An America Airlines passenger tells the story about buying a paid transpacific business class ticket on American Airlines but being downgraded for their Chicago – Tokyo flight a few weeks ago when their inbound Boston – Chicago flight was delayed.
The passenger says their Boston – Chicago flight was running late due to crew availability (a flight attendant “had woken up late and was on her way”) and that meant arriving into Chicago 45 minutes late. They had to run to their connecting gate, but they made it while the Tokyo flight was still boarding.
That’s when things went wrong.
As they scanned my boarding pass, they asked me to go to the counter where they told me my seat had been given away because they thought I wasn’t coming. They offered to put me in economy.
I was quite upset considering I paid full fare for a J ticket and was already checked in through to [Busan, South Korea]. I asked what other options are and the lady was quite curt and said they could rebook me 2 days later or I can take the economy seat. I asked if there were any other flights that day and she sighed, rolled her eyes and waved to the other worker who closed the door, then handed me back my boarding pass and told me I missed the flight and need to go to the ticketing desk.
American Is Entitled To Give Your Seat Away If You Aren’t At The Gate 30 Minutes To Departure – Even When It’s Their Fault
Since he wasn’t at the boarding gate 30 minutes before his international flight, the airline was entitled to take his seat for another passenger. American’s contract of carriage says,
Be at the gate and ready to board the plane…30 minutes before departure for international flights. If you’re not, we may reassign your seat to another passenger.
Why I Think This Happened
Here’s how it should work. A passenger might be in the club lounge into close to departure, or they might be getting some food or on the phone. The airline doesn’t know who isn’t coming until boarding has finished. If a passenger no show’s, a gate agent goes on board with a new boarding pass to upgrade a passenger that’s seated in coach.
That takes time in the last few minutes before departure, and with American Airlines gate agents under pressure (and being measured based on) their “D0” or exact on time departure stats, they’re loathe to do this. It’s the same reason many gate agents start insisting passengers gate check their bags even when there’s still space in the overhead bin. They don’t want passengers on the plane with bags that need to be gate checked, taking crucial minutes that could harm their ‘D0 performance’.
An agent for this American Airlines Chicago O’Hare – Tokyo Narita flight saw this passenger wasn’t present, perhaps even looked and figured they wouldn’t make the flight, and processed upgrades – presumably to get that part of their job done and over with.
Now this paying business class passenger was there for a flight with no seat. What should have happened then? The gate agent should have downgraded the person they upgraded, with an apology and a travel voucher. That way the paying business class passenger would be able to fly in… the seat they paid for.
The Passenger Chose To Fly Up Front The Next Day – And Missed a Huge Life Event
This passenger paid for business class and was going to fly business class. They turned down flying coach, accepting instead to fly via Dallas the next day. Arriving in Busan “24 hours after [he] was supposed to” he “missed the birth of my daughter.”
The baby came early. It’s hard to hold American Airlines accountable for that, other than to say that every passenger every day has some place to go and it’s a priority for them to get there. It seems like – for the birth of a daughter – this new dad should have taken the coach seat and complained later, as long a flight as it is to Tokyo and even though he’s “quite tall and ha[s] lots of metal hardware in [his] body from a major car accident years prior” so that flying coach is “excruciating.”