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I am I used to be a raving fan girl for American Airlines. But that has not been the case in 2016. For the last 24 months, my patience with my hometown airline has been wearing thin. Its time to make American great again.
First it was the short-lived changes to inflight service that cut out food on many flights. That got quickly corrected once the passenger backlash hit, but it was not the way to make American great again.
Then it was the banking of flights at various American Airlines hub. The concept of banking meant reorganizing flight arrivals and flight departures into tight little banks. The idea is to have tighter, more efficient operation to drive revenue.
The reality for passengers is that it leads to more time sitting on tarmacs either waiting to take off behind many other flights simultaneously banked or waiting for gates to become available during rush hours. It also means that concourses are more crowded, lines are longer at airport services, and seats are fewer in gate areas and Admirals Clubs, all due to passengers being grouped into these tight banks rather than spread throughout the day.
For those of us at hubs, it has also meant less variability throughout the day on flight departure times meaning we too are stuck with the lighter selection of flight times. This is not how you make American great again.
There have also been related issues with delays in flight arrivals and departures. American Airlines does not accurately display arrival/departure information on their airport signage or within the mobile app. It is not unusual to be standing at the gate at the posted departure time with NO plane at the gate and NO update from American Airlines ground staff about the updated boarding or departure time. Requests are often met with a “don’t leave the gate area” response.
Then it was the implementation of the D-0 focus. Under this push, there are supposed to be “zero delays” (hence the term D-0) so gate agents and pilots are asked to push back from the gate promptly at the published departure time. Because of this push, gate agents often start boarding earlier than the printed time on the boarding pass and flight attendants refuse to offer pre-departure beverages in first class.
In some of my worst experiences, I’ve arrived at the gate a couple of minutes prior to the printed boarding time only to find the gate agents paging a “final boarding call”. I’ve rushed to board only to find myself at the back of a 100 person deep line stretching down a hot jet bridge. This is hardly a premium customer experience or the way to make American great again.
This D-0 focus has lately given way to a bigger issue – the refusal of gate agents to properly process the upgrade list. American Airlines rolled out mobile application upgrades a couple of years ago that allow passengers to view the upgrade list order. That list displays check marks next to upgraded names. Passengers using the mobile application also have their new boarding pass pushed through the app meaning the new seat is automatically assigned.
Many passengers have been reporting, however, that American Airlines gate agents have been refusing to automatically process the upgrade list. They have instead been paging passengers within the boarding area and only upgrading passengers when they answer the verbal page. Those who do not answer the verbal page are skipped and the agent moves on to the next person on the list. Some agents do not even utilize the overhead paging system in the gate area. This means that passengers on the upgrade list must be standing within earshot of the gate agent counter in order to not be skipped.
I’ve had several personal experiences with this and have communicated with dozens of others with similar stories. This past week, I had two personal encounters with upgrades that were cleared after the flight was under gate agent control.
In the first instance, I discovered via the mobile app that my upgrade had been processed while I was still in my Uber approaching the airport. My new boarding pass pushed through to my phone. I took a screenshot (just in case) and then headed to Starbucks before boarding. I arrived at the gate just in time for boarding. My mobile boarding pass scanned but then one of the gate agents chased me halfway down the jetway to hand me a paper boarding pass and scold me for not checking in at the counter since others were waiting for the upgrade. I believe it would have been likely that my seat would have been given away had I arrived at the gate a minute or two later.
In the second instance, I made a tight connection and was running toward my flight which was already in boarding when I heard my name being paged. Knowing I was on the upgrade list, I ran quickly before my name was skipped. The agent told me she had skipped the name ahead of me because he did not respond. I have no doubt I would have also been skipped had I not quickly gotten her attention.
While I benefitted in the latter instance, the reality is that this policy is not efficient. All of the changes – from the banking of flights to D-0 have had a negative effect on the overall customer experience. My time is valuable and it is not efficient for me to hang around the gate area an hour before a flight in the hopes my name may be called for an upgrade (or out of fear that an upgrade might be taken away). It is especially annoying to spend my time in a place with limited seating, limited or nonexistent power outlets, and no communication about the likely boarding time of my flight.
My time would be better spent in an Admirals Club working – or grabbing food to take onboard. Or better, I could spend that time on another airline which does not make the passenger experience difficult.
I’d like to be loyal to my hometown carrier. To do that, we are going to have to make American great again.
Do you agree? Or do you have other American experiences to report? Sound off below – or use #MakeAmericanGreatAgain on social media.