Why Airline Surveys Matter (and Not Just for the 7500 Miles and $150 I Just Got)

One Mile at a Time writes about filling out post-flight surveys from airlines. You don’t usually get anything for it, but the results of these surveys are surprisingly important.

For instance American’s new Boeing 737 MAX has less legroom in coach, no seat back video, and less recline. But the airline’s CEO Doug Parker cites that it does just as well in ‘likelihood to recommend’ scores as their other aircraft.

I think that says bad things about their other aircraft (I’ve long called legacy US Airways planes a ‘basket of deplorables’) and I think the scores were boosted artificially because they had been giving satellite internet free on these planes. However they interpreted the likelihood to recommend scores as meaning lack of seat back entertainment is fine (and frankly for me it is), less legroom is fine, and smaller lavatories are fine.

American Airlines Boeing 737 MAX Economy

As Lucky observed, when he took the survey after a flight in domestic first class he was asked about:

  • whether he was served a predeparture beverage
  • whether the flight attendant smiled, made eye contact, and referred to him by name
  • whether he was thanked for flying American

American has two priorities for its flight attendants in premium cabins: serve predeparture beverages and address customers by name. And they still don’t do it consistently. Here’s the internal communication on the subject:

If flight attendants don’t do either one, scores really plummet.

Ultimately I think the focus on predeparture beverages and customer recognition by name as action steps miss the point. Great crews do these things, poor crews do not. So whether or not these happen is a proxy for a whole lot of other things about the crew, and overall attitude throughout the flight.

Like Lucky I’ve started filling these surveys out too. I recently filled one out with American as well, it was fairly negative about a legacy US Airways A319 flight from Washington National to Miami that was full and I couldn’t even get a Main Cabin Extra seat. They have an A319 scheduled hub-to-hub headed to South Florida on a Thursday afternoon in Winter.

They don’t have enough premium seats to sell (whether first or just extra legroom). As an Executive Platinum member who gave the flight very low scores I got a voicemail from the airline and an email after my survey. The form email I received didn’t address my issue – insufficient premium and extra legroom seats on certain aircraft. But they gave me 7500 miles.

Thank you for taking the time to complete our survey. My name is Victoria and I will be happy to address your concerns about your recent experience. As an AAdvantage® Ex-Platinum Member, you are among our most valued customers, so it is particularly troubling to hear that you were disappointed by our service.

On behalf of American Airlines, please accept my apology for your recent inconvenience. I’ve been trying to reach you to discuss your recent experience, but haven’t been able to connect with you by phone. I don’t want to keep you waiting on a response so I’m reaching out to you by email.

After reading your comments, we are very disappointed to hear that we let you down on so many levels. I know and understand your comfort is important and I’m deeply sorry to hear you were not able to take advantage of our Main Cabin Extra seats for your recent travel. I understand how upsetting this entire experience has been and I sincerely apologize.

As a gesture of goodwill and to encourage your future business, I have added 7,500 bonus miles to your AAdvantage® account. This adjustment will be reflected in your account very soon.

Mr. Leff, we value your long-standing loyalty and support as a Ex-Platinum Member and are eager to continue the relationship we have enjoyed over the years. Please be assured we are all working hard to provide the high quality service you have every right to expect when traveling on American.

I replied to the email explaining my concern again and telling them I was not looking for compensation just to get across my message. They sent me a different not super responsive form email about my ‘downgrade’ (I was not downgraded). And they gave me a partial refund of $150.

Thank you for writing back to us.

We very much appreciate the time you took to send us your suggestion about how we can improve our overall service. Your feedback certainly has merit and it clearly reflects the thought that went into it. It is always helpful for us to consider our service from our customers’ perspective. We try to be responsive to our customers and carefully analyze trend information based upon their reactions. In this way we can identify those service elements that are most appealing as well as improve those that produce a negative response. Our aim is to suit the needs and wishes of the majority of our customers.

As we determine the appropriate action in this regard, your preferences will be considered. Thank you for giving us the benefit of your observations.

Furthermore, In light of the details you provided, I’ve sent a request to our refunds department to review and consider your downgrade. Once the adjustment is processed, a credit will be issued to the original form of payment you used when purchasing the ticket.

I gave up, took the miles and cash.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I swear they don’t read the emails half the time and just copy and paste canned responses. At times, respond with responses that have nothing even close to do with what the original email was even about. They have probably farmed out email customer service to overseas vendors without comprehension of the English language.

  2. Qantas flies their 737s with 30 inch seat pitch and no seat back IFE (and no wifi) and everyone thinks they’re the best airline. Lufthansa does the same with their a320s and nobody bats an eye.

  3. Not totally related, but you mentioned the A319 from DCA to MIA. I was pretty surprised to see that airplane type flying a market like DC to Miami. Flying it next week, booked it in December. Bought F, so don’t have to worry about the upgrades (that I wouldn’t get), but pretty disappointing on a hub to hub route. Now…..to see if I get legacy US or AA metal.

  4. @Marshall Jackson – when I flew it was LUS metal. I didn’t have the opportunity to buy F if I had wanted, with only 8 seats that was full!

  5. Southwest sends me surveys often, but I’ve never gotten any points or vouchers or even a response. Is that because I’ve never had anything to complain about?

  6. @nsx..its because you don’t have a blog that AA doesn’t want Gary bad mouthing them on. Also he is EXP. I have gotten surveys as PLT and gotten nothing even stating when FAs have screwed up. But now that Lucky and Gary have teamed up on getting this free miles stories out, we are definitely not getting any miles for our troubles. On side note, @Gary, do you and Lucky conf call on certain topics. Little coincidental on both getting surveys and points. This has happened before where both of you have same stories, besides the Hyatt crap you guys get before the loyalist.

  7. @kurt – no lucky and i do not conference call on our topics, but we both fly similar airlines and hotel chains and so it wouldn’t surprise we have similar experiences. and we likely scour the same news sources. we’re both pretty diligent.

  8. I always fill out the surveys but have never gotten a response. The last one was for UA and I ripped them. We paid for first class. Dinner was one choice, the Gouda cheeseburger from the buy on board coach menu. Plus, they ran out of all the alcohol (beer, wine, spirits) before the half way point of the flight. Very disappointing.

  9. @ Gary- very happy to hear you were given miles and money for simply voicing an opinion. My wife and I were forced to pay for our overnight hotel when evening connecting flight to SJU cancelled and we were told that it was not AA’s responsibility. Terrible product in the air, disrespectful on the ground. Do not believe your experience to be the norm.

  10. I just flew atl-sna on delta metal. Wifi was not working either way which was a problem given that I was in the air almost five hours each flight and couldn’t get any work done. I emailed delta no customer service to ask if this is a common occurrence. I got a form letter offering me 4000 miles as an apology. 4000 miles for 8 hours of down time? Really? That’s 1/7th the “cost” of a free level one ticket. I don’t know if I was more insulted by the paltry apology or the lack of promised internet service. As the big three continue their race to the bottom . . .

  11. That’s what you get when “marketing gurus” and beancounters run a business.
    AA miles are so worthless.
    To paraphrase an old joke… First prize 7500 AA miles, 2nd prize 15000 AA miles, 3rd prize 22500 AA miles.

  12. I fly Delta as much as possible because I think the service is superior to AA and United. Anyway, most of the time I have no complaints, but if I do, I get online and let them know, and almost always they apologize and deposit Skymiles in my account. I don’t mind at all if they reward me if something wasn’t good enough. Am I a spoiled American who thinks I’m entitled to such things when I fly economy? Yeah, probably. I won’t deny it. But if the airlines hype themselves up, yeah, good for them for rewarding me when I have a complaint. I’m not a travel blogger either, so they definitely don’t show me preferential treatment just so I say good things about them. Whatever. I’ll gladly take the Skymiles.

    Oh, and sometimes I even send them compliments if I think service was exceptional. Do I get anything for it? Nope. But I think it’s nice when they receive compliments and not just complaints from me.

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