I have been rather vocal about my switch from American Airlines to United. But as I still have hundreds of thousands of miles, I need to spend them and American continues to squander opportunities to win me back.
Little Old Me, and My Family
I get it, I get it – I’m not that important. I was just one of tens of thousands of Executive Platinum members. I wasn’t important enough to be a Concierge Key member, so when American Airlines lost me, they didn’t notice. I took my $17,500/year and went to United but American is running a $45bn/year business (revenue), I am a completely missable drop in an ocean of revenue.
Still, for lifetime American Airlines fans like my family had been, I find myself flying United but still hoping American will turn it around. My family has the same hopes. The familiarity of the routes, the partners, and the pride of American being “our” airline always leaves us just on the other side of the fence hoping for change that will bring us home.
Our flight to Manchester pushed back from the gate early, a great sign and we were on our way. Until we weren’t. While I once loved the 767-300 that American uses on their Manchester route on some routes, despite a cabin renewal, the aircraft type is showing its age.
We sat parked on the taxiway in sight of the terminal and heard the dreaded “bing” after about five minutes in the same spot. I mouthed to my wife “delay” as the pilot expressed the same. A third-generator (the aircraft needs just one, the other two are redundant) failed to respond and would need to be replaced.
We taxied back to the gate after another 20 minutes or so parked just outside of it waiting for the ground crew to arrive, take out their glowing lightsabers and marshal us in. After another 20 minutes, they opted to switch aircraft and gave us a re-board time of about an hour and a half. They collected the unopened amenity kits and unopened bottles of water to transfer them along with catering to the new plane. If either were opened before leaving the aircraft, that was your bottle of water for the flight.
We took off in our replacement aircraft a couple of hours later and arrived in Manchester about three hours later than intended.
I was excited to fly the 767-300ER with a new configuration. The last time I was on that equipment the seats in business class were dated and badly needed a refresh. They got it with the new “throne” style in a 1-2-1 configuration. The large armrest housed the passenger behind’s footwell and from what I understand, the aircraft’s size makes it difficult to add newer styled seats.
I had a window with my wife and daughter on the inside. My daughter had plenty of privacy with her armrest facing me and I did as well with mine facing her. However, my wife on the far end (4D) had the worst possible option. While my daughter and I had a little cacoon of privacy, she did not and was exposed to the outside aisle. That’s uncomfortable for anyone and while I am sure that due to the style, it needed to be that way, a privacy door or cover that could be slid out might make for a better experience.
I didn’t bother with the food and went straight to sleep. My daughter loves fancy business class meals and decided to have it. Our five-year-old gave rave reviews of the dining experience. My wife, who has a more discerning palate, wasn’t as impressed. I ultimately left American over lack of catering effort so I can relate.
Lastly, the concept of replacing built-in IFE with tablets is the worst idea ever to cross Parker’s desk – and that’s a tall order. The covers made them difficult to keep in place, there was no advantage to the customer and I can’t imagine that American saves much on fuel by having them considering that they still fly with the units on board where they are used or not. The flight attendants also have to collect them like the noise-cancelling headphones, usually, an hour before landing and I just don’t care for the Gestapo approach that the flight attendants have to take to collect them (some sprout legs and walk off the plane.)
Airline employees have a tough job to do. All of them. However, we had some interesting personalities that emerged on our journey.
Our first encounter was at Fort Myers, FL RSW (Regional Southwest Airport) checkin. The agent checking us in was curt, distracted in her own conversation with her co-worker (who was trying to help us) and tried to charge us for overweight bags despite our boarding passes indicating my minuscule Gold status and business class. The rest of our American Airlines experience was delightful until we made it to our departure gate in Philadelphia, parked conveniently next to our arrival gate.
Second, as we prepared to board for the first time a surly woman who may not have even been assigned to the flight, stood at the entrance to the boarding lanes. She shouted at her peers correcting them for helping a customer who approached them because they weren’t “a service desk.”
As my wife, daughter and I joined the boarding lane we were asked: “are you Group One?” That’s ok, people board in the wrong group all the time, I won’t make this about her assuming we weren’t in business class because we travelled with our child, though that has happened plenty before. I answered in the affirmative. “Well, everyone needs to carry their own boarding pass.” She shot back as though she had to make a correction no matter what. I looked at her and down at my daughter, everyone had their hands full with their carry-on items. “She’s five,” I responded. “It doesn’t matter, everyone has to carry their own.”
“Here you go Lucy, make sure you carry your own boarding pass.” I said as I handed the boarding pass down to her – I was as loud and obnoxious as her request was. It’s not a real rule, and if it is, in perhaps thousands of flights this is the first time – on any carrier, anywhere in the world – the rule has been enforced in my experience. That’s the kind of pedantic garbage that some American flyers have had enough of. I know those employees exist everywhere, and frankly, the rest of the actual gate staff were friendly and accommodating, but one sour apple still ruins the bunch.
Onboard our experience was just ok. The flight attendant serving my daughter was lovely and said she reminded her of her niece, Lucy was properly pampered. I, however, hardly garnered a response from her, but I’m fine with that. Take care of my child and I am forever in your debt.
Carly’s flight attendant was insistent that she eats when he prefered, though many others ordered and did not eat as well due to the short flight time and late start. The problem was that Carly was standing up, putting away something in her bag and was instructed to sit so that he could drape a napkin over the table. It was more important to him that he went in order and set her table right then, rather than just move on and come back. There were seven available seats in the cabin, many others were sleeping, it shouldn’t have been a big deal.
American is still struggling with some ageing aircraft and their customer service. When the amenity kits weren’t replaced on the new aircraft, I couldn’t decide if it was me who was so cheap that I wanted to score an extra one and got mad that I couldn’t or American Airlines was so cheap that they couldn’t possibly just give a customer an extra in order to expedite re-boarding. Most of the staff were friendly, the pilots apologetic and maintenance did the right thing by not flying the plane when they had an adequate backup available. But the customer experience isn’t great. Had we spent money and not miles for this flight at around $2500-3000 roundtrip, I wouldn’t be back. The treatment, the catering, the seat style, none of it was competitive with other carriers.
To that extent, as we continue to spend our miles out of our Advantage accounts and give American opportunities to reintroduce themselves to us, they continue to reinforce that the grass really is greener on the other side.
What do you think? Have you flown American recently? How was your experience? Have you tried the airline you left and felt regret or confirmation in your decision?