A family, including an eight-month-old baby, was denied boarding on American Airlines in order to accommodate standby passengers after the gate agent claimed they were too late. But not only did the family have a valid reason for being late, they made it to the gate with plenty of time to board and before the standbys were even cleared.
Family Denied Boarding On American Airlines To Accommodate Standbys Even Though They Were In The Gate Area
Liz Nelson shared her story on Facebook, which I’ll share in full, but first summarize:
- Family of three was in Philadelphia to for family funeral
- Family received text message at 9:00am that their 1:00pm flight was delayed to 1:16pm
- While going through security at 12:43pm, 33 minutes before the revised departure time, they received a text message that the flight was back on-time and would be departing at 1:00pm
- Ms. Nelson and her baby proceeded to the gate because the stroller had to undergo secondary screening
- When she reached the gate, boarding was still in process
- Nelson approached the gate agent, Richard, and explained the situation
- He asked for their names, mentioning he had to clear standbys who “needed” to get on the flight
- Nelson assumed he asked for their names so that they would not be offloaded
- Her husband showed up a minute later, as standbys were clearing
- Richard denied them boarding, saying they were too late, even while standbys were being cleared
- He denied the flight was ever delayed
- He proceeded down the jet bridge, telling the family to go to the customer service desk for rebooking
- No one was present at customer service, so the Nelsons returned to the gate
- Richard’s demeanor had changed: he admitted the flight was late and apologized for kicking them off
- He offered them a chance to go standby in three hours or confirmed tomorrow
Here is the story in Nelon’s own words:
I wanted to share the HORRIBLE experience my family and I had with American Airlines! I’ve made this post public, please share in hopes this gets American Airlines attention so they can get their act together and this doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Yesterday June 13th my 8 month old baby, husband and myself were scheduled on AA 410 from PHL to DFW. At 9AM that morning we received an App notification that the flight was delayed from a 1:00pm departure to 1:16PM. Initially this was not a big deal and we planned accordingly.
When going through security my husband was directed to a different line in order for our stroller to be scanned. Again, not a big deal. UNTIL I received a text from American Airlines at 12:43PM stating the departure is back to 1:00PM. I quickly communicated to my husband that I was going to the gate with our baby to let them know we are present.
When I got the the gate they were boarding the last few passengers. I explained about the delayed time message we received and that we were present and my husband is just a few minutes behind. Richard, the desk attendant, proceeded to ask my name. He also informed me there were several people on the standby list that needed to get through.
I figured he took my name so they could not give away those seats while assigning seats to those flying standby. After I gave him my name I stepped aside to call my husband and tell him to run. Our phone call lasted a minute and he arrived at the gate when we hung up. That’s how close he was.
While on the one-minute call the Richard, yelled to me “your phone call doesn’t matter, you aren’t on this flight anymore.” At this point the standby people were starting to be called to board the plane. We very politely asked Richard how he could do this to paying customers as we were clearly there. He was very rude and said to take it up with Customer Service.
Our family was standing at the gate while Richard gave our seats away. He also denied the flight was ever delayed and said we should have got there sooner. Eventually he walked away from us down the jet bridge and we asked him for his name and he continued walking as he yelled “Richard”.
After feeling defeated, not cared for and upset we headed to the Customer Service Desk. Lo and behold there was no one there. My husband asked an American Airlines Desk Attendant nearby and they said no one was there and no one was going to be there. We headed back to gate B8 and got to interact with Richard again.
His demeanor changed. He said, “Guys I hated to do that since you had a baby and all. The flight was delayed but just try to get here earlier next time.” American Airlines: do you not empower your associates to make decisions? Did he truly “have” to do this?
He informed us we could wait a few hours and fly on standby, where we may or may not get on the flight(every moms dream) or he could book us a flight for the following day. In the end we stayed in Philadelphia for one more night. Our bags were gone and we had to purchase new toiletries, pajamas, diapers and formula.
Little did Richard know we were in Philadelphia for the last days of my fathers life and for his funeral. Little did Richard know how valuable PTO is and having to lose an additional day is giving away precious time. Receiving such terrible customer service at a time we were already grieving was painful and unnecessary. We have been very loyal customers but after this experience it became clear that AA Customer Service is lacking BIG time.
There is a degree of fault on both sides in this story, but it is so lopsided that I can fully side with the family. Nelson included a screenshot in her Facebook post which clearly demonstrates that the flight was delayed, then went back to being on time…17 minutes before departure.
Savvy travelers know that delays can change and that you should be near the gate at your scheduled departure time just in case problems are solved, a new aircraft is found, an air traffic control delay is lifted, or a number of other variable factors that impact departure time.
At the same time, it is not unreasonable to take an airline at its word when it says your flight will be delayed. The Nelsons were cutting it close, but not late.
But what really gets me about this story is that they arrived at the gate before the standbys boarded (and possibly before the standbys even cleared) and yet were denied boarding. A similar thing happened to a family in Charlotte recently.
Make no mistake: the gate agent has discretion in order to act. Here, Richard could have unseated the standbys and placed the family onboard. Under the circumstances, that is exactly what he should have done.
Even if it was Executive Platinum members trying to standby for an earlier flight (versus employee standbys), the family, including an eight-month-old, were right there. Boarding was still going on. They had a confirmed seat. American told them their flight would be delayed.
Rules are rules, you might say. They were not in the gate area 15 minutes prior to departure, therefore they should be shown no mercy. Come on, people. When you are told that your flight is delayed by the airline and you arrive one minute late on that basis, a gate agent need not throw you off the flight.
And another thought: why did Richard just assume they would just travel together or not at all? Ms. Nelson and her baby were in the gate area and were not even asked if they wanted to board without Mr. Nelson.
I understand that gate agents may wish to take care of high status passengers or employees trying to standby. I also understand that 15-minute cutoffs exist for good reason. But it seems to me AA pulled a bait-and-switch in this case and really put this family in a bad position so unnecessarily. Richard should have let them onboard when he knew they were present and before he cleared standbys.
But it is a good reminder that you should always give yourself extra time when traveling. Plus, delays come and go and American Airlines is not unique in rescinding a delay at the very last minute.
Do you take Richard’s side or the Nelson’s side in this incident?