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Planespotting outside of the terminal at Little Rock’s Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fangzhong Guo)

Trip Report: How I Tried All Forms of AA’s Customer Service

I recently took a trip from Seattle to Little Rock, Ark., on an interline ticket with Alaska Airlines and American Airlines. It was a trying experience with mediocre integration, delays, and poor customer service. Here’s what happened.

Booking

The booking process was straightforward. I booked the personal trip with Alaska using miles. Although the Seattle-based carrier does not serve Little Rock directly, it was able to offer connectivity through its alliance partner, American. Since the itinerary includes partner flights, finding available flights is more complicated. Therefore using the flight calendar is helpful since it won’t error out when a specific day has no flights. 

Schedule Changes

I booked this flight several months in advance, which meant it unavoidably saw many schedule changes. While it’s understandable that the flight schedule shuffled a lot after the summer of airline chaos, the inconsistent notifications for them were inexcusable. 

For the most part, I found out about the changes when I opened the app for my other trips. However, I did receive an email notification for the last schedule change. Even more difficult was that I needed to call customer service to confirm the changes every time. In one of the changes, the customer agent informed me I was booked on connecting flights that overlapped. This experience is undoubtedly divergent from Alaska’s promise of a one-stop seamless experience for codeshare flights. 

My flight from Seattle to Little Rock, Ark. (Photo: gcmap)

Seat Assignment

After several schedule changes, I was flying from Seattle to Little Rock with a stop in Chicago and then at Dallas on my way back. Both flights in and out of Little Rock would be on American Eagle, while the others would be on Alaska. Both American Eagle flights are Alaska’s codeshare flights, but my reservation only showed me the American flight numbers. However, Alaska’s codeshare information page also showed flights with the operating carrier’s flight numbers, so I don’t know which flight number was in my booking.

Seat assignment is another annoyance for my booking. Despite promising benefits of a one-stop seat assignment experience, I could only select my seats on American’s website. This composition of my itinerary also created issues within American’s app since it would redirect me to the mobile website for seat selection.

Unlike what the Alaska website stated, I could check in from either airline’s app. Although I would still go to the operating airline’s app for the boarding pass since neither app displays seat or gate information for the other airline on its boarding passes.

The Delay

The Many Delays

My outbound flight was uneventful. On the morning of my return flight, though, the American app notified me of a slight delay for my 2 PM Dallas flight. It was 11 a.m., and I received four delays totaling one and a half hours. I decided to use that time planespotting at Little Rock. Since I had a two-and-a-half-hour layover and a very short flight, the delay did not worry me. 

While I was spotting at the airport, more delays started eking out. My flight received three incremental delays cutting another 45 minutes out of my transit. I called Alaska customer service to rebook my Seattle flight. The Seattle-based carrier had another flight that night three hours later than my original flight, but two American flights would depart earlier. So the agent tried to book me on the earlier flights but failed, and I took the seat on the later flight.

When I was going through security, the Dallas-based carrier slapped another delay on my flight. This one was the largest one, with 1 hour and 15 minutes. It also caused more concern at the gate since many connections were in jeopardy. It kept the agent busy, but eventually, they took care of all passengers. 

American issued many incremental delays for my flight. (Photo: FlightStats)

The meal voucher debacle

At 4:15 p.m., the flight was delayed for another 10 minutes to 5:10 p.m. However, the incoming flight had yet to leave the gate at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, so there was no chance for our flight to leave at 5:10 p.m. Since the delay was over three hours, I decided to ask the gate agent for a meal voucher. 

American’s customer service plan states for delays caused by the airline, “Meal vouchers if your delay is three or more hours after your scheduled departure.” Our flight delay came from crew rest rules. Therefore passengers were entitled to this compensation. However, here’s the first significant disconnect in their customer service plan. The gate agent insisted the policy was four hours and refused to give out vouchers even when I tried to show them the policy on the company’s website. 

It is stressful in this situation for the gate agents since they have to rebook a lot of passengers. Still, at the end of the day, they represent the airlines. When the gate agent did not show compassion and struck harsh tones, I knew not to waste time talking to them and went straight to filing a complaint with the airline.

American Airlines policy regarding delayed flights. (Photo: American Airlines)

Other customer services

In the meantime, I still wanted a meal voucher since getting reimbursement from the airlines is challenging. I had a 10-hour delay earlier this year. I did not know I needed the voucher and was refused reimbursement by the airline. I tried using Twitter DM and received responses in about 20 minutes, but they couldn’t do anything. To quote their words, “We can offer only our apology.”

After landing in Dallas, I asked the customer agent for a voucher. He suggested that it should only be issued at the departing airport. However, he acknowledged since they didn’t provide any assistance, he’d help me there. This attempt revealed another interesting issue with AA’s booking system. While the agent could locate my reservation and the 10-plus flights due to the schedule changes, he couldn’t find my delayed flight in my reservation. In turn, he provided me with a phone number for customer service and said they could email a voucher. In addition, although I already received my updated boarding pass for the last leg, the AA system still shows that I have missed my flight.

I followed his instruction and called customer service. While the agent tried to be helpful, she also needed to become more familiar with the latest rule. I worked with her to locate the policy on AA’s website, and we agreed that my flight was eligible for the benefit. However, there was nothing they could do after spending 30 minutes on the phone. She informed me that ground agents were the only ones who could issue vouchers. This failure is another disconnect between the different customer service departments at American Airlines. 

Not many options are open around 7 p.m. at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fangzhong Guo)

I ended up paying for food myself. There was not many option either since most places have already closed. At this point, I also felt like I should try all forms of customer service, so I tried using the chat function in the app. Unsurprisingly, there was no way to reimburse the meal. The only suggestion they could give was to fill out the complaint form rather than connect me with a customer relationships representative. If you are wondering, you’ll be able to change your flight in case of a delay.

At last, customer relations replied to me the day after my flight. They offered me flight credit instead of a reimbursement. The exchange was quick and easy. 

Takeaways

Interline Experience

Alaska failed to provide the one-stop experience it promised. Seat selection is cumbersome, and managing schedule changes are unnecessarily burdensome.

On the day of the flight, neither airline’s app could provide boarding passes with rich information for the other airline’s flight. Rebooking and itinerary updates across airlines are far from seamless. 

It’ll be ok dealing with the quirks when there is no flight disruption. Based on my experience, one might be better off booking through an OTA when a multiple-airline itinerary is necessary.

Customer Service

I have two other long delays this year, and I think it’s fair to compare the experiences. Mechanical issues caused both delays, the first was 4 hours with Delta, and the second was 10 hours with Alaska.

At the airport

During my previous delays, both airlines provided frequent updates on the progress from mechanics regarding the repair. While my delay with American was human-factor related, they could’ve provided updates for things like finding new crews for our flight. I reached the gate later than our original departure time, so I can’t comment on the first hour of delay. For the two hours that I was in the terminal, the airline made no effort to provide updates until the flight boarded in Dallas. It was also an annoyance to receive eight incremental changes for only a three-hour delay.

My previous delays were shortly after breakfast, so the airlines brought snack carts around the three-hour mark. Snack carts also helped reduce the need for issuing an actual voucher, so I didn’t want one when my Delta flight was delayed. My Alaska delay happened at an airport with two vending machines as concessions, so snacks were at least the best they could offer. In the case of American, the carrier could have done more to improve the delay experience since the delay was approaching dinner time. 

Behind the scenes

The Dallas-based carrier also fell short from a customer service channel perspective. Delta has its popular iMessage platform. While sometimes the wait time can be long, I received a flight credit after a short chat with an agent. This rendered features from AA’s app and Twitter channel somewhat limited. Both channels could only link me to filing a complaint rather than connecting me to a customer relations representative.

Overall, most airline agents are happy to help with your travel needs. I enjoyed my conversation with customer service at Dallas B28 and on the phone. While I did not have a great experience with the gate agents at Little Rock, it’s partly due to poor flow down of company policy. It’s also understandable that the gate agents are just as frustrated during a delay as you since they have to process all the rebookings and changes at the airport. 

Author

  • Fangzhong Guo

    Fangzhong grew up near an OEM airport in northeastern China, where he developed his enthusiasm for aviation. Taking upon his passion, he's now working as an aircraft interior design engineer. Besides working in the aerospace industry, Fangzhong enjoys trying out different types of airplanes and seeing how airplane interiors have evolved. So far, he's flown on over 80 types of aircraft. He also planespots in his spare time. His rarest catches included the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and AN-225.

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