How American Airlines is missing the boat (err, plane) in customer service

In an effort to make sure this blog doesn’t turn into a Pinterest board of my wedding planning, I thought I would shift my focus to something business-related: customer service.

For me, it seems pretty simple: customer asks for service, I provide service. If I can’t provide the aforementioned service, I explain why and offer up an alternative to keep them rolling along with their project.

It isn’t that hard.

It’s important to me to make sure my clients feel like they have a partner in me. They are going to spend time and money, so in my mind, that’s an important investment on their part and a big responsibility on mine.

From a personal character perspective, it is extremely important to me that I deliver when and what I say I will, or give a heads up at the earliest possible time if I foresee any hiccups along the way. That’s my fingerprint (and possibly, more overtly, my name going on their project) and that is something of which I am most proud, so I’m not about to muck it with poor communication or false promises.

Now with that said, American Airlines continually drops the ball in this area. I refuse to fly with them anymore (sadly, they are getting so large some of their partner airlines are hard to avoid) but my parents rack up miles via purchases and have been customers of theirs for a long time. In fact, I think it’s the only airline membership they have and actively use.

So when they decided to make their first-ever trip to Europe to visit us in Italy, using their accumulated miles, I was appalled by the flights American Airlines set up for them.

It included an overnight layover in London on the way over and and overnight layover in Portland (after another layover in Philadelphia) on the way back to SFO.

That’s two overnight layovers which translates to two extra hotel nights.


I would also like to note that their flight in London was horribly delayed (they sat on the tarmac for four hours at LHR) but this was due to fog. Unfortunate, yes. But because I’m also of the belief that the customer should also understand that somethings are out of the vendor’s control, I absolutely don’t fault American Airlines (their partner British Air, actually). And I think that if you have earned a good reputation with clients, and your explanation as to why something can or cannot happen is sensible, they will understand.

So back to my parents return flight. After doing the whole overnight thing in London on the way here three days earlier, my dad found a flight from Philadelphia departing to SFO at the exact same time as his scheduled flight to Portland (where he will spend the night before going back to the PDX airport and boarding a plane to head home- because that is just how one would want to spend their time trying to get home after being gone a long time.)

So I took to Twitter to see if the American social media team could help move he and my mom to the direct (read: non-overnight, double layover) flight.

At first, they made him use Twitter, because I was a third party. I get that. Annoying, but ok. He still has an egg for an avatar profile pic, but whatever.

Miraculously, right before my already jet-lagged parents went to sleep, we got a direct message (DM) from American saying the changes had been made and he would get an email with the changes confirmed.


Then, we woke up this morning to a message basically saying, “oops! Just kidding!” They reneged on the change because, despite the fact that we can purchase two full-price tickets online right now, they were unwilling to accept passengers using miles or “awards” for seats on that flight.

I find that reason to be nonsense. But I also value customer service over profit (silly me). While both are important, a business won’t have a profit without customer service. The reverse? Not necessarily so. You tell me which one carries more weight?

This is the worst example of customer service I’ve seen from them since they “baited-and-switched” our flight from Europe home, last summer. In that stellar example, Dave and I purchased tickets online, selecting from they choices they displayed. We entered our credit card info, clicked submit, and when we hadn’t received a confirmation email an hour or so later, I called to confirm. They informed me that my connecting flight from Madrid was no longer available (because it must have magically been cancelled in the little time that had passed since they advertised it to me) and we would have to rebook and oh, by the way, we were responsible for the change fee.

Returning to my parent’s case, I am appalled that this is how American Airlines conducts business. Especially with someone who has been a member of their loyalty program as long as my dad has.

There is absolutely no way a small business like mine would ever survive if I treated customers the way they do. And most importantly, I would never dream of running a business that way. It just doesn’t even make sense! They can certainly put my parents on the flight from PHL to SFO. But they seem to refuse to want to serve a current customer because they would rather bank on the possibility that a new customer will pay full freight for the seat. Disgusting.

At its face value, it would seem the only employee for American Airlines who had any sense was the social media person who clearly saw the customer’s need (to get on the PHL-SFO flight) and the ability to solve it (available seats on said flight). My assumption is that they saw the need and solution, fixed it and shared that news with us via Twitter, then some supervisor who probably had to sign off, saw my parents had flown on miles and nixed the whole idea. Because what other sensible reason could there be???

And the end result? At least two lost customers in Dave and me and probably two more in my parents after this. And hopefully he cuts up the credit card and takes that business elsewhere too.

Good work, American. Keep working to serve your customers.