Andie MacDowell Downgraded to Coach, Learns Not to Complain on Twitter About Flying Economy

Andie MacDowell was flying American Airlines Los Angeles to Charlotte to Charleston, South Carolina on a first class ticket on Friday with a pet in cabin. She was downgraded to coach for the short Charlotte – Charleston segment.

She was downgraded because she had a pet in cabin but had reserved a bulkhead seat for her Charlotte to Charleston flight. A pet in cabin has to go underneath the seat in front of you, but that’s not possible with a bulkhead seat.

She got her boarding passes in Los Angeles, tried to switch out of the bulkhead, but was told she’d need to address it at the gate in Charlotte.

When flying with a pet it’s advisable to have an advance reservation, because the number of pets is limited — not just by aircraft but also by cabin. And it’s necessary to have a seat assignment that’s allowable with a pet. MacDowell, or whomever booked the ticket for her, screwed up by not securing a workable seat assignment.

MacDowell was mad at:

  1. Being downgraded

  2. The way she was treated by the gate agent

She felt like she should have been able to just ask a passenger to switch seats with her once onboard the aircraft. But the gate agent wouldn’t let her board with a pet and a bulkhead seat assignment. She needed a seat with underseat storage if she was going to fly with a pet, and that was only available in coach.

The internet didn’t like this one bit.

She asked for it to stop….

Yet a quick review of her twitter account showed her continuing to retweet everyone that tagged her taking her side in this.

The drama, of course, was over a 168 mile flight. She flew first class from Los Angeles to Charlotte. And she made it to her destination on time, it seems, with her pet.

Having traveled with my now nearly 14 year old Yorkshire Terrier on several occasions, I have to side with American on this. You need an underseat storage area to travel with a pet. She reserved seat 1A, probably because it was the only first class seat available on the flight. The gate agent couldn’t board her with a pet and that seat assignment. The correct thing in that case, as a passenger, would be to take the voluntary downgrade. Alternatively, of course, she could have waited for the next Charlotte – Charleston flight with an available non-bulkhead seat in first. But that seems silly.

My dog would rather be on the couch at home than under an airplane seat

At the DFW D Terminal Pet Relief Area

The only conceivable ground MacDowell has here is if she did make her pet in cabin reservation in advance, and American didn’t flag the issue of her seat assignment. Even then,

  • This was a 168 mile flight. Perhaps not worth the drama.

  • MacDowell has certainly flown before and is likely to know that seat 1A will be a bulkhead window. She might have wondered where she would put the dog if selecting that seat.

  • Almost no one would take 1A if anything else was available, so it’s likely she just took the only first class seat available on the plane (or her assistant did). If the person booking the ticket had flagged the problem, I bet she’d have agreed to voluntarily downgrade to coach for the short flight if this was the most convenient flight option otherwise. My guess is the blame here lies with the assistant making the booking.

Right or wrong though this doesn’t help American in its battle to win Los Angeles.

Take note though, that American is quite pet friendly! American even has a Celebrity Pet Program where they will sell a seat for a pet, though it requires that the pet itself be a celebrity.

We occasionally allow “celebrity” pets to travel in the cabin under different rules. We used to transport the dog from Frasier quite often, for example, and we have handled other celebrity animals from time to time over the years. They are not covered by standard pet travel fees. But as noted, these seats were paid for.”

American also outfitted their Airbus 321Ts flying New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Francisco with a special place for pet in cabin transport in first class. The suites don’t have an underseat stowage area that meets the requirements of takeoff and landing. So there’s a compartment in front of the first row that’s specially ventilated.

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. I give her the benefit of the doubt for being a “heat of the moment” situation. It doesn’t feel good at all to get downgraded, and I’m sure there’s extra sting if you actually paid for the better seat. Of course, a sober assessment of the situation says she overreacted, but she was probably operating on pure emotion at the time.

  2. I have been on 2 AA flights within the last few months where there was a passenger with a dog sitting in the bulkhead seat behind first class cabin. In fact I was in the same row on one of the flights!

  3. Yeah, it seems like it would have been very easy for the gate agent to make a short announcement asking if anyone in first would be willing to change seats. Kind of stupid on American’s part not to do that for a celebrity who obviously will think she deserves special treatment.

  4. I don’t really have much sympathy for her, the end result wasn’t really a hardship even for a B-list celebrity. But I, too, wonder why the GA couldn’t have simply asked if anyone in F wanted to switch seats.

    I was about to say, I’m surprised in this day and age that the computer system wouldn’t somehow prevent a bulkhead seat assignment when the reservation has a pet booked. But then I remember the antiquated systems the airlines have.

  5. Is this “no pets in a bulkhead row” a federal guideline or is it on an airline by airline basis? I ask because just last week I was in row 3 of VA (main cabin select) which is a bulkhead with no underseat storage, but the person next to me held a pet in their lap for the entire flight.

  6. Umm..okay, I’ll bite. What does this situation have to do with either: 1) the Terminal Pet Relief Area at DFW and/or 2) American winning a battle to win Los Angeles? Completely baffled.

  7. @KL An Andie MacDowell is the reason a Bill Murray repeated the same day over and over again just so he get some time knockin’ boots.

  8. @frank doyle – then it was an ’emotional support animal’ … a standard pet in cabin must stay in its carrier underneath the seat

    @mark – pissing off celebrities at a time they’re appealing to celebrities

  9. Disagree that nione would ask for 1a. Lots of famous people prefer that. That’s because they usually fly a twin aisle jet or 3 class A321 (owhere 1a does have under seat storage. Her handler didn’t know the difference between the different plane types. Your overall point is correct though.

  10. Gate agents do sometimes allow the pet and owners to board, even though they have a bulkhead seat assignment. On one cross-country flight, my husband and I were asked to switch from row 2 to 1 to accommodate a couple with a dog. We actually stopped booking row 2, as well as 1. Maybe now that can change.

  11. My husband has artificial knees and we prefer the bulkhead so he can stretch out his legs. Many times the computer automatically assigns me split seats in other rows when both bulkhead are available – no problem – I just switch to bulkhead.

    So while we may be in the minority – that minority does exist.

  12. I can see her point esp. if she paid (in money or miles) for First Class–celebrity or not! However, it’s trivial because the so-called First CLT–CHS, usually on a Barbie Jet, deserves to be called Premium Economy. I also agree (truly, no sarcasm) that AA should have asked if somebody wanted to switch seats within F. Only if everybody said NO should they have downgraded Andie.
    Also, Aviators99 is correct: WHOEVER, because it’s the subject of the verb “booked.”

  13. BTW, Andie was either the title character or another main character in the 1980s movie “Pretty in Pink.”

  14. I strongly prefer bulkhead, because I will be on my computer, and don’t want some jerk dropping their seat into my lap.

  15. Of course, blame the company for not following their rules. Love the arrogance of people who think they know other people’s business practices and then b**** about it.

  16. @kevin, AA runs a business to make money. Enforcing rules that piss off customers doesn’t make money. Doing what you can to accomodate customers, making them feel valued, winning their long term business, and turning them into brand advocates, that makes money.

  17. All airlines run a business to make money , and most Airlines regularly enforce rules that piss off customers.

  18. @lynn – doesn’t mean it’s a smart move. And in other recent developments…

    It seems obvious and yet.. Spirit Airlines now believes it “will make more money if it stops consistently irritating customers.”

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