Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Has American Airlines Given Up on Their Loyal Customers?

I hate hearing about experiences like this. It only takes one bad customer service representative to lose a lifetime of loyalty from a customer.

If you were American Airlines how would you earn this loyalty back? We'll see if they ever respond to Ms Johnson and do the right thing.


Dear American Airlines,
On Sunday, April 17, 2016 after a wonderful weekend in Las Vegas for my nephew’s wedding, I arrived at McCarran Airport 2 hours early for my direct flight to DFW. About an hour before the flight was to leave, the announcement was made that weather delays at DFW made it necessary to cancel the flight. Everyone was asked to stand in line to rebook their flights. Of course the line was nearly 200 people long. An agent passed through the ranks and distributed a customer service phone number. I promptly called the number and was informed that the wait time to speak to an agent was one hour and 23 minutes. With only 2 gate agents tasked with rerouting an entire plane full of passengers, it appeared as if the wait would be no shorter in line. I was correct. By the time it was my turn for rerouting, the only thing available was a flight the next day at 10am connecting through Phoenix. The gate agent would not even entertain the possibility of putting me on another airline. So, I accepted the flight 1584 even though it meant spending another night in Las Vegas. Now, I know that Mother Nature sometimes intervenes and weather cancellations can be inevitable. But how about having more than 2 agents available to help those customers that you say you care about? Maybe you could provide faster service by having a few more customer service representatives available on the phone. Or, what about offering another airline?
Of course, because weather cancellations are not the fault of American Airlines, I was refused compensation of any kind – not even cab fare to a hotel. One of the largest conventions of the year started that day, so hotels that did have availability were quite expensive. My cost for this weather cancellation was approximately $300.
On Monday, April 18 I again arrived at McCarran Airport anxious to get on those planes that would take me back home. Since I leave for Alaska before dawn on Wednesday for 5 months, there are many things that I must do and now I have only one day (instead of 2 ½ days) to do them. I breathed a sigh of relief as I boarded the plane and took my seat. The flight was completely full. All passengers were encouraged to check their bags. Mine was already checked, so I was good. As passengers began to board and stow their luggage in the overhead bins, someone knocked into the ceiling mounted emergency exit light, releasing it from the ceiling. There is was, hanging by the electrical cord like a piƱata. Maintenance was called, and about the time we were scheduled to depart, he maintenance worker appeared. The light was obviously above his pay grade because another maintenance worker was called. He could not fix the dangling emergency exit light either. At this point it was 30 minutes after our scheduled departure, so the captain made the announcement that he was required by law to inform us of the delay. He said that the door was still open, the jetway was still attached and we were welcome to deplane and see the gate agent to change our flights if we chose to do so. I was the 3rd passenger off the plane. I was not going to be in the back of another line and get stuck one more night in Las Vegas! Nor did I wish to stay on the plane, miss my connecting flight in Phoenix and have to stay the night there.
Now this is where the fun really begins. When it was my turn to see the gate agent (and there was only one assisting all passengers) I was greeted by a very pleasant agent who truly seemed willing to help me. As she was checking for flight alternatives for me, everyone began to deplane. The flight had been cancelled because the emergency exit light could not be fixed as easily as first thought. The helpful gate agent rebooked me on a direct flight to DFW that was leaving within the hour. Hallelujah! She said that she could not guarantee that my checked bag would make it on the flight. I immediately told her that it was not a problem. At this point I was willing to replace everything in that bag just to get home. Next comes the announcement that the light could be fixed and the flight to Phoenix would be delayed another 15-20 minutes. What did I care – I was going directly to DFW on my newly booked flight. When my truly helpful agent inquired as to whether my luggage could be retrieved for my new flight, she was immediately chastised by the customer service manager, Wendy Brown, for rebooking me and told to put me back on the flight to Phoenix. I carefully explained to Ms. Brown about my experience the day before and how desperately I needed to get home. She told me that I had to stay with my luggage and my luggage was not coming off that plane. She told me that she didn’t care what I wanted to do, I was to remain on the Phoenix flight. I asked her what I was supposed to do about my missed connection, and she told me that I could check on another flight once I landed in Phoenix. Really? So you strongly encourage passengers to check their luggage on a full flight. Yet, when luggage is checked flights cannot be changed. Wow! The Captain makes the announcement that we are welcome to deplane, see a gate agent and change flights, yet the customer service manager won’t allow me to change flights. Let me tell you about this customer service manager, Wendy Brown. Not only did she tell me that she didn’t care what I wanted, she also berated the gate agent for trying to help me by changing my flight in the first place. Doesn’t American Airlines train their customer service managers in customer service? If so, she desperately needs to be retrained. On a satisfaction scale of 1-10, I give her a minus 5.
Several minutes later, once I was out of the line, I happened to notice baggage handlers removing bags from the cargo section of the plane! Incredible. About 45 minutes later, everyone reboarded the plane. The light was back in place but the flight attendants couldn’t quite get the count correct. The Captain apologized and said that he was embarrassed that they couldn’t get this little detail right. The flight lifted off exactly 2 hours and 35 minutes after it was scheduled to depart.
While I was waiting for the flight attendants to account for passengers on the plane, I received a call from a dear friend of mine who maintains Executive Platinum status with American Airlines. She facilitated a conference call with her customer service agent. (I guess Executive Platinum customers don’t wait over an hour to speak to someone.) This helpful agent placed me on standby on a flight from Phoenix to Dallas in the afternoon and booked me on the red-eye, arriving DFW at 2am on Tuesday! Upon arriving in Phoenix I had missed my original flight and the standby flight. I ran as fast as I could to the customer service counter to get ahead of the entire plane load of others who had missed their connections because of a broken emergency exit light. That is where I met the most helpful person of my entire trip, Ms. Nancy Guirguis. She was sympathetic to my plight and acted as if she truly cared. She was able to get me on the standby list for a flight to DFW that was about to board, and confirmed me on a flight leaving earlier than the red-eye. I raced to the next set of gates (no easy feat in Phoenix). When I checked in at the gate I was #6 on the standby list of 21. The gate agent informed me that I would be the next one called if a seat opened up. As I stood at the gate and waited, other names were called for standby. The list displayed at the gate and on my mobile app showed that I was #6. But 5 people after me were cleared for standby. When I asked the gate agent why I was being passed over, she informed me that the electronic list was not her list. She told me that platinum and gold status passengers would be given preference over me. How many times can a passenger be insulted by American Airlines in a single day? I understand loyalty better than most. Preferred customers should get perks not given to others. But where does loyalty begin? How you treat someone when they are not frequent flyers will certainly determine whether they will ever be. If the standby list that you publish is not in the order in which you clear passengers, perhaps you should list them alphabetically so that it does not appear that you are profiling. Doesn’t a passenger whose trip has been delayed for over 24 hours have any status at all? After my inquiry I was cleared for the flight and arrived at DFW 31 hours after I was supposed to.
So what has happened to American Airlines? When did they stop caring? Was it when you merged with US Airways and became the largest airline in the world? You now call yourself “One World”. I find that world to be devoid of the simplest of common courtesies and customer appreciation. It is a world that will now be my last choice when I take to the skies. I will fondly remember the American Airlines of old where I mattered. Excellent customer service was not dependent on the frequency of my travels. Flight attendants and gate agents used to make me feel like a welcomed guest. Now they appear as oppressed as they make me feel. Thanks for the memories, American Airlines. New ones will be made elsewhere.

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