American Airlines Pilot Goes The Extra Mile To Fix Bad Customer Service

My favorite way to travel is with just my laptop bag. I can do that on an overnight trip. I don’t have to waste time at baggage claim after my flight, and I don’t need to fight for overhead bin space. I can get to the airport later, stay in the club working longer, and just not waste time.

I never want to be the first to board. I’d rather be last. But if I’m last I may not have overhead bin space. I might be forced to gate check my bag and then who knows what will happen.

Larger overhead bins help, but many passengers don’t know how to store bags in them properly and don’t wind up maximizing the number of bags that can be carried on a plane. And gate agents – fearful of delaying flights when bins fill up – often make customers check bags too early, when there’s still plenty of space. The search for bin space, and the battle over what can go on board, is one of the many small inconvenience points in air travel. For me it’s one of the bigger annoyances.

On Sunday aa passenger in Dallas had their bag taken at the gate. The gate agent reportedly “tag[ged] them without asking final destination,” didn’t give customer a claim tag and told them to “them to look for it at [their] connecting airport NOT final destination.” They thought they’d never see their bag again.

The flight’s captain, though, wasn’t having any of this.

The gate agent was more concerned with rushing everyone on board for an exact on-time departure – she’d probably have been yelled at if the plane pushed back one minute late – and didn’t take the time to reassure a customer that they’d get their bag back – to walk them through how it was being handled properly, and what to expect. The pilot, though, went the extra mile in service and earned the customer’s appreciation and loyalty.

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 actually is quite mind-numbing that American doesn’t have a process for printing bag tags at the gate given how many bags they have to check.
    At least one of AA’s competitors, gate agents cannot check a bag without scanning the passenger boarding pass which ensures the bag goes where it needs to go because a bag tag is produced.
    No customer should be told to get their bag at a connecting airport.
    Hopefully the captain’s actions drive home the point that ripping bags out of customer hands without providing a claim check to the ticketed destination is not acceptable.

  2. This reminds of a story last year with Gary and gate agent Matt in San Diego. Gate agents do get disciplined should a flight be dispatched late because of excess “carry-on” bags that do not all fit in the over head bins.

  3. Without a doubt, the topic of the upper compartments is annoying hills.
    You have to be aware of not boarding last in order to have a space to store your luggage
    Is that there are also many people who abuse this space. They place like 3 pieces of luggage when it should be one per person.
    They should review them and allow only one piece of luggage so that everyone has the opportunity to store her luggage and we do not have to board stressed and accelerated.

  4. If AA had better IT, I’d suggest they roll out kiosks at the gate with a “print your own tag” function. Scan your boarding pass, it spits out a tag for you, added to your record locator, to your final destination. And the kiosk could tell the customer all of this when they do it. And they could have it available before boarding, so people could do it ahead of time. And they could integrate it into the system that tells them when in the boarding to start checking all the bags. And it wouldn’t require a gate agent to do any of this, so they could keep trying their one agent boarding (although, maybe a gate check bag requires an ID check too? Not totally sure).

    But that would probably take AA about 5 to 10 years to roll out.

  5. When I read negative news about American, I always think of the AA people who love their jobs, like flying, want to help the customers … like this Captain and the Flight Attendant who briefed him. How sad it must be for them to watch their airline treat the pax badly over and over again. This whole gate check thing is handled so badly by the airlines and people are so ignorant of what’s going on, it’s a cryin’ shame. Half the people boarding fly about twice a year and the airline people don’t seem to realize that they need to explain things, not just bark at the pax. During boarding, the FAs drone on and on about how to stow the bags, but what they’re saying doesn’t make much sense. I already know how to stow a rollaboard and their instructions still don’t describe the process. So people throw the bags up and sit down because now the FAs are telling them to get out of the aisle. It’s nuts. You couldn’t pay me to fly in the main cabin. I hope that travelling life gets back to normal before I die of old age.

  6. The fact that American can’t reliably return checked baggage and offer a guarantee like Delta or Alaska do is Yet. One. More. Reason. To. Avoid. American. Airlines.

    Schlepping heavy bags through security, the airport, and boarding is no fun and definitely degrades the experience — plus boarding becomes the horrendous mess it’s today on American Airlines.

  7. I love this. We seem to always focus on the negative and not the positive. Many views are correct but what it seems not to highlight is some things are a passenger issue, not an airline issue. Airlines can not hand hold every single customer and explain things that are common sense. Could there be better IT, absolutely. More gate agents? Sure. The easy answer would be to charge $1000+ for every ticket so airlines would have the revenue to have better IT and get it implemented more quickly and have extra staff but then that would be another complaint. For the amount of people that travel daily I’m sure there are plenty of heart warming stories such as this we dont hear about. For the experience travelers, you know what to do and how things work. Have some patience for those who dont travel often. Imagine having a job where you needed to tell people the same thing over and over. I imagine it becomes pretty exhausting.

  8. I guess I am a grump. I get irritated with people who bring a backpack, a large purse, a shopping bag, a roll-around bag and some home appliances onboard instead of checking them as luggage. Then they hold up the aisles because they can’t manage all this mess handily, drop things on passengers already seated, get manic about overhead bin space and are in general obnoxious nuisances. The airlines post limits concerning size and number of carryon items yet they are rarely enforced. Unfortunately they are encouraged in this behavior by bloggers who smugly boast about never checking luggage. In 50 years of flying and hundreds of flights I have had luggage lost yet delivered to my house or hotel twice. That is less than one per cent with no losses but only inconvenience. I am hoping against hope that airlines will increase enforcing the carry on limits at least in the case of the worst offenders ( no more pianos or elephants.)

  9. Man, AA needs a lesson from UA on customer service, emphasis on D0, and upping their IT to enable customers to print their own bag tags from kiosks. Crazy how far they’ve fallen and how far UA has ascended. Sad really – and that’s coming from a former AA loyalist.

  10. AA flight from CLT-MUC and MUC to MAD. Bag has not been delivered now 10 days. No sense of accountability or urgency by either airline

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