If you work for American Airlines, or any airline for that matter, buckle up. You’re in for a bumpy ride.
I booked and paid for my flight months in advance, received a confirmation and a seat number and was pleasantly surprised when I got to the airport, checked into my American Airlines flight and received a “Priority Seating Pass,” instead of a usual boarding pass. For some reason, I was shuffled through the “priority” security line (score!) and arrived at my gate several hours before takeoff. I was going from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Nashville, Tennessee, with a group of other women for a close friend’s bachelorette party and wanted to make sure my seat (which I received in my confirmation, but didn’t see on my “priority pass”) was with the rest of the group. Upon approaching the attendant at the gate, I was informed that I would not receive a seat until the plane began boarding and that my “priority seating pass” was essentially a priority standby pass.
“But I paid for my ticket months ago, checked in early and got here way in advance. I have my confirmation right here. Why did all of my friends receive boarding passes, but I didn’t?” I asked him.
“Everybody paid, ma’am. This plane was overbooked by six people, so there’s no guarantee that the individuals who’ve been given Priority Seating Passes will be able to fly. You no longer have that seat. You’ll have to wait until we begin boarding,” he said, annoyed.
“So you’re telling me that six people who’ve all paid for their seats and were given confirmations, are not going to be able to get on this plane? Who decides this and why was I chosen?”
“The airline decides. There’s nothing I can do for you. Please step away,” he said to me, clearly aggravated that I dare question him about their unfair policy.
At this point, I walked back over to my group of fellow travelers, told them about the overbooking, and decided to call an Air Marshall friend of mine to ask him what the hell I could do about the situation I found myself in.
“It happens all the time,” he told me. “The airlines purposely overbook flights because something like four percent of people who book seats end up canceling, especially on weekends. It’s like their own form of insurance. They offer vouchers to people who get held back or put them on the next flight out. I’ve even been in your situation, and they’ve ended up pulling passengers off the plane to make sure I can fly. It’s total bullshit.”
It IS total bullshit. Call me crazy, but how is it fair for an airline to neglect telling their passengers about an overbooked flight until they’re AT THE AIRPORT and ready to get on the plane? What if I was going to my sister’s wedding? Or God forbid, I had an important doctor’s visit with a specialist who requires you book an appointment months in advance? I can tell you that the 12-year-old cheerleaders flying to Nashville for a competition were none too pleased when their only adult chaperone wasn’t able to fly with them. Really great strategy, American Air. I’m sure if there are last minute cancellations, the multi-million dollar airlines could bump up those who OPTED to choose standby. Or hey, here’s a theory, cut your losses on the several seats left vacant and avoid making yourselves look like assholes who could care less about establishing a positive reputation and pleasing the customer.
Thankfully, I made it onto the plane, which was a relief since the next flight out wasn’t until the next day and it was completely booked. It might have had something to do with my travel partner causing a stink and telling the rude gate guy that I have a health condition (I do) and that I shouldn’t fly alone, or perhaps I was just randomly selected as one of the lucky ones who made the cut. But the entire flight, I remained annoyed that the airlines could care so much about making money, and not at all about the people who entrusted them with their travel needs. Also, the customer service guy serviced me nothing but attitude.
The best part? On the way home, the same thing happened to one of the girls that I was traveling with. She tweeted at American Air and this is what they told her:
@alexiasikora Overbooking is an industry standard and necessary to keep fares competitive, Alexia. Our apologies for any rudeness.
— American Airlines (@AmericanAir) April 14, 2014
So here’s what I would like to tell them: your industry standard sucks. Maybe you wouldn’t have so much trouble filling flights or keeping your prices competitive with other airlines if you learned a thing or two about customer service and common decency.