American Airlines has reduced options for travelers whose flights are delayed or canceled.
Under a policy that began in late September, passengers without status in the airline’s frequent flier program will not be rebooked on other airlines except in special circumstances.
Previously, American had loose guidelines, with airport and reservations agents given broad discretion on rebooking passengers who aren’t automatically put on the best available flight because of their frequent flier status. If your nonstop flight from Chicago to New York was canceled and there was a nonstop on United that got you there fastest, they might switch you to that flight.
The airline decided a formal policy was necessary, with written guidelines on the pecking order for rebooking, spokesman Ross Feinstein said.
The rebooking order remains the same: Travelers are to be first put on American Airlines flights, followed, by flights on the airline’s partners, most of which are international airlines, which don’t offer flights within the United States. (Alaska Airlines, a codeshare partner with American, is an exception.)
“Other airlines” are next on the list, and whether you get that option depends on your status, or lack thereof:
- American’s most prized travelers, those with status at or near the top of its frequent flier program and those in first class on transcontinental flights, get first dibs. Agents are advised to do everything possible to rebook them on American or partner flights but the goal is getting them to their destination the fastest, even if in on another airlines.
- Passengers with the next tiers of frequent flier status (platinum, gold and others) are to be put on other airlines only if their American flight is delayed more than five hours.
- Passengers with no status are not to be put on another airline.
“Ultimately we’re trying to cut down on the number of passengers we rebook on other airlines,” American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said.
He declined to say why, but airlines pay each other for putting passengers in each others’ seats when things go wrong, so money is likely a big driver.
Feinstein notes that that there are several exceptions to the “no other” airlines policy. The policy lists several: unaccompanied minors, customers with disabilities, no hotel availability for overnight stays, special occasions including funerals, weddings, surgery and cruises.
“Our team members have the ability to get exceptions to the policy based on individual circumstances,” Feinstein said.
Brett Snyder, whose Cranky Concierge service books travel and also troubleshoots passengers’ travel problems, says having a policy is a good idea because it gives employees a framework when flight problems arise.
But he thinks American went too far with this one because it sends a message that travelers without frequent flier elite status aren’t important to the airline.
“This seems a little overreaching,” he said. “It seems more punitive. And it just really seems unfair.”
Delta Air Lines has a similar pecking offer for rebooking travelers, with agents instructed to look first at other Delta flights, followed by partner airlines and, when necessary, competitors’ flights in cases where they have a reaccommodation agreement with another airline. (Note that Southwest Airlines and low cost carriers such as Spirit do not have such agreements with other carriers.)
“The approach at Delta is pretty simple: give our people the autonomy to do what’s right for the customer,” Durrant said via e-mail.
United Airlines has a similar rebooking policy, with the first goal to rebook passengers on the next available United or United Express flight, spokeswoman Maddie King said.
If the next United flights isn’t until the following day, the airline books passengers on a partner airline.
If that’s not an option, and the flight cancellation is the airline’s fault, they turn to other airlines to avoid an overnight stay for the passenger, King said.
King said United employees may make exceptions to the policy “when it makes sense.”
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