The well-chronicled labor troubles at American Airlines are nothing but headlines to most of us, until it comes time to fly American. Then we learn firsthand about the hopefully temporary state of an airline that statistically has lagged behind its competitors in recent weeks for delays and cancellations.
My experience came in late September, when awakening to an email from American that said my 2:05 p.m. flight to Denver in two weeks had become an 8:45 p.m. flight. Even by today's flying standards, being delayed six-plus hours more than two weeks before flying seemed absurd. My call to the airline ended up being a lesson in navigating what the company is politely calling "operational challenges."
An endlessly pleasant operator with a thick Texas accent told me that, sure enough, labor issues were the likely culprit, but that I had options. First, she said, I could have a full refund without a penalty. American also is offering refunds for any flights delayed more than two hours on the day of flying.
Although no-strings refunds are a staggering thought these days, I declined. I had scored a great fare and still needed to get to Denver.
Well, she said, though I had been rebooked on that later flight, she would gladly get me on the 10:35 a.m. flight. The 4:10 was sold out, but I also could take the 1:55 p.m. with a layover in Dallas.
None of those quite worked for me, so the 8:45 p.m. it was. Still, I would be flying six hours later than what I had paid for. Gently reminding the agent of this fact, I asked if I could be upgraded from my middle seat to an aisle, perhaps even an exit row. She gladly accommodated me on both counts at no cost.
Further, I sent an email to American's customer-relations department explaining that a six-hour bump already was failing to provide what I had paid for. Two days later, I was told that I would be awarded 5,000 bonus frequent-flier miles. That's no bounty, perhaps, but it seemed fair for the hassle.
All this is to say: The airlines don't hesitate to inconvenience us, but passengers have rights and, when things go wrong, often more options than it might first appear. Be polite and reasonable, but be firm when examining your options.
What other flights are available? Can you be rebooked on another airline? Will American (or whatever the airline) put you up in a hotel if needed? Can you be reimbursed with frequent-flier miles for your hassle?
The answer often is "yes," especially for an airline that doesn't want to alienate customers. Just ask (again, politely).
Some industry watchers are counseling fliers to avoid American until the "operational challenges" are resolved, and it's difficult to argue with that advice. But if you have flights on American locked in, as I do, the lessons learned during American's challenges could aid a lifetime of flying.
The Travel Mechanic is dedicated to better, smarter, more fulfilling travel. Thoughts, comments and suggestions can be sent to email@example.com. Include "Travel Mechanic" in the subject line. Follow him on Twitter at @traveljosh.