Friday, December 9, 2011

American Airlines

I don't have any special insight into the factors leading to the bankruptcy of American Airlines, but I can pass along the tale of my most recent interactions with their people.

In November I traveled SFO-LAX-STL in coach on AA.  Not the greatest route, but there haven't been regular non-stops to STL since TWA went away.

I was looking forward to my second transit thru the beautiful new Terminal 2 at SFO.  We'd flown from there in October, but it was first flight out in the morning, and everything was closed.  This flight to didn't leave until 0915, so I would have plenty of time to enjoy a relaxing breakfast in one of the new restaurants.

When booking the ticket on-line, the website wouldn't allow me to choose a seat for the LAX-STL segment.  The whole plane was blocked, I assumed under the control of the airport.  I checked in on-line exactly 24 hours before & was dismayed to see that I'd been assigned a window seat on the two-spot side of the MD80. No better seats were available (I prefer a seat on the aisle, as far forward as possible).

The next morning, while checking flight status, I saw that an aisle seat had become available.  The computer wouldn't let me make the change, nor would a phone agent, as I was already checked in.  She told me to do it at the airport.

In order to beat traffic I got to the airport earlier than necessary, but that gave me plenty of time to clear security, make the seat change & have breakfast.

I jumped in line right away to get thru the rate limiting  After my below the waist pat-down (I was wearing a long skirt), I was on my way.  Instead of stopping at the toilet, I went straight to the first AA gate with an agent behind the desk.  She was standing there smiling with no one in line & almost no one waiting at her gate (which happened to be next to my departing gate).

Good Morning, said I, with a smile, setting down my bag.

Her complete & only response was "Honey, I'm having breakfast!  You'll have to come back later."  With that she waved her yogurt container in my face, so I'd get the idea. 

Astounded, I made no reply, picked up my bag & walked to the gate that would be mine for departure.  The agent was standing behind her desk, no one in line & almost no one waiting at the gate.

Good Morning, said I, with a smile, setting down my bag.

Her complete & only response was "I can't help you right now.  I'm getting ready for an arriving flight.  You'll have to come back in 20 or 30 minutes."

Again, I made no reply, picked up my bag & walked to the Ladies. 

Then I headed to the nearby Lark Creek Grill for breakfast.  It is one of several, cool restaurants located airside in T2.  They're all grouped conveniently in the light & airy terminal, close to the gates.  Much of the seating is out in the open, feeling very spacious.

Service at the restaurant was awesome.  The hostess confirmed the time of boarding & location of my gate, to be sure that I'd have time.  The waiter re-confirmed at the table.  The food came fast, tasted delicious & the tab had a short turnaround.  The restaurant has a full bar for those in need.

When the time came, I headed over to my gate.  The agent I'd seen earlier (#2 above), was helping someone, so I introduced myself to a new agent.  Let's call her #3.  I explained that I was trying to see if the aisle seat was still available & have my seat changed.

She replied "If you want to upgrade your seat, you need to go to reservations.  They'll do it after you pay."

I explained that I was not trying to upgrade to a "more legroom" or otherwise premium seat.  The seat in question was in Row 24, actually behind my assignment.

She stated "I would have to close this computer screen to check."

I replied "You mean you won't even look?"

She turned away from me & said to Agent #2 "I don't want to close what I'm working on."

Agent #2 finally looked up & asked me what was going on.  I explained the entire scenario again.  She heaved a sigh & looked in her computer.

Wait for it...wait for it...the seat was already taken.


  1. Seats don't go to airport control until 3 hours before the flight so the plane was likely sold out if it showed no seats available.

    When you called after booking, what did they tell you? When you arrived at the airport and went up to a ticketing agent (prior to security), what did they say? What did the kiosk display when you tried to change your seat on your own?

    While I agree that the way the gate agents responded was unfortunate, you've gotta take control of the situation to get what you want. I recommend joining to learn some of the many tricks to pain-free flying.

  2. TheMilesGuy, thanks for your comments.

    When I booked the tix on line, all seats on the LAX-STL leg were shown as unavailable & I wasn't allowed to choose a seat. I called a phone agent & was told seats would be assigned 24 hours before the flight. I assumed that the flight was oversold.

    When I checked-in on line 24 hours in advance, I had been assigned a window seat & no others were shown as available.

    When I checked flight status the morning of the flight, the available aisle seat popped up. I called & a phone agent told me they couldn't change my seat as I had already checked in & that it would have to be done @ the airport.

    I didn't go to a ticketing agent prior to security because I didn't want to delay my waiting, screening, patting down process. I wanted to get airside so I'd have time to handle the problem & to have breakfast.

    The seat/flight in question was for my second leg of the day, not SFO-LAX, so I didn't check the kiosk in SFO. I had already printed both of my boarding passes @ home.

    I even called a phone agent a 2nd time, after my 1st two interactions with the gate agents, & was told again that an aiport agent would have to make the change. At that time (during breakfast), the seat was still available.

    I didn't want to wait until I arrived in LAX. I assumed the seat wouldn't still be available after such a delay.

    I only wanted an AA employee to see if the seat was available & make the change. It doesn't seem to be that difficult of a proposition, especially since the agents were literally just standing there.