So I think I need to offer some more insight and clarification on my post from earlier this week ranting about American Airlines and my boarding group. When I reread the post I decided I came across as an ass. Maybe no more than usual, but an ass nonetheless. The root of that post runs much deeper than my place in a boarding line for a flight. I also appreciate the very bad timing. Whilst I was working on (and subsequently publishing), global media was consumed by the incident on United Airlines. I was very aware of, and at times narrow-minded and vocal about, the actions of United. I didn’t, however, connect the dots and consider the timing of what I was focused on compared to the United event. My post then seems so very shallow and petty- entitled perhaps- and that wasn’t what I intended. Let me see if I can make more sense of this.
I believe what happened is not unique to airlines. It’s a phenomenon hitting a larger scope of commodities but, because of a number of factors, it is magnified exponentially with air travel (you do have to actually get yourself and your toiletries through the checkpoint first)- and American is certainly not the only offender.
The majority of my travel is work-related. Because I travel on public funds I must (and absolutely would and do) book with the best price option and must book through a contracted travel agency. This causes two things. First, it’s difficult to accumulate any kind of status on most airlines because they are never going to be the best price out of Dallas. Second, there are great airlines out there that don’t pay travel agency commissions so they never organically appear in my searches in our travel portal. I never see options for Virgin or Southwest, but I wish I did. Therefore, the loyalty I do have to American Airlines is because of how the chips (or, in this case, the web search) falls.
I think this situation happened at the collision of two forces.
First, the past several years have seen an unprecedented amount of mergers and buyouts among major US air carriers: American and Useless Air, Delta and Northwest, United and Continental, Southwest and Air Tran and Alaska’s much-mourned takeover of Virgin America. If you’re looking to travel within the continental US (and even to several foreign destinations) you now have few options. I’m typically not a fan of over regulation by the federal government but sometimes it does actually protect consumers. I don’t think anti-trust measures were levied against these airlines mergers strong enough. The point of this part is, like I said earlier, is there just aren’t very many choices for consumers. The same can be said for cable and communication companies.
Second, is our attitude. I mean our collective consumer attitude and, admittedly, my consumer attitude. I know this is cliche but we really are always trying to buy champagne on a beer budget (admittedly a number of craft beers now outprice champagne, but I digress). We want the amenities of first class and the customer service of Ritz-Carlton while wanting to only pay for going Greyhound to Best Western.
Where were we? Let me circle back to my boarding group situation now that you know how I ended up on these flights. I use the Citi AAdvantage Executive card because it comes with a number of perks usually afforded to elite fliers- something I will never be. In this case it’s about boarding early enough to get an overhead bin. Unless you’re flying Southwest, everything goes in carry-ons these days. No one wants to pay those ridiculous baggage fees (that earned US carriers over a BILLION dollars in profit) so we all try to carry everything on. Selfish of me? Yes.
This was never about me actually getting on that airplane. This was about a broken promise. You see, I work in the public sector. There are few things I’m better at than processes, procedures and routing multi-part paper forms to get shit done. In this instance, I had multiple communications from America Airlines about their new process and how it affected me and how it was going to make my life and the lives of my fellow passengers so much better. It didn’t work. On the first flight I did cut them some slack because it was a new rollout and wrinkles happen when things are new. I totally get that. But it happened more than once, in fact. But here’s thew real crux of my frustration with all of this: they don’t care.
I think an article written by Lucky over at “One Mile at a Time” hit the proverbial nail on the head. They didn’t get it right and they don’t have to. The don’t have to care if I’m upset about it and they don’t have to fix it because they’ve got me. I don’t have a choice to fly them most of the time and they know it.
The only time @AmericanAir actually listened and responded to me was when I called them out on Twitter. Why did it take that to get them to reply? (That’s a broader question for a post for next week). No resolution came of that because the person managing the social media accounts, whilst very well intentioned, could only pass my concerns unto the same departments and managers who had ignored me to this point.
So there you have it. The rest of the story (someone should trademark that phrase).