A recent experience trying to get a standby seat on an American Airlines flight left me baffled.  What does it say about a company if they could treat you well, but don’t?  Does such a company value your business or take it for granted?

  • The plane had available seats.
  • I had a ticket on a later flight.
  • The gate agent said that American Airlines’ policy was that I couldn’t get a free standby seat.  (Not a friendly policy, but I can understand that they might want to charge a “change fee” to take a different flight.)
  • BUT adding insult to injury, the policy also prohibited the option of paying a change fee to take the earlier flight.  Huh?  Are they afraid they’ll run out of peanuts?

It used to be that customers could take an earlier flight, if space were available.  Now, even when space is available you can’t buy a seat?

From a customer experience perspective this policy is, well… stupid.  The policy is just as detrimental from a business perspective because customers have choices.  In this case, I walked further down the terminal to a rival airline (Southwest) and paid $250 for a ticket.  What did/will the policy cost American Airlines?

  • An unsatisfied customer who will relate the poor experience via word of mouth
  • A nominal change fee
  • Approximately $75,000 (future value of my air travel)

The pivot point is that companies should seek ways to serve customers and earn their loyalty instead of implementing policies that alienate customers.  Last I checked the airlines weren’t so healthy that they could look down their noses at customers.  But if American Airlines chooses to implement such a policy, then consumers can certainly choose to take their business elsewhere – I did and I will.

What companies have earned your scorn and lost your business?

American Airlines’ Poor Policy Costs $75,000
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  • Mary Greening

    The take away here Andy is that American Airlines is indifferent to you as a business traveler. If American asked themselves, what does the business customer really want? They want to get to their meetings on time. After their business is concluded, they really want to get home to their families and life as soon as possible. I can’t imagine any traveler who would choose spending their time in an airport lounge over being home. It is a human desire. It is simple. American obviously has an agenda that suits their own purposes.

    • The amazing thing (even after a week + to cool down) is that I would have paid American to get on an earlier flight. Instead, they flew with an empty seat. (And will fly with many more if they continue such customer practices.)

  • American Airlines is not just indifferent to their loyal customers, they are actively hostile to them. I just had a gate agent in DFW look at me and say “I don’t really want to help you right now.” At least she was honest, I guess.

    • That kind of honesty we can do without. I have to wonder if this behavior is a natural (i.e. logical) outcome of price wars for fewer travelers or inflated labor costs (through unionization).

  • Wow!   After reading this post, I don’t know if I ever want to fly American again!  They didn’t cross me, but the fact that they would, if I were in that situation, causes me to not want to give them the chance!

    What back-room bean counter makes these policies decisions??!!!

    Jim Watson

    • Thanks for the comment Jim!

      Amazing that companies don’t realize the lifetime value of a customer. Treating customers in a cavalier fashion ripples through their P&L statements in a way traditional leaders have never imagined.

  • Amy

    It sounds like the agent was misinformed. AA policy is that it allows same-day travel changes, subject to seat availability, for a fairly reasonable $50 fee.


    • @Amy I agree that is a possibility. In fact, I was expecting a change fee. Net is that Southwest doesn’t charge fees, is flexible on changes and seeks to accommodate customers both procedurally through its policies and culturally by asking agents to use good common sense. Unfortunately, neither of these occurred with AA.

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  • American Airlines are not doing too well here are they?

    • Thanks for the link @JoakimNilsson:disqus! They seem to have moved from The Good to The Bad to The Ugly very rapidly.

      • I was keen on seeing their reaction if I sent them a private msg… they don’t seen to care that much 🙂