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COMPLAINT: American Airlines overbooking and rude CS.

 
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  #1  
Old Apr 5, 2010, 5:29 PM
twesty1 twesty1 is offline
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 6

Here is a copy of a letter I wrote to AA after the incident. They have since replied with a stock reply with no results.

RE: AA31 overbooking on Dec 19 2009.

Dear Sir/Madam,
My wife and I used your airline for our recent trip to Kauai, HI with our 2 small children (aged 3 and 1 years). I purchased tickets for these flights in early September for the trip in december, and due to the inherent difficulties in traveling with young children of these ages, I was especially diligent when choosing departure times, seating, connection and layover times and indeed which airline I used, and in fact paid more to fly at times which best suited my son and daughters nap times and witching hours. Therefore, when I arrived at LAX at 6.30 am for an 8 am flight, I arrived confident in the knowledge that I had confirmed seats that I had purchased at considerable cost with an airline who would be sensitive to our needs. I was wrong. We were immediately directed to an automated check in machine, which after 15 minutes in line told me I had to check in with a human as we had a stroller (this fact was missed by the AA employee who directed us to use the machine in the first place, despite the fact that the stroller is bright orange with off-road wheels and a noisy passenger). We then took our place in-line at one of the few open human- staffed check-in desks, and after 20 minutes placed our documentation on the desk, the time now being 7.10 am, 50 minutes before departure. 6 minutes after this (at 7.16am), she asked for my credit card, said something along the lines of “Its locked me out- you cant get on this flight” and promptly disappeared. At this point I began to get concerned, and after about 7 minutes I asked the attendant at the neighboring desk where our agent had gone, with no results. She returned at around 7.24, and said (and I am paraphrasing) “Its locked me out, you cant get on this one, I’ll try and get you on the 10.30 but I doubt you’ll get on that one, this one is overbooked by 10 and that one is overbooked by 4 so its not looking good, but you were late”. I explained (as she of course knew) that we were not late, and asked her to get a supervisor, with whom she returned at around 7.28. This is when things got interesting. When I explained (calmly considering the circumstances) what had happened to this supervisor, she responded by telling me “don’t raise your voice to me, or I walk away”. When I calmly informed her that I wasn’t raising my voice, she again implied the contrary “stop shouting sir, don’t take that tone with me or this conversation is over”. I was not shouting. I wanted to shout, I am very capable when it comes to shouting, I know what shouting is, but I was not shouting, using expletives or any of the other reactions I am sure she is well used to given her job and American Airlines policy of overbooking flights. I could tell that this was a person completely incapable of rational discussion, and asked her, calmly, what she could do for us considering we had 2 small children and missing this flight would already cause considerable inconvenience and stress to us all. I also explained that we were not late for check-in, and the the check-in agent may have taken a little long to check us resulting in my credit card being swiped after the 7.15 cut- off time: at this point the check-in agent laughed at us. We were then put on standby for the 10.30 to Honalulu, for which we waited 2.5 hours in the departure lounge to find we did not make because it also was overbooked. I then went to the AA customer service office, which incidentally was filled with other complainants, and found our limited options, (and I do commend your customer service staff for their professionalism and courtesy in the face of much not un-justified hostility from other passengers) none of which looked hopeful. Our next possibility was a 5.30 pm direct flight to Lihue - despite the fact that our kids were showing signs of being difficult and we were ill-equipped for a 10 hour wait at the airport, we decided to wait, despite the fact that we were in no way assured a place on the flight. At this point we paid $100 to join your Admirals club to wait in a little more comfort- this was not offered to us, and when I asked, we were told that we had been late and that no compensation would be forthcoming. We were not late. We eventually got on the 5.30 flight to Lihui after a very difficult, uncertain 9 hour wait with 2 very unhappy kids, and after missing the best part of a day of our limited vacation.
Last September, I purchased a product from American Airlines for just over $3000. This product was a service, a service to convey myself and my family from Los Angeles to Lihui at 8am on Saturday December 19 2009. American Airlines failed to provide me with the service/ product I originally purchased, a failure which caused a good deal of distress and inconvenience, and I believe I am entitled to compensation. Furthermore, your airlines policy of openly overbooking scheduled flights is completely unacceptable. A passenger enters into a contract with you at the time of purchasing a ticket, and this policy routinely (and I say “routinely” because we met other passengers in similar situations on the day and have spoken to many since) causes these contracts to not be honored. And finally, your customer service failings were surprising to say the least. In this economic climate where potential customers think long and hard on where to assign their hard-earned dollars, the treatment we received from your check-in agent and supervisor beggared belief and was completely unacceptable. The supervisor was openly hostile (she wasn’t wearing a visible name tag, incidentally) from the moment she came over, and clearly was so safe in the knowledge that she could snap her fingers and have me dragged away if I argued with her that she chose the immediate tactic of antagonism. She is an absolute disgrace to AA, as she would be to any company in which she had to deal with customers, but is for me now the face of your company. I have no complaints about any other part of your customer service- service on board both flights was adequate, but this person is the reason I will not fly AA again without good reason. As long as you employ people like this in important front-line positions, something I have never encountered with any other airline, I cant see how AA can remain even remotely competitive as long as customer service has any importance.
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  #2  
Old Apr 5, 2010, 5:32 PM
twesty1 twesty1 is offline
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 6

HERE IS THE REPLY I RECEIVED FROM AA.
I can understand how disappointed you must have been when you approached the ticket counter to check in for your flight, only to be told we couldn't accommodate you due to the "cut-off" for checked baggage acceptance. I am sorry for any resulting inconvenience. Please allow me to explain.

As a consequence of heightened security measures, it became necessary to establish specific airport procedures to allow ample time for the careful handling of checked baggage. Accordingly, specific cut-off time periods were put into place for the acceptance of checked baggage. While the cut-off times vary slightly based on facility and staffing issues associated with domestic and international airports, we strictly adhere to these cut-off times to give Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel and airline employees the necessary time to complete TSA mandated baggage security procedures. In the interest of security, we cannot deviate from these baggage acceptance deadlines. Again, however, we sincerely regret that your travel plans were disrupted as a result.

You can find detailed information about baggage acceptance requirements and cut-offs on AA.com. From the AA.com home page, select Customer Service Plan, located at the very bottom of the page. This will take you to the Customer Commitment page where you will see a heading entitled Conditions of Carriage, click on the available link to be taken to the Conditions of Carriage page. Then choose #7 under American Airlines Conditions of Carriage and view Check-in Requirements and Baggage Acceptance Cutoff Times. For easier access, you may click the following link: Conditions of Carriage.

Regarding your comments about overbooked flights, many customers make reservations that they subsequently will cancel or simply not use, and so we -- and, indeed, all airlines -- overbook flights. Because of the large number of cancellations and no-shows, it takes between two and three reservations to board one customer at departure. Without overbooking, many customers would be denied reservations but seats would go unused -- an inconvenience to customers, and a loss of revenue to American. Our intention is not to sell more seats than we have, but rather to ensure that as many seats as possible will actually be used.

Our seat management system is highly sophisticated, and usually we are able to accommodate every confirmed customer who shows up for a given flight. Inevitably, though, there will be rare occasions when there are not enough seats on the aircraft to accommodate all the customers who wish to travel.

Regardless of the circumstances under which we could not accommodate you on your scheduled flight, this situation should have been handled with professionalism and consideration. In view of your comments about courtesy, I've shared the details of your experience with our General Manager in Los Angeles.

Again, I'm sorry things worked out like they did but we hope you understand the important security issues associated with checked baggage acceptance. We're working hard to make your overall travel experience the best it can be and we hope to welcome you aboard again soon.

Sincerely,

Stephen R. Jeffery
Customer Relations
American Airlines
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  #3  
Old Apr 5, 2010, 11:50 PM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Shropshire, England
Posts: 3,197

AA's reply is an example of corporate sophistry and a total attempt to bamboozle you with irrelevant detail in order to avoid the fundamentals of your complaint. It is very interesting that in your letter you raise 5 key issues.

1. Incompetent handling by AA staff of your initial check in process
2. Failure to allow you onto the flight you had booked
3. Overbooking of flights
4. Failure to handle you and your family's needs during the excessive wait
5. The outrageous conduct of the AA Supervisor at the airport

According to your timeline, you arrived at the airport at 6.30, were directed to the kiosk and began the check in process at 6:45. It then took AA 30 minutes to process you from 6:45 to 7:15. That is unacceptable service. The reasons it took this long is because of the incompetence of their own staff... firstly by incorrectly directing you to the kiosk and then by taking excessive time time to check you in at the counter. This is not addressed in their reply. The reason this is not addressed is because they know that all the consequences which followed are the result of this. They think by responding with a load of waffle, you may miss the fact that they have not addressed the fundamental issue.

They choose instead to address the issue of why they cannot board you after the official cut off time. One of the most objectable things that US airlines have started to do since 911 is to exploit this grotesque tragedy as an excuse for providing poor service and as a revenue opportunity. It leaves me speechless that airlines and their employees are willing to use the murder of thousands of people as an excuse for their incompetence. The simple truth is this: if they had processed you correctly at the time, this issue would never have arisen. In truth, it was highly beneficial to the airline to deny you boarding by declaring you late.. as this way they did not have to pay you the DOT mandated compensation. To use the death of thousands of people as a means of saving the airline money is OUTRAGEOUS.

The explanation of why they overbook is equally bogus. The majority of passengers on AA flights book non-refundable tickets. How is a no show in these circumstances a loss of revenue to AA? On the contrary, it is double dipping by the airline. Furthermore, they go on to imply that it takes between 2 and 3 times as many reservations to generate a booking. This is utterly dishonest and bordering on lying. The airline does not have to have 450 bookings to generate 200 actual paid passengers in seats. That statistic is only possible if they include the people who put a "hold" on seats for 24 hours and allow it to lapse. There was a slight justification for overbooking in the days when tickets were fully transferrable, but that is not true today and the vast majority of tickets are non-refundable if you "no-show".

AA failed to offer you any amenities or compensation for your long wait, as they choose to record your "missed flight" as being late. You should challenge this. Ask AA for a copy of the data they hold on your electronically relating to the time you attempted to check in at the kiosk. I believe you have a right to request this information in the US. You should then use this to prove that you did in fact begin the check in process in a timely manner and they you were in effect, denied boarding. You should then complain to the DOT (there is a link under the quick links on this page). You were entitled to substantial compensation when denied boarding, and the airline cannot simply stall processing you to make you "late" in order to avoid compensation.

The conduct of the supervisor is sadly all too common these days in US based airlines. They operate complex monopolies which are actually by law protected from the normal consumer law and enforcement by the states. They are also protected from foreign competition and anti-trust legislation. Until this changes, or the public demand change, they will continue to abuse their power over the public and exploit them.
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  #4  
Old Apr 17, 2010, 5:26 PM
twesty1 twesty1 is offline
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 6

Heres yet another cop-out email from AA and my reply.

Through the courtesy of the U.S. Department of Transportation, I've received a copy of the complaint that you filed with their office. I appreciate this opportunity to respond.

We are working hard on the consistent on-time departures of our flights because we know the importance our customers place on this particular element of our service. Accordingly, to ensure that our flights depart on time, we must adhere to minimum passenger and baggage check-in requirements. According to our records you and your family did not meet the minimum required check-in time for American Airlines flight 31 from Los Angeles on December 19, therefore, we are not in a position to offer denied boarding compensation to you for this flight. I am sorry for your disappointment.

For travel completely within the United States, recommended passenger check-in time is 90 minutes prior to departure if you have bags to check, 60 minutes if you have no luggage to process. We no longer allow customers to "voluntarily separate" from their luggage. Accordingly, for most airports, you must check your baggage 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure time (depending on the airport, baggage check-in cut-off time may be 45 minutes). In addition, you must be checked in and be present at the departure gate at least 15 minutes before scheduled departure time to retain your reservation and a seat. For check-in information specific to your airport of departure, please visit AA.com or click on the following link: check-in times.

Indeed, there is simply no excuse for the poor demeanor of our representative in
Los Angeles. Our customers should always experience polite and diplomatic attention from our employees, regardless of the circumstances. I am truly sorry that he didn't live up to our usual high standard of customer service.

Mr. West, let me assure you that our position does not lessen our regard for you as our customers. It is always our pleasure to serve you and your family, and we are eager to do so again soon. Please give us another opportunity to earn your business.

Sincerely,

Stefania Meyer
Customer Relations
American Airlines


Stefania,

Thanks for the reply. Your records are either incorrect or you are being lied to- we were at the check-in desk more than 45 minutes before departure- 52 to be precise. We were at the airport 90 minutes before departure. I attempted automated check-in around 80 minutes prior to departure- my credit card swipe would confirm this. What records are you referring to? Can I get a copy of these records? Your associate swiped my credit card 44 minutes before departure, causing the lock. I never really expected compensation. Please be assured that I will never fly American again. No member of my family or extended family will ever fly American again. In fact I am prepared to pay extra to fly with another carrier. Many of my friends, colleagues, clients and associates are aware of our experience, and I'm sure it will influence their choice of carrier in the future. I do hope your supervisor at LAX has been dealt with appropriately.

By the way- your colleagues did indeed allow this passenger to "voluntarily separate" from his baggage- our baggage flew to Lihui via HNL at 1030am, and we were on the 1730 direct to Lihui. So much for security procedures!

Sincerely,
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  #5  
Old Apr 18, 2010, 1:25 AM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Shropshire, England
Posts: 3,197

Let us know if you get a reply to that... I would specifically demand a copy of the timing that you swiped your credit card into their check in kiosk. That is the critical timing for when your check in process began. Thereafter, everything that happened was the result of AA's mishandling of your check in process and they should therefore take the full responsibility. I would drop all the stuff about never flying them, nor your friends and family. They get this stuff daily and don't believe it. Stick to the fundamental issue. What time did their records show your card was swiped. If you can prove this, either via your card or through them, you should consider a small claims court claim.
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  #6  
Old Apr 18, 2010, 7:27 PM
ChrisH ChrisH is offline
Former Airline Employee (NOT OFFICIAL REP)
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 214
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I am appalled at this reply by American. I used to work for American Eagle airlines, which is American's wholy owned regional carrier. I left over a month ago to pursue other career options as I could not stand to work in the airline industry any longer. I felt as though American as a whole, AMR Corp., was a terrible company, especially at the location I worked, and this confirms that thought.

It DOES NOT take 2-3 reservations to fill a seat. This is misleading by American and they are hoping that the typical passenger will not catch on. The assumption that you will take from this verbiage is that it takes 2-3 reservations PER seat. It may take 2-3 reservations to fill a seat, but not per seat on the aircraft. Yes, there are no shows, but not to the point that a 50 seat airplane must be booked with 100-150 reservations just to fill it. That is absurd!

The TSA has no rules or policies in place regarding when passengers or luggage must be checked in. These policies are airline policies. They are in place for good reason and do make sense, but can be broken. I've checked many passengers in, along with their luggage, after the cut off time. American Airlines' system is designed to lock the agent out from processing luggage after cutoff, however, a supervisor or manager can overrule this. Given the situation, this could have been done with the original poster. Instead, the supervisor, from the story, decided to have an attitude and be hostile, from the beginning. The reason, unfortunately, goes back to the overbooking. They knew they would now have no shows for the flight, opening seats, avoiding an oversale and thus preventing American from having to provide compensation. It is very obvious that they wish not to provide any compensation based on their further responses. Unfortunately, despite the $3K you paid to American for tickets, they used you and your family in this situation to avoid an oversale.

To the original poster; Did the kiosk machine print a paper out when it informed you to see an agent? If so, do you still have this paper? I could be wrong, but I want to say that this paper will have a time stamped on it. If so, this may be the proof you need to show that you were attempting to check in, per American Airline instructions, from one of their agents, at the machine and in fact, were there in plenty of time. Beyond that, unfortunately, the kiosk machine usually saves no record of time of use unless the check in process is completed at the machine. If it refers you to an agent, it will not show that you attempted check in at the machine. American's records will show an attempt to check in with an agent at the cut off time, unfortunately, not helping your cause.
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  #7  
Old Apr 20, 2010, 5:52 PM
twesty1 twesty1 is offline
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Posts: 6

Heres yet another reply:

April 20, 2010

Thank you for your reply. While we make every effort to ensure there are enough agents staffing our ticket counters, it is not always possible to forecast the number of customers who will need assistance -- especially when unexpected circumstances cause long lines. As you experienced there will be occasions when lines move slower than we would like, and our customers are inconvenienced.

Whenever possible, we try to obtain additional manpower -- either to help customers check in at the counter or to identify those customers whose flight times are fast approaching so they can be given priority. When these efforts are still not enough, we feel it is the responsibility of each customer to let us know if his scheduled departure is at hand and he is in danger of missing the flight. There is simply no way for us to know the itinerary of each person in line and act accordingly. Still, I apologize again for this undoubtedly frustrating experience.

I realize that you are also concerned that your baggage didn't arrive on the same flight you did, and I apologize for any inconvenience. While you are not able to voluntarily travel without your luggage, due to operational challenges, sometimes it is necessary to "separate" a customer from their luggage. We may elect to forward baggage on an earlier flight to ensure that it arrives at the destination in a timely manner. Some criteria for forwarding baggage on earlier flights includes load factors, weight and balance considerations and other operational issues. Likewise, if operational constraints prevent us from boarding a customer's bag on their scheduled flight, we transport their bag on a later flight. In view of enhanced security screening, Transportation Security Administration procedures do allow for this activity. Please be assured that we would never choose to send luggage on an alternate flight if we had any security concerns.

Mr. West, we appreciate your allowing us to respond to these important issues. Everyone here at American Airlines is fully committed to providing our customers with the safest possible air travel experience. It would be our pleasure to welcome you and your family on board future flights.

Sincerely,

Stefania Meyer
Customer Relations
American Airlines
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  #8  
Old Apr 20, 2010, 9:48 PM
jimworcs jimworcs is offline
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Shropshire, England
Posts: 3,197

They are simply refusing to reply to the fundamental issue. When you swiped your card at the check in machine, you began the check in process. YOU WERE THEREFORE NOT LATE FOR CHECK IN. As such, i think you are entitled to denied boarding compensation for an over-booked flight.

Quote:
it is not always possible to forecast the number of customers who will need assistance
What are they talking about? Their computers list everyone who is booked on each flight, and they know how many flights they have booked. Of all industries who may face unusual customer demand, airlines are by far the best equipped with data telling them precisely how many people will demand their servcies and staff accordingly.

It is outrageous.
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