Saturday, November 21, 2009

American Airlines Sucks Part II

I got quite a few remarks and comments about my American Airlines Sucks post. Some people shared similar stories about being maligned by AA in the past. Some told similar overbooking stories from other airlines - but with a better treatment, understanding and compensation.

A good friend just ran an "American Airlines Sucks" search on Google, and concluded I'm joining the party a bit too late: 219,000 (!) results show that many people out there share my conclusion. Hey, there's even a guy who's taken the time to register a domain! ( I will let you sift through the results and highlight the funniest stories.

I started a twitter hash tag #AASucks and it keeps collecting twits from "satisfied" customers. The funniest comment I got was a request to change it from AASucks to something else, lest someone mistakes it for the Alcoholics Anonymous organization :).

My fellow blogger Damian
referred me to a story about a web designer at American Airlines who was fired upon answering a customer's comment about the suckiness of AA's web site.
You can read the full story, reported firsthand, in Dustin Curtis's blog. The short of it is, just like me, Dustin commented on the bad design and usability of the site. A web usability designer at AA read his blog and sent him an email explaining some of the design decisions and promising they are aware of the situation. He asked to be kept anonymous, since he was not officially representing AA. Alas, The AA IT team scoured their exchange server, found the original response and the guy was summarily sacked. They won't even let their own employees alleviate the public's perception of them.

As for me, one of the comments on the original blog suggested I ping Christopher Elliott, a leading traveling journalist working for National Geographic. Christopher replied immediately (thanks Christopher!), and pointed me to a page on his blog listing the addresses of all AA executives involved with customer relations.

I just sent the following email to Sean Bentel, (Manager of customers relations) and cc'd Mark Mitchell (Managing director, customer experience):
Dear Mr. Bentel,

Please excuse my addressing this email to you directly, but I have been receiving, in my opinion,
less than adequate treatment from the CR representative I've been corresponding with so far. Furthermore, all my emails to the people
taking care of my case at your department have been ignored and filling and re-filling your online form is quite time consuming. I've also taken the liberty of cc'ing Mr. Mark Mitchell to this email.

I will not bother you with the full description of my case. I'm sure you can pull my earlier correspondence from your CRM system. You can also read about my case, along with the detailed back-and-forth, on my blog post (

I'd like to get a final response to my issue, consisting of a proper apology to the situation I was put in, and a proper compensation. To make it clear that I'm following this matter out of principal and not for monetary gain, I hereby offer that any compensation you offer shall be fully contributed to the charity of your choice. This way, everyone will be happy: I'll get some closure and regain my confidence in your customer service, you'll gain the renewed confidence and goodwill of my readers, and someone will benefit from the compensation.

I will publish a copy of this email on my blog ( and will await your reply. I ask your permission to post your reply to my blog (either verbatim, or the spirit of it). I will follow up on this subject in 2 business weeks from today (December 5th, 2009).

Awaiting your reply and thanks for your time,
So, let's see how this would end. Hopefully, we will all get some closure.


John said...

Without knowing all of the details, it sounds like AA violated DOT rules for involuntary denied boarding (aka bumping). You should have received twice the cost of your ticket in cash. Given that you had a last minute booking, I doubt that you were on a $60 ticket. Here's the link to the DOT rules:

Clearly states they owe you 200% of your fare. If they didn't give you a copy of the rules, they violated another another part of the rule (as I read it).

Since AA can't manage to make you happy, maybe a DOT complaint will wake them up.

Traveling Tech Guy said...

John, thanks for the link!
I wouldn't have even thought of this.
No, they did not give me a copy of the rules. The ticket itself was bought on miles (plenty of them), so I wonder if they can weasel out and say a $100 is their estimation of the charge. The least they could do is reverse the charge on the miles. Anyway, will wait for them to respond (or not respond) to my open email before proceeding.
But again, thanks!

American said...

We’ve looked into the facts and record of your flight where you were denied boarding. While situations like this are very rare, they do happen on occasion and we are truly sorry it happened to you in this case. We historically have one of the lowest denied boarding rates in the industry, but we also know that statistics don’t mean much to folks like you whose travels do not fit the usual pattern and end up being affected in this manner.

Our policies were correctly followed in this case – and we believe most other airlines would have handled it quite similarly since their policies are much like ours. Unfortunately, as you have stated, your flight was oversold by five passengers, which simply means more passengers showed up that day than we had seats available. Historically when this happens, we are usually successful in finding volunteers who are willing to fly on a later flight and receive dollar-for-dollar vouchers spendable on any American Airlines/American Eagle fare within one year. In this case, that did not happen, and involuntary denied boarding rules set by the U.S. government were the next step – those rules were followed exactly as they are set forth by the government.

Overbooking of flights has been a common practice of all airlines for many years. The reasons are simple – nearly every full flight has passengers who simply do not show up for that flight for any number of reasons. The example of a 100 seat airplane in which only 100 seats were sold would nearly always leave the gate with some empty seats (four or five empty seats would not be uncommon on that mythical 100 seat plane). Those empty seats could have ultimately been provided and sold to other customers who also need and want to travel that same time and day, but would otherwise be turned away. This practice also helps us provide the low fares we offer to be competitive with other airlines. To estimate the number of empty seats for each full flight, we use historical data for that flight, that day, to estimate how many “no-shows” it will have, using both computer and human input, and also considering any special factors that might skew the historical data. Most of the time we are quite accurate in our estimates. Occasionally, passenger behavior on a given flight does not match our best estimates. As we said, this is what unfortunately happened to you. It’s rare, but not unprecedented. And again, we’re sorry for your inconvenience.

American Airlines