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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48 comments on “American Learns a Lesson in Communications (Or At Least, They Should)

  1. Great article. I remember when businesses left out little comment cards. You might fill one out, then it sat in a big box. Once every month or two, a person would collect up all those comment cards and maybe tally up the results or make a couple notes of problems.

    Customers have much better tools at their disposal to comment and spread their comments around. Many businesses are still looking at their comment cards once in a while.

  2. Thanks, Cranky, for taking the time to dispel the grandstanding of this ignorant blowhard. In an area that loves the penchant for scandal and to cry afoul of each error as conspiracies against the traveling public, commercial aviation really can’t take the musings of an ignorant alarmist.

    If he was a true biz traveler, he’d understand that downgrades do happen, and, yeah, while he misses out on the upgrade, it’s certainly in the airline’s operational best interest (duh) to run a plane that’s, uh, safe, as opposed to one that went mechanical.

    Instead, he made himself a victim, and inculcated his 12,000 followers with whining and conspiracy theories. Sheesh.

    1. But Gray, it still does suck. If you’re a customer and you think you have a First Class seat that you lose at the last minute, then you aren’t happy. I certainly wouldn’t be. But since I understand the industry better, I wouldn’t hold it against the airline. People who don’t understand the industry don’t know what’s happening, so it’s logical for them to jump to conclusions until they learn otherwise. That’s where American failed here.

    1. Are you kidding me? I’m pretty sure that my post clearly puts tremendous blame on American for not communicating better. I’d suggest reading it more closely.

    2. And I suppose your trying to explain something to your boss or so for a certain issue won’t be considered an excuse?

  3. From an operational/logistics point of view, this Chris guy clearly doesn’t really know what he’s talking about, such as the difference between a 757/767 and the reasons for why airlines swap planes. As a traveler, I understand that mechanical issues occur, and it’s clearly preferable to arrive safely 3 hours late than to risk an unsafe plane. These things happen, and travelers should at least be cognizant of that.

    The one legitimate point he has, and it’s something that really irritates me, is the poor communication between the airline and it’s passengers. And I understand that it’s not always necessarily the gate agent’s fault, because they can only tell the pax what they know. But the airlines need to find some way to accurately, quickly and frequently update the passengers as to what’s happening, because that demonstrates that the airline respects its customers. There’s a lot of factors the airlines can’t control, including the weather and last-minute mechanical issues, but simple and direct communication is something they can do, and it would go a long way towards keeping the flying public happy.

  4. Sounds like someone is pi$$ed that he didn’t get to sit up front. Cry me a river. IMO, if you don’t pay for a F-class ticket you have no room to complain. It also drives me crazy how the general public is completely ignorant of equipment type and age. My father-in-law complained about flying on a “1970’s” 747 on a recent trip. Turns out it was a 747-400 that was probably delivered in the mid-90’s. Maybe airlines should start putting signs in the cabin clearly showing when the aircraft build date was. Then again maybe not Delta on those old NW DC-9’s.

    1. I agree that the complaining about being in coach is a bit silly, but at the same time, managing expectations is an important part of customer service. Why not just throw him a couple miles for his trouble, even if it’s not AA’s fault? (Though I would note that most pax probably think of a mechanical problem as being on the “fault” side of the fault/no fault line.)

      As for the age of aircraft, well, I’m sorry that it drives you crazy, but if a plane feels old, it feels old, and it reflects poorly on the airline’s product. Perhaps AA needs to work on its interiors or something, but as a frequent SFO-JFK flier, I can say that their planes certainly feel older/dingier than anyone else’s. Partly it’s that they are competing with very good products on B6 and VX, and a pretty good product on Delta, but even United and CO feel “newer”. It’s somewhat ironic, actually, given that American has better outlet and wifi availability than most… you just wouldn’t know it from stepping into the plane.

      1. Ed wrote:

        “Why not just throw him a couple miles for his trouble, even if it’s not AA’s fault? (Though I would note that most pax probably think of a mechanical problem as being on the “fault” side of the fault/no fault line.)”

        The funny thing is, from a CoC (Contract of Carriage) point of view, a mechanical *is* one of the few things that are actually considered within the airline’s control. (Most “trip interruption” clauses really limit the airline’s liability when the factors are outside of the airline’s control. Mechanicals are usually classified as an airline-controllable issue. I’m not sure why those are, and other things like crew related issues are not.)

        1. A – But American did give him an upgrade, so wouldn’t you be disappointed if you had it taken away from you? American sets the rules, not the traveler. I know that I wouldn’t be happy if my upgrade disappeared, though I would certainly understand.

          Oh, and that 1970s 747 is probably a function of the interior product. Look at United’s 747s. They have the old screens up there that are only slightly better now that they’ve done a cabin refresh. People don’t expect to see that so they think it’s an older plane. It’s not the airplane that matters but rather the interior.

          Ed – I believe they did offer him a couple upgrade certs.

          Dan – Crew issues are controllable issues – it’s just weather and air traffic control that are the primary culprits here. (Yeah, a coup, earthquake, etc would also count but that’s far less common.)

          1. But American did give him an upgrade, so wouldn’t you be disappointed if you had it taken away from you?

            Yeah, sure I’d be upset but upgrades are perks and all too often I think people think they are entitled to those perks. If sitting up front is an absolute must have, cough up the fare.

            I agree that the interior product lends people to believe that some equipment is older than it may be. Never thought AA was that bad. Old NW interiors and UA are IMO the worst. That said, for my example, this person remembers flying on 747’s in the 70’s and has no idea that they have updated the type since then and most of the older ones have been retired. Additionally people relate to their cars. If you’re getting a new car every 5-10 years most would think airlines do the same with aircraft. Honestly I have talked to people that think like this so airlines do have an uphill battle.

          2. Upgrades are perks that airlines position as entitlements for various levels in their FF programs. They are marketed as such (despite whatever contractual limitations exist in fine print) and it should come as no surprise that when the ugprade is issued, the passenger expects to keep it.

            Again, if Chris is, in fact, a Platinum AAdvantage member as he professes to be, I’m sure he is quite well aware of the typical AA interior what it feels like to be in both business class and coach on their aircraft. If that is true, then perhaps the 757 flown on that route was worse than usual. Even if he isn’t an enthusiast, his own blog entry states that he gets that airlines can’t upgrade equipment with furious frequency but also seems to understand that the interiors could be a bit better.

  5. thanks Cranky. no problem with facts, problem with communications and broken promises, and inability to communicate in even near real time by someone I have given a lot of money to over the years, which you point out accurately here as my real point.

    yes, as I updated, they said it was mechanical

    blowhard? spammer? tweet & run? you milers (or whatever youre called) in the airline industry are a real arrogant bunch, expecting everyone to know all the details of the equipment and getting pissy when the average public doesnt care. this is exactly where the SMC tagline “if you get it, share it” comes from – help people understand whats going on as cranky did here, dont bang it into people’s heads as you invalidate their feelings and insult their intelligence. it gets you nowhere (which is why I didn’t feel like talking to Eric)

    from a customers perspective (instead of from an airline insider’s perspective) its an experience purchased, I dont care what tires they run, and I shouldnt need to. seriously. you are worse then bad technical support when it comes to this stuff as I have experienced and you have a terrible way of introducing your expertise to non-experts.

    the problem in your industry is glaring you in the face and you are all trying to defend the airlines and attacking everyone who knows less then you as ignorant and unworthy. really what you are doing is just making the the customers who really matter in the flying public more upset. and to cranky’s point, with no real engagement from the airlines in this, there is no one looking after the customers, just you blowhards attacking us for sharing our bad experiences and getting upset when we have more followers then you.

    how I felt in the situation, having suffered some sort of attack during the trans-atlantic leg of the flight and being mislead, then being frozen like a popsicle because there was little to no insulation on that 757 next to the window and seemingly no heat, is how I felt. you can’t take that away with facts, just like you can’t take away my mistrust of the airlines or any of you for that matter by responding like arrogant assholes intent on putting me down for sharing my story.

    and it doesnt matter if you have 12,000, 12 or 12MM followers, airlines need to do a better job of communicating with their customers and delivering on their promises. the @aairwaves account could have sent a DM that night that the problem was mechanical (anyone heard of a phone?) given its delay in getting that info to me, even that is suspect, despite likelihood of being true.

    you can pick out anything you want in that 4,000 word post of mine, funny how you all skip over the compliments I gave to the agents, the lounge staff and others. you are so used to defending the airlines from all the bad crap they do, you dont even recognize or discuss the positive points. who’s to blame for that? you.

    who’s to blame for the bad experience? the airline.
    who’s to blame for the fact that I am more upset about the airline and the whole situation now after engaging with you, the airline industry representatives?

    1. Another reason why I think Twitter is one of the horseman of the apocalypse

      ” in the airline industry are a real arrogant bunch, expecting everyone to know all the details of the equipment and getting pissy when the average public doesnt care”

      Why bother? You’re upset, you’re going to lash out, regardless of the facts.

    2. dont bang it into people’s heads as you invalidate their feelings and insult their intelligence. it gets you nowhere (which is why I didn’t feel like talking to Eric)

      I think this brings up another good point to note. Twitter absolutely sucks for being able to maintain a conversation. Here’s how his conversation started with Eric (this is someone who has worked in the industry for years and I know well):

      From Chris:
      New Post. The Broken Promises of American Airlines A long narrative, and some questions…

      Eric Responds:
      @chrisheuer Sounds like your original plane broke. Would you rather get home on smaller plane, or be stuck in JFK?

      Chris Responds:
      @eolesen I take it you are an employee of american airlines, or are you just a paid apologist? any disclosures or just anonymous?

      Was Eric’s response short and curt? Of course, it’s friggin’ Twitter! You don’t have a choice. But your response, Chris, simply escalated it for no good reason and then you both ended up losing your cool and making things worse. Initially, Eric was simply trying to answer the question within 140 characters. Twitter is not meant for this kind of thing, and this clearly shows it.

      and it doesnt matter if you have 12,000, 12 or 12MM followers, airlines need to do a better job of communicating with their customers and delivering on their promises. the @aairwaves account could have sent a DM that night that the problem was mechanical (anyone heard of a phone?) given its delay in getting that info to me, even that is suspect, despite likelihood of being true.

      We disagree here. Airlines would have to have an army of people to try to respond to every single person with a direct message in real time, as would be required with Twitter. They have customer relations groups that do the research and figure out problems, but it just wouldn’t be feasible to do it all in a matter of minutes. There are so many people traveling every day that it just can’t work. Now, they could send a DM saying that they’ll look into it so that they are least engaging you. If they do that, of course, they actually have to follow up. But for quick responses, they should absolutely focus on those people who have the largest audience and those who have the most egregious problems. If you can’t respond to everyone immediately, you should choose carefully.

      1. “Eric Responds:
        @chrisheuer Sounds like your original plane broke. Would you rather get home on smaller plane, or be stuck in JFK?”

        Are those the only choices?

        1. In a case like this, probably. American doesn’t have a ton of 767s just lying around and waiting to step in if something goes wrong.

  6. If they had cancelled the flight he would have complained the same way as he is now. Sounds like he’s just blasting away as he found a good way to maybe get some miles out of AA or a free ticket to quiet him.

    Isn’t the important fact is he still got to make his trip? He’s just being a cry baby since he didn’t get first class. But if he was given -F- on the 757 and then had it taken away because someone ‘better’ in AA’s eye came along, to me that is wrong.

    Coming from an airline I understand there are times you must switch an aircraft, but it works both ways. Sometimes a bigger aircraft is used in a pinch. The airlines try to keep things moving as best they can, but if a smaller aircraft must be used and there is no room for everyone, then that is different if some people are left behind all together.

    This gentlemen needs to travel only on Southwest, that way he won’t have to worry about not getting first class.

  7. I think first the two parts of this needs to be separated. There is the issues with the aircraft, seating, and on-timeliness (is that a word?) and there are issues with communication from American.

    Reading through Cranky’s post and Mr Heuer’s reply I think that the whole problem can be boiled down to the lack of communication. This is rampant in the industry and really needs some correction. Passengers should have been told that the aircraft was being switched for mechanical (as Mr Heuer seems to indicate they did), but they shouldn’t have stopped there. They should have told any passengers that were having to be accommodated in coach instead of first or business what was going on and why. This communication should have been initiated as soon as an issue was detected. This might not have prevented the “conspiracy theory” part of Mr Heuer’s posts, but it might have alleviated some of the problem and further might have generated goodwill.

    Cranky is right in pointing out that American should have known what was going on and taking proactive action, but there are very few carriers out there that seem capable of getting this right. The scary part is when the misguided tarmac rules go into effect this problem will be magnified.

  8. While I agree that the speculation on reasons for various elements of the event as it unfolded is probably off base, there is a more important issue here that Cranky does point up and that is communication.

    It is 2010, not 1999 and certainly not 1989. The ability to get timely and accurate information hasn’t really improved so much as it has changed mediums. What I mean to say is that in the past you got this information primarily via phone or gate agent and today you get it primarily from internet access. The quality of the info really hasn’t improved much if at all. With respect to AA, the response to these events hasn’t improved either.

    The customer in this case is really disappointed with a series of bad communications and a bad customer experience even with the aircraft. Given that he was likely on a upgrade for First Class, that would, to me, indicate he is a somewhat frequent flier and therefore not a customer that an airline really wants to aggravate too much. At least nominally.

    The best way to respond to this event on the part of the customer is to make a complaint and then VOTE HIS CHOICE BY CHOOSING ANOTHER AIRLINE. But the frequent flier miles are an addiction that few ever rid themselves of.

    His complaints about AA aren’t a new development in AA’s service. I live in the DFW area and made a conscious choice to quit AA for many of those various reasons. Tired out interiors on equipment, poor communications, surly and viscious flight attendants and increasingly cramped equipment on routes now being served by American Eagle RJ equipment all have led me to choose other airlines now. Now I fly Continental and Airtran primarily and, yes, I make a connection in Houston most often now if on Continental or Atlanta if on Airtran but the interesting thing is that I’m arriving at my destinations in about the same time, with greater comfort and certainly better communications and service. Not only am I receiving all that but I’m also paying less on average than I was by flying AA non-stop to these same destinations.

    But to make that choice, I also had to decide that chasing the almighty frequent flier mile had to be given up. Once I made that choice, I got much more satisfaction and who cares if I don’t earn an upgrade or free trip very often? I’m saving money *now* and experiencing much better service which translates into far greater value than an upgrade or free trip provide.

    Regardless of the customer’s incorrect assumptions, his picture of the service and communication aren’t wrong and anyone who experiences AA (or most other legacy airlines) know that that picture wasn’t wrong. And he wasn’t wrong to be disappointed by it either.

    BTW, I have known AA to specifically and somewhat commonly cancel a particular flight if it wasn’t full and consolidate it on another flight serving nominally serving a differnet by close by destination that was just 100 miles from the former. They simply took two flights for two routes and made them one flight serving both destinations. They no longer do this but only because that particular flight is now an American Eagle flight and the other destination remains an AA flight. But it *did* happen with some frequency in the past and it was well known among those who flew that route with any frequency.

    I do hope he votes for change with his next flight purchase and chooses jetBlue or Virgin America or any one of a number of other airlines who are working hard to provide a better product and better service experience. That will effect more positive change in the US airline industry more than anything else.

  9. Cranky, Thanks for a good post. But you must have had too much time on your hands to read all of Chris’s babbling article. Better you than me.

    1. Quick! Know what the difference between a guy like Chris Heuer and a JT8D is?

      When they get to the gate and the crew shuts down, the JT8Ds quit whining… ;)

  10. chris, at what point are you responsible for your reactions? Many people have had bad experiences, I have had plenty. Every time I’ve reacted with kindness, with Amer Airlines, Delta, all of them – I’ve received free ticket, or a voucher. With millions of people flying all over the world every day, at what point do YOU begin to understand that there are human beings working for the airlines, and your conspiracy-like suspicious and massively loud reactions are hard to handle.

    Turning this into a movement against airlines is a silly route, when you could approach with an olive branch and ACTUALLY try to make a difference. Now you are only creating ridiculous flame wars.

    Look, Chris, the airline industry is small. If you want to be an advocate for the passenger, you are doing a terrible terrible job in behaving like a good leader for your cause.

    Furthermore, if you had a health problem on your flight, there are plenty of laws to protect and reimburse you.

    It might be better for your health to turn to the adage about flies and honey, rather than accusing an industry of a giant conspiracy against….you and your well being.

    Your point about learning to DM is silly. The airline clearly reached out to you.

    At what poing are YOU responsible, chris, for the way you react to these situations, and how long do you think anyone will continue to listen to you when you are harsh and difficult?

  11. I’d say that this isn’t a problem that’s strictly limited to AA; I’m sure there pretty much everyone here has had some experience with *insert airline of your choice* where gate staff just seemed utterly clueless as to what was going on.

    I’m a private pilot, and an old cliche that describes our priorities during flight is “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.” Put another way, “Flying the airplane is more important than radioing your plight to a person on the ground incapable of understanding it.” I definitely have this mindset…if I’m trying to solve a problem (not just flying), and you ask me to speculate on what the solution is, I’m probably just going to give you a blank stare and an “ummm….dunno” until I have the problem solved. I imagine there are many other folks in the aviation industry that have this same mindset too. For instance, the NTSB generally doesn’t say much about an accident until the investigation is complete; they don’t want speculation on their part to be taken by the media as fact. Similarly, I can imagine that there are plenty of dispatchers out there that don’t want to say anything until they have a solution ready to go.

    The guest post, and associated comments, for the dispatcher guest post on March 10 should be required reading here. First off, he pointed out that airline employees are not interchangable. Until word is handed down from the dispatchers, the gate agents are almost as clueless as you are as to what the hold up is. Even in the face of something ridiculously obvious (say, your departure time is 5 minutes from now, but the plane hasn’t even arrived yet), I’d tend to think that there are company policies in place that prevent the agents from saying anything other than what’s been handed down from dispatch, in order to prevent customers taking gate agent speculation as informed fact and confusing everyone even more.

    In the comments section of that post, the dispatcher also put forth a scenario involving a flight stopping in ATL to pick up stranded passengers. This scenario well illustrates the fact that sometimes it’s just plain impossible to please everyone. By changing from a 767 to a 757, there are less non-economy seats (40 vs. 22). It’s physically impossible to fit all 40 of those folks into those 22 seats, so 18 people are going to be disappointed. On the flip side, the 119 folks in economy, as well as the hundreds of folks on the other flights downstream that are waiting for the equipment from JFK to arrive, are probably well pleased that they get to fly out now instead of having to wait around indefinitely for a spare 767 to arrive just so a dozen and a half folks up near the front don’t get their feathers ruffled.

    Finally, to comment on Chris Heuer’s comment that we should help people understand without insulting his intelligence and getting pissy…Eric Oleson left you a respectful comment on your blog trying to help you understand what was going on, and you ripped him. You’re guilty of the same arrogance you’re accusing us of. If you’re going to get angry when we try to explain the inner workings of the system, it doesn’t really give us much incentive to be nice, does it?

  12. I read the comments on his site. Eric offers some explanations and engages a polite and reasonable debate.

    Chris pretty much tells him off and ends his responses, input and time by saying “move along already”

    Some can have a spirited discussion without being a dick. Chris is unable to do so. Even more of a brain stumper is that Chris promotes himself as a marketing consultant of sorts. Based on his attitude shown I wouldn’t let him near my
    employees. His jabs and insults are the exact oopposite of how I would expect a decent person to interact with others – even those they may disagree with.

    I picture him as the guy who road rages you down after you cut him off by mistake versus the person who keeps cool and let’s it go.

    I’m sure people interested in his services will read exchanges like this and make their own assessments.

  13. I’ve privately apologized to Eric and will do so here publicly. It got off on the wrong foot for completely personal reasons relating to my state of mind, my health, and being fed up with the airline industry not responding. When I found out he worked at AA, and worked at AA at JFK specifically, I discounted his input and shouldn’t have.

    What’s the excuse for the rest of your colleague’s behaviours? nothing.

    PS – I know about the arrogance thing because I have struggled with it, and still do in providing simple tech support to my wife and friends. I have acknowledged this everywhere online. It takes one to know one is certainly a truism.

    1. I think a lot of the “flaming” or lashing out is because many frequent flyers (and infrequent flyers that love airlines) get tired of hearing the same rants against the airlines. In general people want everything on a silver platter, but want to pay 99-cents for it. We are all guilty of it in one part of our life or another.

      When anyone posts a rant like yours you know you are putting it into a rattlesnake nest of people that live their lives at airports and in airplanes and have come to view travelers as distinct groups; often with competing desires. We frequent flyers often find ourselves dealing with the fallout of the infrequent flyer’s behaviors or desires and when we see these kinds of rants from someone who is obviously also a frequent flyer I think it strikes a nerve with a lot of people.

      In the end…. c’est la vie.

    2. What’s the excuse for the rest of your colleague’s behaviours?

      By colleague, are you talking about other commenters on the blog? I have no excuse. In fact, I’m really surprised at some of the comments here. The reality is that you did get screwed. Was it on purpose? No. Was it necessary? Yeah, since they downgauged the airplane. But the communication sucked and they absolutely should have done better with that. I don’t get people saying that it was an upgrade so you should just be happy with being on the plane. You were given the upgrade and then it was taken away. The airline sets the rules and you just play the game. I’d be pissed if I lost my upgrade seat and the communication was non-existent as well.

      I think where much of the vitriol comes from in these comments (and I’m not defending them), is that your post lashed out without knowing the facts of what was likely happening. So people get instantly defensive in those situations when instead, airlines need to educate and assist instead of fight.

  14. News Flash! The airlines suck at communication. Sadly airlines could do better at communicating but people wouldn’t pay that much more to actually get better communication.

    Its much better to get a third party advocate/information source such as CrankyConcierge than expect the airlines to get their stuff together.

  15. Cranky, AA does have a way to see how full an aircraft is by checking the seating availability chart for each flight. I am flying to ORD in a few days and checked the chart to see how full the flight is going to be. It is a useful flying tool.

    1. But it’s not completely accurate. Airlines will often prevent certain seats from being assigned before check-in, or reserve “premium” seating for “premium” passengers. You may also have passengers that, for whatever reason, have a confirmed reservation on the flight but don’t have a seat assignment.

      It’s good for getting a rough idea (either very full or very empty), but in the middle you can’t really be sure, and you certainly can’t say “there are 5 open seats on the flight” based on it.

    2. Oh I know that there is a way to look at the seat map, but most people don’t do that. And even if they did, would that make them willing to pay a higher fare? No. But as David says, that’s a highly inaccurate way to look at things anyway.

  16. NB, nice shameless plug for CrankyConcierge…

    Flaming was counterproductive 15 years ago on usenet, and it’s no more productive now with Twitter, blogs, blog comments, etc.

    At @EyeForTravel, some of the most successful examples presented of social strategies had two things in common: employee ownership and localized engagement. Companies who try to manage everything centrally seem to have a harder time.

    From what I’m hearing offline from people far more in the know than any of us, AA isn’t even using its own employees to monitor and respond to @AAirwaves — they may be using their PR firm. I’d love to see a confirmation on that one.

    1. Eric, I like CrankyConcierge, I don’t have any relationship with CF besides commenting here and providing some feedback on CrankyConcierge before it launched.

      Airlines need to be centrally managed just due to the nature of them. Some airlines have done a pretty good job keeping the people at the lower ranks engaged, but ultimately they’re still managed from the top.

  17. Cranky, I like your comments. Communicating wisely with one’s customers is a skill woefully missing in the airline industry. I believe such skill used to be there, and it was exercised very well. Maybe things have just gotten too big, but good communication ain’t there anymore and I doubt it will come back anytime soon.

    Operating and managing an airline is a sophisticated activity. And, most, if not all of us know that the airlines have some wonderful operational people doing marvelous jobs. Flight crews, dispatchers, reservation sales people, baggage handlers, ticketing/check-in folks, even pricing analysts and yield managers, [sorry, scratch the latter two]. And sometimes, things go wrong, despite their best efforts.

    What counts is that the customers’ concerns are addressed by the best, most knowledgeable person, in a timely manner, one that will first calm down, and then actually educate, if not completely satisfy the customer who thinks he or she was not treated well. But somewhere, in the training of airline personnel, this concept has been totally missed, or else it has simply been disgarded. The example you presented, is all too common.

  18. Nice post CF.

    There are some airlines which do, in certain circumstances, cancel flights for not being full enough. One I’m familiar with is Qantas on their busiest route between Sydney and Melbourne. Typically there is a flight every 30 minutes on the route and sometimes they’ll combine 2 flights into 1.

    1. I can’t speak for every airline around the world, I suppose, but it wouldn’t shock me that some might do it in super high frequency markets. But there can often be other reasons for that as well. Let’s say that a plane that was supposed to go from Sydney to Brisbane was jam-packed and it broke. If there were a couple of half full flights going to Melbourne in the next hour, they could easily take one of those planes to fly the Brisbane flight and then merge the Melbourne passengers on to one. Then far fewer people are inconvenienced.

      Of course, this is a very simple example since Sydney to Brisbane is the same time as Sydney to Melbourne and the planes likely were both turning around and coming right back.

  19. Chris,
    You flew from the east coast to west coast in a pressurized metal tube at near the speed of sound in about 5 hours. What more do you want??? Seriously, crap happens, they got an aircraft. Clearly there weren’t as many seats as originally confirmed for first. They have process’ for dealing with this. Paid 1st class first, then upgrade instrument, then status.

    Crap happens. Unless you paid cash for first class, I really can’t feel sorry as AA’s upgrades are generally gifts to AA elites (or stickers sold at a crazy discount). It’s a perk not a obligation from AA.

    As an EXP, although I’m a tad bit bummed when I don’t get an ugprade, I greatly appreciate that I can fly anywhere in the world for free and get complimentary upgrades on all flights (including overseas using SWUs).

    Any other airline would’ve had the same situation and they’d have dealt with it similarly. Perhaps your 763 was removed from service and it was the choice between a relief 757 or waiting until the next day to travel (or the other choice of putting an un-air-worthy 763 in air), who knows the story.

    Finally, Y in 763 is just as bad as a 757, they both suck unless you’re in J.

    Better luck next time, or maybe fly a different airline.

  20. CF,

    Great post!


    I love the conspiracy theories. As a UA 1K I have had more equipment swaps then I can remember and just because you got “downgraded” on this flight doesn’t mean that you won’t get an “op-up” on the next swap. I have found that it generally evens out.

    Oh and the most likely reason you were bumped is because you are a Plat and not a ExPlat. Fly more or book into C and this won’t happen.

  21. Its very simple, he got downgraded and it sucked, he fumed, he turned red, he thought he was important and should be in his right place, instead he was in lousy coach, aaaaaaagh..a loser

  22. I’ve had much the same thing happen to me on American. Showed up at LAX with a boarding pass for business class on the redeye (spent 15,000 miles +$50) 5 minutes before checkin, plane was changed on a mechanical. I found out when they called “first class, rows 1-5” and went “wait, a 762 has 3 rows…”

    I still ended up in F (ended up taking away someone’s upgrade, actually), but in a less comfortable seat (not the big recliners), and got very little sleep. Oh, well. It happens. I’ve gotten bumped out of paid F on Alaska flights on equipment swaps, too…

  23. Perhaps Chris should be teamed up with Hysterical Kate Hanni — and take Greyhound. They should realize that running an airline — which includes transporting “aged” and demanding children — there will be times when problems will occur. On upgrades — are they bucking for some “Frequent Whiner Miles,” if such a thing exists. From my travel experiences, I’ve accurately observed more passenger-created problems — than ones caused by the airlines.

  24. Hi Brett, very well put answer, thanks for trying to set him straight. The following is my post back to his site. To his credit, he has posted both positive and negative comments, including mine.

    Again, Thanks Cranky Flier.


    WOW, what a “Prima Donna”. Just reading your tales of woe are giving me an attack myself. Of nausea. Just how high of a pedestal do people like you need to be placed? I have been a commercial airline mechanic for nearly 22 years with UAL. And before the insults hurl towards my company, allow me to offer this about most domestic airlines. Yes, the equipment is getting old. Yes, all aircraft are showing signs of age. Yes, we occasionally have to take an aircraft out of service because we do not feel it is safe enough for flight. Yes, it is an inconvenience to your sorry ass, and you do not get your first class upgrade. NO, I am not going to apologize. The ability to keep these aircraft safely in the air is dictated by the control maintained by the pilot. It is up to thousands of certified airline mechanics in this industry to help them maintain that control. Our jobs are the toughest we have ever experienced. Everybody wants cheap fights, and even though we all accept an increase in the cost of maintaining our cars, nobody wants to accept an increase in the cost of a ticket for the maintenance of these older aircraft. The Airlines are turning towards new alternatives to save money and purchasing cheaper materials, or turning towards less dependable vendors to overhaul the parts, takes a toll. Consider this. Those free bottles of water, special meal, and that “free” drink ticket at the Admirals Club you got during your travels could have purchased a new seat recline assembly for your faulty seat back. The cost of all those “free” first class upgrades may have purchased the part to keep that 767 on schedule, ever think of that? Besides a lack of parts, airlines are turning towards cheaper maintenance as well. After 22 years, I find myself on the bottom of the seniority list and wonder if my job too will be outsourced soon. Should that happen, I would expect even more delays and problems for you and and other passengers. Airlines are outsourcing aircraft heavy maintenance to vendors more these days than ever before. While the average UAL mechanic has over 25 years experience working on our airplanes, many of the vendors overhauling our aircraft are NEW companies. (AA, fortunately still does most of their own work in house. Kudos to them). While our job security is a major distraction, the greatest frustration for all of us is in the lack of parts, materials, and manpower needed to maintain a controllable and dependable aircraft. The bottom line, everyone wants something at a lower price, and the less you pay the more free perks you expect. May I simply suggest Mr. Heuer, the next time you want the perks of a first class ticket, PURCHASE one. That would be a benefit to us all.

  25. Wow, never thought I would side with the airlines… If mechanical or other issues cause an equipment change then one needs to accomodate the changes made and as a poster says, if first is necessary then buy a first ticket. Luckily AA have always accomodated my needs when equipment changed though I did once get moved to a bulkhead on a 767 200 which meant I could not recline the first class seat due to lack of legroom.
    My only exception to this accomodation to Airlines issues is overbooking. TWA always overbooked their planes and on one occasion returned to the gate and bumped me on a flight from STL-HNL as a honeymoon couple had arrived 45 minutes late at the gate despite my confirmed seat for the previous month. But what goes around comes around and they went bust, so no tears there.

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