American Airlines Apologizes For Cancelling Flights, Their Messaging Makes Things Worse?

American Airlines is sending out apology e-mails to customers explaining how they made the right decision in cancelling so many flights, and they won’t do it again because they’re staffing up.

Here’s what struck me about the email,

  • My wife (general member) got one. As of this writing I have not yet received one (Executive Platinum). Perhaps I will, but it’s interesting that even if they’re mass emailing their entire database that they aren’t prioritizing messages to their most frequent customers.
  • The email opens with a recognition that the member “may have been impacted” by the cancellations.

    Over the last few days, we proactively canceled flights in order to account for weather in our operation and its impact to our crew members’ flight schedules.

    We recognize that you may have been impacted by these adjustments…

  • Neither my wife nor I even had reservations for the days involving recently unpleasantness at the airline. Why treat your whole database as though it’s had the same experience as a small percentage of those members?
  • It’s worse for customers who did experience travel disruptions because American doesn’t even show they know they inconvenienced those passengers.

They did not bother with a data sort of customers who actually had bookings. A portion of the appraised value of up to $30 billion of the AAdvantage program is premised on their data capability, the wide view of transactions they have to understand and cross-sell to customers. I’m not so sure.

This isn’t a missive about American Airlines, though, it’s a point about marketing.

  • The fundamental idea in marketing is knowing who your customers are, and finding more people like those.
  • Loyalty marketing is mass-personalized, it is permission-based relationship marketing.
  • That means using data – really, using customer behavior in shortcut form – to know your customers.

If you do not know your customers, you cannot sell to your customers. Don’t send me pitches about golf, for instance, just because I’m a 40-something white guy when nothing in your transaction data suggests that I golf.

I’m a firm believer that people do not mind marketing, they mind bad marketing. Delivering the right message to the right customer at the right time is value-add for them as well as for the business. Sending out messages to people saying “you may have been impacted” by an operational meltdown shows you have as little handle on your customers (not even knowing who was flying and who was not) as on the operation itself.

Segment your customers. You might be in a hurry, but don’t be lazy, because sending messages to customers that aren’t relevant puts your messages in the box of not being relevant, and reduces the likelihood that they’ll read and take action based on your marketing messages in the future, compared to messaging that understands the member and where they’re at.

Put another way, this is me harping on a core theme: pay attention to the details.

Here’s American’s full message:

Over the last few days, we proactively canceled flights in order to account for weather in our operation and its impact to our crew members’ flight schedules.

We recognize that you may have been impacted by these adjustments. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and that we weren’t able to provide advance notice about these changes. We want to share more background and our response to ensure smooth travel this upcoming holiday season.

Weather Impact

Late last week, DFW experienced two days with wind gusts of up to 50 mph, which rendered three of five runways unusable, and reduced arrival capacity by more than half. This weather, along with limited staffing due to crew members’ regular schedules being disrupted, drove a large number of cancellations at our largest hub.

We offer the above not as an excuse, but rather in the spirit of transparency. We take seriously our commitment to serve you, and it is our responsibility to take learnings from this past weekend and improve upon our processes. You deserve nothing less, and you have our pledge that we will do just that.

Our Response

To make sure we are taking care of you and providing scheduling certainty for our crews, we adjusted our operation by proactively canceling some flights to minimize any inconvenience as much as possible. Most customers impacted by these changes are being rebooked the same day.

We expect considerable improvement beginning today with some residual impact from the weekend.

We will continue to staff up across our entire operation:

  • Today, nearly 1,800 flight attendants are returning from leave.
  • On December 1, the remainder of flight attendants on leave are coming back.
  • We’ll have 600+ new flight attendants on staff by end of December.
  • We’re continuing to hire additional pilots and team members in Technical Operations, which includes our maintenance team. We anticipate 4,000 new team members will join us across the system in the fourth quarter.
  • We’ve hired hundreds of Reservations agents over the last several months, so more team members are in place as we head into the holiday season.

If you need any assistance with your travel plans, please reach out to Reservations at 1-800-433-7300 or with our virtual chat assistant on aa.com and on the American Airlines app.

Thank you for the opportunity to share more background on the last few days and to reassure you of our commitment to getting you where you need to go — when you need to be there.

Sincerely,

Alison Taylor
Chief Customer Officer

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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Comments

  1. My daughter, who hasn’t flown AA in 3 years–although she sometimes goes through the AAdvantage shopping portal to keep her points from expiring–received the same email. I flew AA in February and received no such email. So yeah, there’s a big ‘huh’?

  2. Completely agree — received same message, none of my flights affected. AA clearly does NOT know its customers.

  3. Compare this to Alaska who cancelled my flight on Sunday. Within 10 min I had an apology text with a promise of a $100 voucher. With interline agreements I made it home with minor inconvenience.

  4. I am an EXP and got this email. I did not have travel plans through this time frame, however.

  5. Gary, Looking at this another way, they weren’t trying to apologize for their operational meltdown, they were trying to convince people they could be trusted for holiday bookings, and not to book with another airline, because they are fixing the problems which caused them to be unable to recover on Saturday and Sunday. General members might be a bigger priority, since they don’t have those EP benefits encouraging them to travel on AA. If they did it right, they should have sent a different message to EP and other status members saying they appreciate your part business and hope to earn your future business by taking the steps to prevent future meltdowns.

    But this event was totally preventable, at least on the weekend. The wind was forecasted a couple of days ahead of time, they should have preemptively reduced flying at least on Thursday, and not burned through reserves by putting them out of position.

  6. An additional solution is to use the billions received from the government is to build hotels in AA hub cities to help passengers who get stranded when connecting flights cancel with little notification.

  7. Got the email. Fortunately, none of my flights are effected but I am flying twice a month on average nowadays.

  8. John H – AA was already cutting flights on Thursday, though not as many as they did in the ensuing days, and plainly not enough to keep their schedule in balance.

  9. That’s what happens when you purge your marketing department and leave just one intern… these are the basics from the 1990s.

  10. I WAS impacted, had to spend the night in Dallas, was late to work on Monday because of it. I received the email, but nothing to make the situation right. It’s like the kids wrecked the car and mumbled “sorry…” but I still have to pay for the repairs.

  11. I am EP and was affected on Monday….two cancelled or delayed flights going from TPA – BDL. Originally TPA-MIA-BDL, then when the MIA-BDL was cancelled, it was to be TPA-ORD-BDL, and when the TPA-ORD was delayed over 2 hours, thanks to the aid of a very attentive check in agent at TPA, I flew TPA-DCA-BDL with the DCA-BDL segment about 45 minutes delayed. So I appreciated the letter. Didn’t realize it was sent to many non-affected people, however I believe AA was trying to be proactive and explain things.

  12. What irked me was they talked about their commitment to the customer and their “responsibility,” but this comes on the heels and them sending out notices that is they cancel a flight they’re not responsible to help you get to your destination. Their responsibility apparently ends at refunding the unused portion of your ticket and leaving you stranded.

  13. Lame AA.

    AA Exp, got the same email after my spouse. Their flight and excuse arrived early, both of mine arrived later with my flight 2 1/2 hours late washing out dinner plans.

    AA can’t seem to get it right on any level as they limp along with poor management kept afloat by government loans while continuing to devalue their customers experience. AA is short sighted, blinded by $$$. They think that spells success.

  14. .EXP here who received the email but my partner, who’s PLT Pro did not. As we all know the saying actions speak louder than words. I hope they get this cleared up by next week as we’re flying PSP-DFW-MIA-PTY and cancelling/delaying any one of the flights screws us up.

  15. Given the widespread negative coverage of the meltdown, AA needed to send a message to its entire AAdvantage base, but the messaging they used showed how AA continues to be flat footed in its approach to customers. As others have mentioned, sending a note to affected passengers with a mea culpa and commitment to addressing their inconvenience, alongside a general message addressing the overall concern any AA flyer might be feeling would have been the way to go. Instead, they unsurprisingly went with a one-size-fits-all approach that leads everyone involved feeling that they didn’t get a sincere message that addressed their concerns.

    It seems they learned one message from the Southwest debacle: don’t lie about the operational issues that caused the meltdown. But Southwest got the message to consumers right eventually, fessing up and also demonstrating a commitment to make things right to affected passengers. I don’t see anything in this message that makes it clear they will make things right when their operations affect your flight.

  16. Just as with the other AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, step one is to admit that their business has become unmanageable. Being honest is key to fixing AA, the airline. Neither management or their online supporters admit how bad AA has become. Blaming others and repeating “it isn’t really bad because others “drink” too” doesn’t work.

  17. Cool, at least the recognize the issue, what really grinds my gears is that you think status like EP entitled you to something…. I can tell you now, none of us really care about your status. It’s a marketing ploy, and once on board you are no better than anyone else. You must follow the same rules, listen to all crew member instruction and to just be a good non entitled person.

  18. Our flight home from Mexico was late by 2 and a half hours so our connection was missed. We had to stay in Dallas at our own expense and we were rebooked for the first flight this morning, that was cancelled and they put us on a much later flight because? We didn’t really want to go home? Got it changed to an earlier flight now fingers crossed they don’t cancel that. I have paid out over $100 for seat upgrades on my last two cancelled flights now I have to fight to get those back. I need to get home from vacation because my stepfather passed away and they keep screwing our flights around. I have a funeral I need to get to, and I’m sure there are others who need to get home to. The worst part is that their half assed apology doesn’t mean anything. If the guy running the billion dollar company who’s making millions doing it can’t staff properly then they need a new head guy. I will no longer be flying American my money is better spent on companies that have someone running them who understands people have to get to where they are going and no one has time for this crap.

  19. I am on EXP who had my flight cancelled. No email received. Agree, AA is tone deaf to their customers.

  20. They are incompetent in running operations – their core business.
    They are incompetent in customer service – handling the outcome of their poor operations or properly apologizing.
    Why do you expect them to be competent in marketing or IT?
    The answer to all this is simple – they don’t care. Biggest airline, biggest contracts plus all the money they got from the government. They could just fly empty planes with this business model.

  21. My main question: Why were so many employees on leave? Did the reservation desk forget to let HR know that all these planes were going to be flying and needed employees to work them?
    DUH! Poor Planning! Guess AA just followed SWA’s goofy plan to convince us to fine other airlines to support.
    Weather? DUH, again! We’ve always had weather; so that’s really not an explanation for that many flights to be cancelled. Poor Planning!

  22. Unbelievable! This was a poorly contrived apology.

    “To make sure we are taking care of you and providing scheduling certainty for our crews, we adjusted our operation by proactively canceling some flights to minimize any inconvenience as much as possible.”

    What does that mean cuz myself and the 1000’s of others that were in line in DFW on Friday the 29th were extremely inconvenienced.

    Allison should have probably reworded her apology and said something like we know we screwed up and here is what we are going to do for you.
    Don’t tell me you cancelled flight to minimize inconvenience experienced by your customers. Your customers whose flights were cancelled were terribly inconvenienced.

    Half way through the day on 10/29 AA made a an announcement at the DFW airport that they would no longer be giving out hotel rooms and that any expenses incurred would have to be taken up with customer service.

    They knew they were inconveniencing many people and knew that there were some that were going to be stuck in Dallas for the night, step up and do the right thing and take care of those customers.

  23. My flight out of DCA was canceled while standing in line to check my bags. AA staff re routed my trip, that was one and half hours to Miami, into a 13 hour fiasco that ended up with me finally in Miami and my bags in Atlanta. Will not be utilizing AA in the near future. Poor customer service experience. No excuse for rude staff.

  24. The 7P principle reared its ugly head again.
    “Piss poor prior planning precludes proper performance.”

  25. One important point to consider. This is a public health issue. All those people crowding the airports can spread disease. Airlines need to be required to place customers on other airlines when they fail.

  26. @Tri N – I’m glad to hear this. Wish a significant amount of people did this, that could possibly give AA the proper message.

    I was not a part of this meltdown but I did get directly affected by the Southwest’s recent meltdown. While I’m not happy with it, the way Southwest handled it shows that they at least care.

    AA with their new contractual message of not even guaranteeing their side of the contract and not paying for their misops is ridiculous. AAvoid for sure.

  27. American should give passengers with cancelled flights vouchers for future flights or extra Advantage Miles as goodwill for all the hardships and expenses incurred.

  28. Key words from your post:

    “You might be in a hurry, but don’t be lazy”

    But, that’s the thing – they were in a massive hurry, plus they are also quite lazy:) Bottom line is they had some folks there that got handed down a directive to put together an email blast asap, and they just couldn’t bother with pulling data, segmenting and all the other necessary steps that would make an effective marketing email push.

  29. Our 10/30 flight was canceled and we had to stand in line for 4 hours to get taxi voucher. Then we stood in line another hour to get taxi just to have driver take us 20 miles out of the way, put us in another taxi and travel back the other way 20 miles then stand in line at hotel just to check in!!!

  30. Right on, Gary.

    However, I agree with several posters who say there was s need to communicate to ALL AAdvantage members. I certainly am rethinking how I approach any travel the last few days of Nov and Dec.

    But a separate, additional message needed to go specifically to those who were inconvenienced. And am I wrong, or were those messages more automated (incl miles for compensation) in the past?

  31. I have received no email apology. This blows my mind, my flight was canceled Monday morning IND to DFW..I rebooked on the next possible flight supposed to land in DFW by 12:30pm…got delayed I ended up landing in Dallas at 10 mins to 3pm… I am livid…it is unfothamable how classically irresponsible AA is. I am done with them. I will stick with Delta, at least they’re remorseful when they have to cancel a flight and always try to make up for it.

  32. @John C — It was a bad situation in DFW Sunday night. Lots of stranded pax. I thought I was going to get stuck overnight but, miraculously, they found a pilot to cover my flight and we were only 2 hours late. I think AA should issue vouchers to those whose flights got cancelled or were severely delayed. I don’t really think I “deserve” a voucher, but it would be a nice gesture.

    FWIW, AA has finally gotten their operation back on track and it should be OK tomorrow if the DFW rain isn’t too bad. Hopefully, the extra employees they’ve added are enough for later this month.

  33. General comment. As platinum pro, I recieived the messaging from AA Monday afternoon and I flew on AA Friday evening fortunately with no delay. Interesting how messaging is being rolled out.

  34. Ridiculous. I was delayed and cancelled both last weekend and the weekend before . No email as of yet. I fly every week, across country, unfortunately on American due to limited availability. I end up stranded, delayed, rebooked or cancelled at least 50% of the time. This is not a limited situation. American is failing and is NOT being transparent.

  35. I feel it’s all a lie how come none of the other airlines were affected by weather only American Airlines. I’m pretty sure they knew they were going to cancel all those flights if they told us the truth we could have did something else besides sitting in an airport all day long. I will never fly with American Airlines again. I don’t blame their staff I give them credit but management and people in charge should be fired

  36. I was impacted. They canceled my mid-day flight and put me on a redeye the next night. No apology email, no compensation. No more flying American for me.

  37. I flew American Airlines and they never never notified me of cancelation s. They let me take my flight out of Orlando to cancel my flight to Colorado. I stood in line for 5 hours and then no available flights that day. I landed in Miami around 8am . 5hrs later in was advised I had to fly out of Fort Lauderdale airport and that they would pay for my hotel BUT would not pay for my Uber! Which coat $55 and dinner. Also, I had no luggage, no change of cloths, nothing. My luggage made it before me.
    It was awful and I WILL NEVER EVER FLY American again. I call bullshit to weather as it was only in Texas. They could have cancelled me on Saturday and I could have saved a day of through worst day! I could of had my luggage and stayed at my brothers.
    I am sure they have float a lot of customer which they deserve.

  38. I got one of those letters because I changed planes at DFW. I was lucky enough not to be impacted as my fellow passengers.

  39. Actually this was a brilliant move on their behalf of American Airlines. As you stated the majority of their customers have not been affected and yet they are being treated as if they are represented by a company that deeply cares about them anyway. Not saying it *should* be a tactic that works, just saying it *is*. This attitude will bode very well for stockholders in the long term!

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