American Airlines Has a New Policy for Delays and Cancellations (Coach Passengers Won’t Like It)

When things go wrong with an airline’s operation most carriers have “interline agreements” that let them put their passengers on another airline’s flights. There are industry standard rates that usually apply. Each airline stands ready to help passengers get where they’re going, and they make a bit of extra money for seats that would have gone out empty in the process.

Back in 2015 Delta demanded more than industry standard rates. United agreed. American didn’t, and Delta and American severed ties completely. Then earlier this year American Airlines CEO Doug Parker dished on Delta coming hat in hand asking for an agreement so that the two airlines could put their distressed passengers on each other’s flights.

That’s pretty basic, and something that sets the ‘full service’ airlines apart from the discounters.

However when American Airlines rolled out ‘basic economy’ fares last year one of the less-publicized restrictions was that if a flight cancelled or was delayed they wouldn’t put these passengers on another airline.

Now at American regular economy fares are the new basic economy because coach passengers without elite status will no longer be placed on other airlines in the event of irregular operations. If American’s operation has problems, you wait, just like if you were flying Spirit. (There are some special exceptions to this).

JonNYC shares bits of American’s new policy change to make coach passengers just wait it out.

Being re-accommodated on another airline is now an elite benefit. 75,000 mile elites and above still get this benefit, along with three-cabin first class passengers. 50,000 mile elites and business class (or domestic first class) passengers will only be re-accommodate on another airline if they’re facing a delay of five hours or more. And everyone else, well, when American can’t get its flights in the air they’re not going to make good on their transportation promise paying for another airline to help out.

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, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. […] American Airlines Has a New Policy for Delays and Cancellations (Coach Passengers Won’t Like It) by VFTW. Legacy carries are just in a race to the bottom at the moment. The problem is these types of changes are just going to generate so much ill will that consumers will eventually decide that there is no real difference between flying American vs an ultra low cost carrier like Spirit. […]


  1. Exec Plat here. American had a *technical that delayed flight by 2.5/3 hrs on flight to JFK and refused to put me on another carrier. And this was about a month ago. Cost saving AA adventures ahead.

  2. I agree AA is going the wrong way, but recent experience frustrating that Delta is so ridiculous on miles to Europe that it’s 100k each way for coach and American is 30k each way. Yes Delta is direct but I’m not paying 3x to avoid connecting flights, or 420k miles extra for the 3 of us to fly economy!!! I know there are values with Delta just frustrating the one I really wanted to use is not there, or even reasonably high.

  3. So a full-fare paying first class pax on a domestic flight (most being 2 cabin) will be treated like a basic economy fare pax. Yeah, that’s yet another incentive to avoid AA. Talk about death by a thousand cuts!

  4. Yes, and for its Trans-Atlantic alliance with British Airways:

    AAlwAAys AAvoid & Bloody Awful

    – or –

    AAlwAAys AAvoid Bloody Awful

  5. Looks like United has relinquished the title of “Worst Legacy Carrier” that it held from 2015 to 2018-09.

  6. 5 hours isn’t unreasonable for another carrier.

    But the economy “no” takes away a big benefit over the ULCC’s

  7. Mess up enough passengers enough times and US airline cartel kingpins are going to get what they deserve: an EC261/2004 type law/regulation in the US. In the meantime, the US airlines will continue to try to buy off the Administration and Congress and, when they want it, hide behind a Supreme Court that has become a corporate kiss-up and apologist for the most part.

  8. They are incredibly jealous and envious of the DL revenue premium but they will not invest in product to assist in getting more premium revenue . So , the only options left to achieve better financial performance is to CUT and raise fees .

  9. Wow, that’s aweful. Even the 5h delay for business is unacceptable: if I’m on an international business trip, 5h can mean missed meetings and a ruined trip.
    I guess they don’t want premium cabin travelers!

  10. I am wondering if AA uses data to analyze before making these changes. Also, maybe hire some behavioral economists to get some advice? If I understand it correctly, AA makes more money from international business, and big corporates pay a large amount of money for business class because of the convenience of Alliances and schedules in case things go wrong. With this new change I am not sure if the corporate travels would ever want AA because getting delayed for 5 hours is a big drawback. Many low level corporate travels do international economy class but often have decent experience due to status but now that is also out because you need at least 75K to get the usual benefit you get somewhere else. With this change, what is the point of having an alliance? At least implement in a way that all elites and internation business class passengers get re-accommodation in oneworld regardless of delay length. Something along the line. It is becoming quite clear that being loyal to an airline doesn’t make any sense anymore. Buy the cheapest and add the guaranteed seats and luggage, don’t earn miles, you will still come out ahead of being loyal. Not to mention, to go to Delta if you are a corporate customer for the reliability and better treatment (except miles).

  11. Hey Gary – Do you think we’ll EVER get any good news from AA? Ever? At least, as long as Parker is running the store…

  12. So far this is not reflected in the most up to date version of their CoCs. At least when a flight is cancelled, as opposed to delayed, or if you will miss your connections they promise to put you on the next flight. Not the next AA flight, the next flight.

    “When your flight is canceled or a delay will cause you to miss your connection, we’ll rebook you on the next flight with available seats. ”

    The CoCs are superior to any other rules AA may have because they are the contract between you and the airline. In the event of a conflict in terms between the CoCs and any rules, the CoC govern. They probably won’t do what they are obligated to but you can sue them in small claims court and will almost certainly win.

  13. As if we needed more reasons not to fly American…. They already have a lot of problems (more than other big guys like UA, DL, and WN in my experience) and now there are fewer ways to assist the paying customer when their operations deteriorate…. I’ll be keeping this in mind when I buy a ticket.

  14. @Ray
    You, the traveling public, haven’t seen everything yet!
    Hint: use those free airport toilets.

  15. Is there some sort of immunity granted to airlines so they can incessantly move the goalposts?
    Let’s say I go to McDonald’s, and I buy a Quarter Pounder, Large Fries and Large Drink, which should be served within a reasonable span of time, let’s say 10 minutes.
    If you should not receive all the items as agreed, as opposed to a 1/8 pounder, medium fries and a medium drink in 2 hours, we would think it makes the agreement null and void.
    How about we start contacting our credit card company and initiating disputes and requesting refunds?

  16. @docntx098: But if you’re a doctor in Texas, you should be in favor of McDonalds only delivering a 1/8 th pounder, unless you are cynically trying to create more business for your healthcare practice, right?

  17. So it sound like even Gold elites get basic economy treatment. Another devalue to the Gold’s. Boarding with credit card holders and now this.

  18. So, I suspect this is probably fiscally “smart”. Most pax flying on the basic economy fares are likely infrequent travelers. They would have no idea that being accommodated on another airline is “done”, so they would have no expectation. I suspect AA can get them out in most cases within 12-24 hours.

  19. One more reason to avoid AA. I can’t even use the miles I accumulated, no reasonable seats available (unless I fly BA with exorbitant fees or AAnytime coach).

    I moved away from AA a few years ago, and I’m glad I did.

  20. Not sure if this is different, but their customer service plan looks updated : I’d honestly rather fly frontier than AA nowadays. Parker and his pathetic ideas of “customer” service is awful. I changed AA as the airline of last resort a few years ago and I’m glad I did.

    Excerpt from the customer service plan: When your flight is canceled or a delay will cause you to miss your connection, we will rebook you on our next flight with available seats.

  21. Just a reminder take the train when possible and avoid them altogether on short haul stuff
    and fly other carriers period which quite frankly I do 98% of the time
    American is a total aberration with anything regarding customer service

  22. This may be an exaggeration. I just had family members with no status flying AA Basic Economy. There was a 4 hour delay. They were put on UA flights. So I’m guessing the “change in policy” is being exaggerated, as is usual on this blog.

  23. @chopsticks – this change in policy was effective september 25. there are ways to get exceptions, but agents cannot do it on their own, require justification and documentation is required

  24. Hers another apparent “enhancement” – I booked award tickets in August for flight in September. The next day, I found better flights so I cancelled my reservations and robooked. AA kept the miles anyway. Appar next Lyft, you have to beat them up to get yourmiles back. That’s AA – Going for GreAAt!

  25. “but recent experience frustrating that Delta is so ridiculous on miles to Europe that it’s 100k each way for coach and American is 30k each way. Yes Delta is direct but I’m not paying 3x to avoid connecting flights, or 420k miles extra for the 3 of us to fly economy!!”

    Plus hundreds of $ if you wanna use those Delta SkyPesos on a one-way originating in Europe … this is why I always keep a stash of at least 30K AA miles for last-minute one-way flights Europe -> USA

    Though fares are so ridiculously cheap right now from Europe -> USA it’s not necessarily a good use of miles….

  26. I heard that Parker said Exec Plats those elite bottom feeders will get to their destinations no later than 30 days max as long as it’s on AA metal
    After all there’s just to many of you
    Concierge key will be rebooked immediately however they prefer as those folks actually matter a little

  27. The USA needs to have congress ADOPT EU travel laws. Americans need the same rights as in Europe. If not there is NO fair trade and the airlines do not care.

    Good thing congress and the senate Listen to us and just do not push us aside .

    And now I am going to tell you about the world being flat.

  28. I predicted that the LCC model would eventually win in the long run because it allows for the lowest airfares which is all anyone cares about when the bathroom door is closed and the real decisions are made.

  29. Jeff:

    What Jon posts on Twitter (and other places) about countless changes at AA over the years has always been spot on. He wouldn’t post something about AA unless he has certainly about it.
    Completely agree about Business Class passengers, as well as Platnium Passengers needing to have a delay of 5 hours or more in order to reaccomodate as a risky business move. Sure, on NYC-LON it would be relatively easy really to reaccomodate Business Class passengers because of so much capacity on BA, DL, UA, and VS, but in other markets it’s a big game of Russian Roulette.

  30. This proves we need an airline passengers’ bill of rights! At least for traveling to/from Europe the EU has regulations now that if you’re delayed by more than 4 hours there are financial repercussions.

  31. @Gary — The reaccommodation for my family members was shortly before Sept. 25, so if that date is truly meaningful, my information is “old.”

    The agent on the phone who reaccommodated them did seem to need some approval, as the call was placed on hold for a couple of minutes to “work on” the issue. That said, under the circumstances, the agent was helpful and efficient. No “begging” or anything was required for AA to do the right thing in this circumstance. Of course, the experience with different agents can be very different.

  32. So once again the airline screws the passengers. Well, I will never be flying this airline again. See ya!

  33. For how long the Government will allow airlines to do whatever they want against the pax ? ? AA or Delta or whoever can apply whatever “policies” they want, BUT: There are the DOT regulations, that clearly states that when a flight is cancelled the airline MUST transfer you into any other one, even if you fly coach and there are only 1st class seats in the 2nd airline. I do carry these regulations with me, and it helped me a lot. The “so nice” employees of AA they will look at you like you are Lucifer, but they have to swallow it.

Comments are closed.