except on some international flights. I pointed out to her that Los Angeles to Singapore is in fact an international flight. She told me that no one is able to reserve bassinet seats, and it must have been a mix up at the gate. I told her that both the gate agent and the family who booked the bassinet told me they booked it at the time of purchase. The platinum service rep said “no they didn’t.” I told her that regardless of the policy she was reading to me, I was the first person at the gate to request the bassinet, and didn’t end up with it because it was previously reserved. She offered two possible explanations “maybe someone was having a bad day” or “maybe you just didn’t see them get to the gate before you.”

I don’t know how someone having a bad day could play into this, but I do know that I sat at the gate patiently and no one spoke to the agent prior to me, or even immediately after me, and regardless the gate agent didn’t say “sorry those people just snuck in front of you and requested it seconds ago” she said “sorry, that was reserved weeks ago.” Weeks.

Assuming that perhaps I wasn’t explaining the situation well enough I tried to tell the AA Platinum service rep that both the agent and the family told me they booked the bassinet at the time of purchase, and she begin yelling at me and interrupting me to the point that my wife, sitting a good 6 feet away from me, could hear the conversation clearly. I asked the lady to please stop interrupting me and she continued without a beat. I asked her what I had done to be treated like this as I was trying to be very polite, the representative kept talking over me thoughout this telling me that no one else could have requested the bassinet and again telling me that they don’t even offer bassinets except on some international flights. As it appeared we were going in circles I asked to speak to someone else, she told me there was no one else and again told me that I must just not have been paying attention when someone else walked to the counter ahead of me. I again told her that not only did no one walk in front of me at the gate, but the gate agent confirmed the reservation was made prior to that day. The representative said “no they didn’t” I asked “are you calling me a liar?” she responded “I didn’t say that, but you are making things up and telling me things that didn’t happen.”

I was rather shocked by this and again asked if there was maybe someone else I could speak to, she didn’t hear this request because she was too busy talking over me again. I waited for her to finish yelling at me and then asked if I could have her name, she then hung up on me.

And yes, just to confirm this was the Platinum Service desk, because I have Platinum status because I spend so much money flying with them every year. Why am I doing that again? Yeah, after this interaction I couldn’t think of a good reason either. I did a little research and spoke to some people and it looks like several airlines that are part of the Star Alliance will comp my status with AA if I switch to them. I feel bad because I really have enjoyed flying with many of the other One World allied airlines, but given that I’m based in the US I need a good US carrier to base most of my flights there with so I think that is that. So long American, you used to be awesome but I can’t say I’ll miss you after all this. (If you work for Continental or United and are reading this, please get in touch!)

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7 Comments »

  1. What has happened to Customer Service? Especially when you are supposed to be part of the “elite” club they offer. Being in customer service stories like this make my skin crawl.

    Comment by Jeff Donaldson — June 3, 2010 @ 1:35 am
  2. Here is our flight plan: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tarabrown/4618865835/in/set-72157624088212610/

    Comment by Tara Brown — June 3, 2010 @ 1:46 am
  3. [...] reply to that letter. Rather that start over from scratch I called them and all hell broke loose, you can read the whole story here. In the midsts of my ranting, I said something on twitter and whoever writes the American Airlines [...]

    Pingback by American Airlines just doesn’t get it — June 4, 2010 @ 4:52 pm
  4. Hi Sean,

    They are all liars. The other passenger on the flight flat out lied to you.
    He did what he did to get the seat for himself. Some people, maybe anybody,
    will do whatever given the “right” circumstances. They have to do and don’t look back.

    In the spring we will flying for the first time with our new baby. The
    answer I got from AA here in Japan was that bassinets are available only
    if there are no business passengers that would take that area. I have no idea what that means, but when pressed she admitted to me that the bassinets
    were actually impossible to get. This was after I expressed my frustation that they were willing to take my reservation 6 months in advance and take my money, but they were not willing to accept my request and give me assurance that I would have a bassinet on the flight from Narita to Dallas.

    I will continue calling until I’m sure I’ve gotten to the bottom of it. Each rep is giving different answers so it won’t be easy. One rep blurted out that 10 bassinets were available on the flight. So what’s up with this check-in policy thing, then?

    After reading your article I’m 99.9% sure we are going to fly ANA. They
    have super service and are family friendly.

    Comment by James Gibson — September 29, 2012 @ 12:36 am
  5. Hi Sean,

    They are all liars. The other passenger on the flight flat out lied to you.
    He did what he did to get the seat for himself. Some people, maybe anybody,
    will do whatever given the “right” circumstances. AA just wants you at the gate because that means you are flying with them.

    In the spring we will flying for the first time with our new baby. The
    answer I got from AA here in Japan was that bassinets are available only
    if there are no business passengers that would take that area. I have no idea what that means, but when pressed she admitted to me that the bassinets
    were actually impossible to get. This was after I expressed my frustation that they were willing to take my reservation 6 months in advance and take my money, but they were not willing to accept my request and give me assurance that I would have a bassinet on the flight from Narita to Dallas.

    I will continue calling until I’m sure I’ve gotten to the bottom of it. Each rep is giving different answers so it won’t be easy. One rep blurted out that 10 bassinets were available on the flight. So what’s up with this check-in policy thing, then?

    After reading your article I’m 99.9% sure we are going to fly ANA. They
    have super service and are family friendly.

    Comment by James Gibson — September 29, 2012 @ 12:42 am
  6. Sean,

    Please delete those messages. I would like to compose something when
    I get a conclusive reply from AA.

    Comment by James Gibson — September 29, 2012 @ 3:39 am
  7. Hi. I just wanted to tell you that exactly the same thing is happening to me right now! My wife is travelling from Chile to the US. I did exactly what Sean did. My wife arrived 5 hours before the flight and she got the same answer. I called American and had exactly the same answer!

    I believe the problem must be with the front row seats. You need one of them for the bassinet, but they’re usally all booked. Unless you pay extra for them or have a ruby status, which I have, but my wife doesn’t.

    Comment by Guillermo Cabrera — January 26, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

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