When I booked a flight on American Airlines to travel to San Francisco for my wife and myself for vacation in a couple of weeks, I had no idea the hassle I was signing up for.
I made the booking about 3 weeks ago directly on AA.com, and at the time I was certain that I had signed up for the 9:45am flight. Well, today as I was booking travel back and forth to D.C. for the next few weeks I decided to take a look at that old reservation because I’ll be traveling back from DC the night before we are scheduled to leave the next morning.
So, I opened the reservation to take a look only to discover that there is an error. The flight was supposed to be in the morning, but instead it’s listed in the evening!
Initially I was trying to figure out how this happened? I know there were multiple flights presented to me at the time and I was talking to my wife, and my brother and his fiance (who were on a Skype Video chat session) about what I was seeing and I’m certain I chose the morning flight so we could all meet in San Francisco at the same time. So what happened? As you can see from the attached image AA.com presents multiple groupings and you have to scroll up and down the page repeatedly to choose the ones you want.
- It’s possible I clicked the wrong one with all the discussion that was taking place.
- It’s possible that I clicked the right one, but some other interaction between the Web browser, Skype, the tab key, the space bar, and God only knows what else caused the selection
- Of note, I had just taken the exact same flight I was trying to book 4 days before! So there is evidence that I have a propensity to want that very flight.
- But ultimately it doesn’t really matter what caused it since there is plenty of time to correct what boils down to an honest mistake.
So I decided to give AA a call to let them know what was going on and to get the issue rectified. I initially spoke with a guy who informed me politely that there was nothing he could do to help me other than to charge me a $100 change fee on each ticket, plus $175 more for the current price differential between what I paid for the existing flight and what the going rate is, which he claimed is $470 – on each ticket. This adds up to around $500 in “change fees”.
This shocked me and I told him I was going to have to think about it and then call back later.
After giving it some thought, and before calling back I took the liberty of checking the pricing online to better understand what was going on, as well as checking the current availability on each of the flights. It turns out that the pricing online for the tickets the agent claimed was $470 was only $420 online. In addition, there are at least 10 free seats available on the flight I need to be on.
I then called back in and asked the woman who answered to let me speak to a supervisor. She asked me to briefly describe the issue, which I did, and then informed me that no one there could take care of this problem and that I should talk to the AA.com technical support desk. She then hurriedly transferred me and upon arrival I was greeted with a recording stating that they were closed.
So I called back a third time, this time reaching an agent by the name of Gabe Martinez. I again immediately requested to speak to a manager, but he also made me relate the story once again. Gabe however took a very adversarial approach with me that only proved to make me angry. I felt his tone was rude, demeaning and accusatory and he made a point of stating that this was all my fault.
Finally after he got me quite angry I demanded a manager and he then came back with one. As he had me on hold I was wishing that I had recorded my conversation with him, so I pulled out my recorder and captured the discussion with the supervisor, Dee Mason in Tuscon.
If you choose not to listen to all 16 minutes of it I don’t blame you. Here are a few highlights:
Dee Mason:“First of all, the inventory you booked on the 28th of April is no longer available…”
John P.: “…your talking to me about inventory. And I’m a customer, and when I get on your airplane I only see two kinds of seats. I see the first class seats, and I see the other seats. So every seat on the plane looks identical to me.”
John P.: “Can you see how someone might book online with the wrong AM/PM time frame accidentally?”
Dee Mason: “Well sure.”
Dee Mason: “We really at this point see it … as a voluntary change, not as a mistake.”
Dee Mason: “When a passenger takes it upon them-self to become their own travel agent and uses AA.com or any booking source, then you’re responsible for the changes after that point. And just as a courtesy to passengers who use AA.com we instilled the 24 hour rule where you can give us a call back within 24 hours if you make an error it doesn’t matter, if you decide to make a change it’s OK, but as long as you call us within 24 hours to do so. But beyond that point it’s considered a voluntary change.”
Major issues I have with what happened:
- The agents are not only trying to collect change fees, but they are trying to collect much higher rates than you get online. The $100 differential between what I was seeing and what they are quoting is AA’s way of clearly driving customers to self-service on the Web.
- When I was talking to Gabe Martinez and I informed him of the differential in pricing he actually encouraged me to put some tickets on hold on the Web in a name other than my own and then to call back in and get them to use those for exchange purposes. So the phone agents are driving people to use the web.
- AA charges $10 per ticket if you call in and use their agents to book a flight instead of booking online, and that is in addition to bypassing the “Web only” rates. Here is proof directly from an AA rep.
- So AA does everything it can to drive customers to do it themselves, and then when a mistake occurs they turn it around on you and say it’s all your fault in order to hit you with even more change fees! As Dee Mason said, “When a passenger takes it upon them-self to become their own travel agent…”
The bottom line is:
- AA knows I am a good customer that has spent and continues to spend a lot of money with them.
- They want me to book online because it is more profitable.
- Yet when an error occurs they are unwilling to help address it unless it is caught immediately! Probably because it is so damned profitable to screw you.
I can’t wait till the Wright Amendment is fully abolished in Dallas and Southwest can start kicking AA’s ass. Maybe then they’ll remember what it means to actually care about their customer’s needs.