Recently, I planned a trip for myself and 10 others – friends and family – to fly with American Airlines to New Zealand from the US. After weeks of research and flight price watching, I found that American Airlines had the best price for flights to New Zealand with the shortest itineraries, so we all booked our tickets and were ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Half of our group flew to and from New Zealand, while others connected in Australia for a few days and returned from there. The connecting flights were through Quantas/Jet Star.
Our decision to fly with American Airlines, from booking to completion, was…terrible. Our experiences, horrific. And that’s putting it lightly. This wasn’t an example of one person having one bad experience. This was an example of 11 people having multiple bad experiences over a period of about 8 months. Look, I get it. Delays happen, flight changes happen, shit happens. I travel a lot, I understand this. What I can’t forgive, however, is the terrible customer service and all around general culture of “I can’t help you” that each of us experienced. We were hung up on, we were lied to, we received attitude after attitude.
Notably, there were a few silver stars we experienced in our escapades with American Airlines, but those were so far and few between that they were certainly outliers rather than the norm. I feel it’s important for people to understand the full cost of their ticket when they choose to fly with American Airlines. Some airlines have fees you don’t realize until later – fees for carry ons, water in flight, etc. With American Airlines, you’re essentially paying for an airline that will point fingers and turn their backs to already unfortunate experiences. Below is my attempt at sharing our true experiences, along with adding a bit of humor to an incredibly frustrating experience for all of us.
12 Reasons to Never Fly with American Airlines
Reason number 1:
If you make a reservation to fly with American Airlines and months later they change it for the worst, when you call to find out how you’re being charged the same amount but for a 5 hour longer itinerary than you originally booked (I think I learned about the bait and switch in like 6th grade), they’ll tell you they can’t help you because the original itinerary shouldn’t have been available in the first place. When you ask why they would publish and sell an illegal itinerary, they’ll tell you they can’t help you. (True story)
Reason number 2:
When they cancel your flight without reason, 2 months before your trip, and you try to get them and Orbitz to talk about why, they will hang up on you and tell you they can’t help you. In the end, Orbitz will find out that their system and American Air’s system weren’t communicating and the flight wasn’t actually cancelled, just changed, which American Air could have easily figured out had they not hung up on you. Their twitter response will be “It’s never our intention to upset our customers.”, but they won’t ask for any additional information to hold that agent accountable or rectify the situation. (True story)
Reason number 3:
When your flight is delayed out of Denver, the agents will tell you that your connecting flight from LAX to Auckland is delayed so you’ll be able to make it no problem. When you disappointingly land in LAX for your connecting flight, after your flight to Auckland has already taken off, the agents there will tell you the flight was never delayed and the folks in Denver explicitly lied to you. So, because their agents lied, instead of being able to find a new flight that would have gotten you to your connection on time, you’re now stuck in LA for 24 hours, and nobody wants to be stuck in LA for that long. Nobody can help you but to put you on tomorrow evening’s flight. (True story)
Reason number 4:
When your return flight is delayed getting back to Denver, after a delay coming out of Australia (we had a big group on multiple itineraries), you’ll be given vouchers for a meal, but when you try to use them, you’ll find it’s nearly impossible because nobody told you the vouchers were only good in the International terminal, even though you were leaving there to get on your domestic flight. Certainly, nobody can help you. Why did you even head to the domestic terminal if your flight is delayed 5 hours? Obviously you should have just stayed in the International terminal, even though had you done that and your flight ended up taking off on time and you weren’t there because you were using your vouchers in the International terminal, it would still have been your fault. Because American Airlines claims no responsibility. For anything. Ever. (True Story)
Reason number 5:
When you get to your connecting flight out of Auckland to LAX one hour before the flight (because that was as quick as you could make it from your flight from Queenstown), you’ll stand in line for 15 minutes only to be told you can’t board the plane because the counter (that you watched them check a few people in at) is now closed for check in. And that’s their policy. Even though you were already checked in and only had to literally drop your bag. They’ll tell you that you should have dropped your bags and ran (even though I’m pretty sure that’s illegal and they would have arrested us) and that nobody in the airport can help us so we’ll need to call to talk to an agent. When you call, they’ll tell you they can’t help you, and you’ll need to take it up with someone in the airport. They’ll continue to send you from one person to the next who can’t help you, until you reach Tony, the very nice man who at least gave an effort to help us. In the end, you’ll be stuck in Auckland for 24 hours because nobody could help you, and you’ll be responsible for the night’s hotel stay, food, taxi…all of it. (True story)
Reason number 6:
If you are able to make your flight, but they lose your baggage, they’ll likely tell you that you should have gone down below to make sure your bag made it, and it’s your own fault that it’s now lost. They’ll also probably charge you by the hour to have someone find your bags. Because otherwise, nobody can help you. (Assumption made as a conjecture from real events)
Reason number 7:
If you’re able to make your flight, and it crashes, but you survive and end up in a wheelchair unable to ever walk again, they’ll probably tell you to take it up with another airline because it’s not their problem, and they can’t help you because you chose to take that flight knowing the risk. They even warned you in their safety demonstration that an emergency could occur, so they’re covered. (Assumption made as a conjecture from real events)
Reason number 8:
If you’re able to make your flight, and it crashes, and you don’t survive, they’ll probably tell your family that they can’t help because it was your fault for not bringing a parachute. (Assumption made as a conjecture from real events)
Reason number 9:
If you make your flight, but end up having a heart attack mid flight, they’ll probably put headphones on for you with hold music and tell you they’re checking with their supervisor, but that they probably can’t help you. When you die from the hold music, they’ll probably tell your family that they don’t want them to have a bad impression of the company, and they’ll reassure you that the music was their standard hold music. (Assumption made as a conjecture from real events)
Reason number 10:
When you get food poisoning from the in-flight food, they’ll probably ask you what happened and show genuine concern, but that’s as far as that will go. They are the guy who asks what’s wrong to look like a nice guy, but he doesn’t really care, and won’t actually try to help. In the end, they’ll likely tell you they can’t help you, even if it turns out their food was laced with salmonella. (Assumption made as a conjecture from real events)
Reason number 11:
If you’re on a flight and someone spills their coffee all over you right after the flight crew gave it to them, they’ll probably tell you it’s your fault for choosing that seat, and then charge you the cleaning fee for the spilled coffee. (Assumption made as a conjecture from real events)
Reason number 12:
If your bag gets damaged in transit and your personal items, including your underwear, get blown all over the runway while everyone inside takes pictures while pointing and laughing, causing you severe anxiety and PTSD (really, you think this is more extreme than the plane crashing example above?), they’ll probably blame you for not buying better luggage. (Assumption made as a conjecture from real events)
*Some of these are based on true events, others are assumptions made as a result of the true events and communications via phone, in person, and twitter. They may be slightly exaggerated….or are they? In just one experience of choosing to fly with American Airlines, from booking to flying, we ran into one issue after another, and almost every single time we were told that nobody could help us, because this seems to be the general culture supported by the company.
Now, to give credit where credit is due, not everyone adhered to that culture. Tony, noted above, at least gave it a shot, and the flight staff on our outbound flight was extremely nice and showed genuine concern when the onboard wifi wouldn’t work (for the duration of the flight) leaving us unable to communicate with those who got left behind in LAX, and also the agents who helped rebook them were helpful to the best of their ability.
However, as someone who has worked in customer service, I would NEVER hang up on a customer, especially for something that was the company’s fault, and I would never take an attitude with a customer and tell them “good luck” sarcastically as they look to get booked on a new flight. And, as a company, if I knew I had agents treating customers that way, I would take action. Because if you don’t work to improve those behaviors, that means you support them. Not only were most of the people unhelpful, they were downright rude, which nobody in our group of 11 deserved. I’ll admit, I did get an attitude as well, but only after being directed from one person to the next whose motto was “we can’t help you”.
I understand the stressors of working in a customer facing industry very well, and I know it can be hard to keep your cool in the face of an upset customer, but we did not start out angry. We started out upset, confused, and concerned. And we received attitude, and no help. I, as a fact, will never fly with American Airlines again in my life if I can avoid it, and I will make sure that those in my network do not as well, because I would never subject them to this kind of experience, for any price. I have never experienced anything like this with Delta, Alaska Airlines, Southwest, or JetBlue and as long as they continue to treat me well, I will choose them every time.
Update as of 4/25:
I emailed customer service and gave them the run down of our experiences. They stated that these are issue they continue to work on and seemed receptive to what we went through, but I didn’t quite feel like anything would really be done to rectify the root of the issue with American Airlines – that of a poorly structured culture where people are encouraged to only do the bare minimum. They did offer everyone in our group a $150 voucher, and when I argued that my travel companion (who paid the same amount as me for his ticket) received a $97 refund for the fare difference of the flight we were rebooked on, and I did not, their refund department denied by request but customer service issued a voucher for the $97 to make up for the difference. The problem here is that now I have $247 to spend on another American Airlines flight, but I’m afraid to book a trip because I am concerned that American will ruin another trip of mine, and not care. It’s a bad cycle. And something should be done.