American Airlines Threatens To Call Police On Stranded Passengers After Canceling Flights

Scenes from the American Airlines operational meltdown have been getting ugly. As the airline cancelled over 1000 flights on Sunday alone – the weekend of CEO Doug Parker’s 60th birthday – customer service lines stretched the length of airports and tensions rose. Here one group of passengers starts raising their voice to be heard about what’s (not) going on after their flights are cancelled and they’re given no options to get where they’re going. And an American Airlines agent responds by threatening to call the police.

Meanwhile other passengers are stranded after the crew-shortage driven set of mass cancellations, without American Airlines staff – let alone hotel vouchers. And American just updated its terms and conditions to make clear that they won’t reimburse hotel costs passengers incur when the airline fails to hand out vouchers.

Elsewhere, in Miami, customers might as well have been left alone because there’s an endless supply of passengers needing assistance and virtually no one to help them.

Already 250 flights have been cancelled for Monday as I write this at 6 a.m. Eastern time, amidst similar scenes of customers unable to get help in places like Los Angeles.

Threatening to call the police on customers may be the most American Airlines thing ever, but they haven’t yet instructed employees to remove their uniforms and sneak out of the airport the way that Spirit Airlines did during their meltdown in August.

American Airlines took over $10 billion in taxpayer money during the pandemic, most of which was designed to keep everyone working at the airline so they’d be ready to fly when travel returned. They shed over $500 million in staff anyway, and even though travel remains down about 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels their schedules are on a knife’s edge. Weather in Dallas, at the end of the month caused the carrier to crater due to lack of available crew. And they likely lost management skill that would help them recover quickly, too.

Facing hours-long call center times, remember to see help from everywhere you can. That includes twitter direct message, foreign call centers via an internet calling service like Skype (UK and Australia reservations for American), even buying a day pass for a club to get help (or use this trick to bring a group into Ameican’s club cheaper). Search flights that are available for sale and know the itinerary you want to ask for. And check whether the credit card you used to book your flights has trip delay coverage.

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. Happened to me at MIA in July, all the AA flights were delayed until finally being canceled at 1:30 am, saw police come and put themselves in between frustrated travelers and gate agents, saw the crazy long customer service lines. I’m lucky that my work books through Amex global travel, got a hotel (10 miles away) and got rebooked for the next day.

  2. I stop flying AA 4 years ago
    They are nothing but rude ass holes that not only lie when they speak they could not get a plane off the ground on time if they really wanted to.
    The exception are the Pilots and Stewards who are as much of a victim of this crap of an airline.

  3. @Rodney
    There will be some bad apples, but if nearly all the front of house staff at airports appear rude, that indicates that there’s something culturally wrong at the airline – and, for that, don’t blame the individuals, but realize the buck stops at the CEO.

  4. According to the Dallas Morning News, “nearly 100,000 American Airlines passengers were affected by Sunday’s slowdown. About 80,000 were inconvenienced on Saturday.” I am pleased to know that American Airlines is still “going for great.”

  5. Parker’s birthday card should be a summons to Washington. It’s time for Congressional hearings on the disaster that is service in about half of the US airline industry. After incessant groveling about how airlines needed federal help to make it through the pandemic, it is beyond inexcusable that half of the US airline industry regularly is screwing up their operation. And ALL THREE of the worst offenders – American, Southwest and Spirit – have been airlines that have thrown capacity back into the system as fast as they could and well beyond their ability to handle the travelers to whom they sell tickets.
    It is clear that Alaska, Delta and United have learned from their relatively minor operational problems during the pandemic and are operating much more reliably.
    US taxpayers should demand a refund of airline aid from those airlines that continue to screw up their operations and screw over their customers.

  6. AA could save money by not having customer service department. Why offer rebooking? Sell all flight tickets “as is.” If it’s canceled you get a refund and that’s that.

  7. There really is no excuse for these meltdowns after the airlines took billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars to “support payroll.” Or rather, it’s fine if they decide they want to lay people off anyway, or they’ve forgotten they ever knew how to staff properly, or whatever; but the taxpayer money ought to be returned then because what in the hell did we Americans get for that money if these stupid assholes can cancel hundreds of flights, leave people stranded, and not even bother to return their bags?

  8. Why would any sane person fly AA? Although it probably won’t ever happen, the sooner they go away the better. What use to be a good airline is now a joke!

  9. And why is this self-identified “supervisor” in the first video not out on the tarmac loading bags herself? Where’s station management? That’s the job sometimes. Or is she only a supervisor when it comes to role-powering a situation but when the rubber meets the road she’s unable to do anything?

  10. I would like to propose a three pronged solution:

    Give AA another $5B in bailout money to ease the burden of lost customers.
    Carve out a couple of hundred million from the infrastructure bill to build hotels in AA hub cities to house stranded passengers.
    Remove the Board of Directors and replace them with cardboard cutouts – that will provide the same level of oversight for less money.

  11. @Jon – first of all it isn’t her job to be on the tarmac, she isn’t cleared to be there (needs additional security clearance) and the union representing the baggage handlers would not be happy if she tried to help and took away work done by a union member. Those are the facts regardless of your view.

    As for her threatening to call police I have no problem with that if the mob was threatening her or otherwise not following rules. The last thing you want is something escalating to violence like it has numerous times already this year.

    For all you AA haters I have flown them over 35 years (3 million miles on them) and have no problem. They always treat me fine and with respect. Of course I go out of my way to be civil to them and treat them well also instead of acting like they are my servant (which I suspect many of you that experienced “rude” behavior did). Just because you are in first class they aren’t your servant!

    Finally, yes AA was right on the edge with scheduling and staffing so it didn’t take much to push them over (just like SW a month ago). It will get better as more staff are rehired. You could argue they should have kept those employees on payroll but they run a business and need to make reasonable staffing adjustments.

    Not an AA apologist but Gary seems to want to post any anti-AA stuff he can throw against a wall and see what sticks. The rest of you, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO FLY THEM THEN DON’T!!! Your choice as there are other options but each has their own horror story to tell (just one is just more recent). UA has had numerous IT issues that disrupted flights over the years. DL had terrible customer service response this past summer. SW had a recent meltdown. Bottom line is the airlines are adjusting to life after COVID and it isn’t always pretty.

  12. Corporations tell customer service employees through HR they don’t have to tolerate abuse, foul language and threats

    I get frustration over flight cancellations and delays but it never excuses abusing customer service agents

  13. Is it bad that I saw the title mentioned AA in a negative way and I knew it had to be AA’s biggest cheerleader, Gary Leff, writing it???

  14. American Airlines is the new US Airways. Since the merger it’s been all downhill and they are now the Walmart of the skies. I have lifetime status and will only fly them when absolutely necessary. Loyalty is not appreciated as it was nearly impossible to use SWU and the constant devalue of the AAdvantage program. Domestic upgrades-who cares as the food is crap if any is served as the pandemic is always the excuse. American Airlines has too many MBA”s counting the pennies instead of focusing on the customer experience.

  15. Again, the only way to really fix this is through legislation and a passengers bill of rights. You just have to break through the lobbyists paying off our elected officials…

  16. My wife (platinum status for more than ten years) is in Paris right now. She was fortunate when her PHL->MIA flight was cancelled that would connect to the AA flight to CDG that because she was in PHL, they put her on a BA flight to LHR and then on to CDG. I reached out to AA this morning to try to change her return flight on Saturday to fly home on BA as well. But I was told that because this would be classified as a “voluntary change,” there would be a $2500 change-in-fare fee, despite the fact that this would inevitably save AA headache from at least one client. They wouldn’t even waive this fee to fly from LHR to PHL on AA.

    For the first time ever, we are looking into changing our allegiance to another airline … to be treated like this and what was outlined in the article is unacceptable. I don’t care if it is because of silent protests about covid shot policy for staff, simple difficulty in restaffing (that excuse might have flown back in the Spring when travel started up again but not 6-8 months later) – the bottom line is that this is the service and product that American Airlines is offering the customer and it is unacceptable.

  17. @AC
    Right on.
    Agents didn’t cancel dkifhts, there are only so many hotel rooms (at least AA gave them out, as if cancelled for lack of crew they do give hotels unlike Southwest who lied and said it was FAA Traffic Control (no hotels then).
    I worked the mess in a major AA hub and most were nice and made the effort to recognize it’s not the agent fault we are trying to help. And we did rebook on United, Delta whom we interline with, not Spirit or Southwest. Majority of people were happy with the recommendation, not so happy it happened but what can you do? If any pax threatened an agent it’s protocol to call cops so if this happened it’s the ugly pax threat that caused it.

    Don’t fly at all on any airline if you think it’s going to be seamless, and if you encounter irregular operation do not expect a room at the Ritz on the $50 ticket you bought either. You get what’s available and a $12 Meal voucher and rebooked. Next.

  18. Here’s a fun new twist: the ability to buy a one-day Admirals Club pass online is evidently now gone. I have family booked on AA next week, so I was going to buy then one-day Admirals Club passes just in case. The link on AA’s website to purchase a one-day pass is now gone. I know it was there just a couple of days ago because I almost purchased on Friday but wanted to verify they were still planning to take the trip. They confirmed today, so I went to buy the passes. The link is gone.

  19. @AC – when you fly 3 million miles on an airline – it is no wonder you have been treated “fine and with respect.” Please understand that isn’t always the case for an infrequent traveler that has no status. All I am saying is YMMV and your experience doesn’t mean that others are treated the same.

  20. @AC- great statement. It’s as though these complainers have never had customers pissed off at their business, unless it’s a business that doesn’t have customers standing face to face with them, a business where time doesn’t matter, or a business totally unaffected by weather. And just what did they expect a gate agent and supervisor to do?? Get on the plane and fly it themselves? The police SHOULD be called when a mob is threatening- any business SHOULD do that when a customers are threatening their employees, regardless of the reason.

  21. AA is a completely despicable/heinous airline, the way the treat stranded passengers, so savagely. Their lack of customer service skills, and proper interactions with their customers, will lead to plummeting bookings. You cannot bite the hand that feeds you and not expect a SERIOUS backlash. When I worked in customer service, as stayed MANY times past my shift, to get people out of near impossible travel situations. I considered it my duty, as well as a challenge to find ways to help my customers regain peace of mind. Shame on American!!! Grow up, and grow some stones!

  22. When you force all your employees to be vaccinated in a short amount of time and the FAA says they can’t fly for 48 hours after each and they sure as heck aren’t going to get vaccinated on their days off, well, then you can’t staff aircraft. Add to that many pilots don’t want to be vaccinated and some have had to stop flying because of blood clots, you have a hostile workforce. AA knew this was coming and they should have been prepared to help customers.

  23. Struggling to understand why posturing and threatening employees who are trying to help is okay, but those employees insisting on a safe workplace is wrong.

  24. Why doesn’t the FAA. get involved? Where is Brandon in all of this ? American airlines stockholders are making money…. Thank You….i dont care about the passengers ……gotta love the USA

  25. The escalation in rudeness of the American people in general has created a hostile work environment in many of the service industries. I am a Healthcare worker and am appalled at the rudeness and lack of civility from patients and visitors as we struggle to care for them while short staffed. The airlines are also dealing with a public who think it’s OK to throw temper tantrums, act out and get violent. Yes I agree the airlines could have handled things better but bottom line is we are all struggling with the changes that the pandemic has brought upon us. We need to regain civility and be kind to each other. The lessons in rudeness, uncivil behavior, divisiveness and temper tantrums that our last President showed us does not make it OK to act out. The airline should make every effort to make reasonable accommodation and provide customer service but threatening and uncivil behavior by customers cannot be tolerated either.

  26. Behave badly, and you’re going to have a meeting with law enforcement. I travel a lot. There is simply never a time that its OK for adults to act out like toddlers. Every conversation and every action one takes, must have an expected outcome. Abusing another person is not an action that would result in a solution, so what is that about. Once you know you’re delayed, start making your arrangements to take care of yourself. And maybe don’t travel, unless your finances will allow an unexpected hotel room and a few meals…have to say, I have met some really amazing cool people due to delays, that I wouldn’t have otherwise…look for the positive.. its in there somewhere

  27. I have had interactions with that supervisor before in a similar situation. She was unhelpful, hid in the back and was condescending. No information provided until passengers got upset and didn’t even believe there was a problem until multiple people complained. No proactive attempts to get info or help. While rudeness and aggression aren’t excused, it’s understandable when customer service throws gas on fire rather than trying to sooth it.

  28. Crews stopped caring when the company said they’re to be terminated this month if they don’t get the vax.

  29. Yes I get that an airline is responsible for taking care of stranded passengers. No I don’t agree on putting anger on the agents, most of you have to realize these are the same agents at every melt down they are emotionally drained. Don’t blame them blame the damn airline.

  30. “they haven’t yet instructed employees to remove their uniforms and sneak out of the airport”

    I don’t know about the crew but the usual AA shills on this site seem to have slinked away to the nearest Admiral’s Club.

    Except for a couplenof brave super-shills still fighting for the company.

    Some would say they are pathetic losers but I just think they have had one olive too many.

  31. What’s affecting our travel decisions now is not just American Airlines, but also Alaska Airlines. We have avoided American Airlines for the last couple of years because they are undependable, but we have often chosen to fly with Alaska in past due to their dependability. Now that Alaska is partnering with American, we are also avoiding booking with Alaska whenever a segment is to include American. So American’s toxicity is now even affecting our relationship with Alaska. Sad.

  32. Once had an AA agent, while I was trying to rebook cancelled flight thru AA, gave me an option to rebook 3 days later to LAX ,70 miles away from original destination, when I expressed my dismay, she tapped her head at the temple,” you gotta start thinking” me….like Uber? Her “yes now you are thinking” Uber ride that cost more than face value of cancelled ticket and 3 days off that point I had not flown a lot and was being super understanding ,hey transportation issues,it happens but after that exchange? NOT

  33. @Z – an d they should be terminated if they aren’t vaccinated especially if they have any contact with the public e.g. F/A’;s, pilots, and agents.

  34. First of all, in what other industry besides the service industry is it appropriate to stick a camera in an employee’s face? How would any of you like it if there were 20 people around your desk at all times recording everything you did? Our country has become a de facto surveillance state and we did it to ourselves.
    Secondly, when has shouting angrily, especially as part of a large group, ever worked out? Do these ticket agents have magical keyboards that can make an aircraft appear out of thin air? They probably know as much about what is going on as the crowd. Sadly, more can be accomplished by Twitter than customer service phone calls.
    Thirdly, just because it hasn’t happened to United, Delta, or Alaska, doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t. These meltdowns have shown how fragile our transportation system is and no one is immune. Everybody did big early retirement buyouts, thinking it would be a few years to get back to 2019 levels of travel. We’re almost there, even without business and international travelers. Everyone is hiring furiously, but it takes months to hire and train crews. However, airlines could say, “you know what, we just don’t have the staff yet to meet this demand. We better not book all these flights until we’re ready.” But where is the fun, and profit, in that?

  35. American uses WEATHER as a catch all for the cancellations we face. Ha!

    All airline employees have to lie. Most are not good ones.
    Just try to rebooking ASAP and roll the dice. Try reading the contract of carriage. You need a Perry Mason for this.
    Calling a bunch of Barney Fife never works.

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