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American Learns a Lesson in Communications (Or At Least, They Should)

I’ve written here before about the importance of good, quick communication when it comes to dispute resolution in the world of social media. Most notably, United’s confrontation with a broken guitar made headlines, but there are countless examples from around the web every day. Today, let’s talk about the saga of Chris Heuer and his flight on American.

Chris American 757 and 767 LOPAwas on American flight 177 last week from New York to San Francisco, and he is not a happy man. In fact, he wrote a blog post entitled “The Broken Promises of American Airlines.” This can’t be good.

To make things worse, this is a guy who clearly doesn’t trust American in the first place. For example, he checked Flightview to see if his flight was going on time instead of relying on American to actually let him know. While he was on Flightview, he noticed that the plane had been swapped from a 767 to a 757 and that’s when it got ugly.

From Chris’ perspective, he was told he’d have a seat in First class, then he didn’t. He was told he’d leave at a certain time, then he didn’t. He just wasn’t getting the information he needed. Chris doesn’t know the airline industry, but he has an audience, and that makes him dangerous. Misinformation can be spread so quickly that American needed to step in and respond quickly. They apparently didn’t do a good enough job, so I’ll do it. (Others have tried via Twitter, but it hasn’t exactly been taken very well, so hopefully he’ll be willing to listen here.)

How can I be given a seat from one point in the system and then have it taken away in another?

He was given a new boarding pass for the 757 in First Class, but then he was pushed down to coach later. Though I obviously don’t know exactly what happened, my guess is that they hadn’t finished re-seating everyone so when he received his first boarding pass, they had yet to use whatever algorithm they use for determining who gets downgraded when there are fewer seats to be had up front. Since he was on an upgrade, he certainly was a prime target. It sucks, but it should be easily explainable.

As for bringing an old ass plane like that out to fly us across the country, well I know the economics of maintaining an older fleet and the huge cost for modernizing it so I understand why you HAVE to do it, but I don’t like it and I may leave you if I get stuck on too many more of these when I could be flying in comfort on Virgin or Jetblue instead.

It’s really not an issue of a plane being old but really just the interior. Possibly the funniest thing here is that he’s complaining that his 767 was taken away and replaced with an old 757. Well guess what? That 757 looks like it was aircraft N680AN, a 757 that had its first flight in 1999. Those 767s that usually ply the JFK-SFO route? The newest one is from 1988.

It turns out, that the woman sitting next to me, also saw there were no seats available on the seating chart last week. But instead, the smaller 757 we flew had plenty of open seats on it. Meaning the original 767 was way underbooked, else there would have been a huge problem trying to get them all in.

Oh boy. This is just not true. American’s 757s have 22 First Class seats and 166 in coach. The 767-200s that they use on this route are in a much more generous configuration so they have 10 First Class, 30 Business, and only 119 coach seats. So in fact, the 767 could have been completely full and the 757 would still end up looking relatively empty.

At this point, he delves head-on into his conspiracy theory. Though he keeps saying that he doesn’t know any of this for sure, it’s bound to stick in people’s heads.

Could the airline be presenting false information about available seats in order to get a higher price on the seats it was selling?

Huh? I don’t quite understand how that would work since most people don’t see the number of seats available anyway. So that would be a pretty strange and ineffective way to manipulate price if people don’t usually know how many seats are left.

I have seen enough flights cancelled where there were clearly not more then a dozen or two people affected by it to know that such things have been handled by airlines in similar ways before, but who knows for sure?

This is yet another common misconception. I haven’t seen an airline cancel a flight simply because it’s not full. That airplane flies a routing. If it doesn’t go, it won’t be able to make its next flight and that can impact a lot of other people. It also may need to be in maintenance that night. You just don’t mess around with schedules unless you have to.

I hope someone can look into this and I hope that American Airlines can tell us the full real story of what happened on this flight and how we all ended up in this crazy experience.

And that’s the biggest problem. It took American several days to respond, and when they did, they sent a form letter that Chris described as “quaint, but expected I guess, including this wonderful gem ‘eager to continue the beneficial relationship we have developed to date’.”

He was on Twitter blasting out 140 character missives to his 12,000 followers. He even engaged the @AAirwaves account that American uses, and they responded quickly on March 31, but then it stopped. The next public tweet on the subject came on April 2 when they said, “We’re wrkng closely w/ Customer Relations to clarify why there was an equipment change that affected your position.” Seriously? You guys couldn’t have figured it out in two full days? That’s light years in social media time.

I imagine that American swapped the plane because of a mechanical. There is no financial middle management intervention when it comes to how to handle a single airplane swap on the day of departure. That’s an operational decision, and it’s usually because there was a mechanical with the original plane. There’s no sinister plot here, but American didn’t act quickly enough with true information to counter the claim. Now this guy’s blog post is out there and his 12,000 followers on Twitter see it as well. And this isn’t an isolated case. It happens all the time and the airlines need to react more quickly.

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