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An Airline Succeeds Despite Itself



December 19, 2008 – Comments (8)

I just had a very strange conversation with the reservations folks at American Airlines. I wanted to reserve seats for the upcoming vacation that the wife and I are taking. I need to sit on the aisle because if I don’t stretch my left leg, sometimes it tries to kill me. But American/Expedia wouldn’t let me book seats at the time of buying the tickets, and every time I reserved seats subsequently, American erased them and said “no can do, try at checkin.”

Of course, we all know what happens to chumps who try to get seats at checkin. You end up stuffed into one of those awful middle rows of the cattle car, jammed between the stoners, screaming babies, or snoring geezers.

So here’s where Airlines try and bleed you for money, and end up costing themselves dough: The call-center guy I ended up with had a very thick Asian accent. Luckily, I am quite practiced at working through language difficulties, having been the guy with the limited language and terrible accent in many foreign countries. And this agent knew his stuff. And he was very helpful.

So, he explained to me that my travel site (which was telling me I could not book seats) was wrong, and there were seats available on some of my flights. He found them, and read them out to me. I asked him if he could simply book these, and he said, basically, nope, then I’d have to charge you $15 per seat per flight. Go to our website and do it. But he didn’t just dump me, he walked me through the couple of screens, and in about 5 minutes I had all the seats.

And it cost me nothing.

But it cost American something. It cost them the extra time it took this guy to walk me through it. And they got nothing for it.

Anyone reading this will, I think, agree, that this customer service agent did absolutely the right thing by helping me in this way. So, all I’m saying is, American, give your hard-working customer-service agents the right tools to help people in this fashion with more speed: Let them book those seats for nothing (or a smaller fee).

You’ll lose little. In fact, I’d say, you’d gain goodwill. And your agent could have booked those seats more quickly than I did with his help. He'd have been off the phone with me and on to helping someone else more quickly. Lower cost per customer call for you, and another chance for this agent to rack up more goodwill for the company.

I was so impressed by this agent's no-nonsense approach to doing the right thing by me that, maybe I’ll forgive that broken seat American tried to put me on from Chicago to Mexico last year, the one that left one cheek hanging about 4 inches lower than the other, pitching my spine off kilter and making my lower back feel like I’d gotten a drunken epidural from a skewer-wielding candy-striper.

American: do the right thing and it will pay. You don’t need to get money up front. Think longer term, and be glad your service representatives are more concerned with your customers than the suits making the tariff decisions (and leaving loopholes).

8 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On December 19, 2008 at 10:10 AM, TDRH (97.18) wrote:

Man, if you get service like that you need to find out the name of his boss, speak to him, and follow up with it in writing to the president.    You just spoke with an endangered species.   

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#2) On December 19, 2008 at 10:37 AM, saunafool (< 20) wrote:

I am so glad I don't have to fly in the U.S. anymore.

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#3) On December 19, 2008 at 11:39 AM, ByrneShill (82.63) wrote:

@TDRH: If his boss knows what he did he might run into trouble. Better keep that whole thing quiet.

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#4) On December 19, 2008 at 12:24 PM, mindmuse (30.18) wrote:

Yeah, one can only hope someday the rep makes it into a position to make policy decisions. But you kind of figure its not likely to be an airline company that will value his ability.

But hey, lay off the candy-striper - I used to date her.

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#5) On December 19, 2008 at 5:45 PM, amoldov (30.35) wrote:

I have an AA story - a true story. I recently purchased a ticket from the site and got three instead. I received the one I expected the day I purchased it - so far so good. One week later another ticket came for the same itinerary and date and passenger. I had to call customer service, was passed back and forth among a number of customer representatives until one was found who could correct the error. Two weeks later a third ticket came, yes, for the same itinerary and date and passenger. I had to call customer service and go through the whole thing again. This week I'm waiting to see if a fourth ticket comes. It will be interesting to see what happens, since the travel date has just passed. The not so interesting part is that the credit card was charged for every ticket issued (that's why I bothered to call customer service).

I guess their computer system behind the site needs some work. I really hope the processor based systems in their airplanes function more reliably after take-off.

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#6) On December 20, 2008 at 12:43 AM, pat001aa (< 20) wrote:

Don't tell his boss. Lucky he was not being monitored or he would have been reprimanded.

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#7) On December 22, 2008 at 2:33 PM, jstegma (28.50) wrote:

Yeah, the guy would probably be fired if anyone in American's management found out.  They normally go out of their way to be the rudest and least pleasant airline anyone can imagine.  Other airlines may not be all that great, but American Airlines is by far the worst.

The last time I flew on American I sat in one of the bulkhead seats with the trays that pop up out of the armrest.  When I popped mine up and unfolded it, there was some sort of chunks that had been squished together when the tray was folded and then dried.  I showed male stewardess (intentional) the problem, and he was so helpful as to offer me an extra napkin to cover up the problem without even charging me extra.  The I told him I wanted the tray cleaned and he said "no, we don't have any cleaning products on board".  So I guess that explains why their planes smell the way they do. 

Anyway, the last two times I've traveled I've gone on Continental even though I have to fly from Dallas to Houston to go anywhere. 

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#8) On December 28, 2008 at 5:41 PM, FoolishJayhawk (61.84) wrote:

Just wanted to share a pleasant experience I recently had with AA - they are not that bad! I recently purchased a ticket on and had to make a change a few minutes after purchase.  So I called customer service and the rep was incredibly helpful.  She cancelled my ticket at no charge, was pleasant to speak to, and I booked another flight a few days later.  They're making progress, slowly anyway.

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