Of Customer Service — American Airlines (AA) Style

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American AirlinesI am saddened to have to write this blog post — I don’t like taking space on my blog for complaining about companies! But in this case I feel it’s needed — and I would like to hear from others who had similar issues with this airline and find out how they dealt with it as right now I can’t see any light at the end of a very long (and frustrating!) tunnel. Kafka would be sooo proud of these guys!

The story actually starts on a positive note: one of our friends decided to have her 40th birthday party in Jamaica and give us all an awesome holiday in Montego Bay. We all went ahead and booked our flights and hotels based on the details she provided us with and were super excited to join her there! The flights (both ways) were booked with American Airlines — and in both cases they involved a layover in Charlotte, NC. Little did we know what a bad idea it was — using American Airlines I mean!

On the way there, our flight was at 11:59pm from SFO so we arrived way ahead of time, and since it was late the security was a breeze — despite traveling with our son and all the milk/bottles/etc that comes with a 1 year old. We were at the gate about 1.5 hours before take off. Our son was super tired — way past his bedtime — so we tried at checkin to get priority boarding. We were told that it’s not possible but we should ask the gate personnel as they would quite likely let my wife and son board in the first group. (Side comment: we found out on our way back that it’s soooo definitely possible for an extra cost to get priority boarding — so I can only blame that on either the incompetence of the American Airlines personnel or their not willing to help us). So we went and asked the gate personnel if they could let my wife and him board the plane — guess what? We were told that “American Airlines does NOT have a policy to board families with infants ahead of anyone else”! And as such please go back in the line (they were quite firm rude about it!) and wait for your group to board. Our group was number 4… and last one!

Throughout the whole waiting time, Lucas, our son cries — being tired and in a really busy place doesn’t help. We get the meanest looks throughout all of this from the gate personnel, I have to say, they behave like we were lepers for having a baby! Finally the boarding starts, and is the slowest of the processes I’ve seen. Lucas at this point is crying a lot and we are trying to calm him down. We are in front of the gate, still enduring the same looks from the 3 gate personnel members. Nothing gets done, we have to wait. By the time the 2nd group starts boarding Lucas has started crying so much that he makes himself sick allover my shirt. My wife and I leave our nanny at the gate and we rush to the toilet to change him as he is covered now in sickness.

(Side note here: what is with the disabled/family toilets that are locked in San Francisco airport? We rushed to one of them and found it locked. It turns out you have to call someone to unlock them for you — which doesn’t work whatsoever for an emergency like ours. Please, can we have just a normal door which I can open and close normally without trying to call someone who takes ages to answer???)

So we rush to the ladies toilet my wife and I and we proceed to quickly change Lucas and clean him, aware both of us of the timing and the boarding going on at the gate a few yards away from us. We get Lucas cleaned and changed and rush to the gate… only to find out as we are reaching the gate that they are closing it! Literally we missed the last call by 15 seconds! Despite our nanny being there telling them the whole story, that our son was sick and we just went to change him they shut the gate in our face, gave us one more of those looks and headed to the plane to finalize the closing gate procedure.

We’re left waiting at the gate for what seems like forever and finally they come back. We are trying to find an explanation as to why and how this has happened! We have tags on the stroller, they have seen us there all the time, they knew we were there as we have tried to ask for priority boarding!

“Well, you weren’t here when we closed the gate!” we are told.

“Yes, but you saw us running towards the gate as you were announcing it. You knew our son had just been sick as our nanny told you! She was here in front of you all along.”

At which point, they have the cheek to turn to her and say:

“Well, why didn’t you get on the plane?” !!!??? WTF?

Then they proceed to scold us for flying with a sick baby!? We try to explain that he is not sick, he got himself sick due to crying all this time for waiting being surrounded by so many people. We bring up the fact that they knew darn well we were there, they saw the whole episode with our son being sick and us rushing to the toilet to change him (would it have been a more acceptable approach to get on the plane covered in vomit and smelling of it???) They even tagged our stroller and child seat — and I kept these as proof:

And this is where they turn nasty. One of the 3 employees at the gate, gets really loud and in our face and says shouts “Well listen guys I was going to help you with rebooking on the next plane but since you don’t shut up I’m not gonna do anything now. Go to the front desk see if anyone can help you there. See how you like that!” and she leaves.

These other 2 employees literally stand there and refuse to help and tell us we now have to go back and out of the airport to the front gate of American Airlines and see what can be done about our flight and re-book or something.

“Is there anyone there now ?” (bear in mind at this point it’s about 12:30 in the morning)

They simply shrug and say “Uhh, don’t know. It’s quite late.” No intention of helping us in any way, literally they are cleaning up their desk and getting ready to leave.

We ask to see a supervisor.

“Sorry it’s too late, there’s no one else around.”

And with that they clear the desk and leave us there! There is nothing else to do, we call American Airlines and try to get them to rebook the flight. We explain the situation and we are told that basically there’s nothing they can do we have to go to the front desk and sort it out there. So we make our way to the front desk. Of course, it’s 1am now so there’s nobody around. Finally after waiting for about 20 minutes, exactly one of the 2 employees from the gate, Janet, turns up. Totally un-interested in helping us when she sees us, but obviously realizes now that she’s at the front desk she has to at least pretend she’s doing something.

We get told off again for flying with a sick baby. Our nanny gets told again that she should have boarded the plane. And we have no other choice but listening to her as she has the power of changing our booking on the next plane. After a really long negotiation and searching in the system she agrees to re-book us on a plane next day. However, there will be no compensation from American Airlines for this. She doesn’t know what will happen to our luggage, who as it turns out were still on the plane that left without us. (As a side note, surely that is a huge security issue? Someone checking luggage on the plane then not turning up ??? Seriously? As an airline, would you allow those bags still on the plane???) She basically just changes our booking for a flight next day and leaves. The rest is up to us and not really her problem. Have a good night! And she leaves the desk.

We have tried to tweet American Airlines, and all we got continuously is that they can’t do anything there and we need to call the customer service. So we do. We want to make sure that the history doesn’t repeat with the next flight and want to purchase some sort of priority boarding for our son. We are told once again there’s nothing they can do and we have to turn up next day and purchase it at the gate (so it is possible, as I said to buy this!). At this point “there’s nothing we can do here” seems to have become the slogan for every American Airlines employee.

We are tired, fuming and outraged at the fact that there is nothing we can do about this whatsoever, so we get a cab and head back home. We decided our nerves can’t take another half an hour call with American Airlines looking for compensation and we go to bed. Thought of the day/night was that there’s something wrong if the nicest people in the airport were actually the TSA people!

The next day we turn up for our new flight and we find out that what do you know, we can actually buy priority boarding! So we do so and we get to our destination without problems. We make numerous enquiries and we are told that our luggage should be taken for us to the final destination — and in fact when we turn up in Jamaica they are waiting indeed for us in a pile of “lost luggage”.

We decided we want to make a complaint about the way we were treated — literally it was like we were lepers that night just because we had a baby. So we call American Airlines and we are told that there is nothing they can do — we have to log a complaint online using their feedback page. Sounds fishy but we go and check it nevertheless.

What do you know? The American Airlines feedback page has a text field with a limit for 200 characters! Try and fit all this story in 200 characters! And also, the page informs us that American Airlines reserves the right to reply to us in 60 days from the moment we submit it. In other words: “we are going to make it very difficult for you to send anything significant and once you submit it we reserve the right to forget about it”. So we abandon that idea and reach out on social media.

Guess what? “There’s nothing we can do about it” comes back and we are continuously redirected to the same feedback page. This corporation is making it next to impossible to place a complaint!

On the way back, we have a layover in Dallas. We learned that we can buy priority boarding so we do, for both the legs of the journey. We get on the second plane and after a huge delay we are informed that the crew has decided that there is potentially a problem with the airplane and we the plane will not be taking off. We proceed to disembark — and again, it’s late night! This seems like deja vu so we proceed to the nearest desk to figure out what can we do to avoid this. “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do, you have to wait.” So we wait — apparently we are waiting to see if they can find another crew. At 11pm. You can see where this is going. Come midnight, they announce that we won’t be flying anymore and the mad rush to get some sort of compensation starts. We get at least a hotel for the night and get to fly really early in the morning back to San Francisco.

The next morning we turn up again, confident in the fact we have priority boarding… only to find out that well, we DID have priority boarding for the flight that didn’t take off last night. Does it not get transferred bearing in mind that it wasn’t our fault the plane didn’t take off? No! Do we get reimbursed for it? No! Can we make a complaint and talk to a supervisor? No, we need to use the online page to make a complaint. Ok fine, can we buy priority boarding? No, American Airlines doesn’t offer this?!?!

OK we are now desperate to board this plane and get home we have to beg and plead with the TSA agents who let us go in the fast lane, as the American Airlines staff gives us the usual “there’s nothing we can do”. Luckily we make it on the plane. We get to San Francisco and after being given the run around a bit we find our luggage.

We try calling American Airlines trying to complain about this ordeal and trying to seek some sort of closure to the way we were treated. “There is nothing we can do” again and told again we have to use the online complaint form. We tweet them and reach out to them on social media. “There is nothing we can do — here is the link”…

So we go ahead and file a complaint using the form. We request a callback and an email address to tell the whole story. By a lot of ingenuity on my wife’s part we actually get to send our story to them. Then we wait. For up to 60 days as the form instructs us…

We got a reply back a few days ago:

June 8, 2016
Dear Mrs. Gadelrab Tudor:

Thank you for contacting American Airlines. I received your email from Doug Parker who asked that I follow up with you.

We are sorry you were disappointed that you weren’t given the opportunity to preboard when you traveled with us. It is no longer AA policy to preboard families, however, if operationally possible the gate agent has the authority to preboard and request will be honored. I’m sorry the preboard was not an option for you on this flight.

Unforeseen circumstances caused you to leave the boarding area. However, to ensure an on-time departure, our gate agents are required to close the door 10 prior to departure. Notes in your reservation state the gate agent extended courtesy by holding the door till 5 minutes before departure.

We certainly don’t want to leave customers behind and I’m sorry things worked out like they did. At the same time, however, we are doing everything we can to make sure that we operate an on-time airline. Like our customers, we believe that everyone is best served when we maintain our schedules to the minute.

Although there was no service failure on the part of AA, I wanted to reach out to you to extend apology for the gate agents’ attitude you reported. We have a responsibility to handle such situations with professionalism and consideration. In view of your comments, I’ve shared the details of your experience with the appropriate management personnel at the airport.

I am also sorry to hear your friend had difficulties with her flight connection. Due to privacy laws I can not comment on her circumstance, however, we would be happy to address all her concerns if she would like to write in separately.

It is clear from your comments that we both share a belief in the importance of quality customer service. I hope this experience will not cause you to lose confidence in us. We value you as a customer and are eager to demonstrate our ability to provide the level of service you expect from American.

Cristina Deraw
Customer Relations
American Airlines

AA Ref#1-6359943419

That’s it. I wish this was a story where the big corporate actually did something, but this isn’t one of those stories. They closed every single door for us, they didn’t acknowledged any of the horrible treatment from their agents, they didn’t acknowledge that we were treated with disrespect, rudely and abusively. Then they shut all doors in our face. There’s nothing left for us to do now apart from trying to come to terms with the way we were treated… how could one do that? There is nothing we can do. No one we can complain to. No one who is willing to do anything about what happen to us — or at least ensure that this will never happen again to another person traveling with American Airlines.

The End.