How American Airlines destroyed the end of our vacation, and how British Airways did their best to help us feel better.

Update: Not satisfied with the response from Customer Service, I wrote a letter directly to Robert Isom, the CEO of American Airlines. He just bounced it back to Customer Service, without the courtesy of a direct response. Their answer was, essentially, “we’re sorry you’re unhappy but 🤬 you. What happened is standard procedure. Here’s 10,000 miles in your account, we hope you’ll fly with us again.”

Below is the text of a letter I wrote to American Airlines, which essentially summarizes our experience.


I’ll try to be concise here, but it’s hard, because there are so many feelings involved. I’m not a happy camper right now.

In December of 2021, I found a great fare to London and booked a trip (which had been delayed by 2 years due to COVID) for my wife and myself to celebrate our anniversary. First class. This was important, because my wife has mobility issues and I wanted to make the trip as easy on her as possible. Our flight record was [redacted], but the flights were with British Airways as a codeshare.

BA then cancelled our flight to London and I had to rebook in January. Great, all is well. On 22 March we took off for London under the following itinerary:

Boston to London – AA 6963
Mar 22, 8:15 PM–Mar 23, 6:50 AM

London to Rome – AA 6455
Mar 23, 9:35 AM–1:20 PM

☞ Rome to London – AA 6511
Apr 19, 12:55 PM–2:40 PM ☜

London to Boston – AA 6927
Apr 19, 5:05 PM–7:45 PM

Everything went wonderfully. We had a lovely trip traveling around Europe, including taking the Eurostar from Paris to London. And I figured that, hey, since we’ll already be in London, we just won’t have to take that segment from Rome. The one up there that’s struck out. So before we flew, I called American and asked if that segment could be refunded.

The agent said that to do that, he would have to rebook the entire itinerary. And that there would be a price difference. And that all he had available was business class. So I told him that I would just leave the itinerary as it was, and simply would not take the flight from Rome to London. And the agent told me that would be fine.

So when we got to Heathrow to come home, we trucked down to the First Class reception area, expecting to be able to spend a few hours in the lovely Concord Room getting a bit of something to eat… but instead I was told that we had no itinerary. No flight. So sorry.

You cannot possibly imagine the feelings I had at that moment. The stress. The embarrassment. The shame. The fear. Waiting in BA’s first class area with a physically limited spouse, no flight, no way home, and no one who was willing to get us on the flight that we had booked and paid for and were present and ready to take.

The BA personnel conferred for about an hour and were sympathetic, but finally told me that they could do nothing, and that I had to go to the American Airlines desk to get it resolved. There I was given the same story: Because we had not taken that segment up there (the one crossed out), our entire itinerary had been cancelled. The AA agent told me I could get a flight the next day in First Class for another $14,000… or a business class booking for another $8,000! And by this time we had been dealing with this for over three hours, and my stress had reached a point that I was experiencing chest pains.

None of this made sense. I had paid for an entire first class itinerary, and I sure as shooting was not being given first class service. Just because we didn’t take the flight from Rome – and remember, you people had my money for that segment and I wasn’t even asking for a refund, so you were losing nothing – you had no right to cancel my flight from London. None. It is sheer madness. People kept throwing terms at me like “illegal ticketing,” “terms and conditions,” “fine print blah blah,” and the like… and I really didn’t understand any of it, and I really don’t care. I had paid for a first class itinerary, and you took it away from me. And it was wrong. All you had to do was undo that flight cancellation [and there were available seats in First Class], but nobody seemed willing to do that. It seemed all about getting more money, and not a soul was concerned that I had been effectively robbed and stranded. I was just another number in a computer.

So there I was. Finally, your agent was able to get us a seat in coach, on BA 203, that evening, the same flight that we had paid for in first class. Yes, he offered me a bit of a refund in the form of some vouchers, but that in no way made up for the inconvenience, the stress, the embarrassment, the discomfort, and the physical challenges for both me and my wife. It’s just a good thing we arrived at the airport a good 6 hours early, or we would have missed the rest of our connections.

So we made it home, and now you guys are in deep tapioca with me. And how you respond to this situation will determine how I will respond to you in future. Because as of this moment, the odds that I will ever use AA again after using up those travel vouchers are pretty much less than zero. But there it is.

You screwed up royally. You put us through literal travel Hell. And it all could have been avoided if your telephone agent – in the Philippines or wherever, with an accent so heavy I had to strain to understand him – had told me at the time of my phone call, “Be careful, because if you don’t take the segment from Rome to London, your itinerary will be cancelled.” But nothing like that was said. I was completely unaware that this was even possible, and it never entered my mind, because it was like I had purchased four separate tickets and simply chose not to use one of them. To your financial advantage.

So I ask you, what are you going to do to make this right? What are you going to do to keep me as a customer? If I hear any corporate noises like “We’re sorry, but according to the terms of conveyance…” or “regretfully you did not read the fine print…” or “we regret this is standard industry practice…” or anything like that, I will be more than put out. And my social media presence is large, and extensive, and wide.


And below, you will find the bitterly disappointing weak-sauce response from AA:


Thanks for taking the time to contact us. I’m sorry for any confusion over your reservations. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concern. [Note: But your “response” was just a load of mealy-mouthed corporate pablum.]

There are many different fares and associated restrictions with air travel. It is a generally accepted practice that tickets are to be used in sequence and in their entirety. This is a standard airline requirement for all discounted round-trip tickets. [Note: So despite my admonition above, all I’m hearing is “corporate noises“].

When a customer presents a ticket for “return” travel without having used a previous segment, the ticket is considered void for that trip. In such cases, it is usually necessary to purchase a new one-way ticket at the applicable fare. [Note: And that is pure 🐂💩, an unconscionable money grab. You had seats available in first class that you had not re-sold. You could have just reinstated our fare with no loss to you.]

We know that travel plans can change, even up to the time of departure. In such cases your ticket will be repriced at the applicable fare. I am sorry for your disappointment. [Note: But you are unwilling to do anything about it I’m clearly not worth the effort to retain me as a customer.]

Regarding the vouchers issued for the fare difference, I’ve reissued your eVouchers as new Trip Credits, which will arrive in separate emails. [Note: This does absolutely nothing for me. Thanks for nothing.]

Trip Credits are valid for one year from the date of issue, unless otherwise stated and can be used to purchase travel on flights operated by American, American Eagle® or flights marketed by American – designated with an AA*. They can also be used to book flights on our oneworld® partners, as long as at least one flight in the itinerary is operated or marketed by AA and is for international travel. International flights are defined as transatlantic, transpacific and flights to and from South America.

When using a Trip Credit, the value must be applied toward the ticket purchase before the one-year expiration, but travel may extend beyond that date. Trip Credits are nontransferable and may not be sold or bartered, but you can use them to purchase a ticket for anyone you choose. Check out all the Terms and Conditions here on aa.com.

Christopher, thank you for your loyalty and support as an AAdvantage® member. We look forward to welcoming you aboard your next flight! [Note: Not bloody likely. I asked what you were going to do to rectify this hideous treatment, and you toed the corporate line and answered, effectively, “nothing.” And as a result, once I have used up whatever credits I have accrued on my AA mastercard and the vouchers I was given, AA is unlikely to see another red cent from me. Ever. And I robustly encourage anyone who’s planning travel to use an airline that gives a rat’s south-40 about customer satisfaction.]

Sincerely,
[Name redacted]
Customer Relations
American Airlines

Edit: I wrote back to AA to let them know I was unhappy with their response:

It goes without saying that I am both unsatisfied and bitterly disappointed by your uncaring response. I asked you in my letter, “So I ask you, what are you going to do to make this right? What are you going to do to keep me as a customer?” And your response was effectively, “nothing.” American really screwed the pooch with this one, and it’s clear you don’t give a rat’s south-40 about customer satisfaction. So as for welcoming me aboard my next American flight, the odds of that are precisely zero – and I am publishing our exchange far and wide, to make sure others know how poorly I was treated and how AA didn’t really care.

Sadly,
-Christopher C. DeSantis
A former AA flyer.

And they came back to me with this:

May 31, 2022

Hello Christopher:

I received your additional email and am sorry to hear that you’re disappointed with my response. [Note: This letter was written by a different agent, so the original was not “her response.“] We recognize that we will not always agree upon the resolution, but we do our best to be supportive as advocates for our customers and fulfill requests where we can.

We’re committed to providing world-class service, and your business means a lot to us. We appreciate you taking the time to share your feedback, which helps us know where we can improve. Every day our team is working to make flying with us better, and we look forward to rebuilding your confidence. From all of us at American Airlines, we look forward to serving your future travel needs. We sincerely appreciate our loyalty, you are why we fly! [Note: I can’t believe they have the unmitigated chutzpah to say something like this to an unhappy customer.]

Sincerely,

[Name redacted]
Customer Relations
American Airlines

Yes, life happens. But this kind of treatment – essentially a calculated money-grab by the airline – is unconscionable and a corporation that cares about its customers would at least do something to retain an unhappy customer. Clearly, American Airlines is not such a corporation.

So, I wrote back:

> I received your additional email and am sorry to hear that you’re disappointed with my response.
It was not “your response.” The first letter was sent by a completely different agent.

> we do our best to be supportive as advocates for our customers and fulfill requests where we can.

 Your total dismissal of my complaint proves that this is a lie.

We’re committed to providing world-class service, and your business means a lot to us.

Horsehockey. If my business meant a lot to you, you would have replied with something – anything – to make up for the terrible thing you did.

>From all of us at American Airlines, we look forward to serving your future travel needs. We sincerely appreciate our loyalty, you are why we fly!

You have thermonuclear chutzpah to send this kind of boilerplate response to a very unhappy customer. It makes you look as cheap and uncaring as you have proven yourselves to be. As indicated, you shot yourselves in the foot and I will not be using American Airlines again unless you come back to me with something substantial to change my mind.

Sincerely,
Christopher C. DeSantis
A former AA flyer.

And, today [6/7/2022] I received this dishwater response:

June 7, 2022

Hello Christopher:

I received your reply and see that you’re still unhappy with us. One of our primary responsibilities in Customer Relations is to help our customers who have experienced a situation such as yours. I’m sorry that we weren’t able to resolve the issue to your satisfaction. I can see that you feel strongly about this issue. I took another look at your original complaint, as well as our response and, at this time, I don’t see any new information that would change our position. If you have additional information you’d like us to consider let me know and I’ll gladly review it.

Christopher, we look forward to rebuilding your confidence in our service, and hope you’ll give us the opportunity to provide you with a more positive experience in the future.

Sincerely,
[Name redacted]
Customer Relations
American Airlines

So AA’s response is, still and forever, “Nothing.” Just “sorry you’re unhappy with us.” That’s pretty pathetic. Maybe a letter to someone in corporate will change something? Time will tell.

But the story continues with a coda:

So we got on our flight – for which we had paid for first-class service – in coach class. I suppose it would not have killed us, but it would have played hob with my wife’s sciatica. But when the cabin crew of BA 203 heard what had happened, these good people bent over backwards to make our flight home as comfortable as possible. We were moved up to the next section, sort of a Coach Plus affair – not as cushy as business class but with much more comfortable seats and better service – and taken care of with as much solicitousness as it was possible for this crew to offer. A particular shout-out to Simon, the flight manager on duty: he gets a gold star for caring and compassion. As a result, I would happily give BA my business any time I had the opportunity.

TL;DR – Avoid American Airlines like the plague, and consider using BA for your transatlantic needs.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

3 responses to “How American Airlines destroyed the end of our vacation, and how British Airways did their best to help us feel better.

  1. Never really cared for AA in the first place. They’re better than United, but that’s like saying a hog wallow is better than an overused litter box. I do like China Eastern, but they’re a bit irrelevant for your particular travel.

    • What’s sad is that when I was traveling extensively in the ’90s, United was at the top of the heap. I was always treated very well by them, and their precipitous descent was breathtaking.

  2. BA did us good when – in 2019 – we had to cancel our flights from here to Ireland and back, due to Covid. They sent us vouchers for the full amount and continued to extend the expiration date. It now is September next year, and we really hope we can trave to Ireland next year.

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