The gap between what travelers can expect from low-cost and legacy airlines has been narrowing for some time, but there has long been one key area where legacy airlines could deliver far more: reaccommodation during irregular operations. With so many more flights and the ability to sign tickets over to another airline if all else failed, it was much easier for travelers to get where they needed to go when things went wrong with their originally-scheduled flight. Unfortunately — and unsurprisingly — we’re seeing this advantage begin to erode. A couple weeks ago, American put a policy in place that restricts the ability of agents to put people on some other airlines.
The actual policy isn’t nearly as draconian as was explained over at View from the Wing. In fact, the impact here is mostly limited to non-elite, domestic coach travelers who would be better off if they could fly Delta or United to their destination. But that’s still a big enough group for me to bother writing about this.
I spoke with American and got the full scope of what was happening. This was driven by the fact that American had no set policy for when agents were able to put travelers on other airlines. It makes sense to have a policy, but the problem is this one is too restrictive. It also rewards the people who need the help the least. Here’s the rundown.
|AAdvantage Level||Cabin||Reaccomm Allowed|
|Concierge Key||All Cabins||Ok to put on non-partner airlines if it gets to destination faster than other options|
|Exec Plat/oneworld Emerald|
|All||Long-Haul First Class|
|All||Transcon 3-Cabin First Class|
|Platinum/oneworld Sapphire||All Cabins||Ok to put on non-partner airlines if American and its partners can’t get to the destination within 5 hours of original schedule|
|All||Short-Haul First Class|
|No Status||Coach||Cannot use non-partner airlines|
Before I analyze this, let me make a couple of things clear. American’s agents are allowed to reaccommodate anyone on joint venture partners, oneworld partners, and codeshares on non-oneworld partners in that order of preference. So if you hear people saying that American won’t allow reaccommodation on “other airlines,” it only refers to those who are not partners. (That is also why this has much less of an impact on international travel where partners are more plentiful.)
Further, the options in the table above apply not only to the traveler but to any others in the same reservation. (People booked on a separate reservation, however, are screwed.)
One other thing to note is that this is a policy that is made for exceptions. American itself pointed me to a bunch of potential exceptions where it would allow re-booking on non-partners. This is just a sample and isn’t an exhaustive list by any means.
- Unaccompanied minors
- Customers with disabilities
- US Military on orders
- If next American option requires an overnight stay and no hotels are available
- If American could avoid having to pay European compensation for excessive delays (EC261)
- Situations such as traveling for a funeral, weddings, surgery, starting a cruise etc
The trick is that for any exception to be made, it has to come from managers either at the airport or in reservations (or from higher-ups in corporate for bigger events like a computer meltdown). So in practice, we have no idea what the true impact of this policy will be since we don’t know how liberally managers will operate. All that being said… I still hate how restrictive this policy is.
As I said at the beginning, one of the big benefits of flying with a legacy carrier is that you have a lot more options available to you if things go wrong. That is still the case since American will have more frequency in any given market compared to an airline like Spirit or Frontier, but this policy certainly cuts the options down.
While top tier elites won’t care since they see no difference, they’re already the least impacted. When there is a flight problem, those top tier elites are getting rebooked first and are most likely to find space on other American Airlines flights. It’s the huge number of people who fly American only once a year and have no status that are already at the back of the bus and now have fewer options available when it’s their turn to find a new flight.
Internationally, it’s not as big of an issue, but domestic travelers can really benefit from being able to move to United or Delta when things get ugly. Now they can’t do that if they’re regular coach travelers with no status… unless an exception is made for some reason. Chances are, the ability to get an exception will vary greatly depending upon the manager and the location. So this may be a policy, but it’s clear as mud for the casual traveler.
I have no doubt there can be abuse of a system where no policy exists. From what I understand, both United and Delta have policies of their own that guide when people can be reaccommodated on non-partners. And of course, the last thing any of these airlines wants to do is put someone on another airline. But couldn’t American have at least made it so that non-elites in coach could get put on another airline if it would be a delay of more than 12 hours? Or if an overnight stay could be avoided? I still might not love that policy, but it would certainly be better than what’s there now.
Instead, we’re left with a policy that reminds the casual traveler how unimportant they are to American. I can understand this policy applying to Basic Economy since that is a pure price play. But if someone is going to pay for a regular coach ticket, then getting to the destination as soon as possible should be a basic benefit, even if it involves flying other airlines.