American Airlines Basic Economy Even Worse: Will Strand Customers During a Strike

When American Airlines first unveiled the details of its new Basic Economy fares — new restrictions on its existing lowest fares — I told you about some of the restrictions that American didn’t.

Customers booking Basic Economy fares are at the bottom of the list to be re-accommodated, even if things goes wrong and it’s American’s fault.

If your flight cancels — whether it’s due to weather (not American’s fault) or a mechanical problem, flight crew availability, or otherwise (American’s fault) — Basic Economy passengers:

  • Will only be re-accommodated onto American Airlines flights (no interlining onto another airline)

  • Are at the bottom of the list for American’s computers to assign to a new flight. They get the leftovers.

At the time I wrote that I believed Basic Economy customers would only be re-accommodated into Basic Economy. So if Basic Economy inventory wasn’t available, they’d have to wait for another flight even if that meant being stranded for days. American assured me at the time, however, that “basic economy “B” inventory will not need to be available in order to be moved onto another flight.”

It appears that re-assurance wasn’t quite true. There’s a strike at the Barcelona airport “causing long queues and safety concerns.”

American has a travel waiver in place for Barcelona, allowing fee-free rebooking. Most customers are booked into the lowest fare class available on other flights, even if more expensive fare inventory is all that’s available. However American has a restriction in place that Basic Economy customers can only be rebooked in Basic Economy. If Basic Economy isn’t available, no re-accommodation.

In this case American is clear that “if “B” inventory is not available, then an alternate flight must be selected.”

Now, American hasn’t actually extended Basic Economy fares to international markets yet. So this restriction shouldn’t be a big deal. But it shows the processes they’ve put in place as they roll it out much more broadly over the next couple of months.

Basic Economy inventory is required for customers on Basic Economy fares to take advantage of this re-accommodation waiver. If it’s not available, you need to wait it out, go to the airport, see if your flight cancels — and if it doesn’t you’re stuck flying into “long queues and safety concerns.”

(HT: @xJonNYC)

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 »

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  1. It seems basic economy is set to separate the educated traveler from the casual traveler. The result will be more tension, frustration, and anger as people who infrequently travel face the unannounced results of picking a cheap fare–including long delays when reaccomodating. This won’t play out well and the bad press will probably cost more than the expected revenue.

  2. Simply the end result of allowing the amalgamation of airlines into one combination, as defined by anti-trust refs.

    Only way to fight such abusive, uncompetitive behavior is to allow cabotage by foreign carriers to increase the competitive environment.

    Continuing contributing problem is the economic power of fortress hubs by the legacy carriers has artificially inhibited expansion of airlines who still know what customer experience should be, i.e., Jet Blue, Virgin America, and Alaska. Just look at ORD!

  3. Basic economy seems like a broad based, comprehensive excuse to treat passengers like crap. Granted, this has been the trend for quite some time but this seems to be a systematic way to legitimize the rotton flying experience on some major airlines. I’m sure the gate agents can’t wait to tell basic flyers to go to the back of the line and shut up, there is nothing we can do for you. Well, when they bring in the basic non union workers to complete this dismantling maybe then the airline staffs won’t be so thrilled with this degeneration of their employer.
    Of course, alot of budget airlines go broke, even with non union workers, so there is no guarantee that basic economy portions of the flight load won’t go belly up too. Economy passengers subsidize biz and first class anyway. (How many all business class, or all first class planes are flying?, need the back of the plane flyers to keep the bills paid.) With the future failure of basic economy on most routes, watch for first class to go away for good too in those planes.

    The airlines may think they should cater to the high margin business class flyers, but they should realize they can’t survive on that alone and stiffing the economy and leisure flyers is a sure way to that end.

  4. The most recent mergers should not have happened. A airline should cater to the customers, not Wall St. Foreign airlines may be only a limited, they would only be interested in transcons, not Phoenix-LA, Dallas-Miami, etc. Greyhound does not abuse passengers like United and American does.

  5. I think this is smart of them. If they are competing against Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier and Southwest, not a single one of those airlines will re-book you another carrier EVER. At least you have an option to spend a little more to get more service.
    @Frank “where is the DOT”, seriously, have you ever written to the DOT about the other 4 airlines who won’t rebook you ever? You get what you pay for

  6. I have used basic economy a few times, mostly on United. It is not that big of a deal if you know the limitations.
    No one is forcing you to use basic economy.

  7. @ Jason: Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier and Southwest don’t fly to Europe. If they did, they would have rebooked passengers on other carriers during IRROPs. They had to do that. EC261 regulation mandates European airlines and non-European airlines departing Europe to rebook passengers on other flights at passenger’s convenience, during IRROPs due to airline’s fault. If passenger demands another airline’s flight that is more convenient and the airline refuses, it is against the law. Granted, airline don’t usually follow this part of EC261, but if the passenger pays for his preferred flight, it would be very easy to enforce the regulation in most EU courts and make the airline pay the price.

    A strike is not airline’s fault though.

  8. I used to love to fly to my destinations. Now, I loathe flying and traveling internationally does not occur quite as often. Airlines have taken the joy of flying away by treating people in coach seats as second-class citizens. “Flying” down the highway to my destination is back in style for me.

  9. @Miz “A strike is not airline’s fault though.”

    So no €600 compensation … BUT … under EU261/2005, irrespective of the circumstance Airlines have duty of care and must accommodate and feed such affected passengers irrespective of the fare paid.

  10. When was the last time we had airline strikes in the United States? This scenario will probably NEVER happen.

  11. @serfty: Correct, no monetary compensation but the airline still has duty of care in the case of strike. But most related to this case is that the airline can rebook passenger at airline’s convenience, and not at passenger’s convenience (which is different from when the airline is at fault, that requires the passenger to be rebooked at passenger’s convenience even if that requires buying a walk-up fare from another totally unrelated airline.)

  12. Now is the time to consider re-regulation of the industry, enacting consumer protection similar to the EU. Clearly, the airlines are out of control and will insult its customers any way possible as long as they can get away with it.

    Yes, anger, violence, forced removal of “B” customers when other stranded customers show up, etc. will become the norm. The EU gives preference to the customer during irregular ops. Imagine that innovative thought, treat the customer with respect.

  13. Agree with Bob. Airline execs think they are clever racing to the bottom feeder level, but the end result will be more regulation. In the end this will probably hurt the ULCCs more than the legacy carriers as the ULCC profits are conditioned on spending as little as possible on customer service.

    Maybe that’s the whole goal of BE fares – make things so unpleasant so as to drive regulation that will increase your competitor’s expenses. Nah – airlines execs are not that clever.

  14. If you are only concerned about lowest fare, don’t expect anything other than being treated like cattle on the way to the slaughterhouse.

  15. I think AA has similar rebooking policies for award tickets as earlier this year they refused to reroute me away from JFK even when there was a weather waiver in place because no award inventory was available. Fortunately the airport agents did reroute me as the flight to JFK ended up getting cancelled due to weather. There were even empty seats on the rebooked flights but the phone “customer service” agent would not reroute me. They had also downgraded the flight to the UK to an old 767 and would said equipment is not guaranteed and would not allow a rerouting based on the equipment change Makes me very wary of using miles on aa itself internationally because of award inventory restrictions were applied regardless of weather waivers and equipment changes

  16. Perhaps the intent is simply to open additional B inventory (if otherwise unavailable) to ensure that Basic Economy passengers don’t luck into a better experience (say, main cabin or main cabin extra) in the event of IROPS. That is to say, no carry-on bags, advance seat assignments, etc., even if the passenger ultimately is assigned a seat in a more desirable section of the aircraft.

  17. I must say Gary, you predicted this. Sad, another kick in the shins to the poor travelers who fly once a year.

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