April 28, 2017

Ransoming Seats at American Airlines?

Here’s a tale of woe and intrigue from a fellow Nomad who had to fly cross country. The westbound flight on Alaska Airlines was no problem at all. The return flight was booked on American.When I asked her about her trip her first words were, “I’m never flying American again and neither should you.” I wanted details.

Our traveler was unable to get a seat at the time she booked the American flight. She was told to do that closer to the date of the flight. She called prior to her outbound flight and was told she had to wait until she checked in for the return flight. About 24 hours before that flight she logged on to check in. The only seats available were premium seats which carried an extra charge. Concerned, she called American and was told that a non-premium seat would be assigned at the kiosk at the airport. Not to worry, she was told, there was plenty of room on the flight.

When our Nomad arrived at the kiosk she was told that seats could only be assigned at the gate. Now frustrated, angry, and concerned, our traveler went to the gate where she was told that the flight was “horribly overbooked.” The gate agent was also frustrated and commiserated that she, too, thought that the system was stupid. The Nomad managed to get on the flight but had to go through the same exasperating experience when she transferred in Dallas for the second leg of her flight home — but just by the hair of her chinny chin chin: she got the last seat on the plane.

Once on the flight — both legs — there was no food available although “food for sale” was supposed to be on offer. Our Nomad had to get by with a cup of water on each leg.

There are several ways to look at what happened here. One would be that American is simply inept. As an airline that has been in business for decades that should neither be the reason nor the excuse. Another would be that they are doing everything possible to get people to opt for premium seats — after all, airlines are now fee machines and it seems to be the only way they can make money. That doesn’t, however, explain how they failed to load food which should be a profit center. A third would be that American simply doesn’t care a whit about passengers who don’t have some elevated frequent flier status. Our Nomad is not a regular American flier and so was traveling as one of the great unwashed mass of plain old customers.

A fourth view, of course, is “all of the above” and that’s the one I am betting on. I think that they have lost clarity around their purpose, their values, and their business model. I think that any convenience — even a seat — is now up for grabs unless you pay an upcharge. And finally, I think that they have resigned themselves to providing a commodity product with minimal service. Together this is a recipe to disengage both customers and employees. It is a corporate death spiral.

I remember when the slogan used to be, “We’re American Airlines. Something special in the air.” I guess they define “special” a little differently than the rest of us.

What have your experiences on American been like lately?