Executive Platinum But Seats Given To Someone Else? Inside The American Airlines Decision That Left A Family Grounded

Just because you make it to your flight while the boarding doors are still open, and customers are still in line to get on, doesn’t mean you’re still going to be able to fly.

That’s what happened to a family in what looks like concourse D in Miami. Their seats were given away to other passengers right in front of them. They stood at the boarding gate and were turned away, even though they had boarding passes and the flight was still boarding. They were not happy!

  • “You’re giving our seats to them?” asks a mom. “Yes I am” says the gate agent.

  • The agent explains “it is 12 minutes and 27 seconds” to departure.

  • The passenger complains that the boarding door “is still open.” And she feels she deserves better, “I’m Executive Platinum!” While the agent responds that “you’re Executive Platinum, you know the rules.”

While the agent scolds the AAdvantage Executive Platinum member that she should know the rules (and therefore accept that what was happening was proper, rather than unfair) in fact according to the Director of the AAdvantage program, customers with status are no longer experts in the rules. They used to be, because they flew all the time. But status is now based on earning miles (for instance, on American’s co-brand credit cards) rather than purely by flying.

American Airlines rules are that it can give away your seats if you’re not in the gate area 15 minutes prior to departure, even though doors don’t close for an on-time flight until 10 minutes prior to departure.

If you want to get on your flight, things might work out running up to the gate as the doors close (but as still open) but you might not. The last 5 minutes before doors close are a risk.

And even that isn’t a guarantee! While this doesn’t appear in the gate agent’s explanation, it’s possible that these were connecting passengers and American’s computers predicted they would miss their flight.

American Airlines will automatically remove passengers from a flight that they expect to misconnect, to give seats to other passengers earlier (so that passengers aren’t being boarded at the last minute, potentially causing a flight delay of a minute or two). In the end the customers might make the flight, but find their seats are already gone.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. The gate is such a lovely area to hang out! (Trying to avoid being near other people and a TMZ-worthy incident.)

  2. You love baiting people into hating the airlines. I guess AA said no to sponsoring you? This lady is flat out wrong, and she has 3 tiktok videos full of people telling her she’s wrong. She absolutely wasn’t connecting. We can always lean on Gary for the hard-hitting stories. lol

  3. American Airlines is scum with power tripping gate agents and rules that change depending on what the gate agent wants to do. This should be taken to the regulatory agencies if a denied boarding reward is not paid. Were the customers put on the next flight and compensated for any incidentals related to the denied boarding? What are people supposed to do, push others out of the way to make sure they get through the gate at 15 minutes before departure time. This is all due to the artificial metric of leaving exactly on time or a few minutes before.

  4. Technology is certainly sufficient to permit the concept of contingent boarding passes. Look at the likely misconnects, issue contingent passes to standbys. Those boarding passes can only be used right at the end of boarding. Tie the data items to the use of the boarding pass rather than the agent directly making changes.

    We have been a “certain” misconnect before, they actually did give away our seats but when we made it they gave us business class seats. (We got a window in the ground hold, the second flight was delayed. Got there with nobody but the agents at the gate but the door were open and there were still passengers in the jetway.)

  5. How does American gate agents know if a passenger is in the gate area 15 minutes before boarding. If they make an unintelligible (most of the time) public address call for a person, and there is no “immediate” response by pushing your way through the sea of people congregating around the gate (think Charlotte or Miami or other congested gate and concourse areas), then the agent is authorized to give away a seat??? There should be a BIG change in American leadership which would allow such a practice. Perhaps a few thousand American customers should show up at the next AA Board meeting and demand such.

  6. Once, when connecting at a hub, my inbound flight was running late. But I was able to sprint to my connecting gate and they were still boarding. My seat had already been released and that person was on board. As it turned out, they were a non-rev so the gate agent barked an order down the jetbridge to pull them off. They gave me a death stare as they walked past… lol

  7. I don’t care what anyone says. This is involuntarily denied boarding. They were at the gate, with properly issued boarding passes, while the doors were still open and passengers were *in a line waiting to board*. They did not ask to change flights and they did not volunteer to be removed.

  8. Most airlines are 30 minutes in the cut off for international and 20 minutes for domestic with the exception of Southwest 10 minutes. The boarding now occurs fast since people are waiting at the gate. Not to say I haven’t arrived late to boarding time, but I am happy that I can still fly on that flight.

  9. I’ve *consistently* found that American Airlines is the worst in almost all areas at the gate:

    1) Basically 100% of passengers trying to force themselves in and board when the first sign of boarding happens
    2) Potential standby passengers crowding the gates, confusing those with confirmed tickets
    3) Gate agents aggressively offboarding confirmed passengers

    Do we even know if these agents attempted to confirm that the passengers were “at the gate”? What does that even mean? IMO – if you are *checked in* to a flight, you should hold your seat until the boarding ends (i.e. the door closes).

  10. All you whiners are wrong (including Gary). AA didn’t give away their seats – they forfeited them by not being there before the. Parading cut off. Those are the rules and every airline has a similar restriction. Also didn’t mention if connecting or originating. If connecting AI may have given them away expecting them not to make flight (which BTW works to the benefit of the majority of passengers). If originating there is ABSOLUTELY no reason they weren’t at the gate on time.

    I know Gary prefers to spend minimal time at an airport but even after 40+ years and over 8 million miles I get there 2-3 hours early (can usually spend time in a lounge) and am ALWAYS at the gate 5-10 minutes before the start of boarding (usually 40-45 minutes before departure). Say what you want but ZERO sympathy people that get there late and can’t believe the woman tried to use the DYKWIA card. SMDH!!

  11. To clarify, if i checked in at the ticketing counter, checked my bags, went to the lounge and got to the gate 10 min before boarding I could still lose my seat ?

  12. But weren’t they at the gate area and waiting in a long line? Although AA is pretty much the worst (IMO) compared to say, UA on the misconnect “feature”. I had a flight that was delayed and UA proactively reserved me a seat on the next 2 flights just in case. I did miss the first connection, so I’m glad they did that for me.

  13. I think it would be more clear if you said they weren’t there when they made the last call to board, and after that their seats were given away. That is fair assuming it was not a connecting flight.

  14. I have a reservation booked through BA (as part of a bigger transatlantic res)..
    After an overnight in Dulles (to go see Concorde udvar hazy museum) i have F class DCA-ORD-SFO early eve. My connection at ORD is just thirty minutes. I doubt I will make the connection as I’m a PRM. I wonder what AA will do/say ?

  15. It doesn’t look like they were waiting in line. And the agent followed the rules. Hard to fault the agent for following what’s published.

  16. It sort of makes logical sense: they can’t give a seat away to a standby without the door open to board the standby. There needs to be some window of time after they give seats away but before the door is closed.

  17. @EntitledEP – for avoidance of doubt I have never asked for “sponsoring” from American Airlines or any other airline or hotel company.

  18. How do they know if you are not there 15 min before the flight if they are still boarding?

  19. @Peter – Finally someone talking (obvious) sense. All you people saying that the original passengers should keep their right to the seats until the door closes are insane. That would mean no standby passengers could ever board–the door has to still be open for them to walk through it!

  20. I side with AA here. They are doing an awesome job getting most flights out on time or early. Keep it up AA.
    As for the passengers, it sounds like they didn’t board by the 15 minute cut off, even though they could have. Why?

  21. I call BS on this lady. As an Executive Platinum Member you don’t have to wait in a long line to board, you go to the priority lane and bypass everyone because as Executive Platinum, you are Group number 1. So even if you are late to the boarding area, you jump the line.

    I’m Executive Platinum, have been for years. I’ve had Zero problems with American, in the past 10 years of continuous flying for work. Same goes for United and Delta, they do a great job (even though I am not top tier with them).

    Spirit, Frontier and Southwest are the absolute worst for business travelers. They cancel, bump your flight and nickel and dime you to death. And the typical tourist/vacation passengers are the worst.

    For all of the commenters here that hate American….good, don’t fly them, stay out of us business travelers way!

  22. Most of these comments are illogical. What is wrong with some of you? Nobody realistically thinks a checked in passenger should keep their seat literally until the doors close. But it is reasonable that the gate agent must first completely clear all passengers in line for boarding prior to giving away those seats. If they’re slow to board the plane and there are still people in line less than 15 min before scheduled departure, then the 15 minute gate requirement can’t be a reason to deny someone boarding. This is especially stupid from a business perspective when it’s your premium tier passengers.

  23. AA took what was an easy process and made it difficult. I’m still waiting for miles to post from early March. I have more than 6000 AAdvantage miles posted but zero loyalty showing. Then going to annual cutoff dates for status rather than a rolling calendar. I’d look at another airline but AA is the only one flying the route I need.

  24. I have had the exact same thing happen to me. I was delayed and delayed for storms. I ran from one side of DFW to DFW. Literally. I arrived 16 minutes prior and the loaded other people into my seat. I’m executive platinum and it pretty much means nothing anymore. Nada.

  25. Gary fails to mention that AA boarding passes clearly says boarding doors close 15 minutes prior to departure.

    That is correct , the agents have five minutes to drop the seats of passenger that haven’t boarded and reassigns them to revenue and nonrevenue passengers . 10 minutes before departure the lounge boarding area is closed . No more boarding pass scanning .
    All airlines have the similar rules .

  26. I was recently on an Alaska flight where a family’s premium seats had been given away because they had been assumed to be misconnects and then when they made it and boarded there was a huge kerfuffle with people with duplicate seat assignments. The family got to stay onboard, but had to move to different seats and the matriarch made a small scene about it.

  27. @Eric – that isn’t quite accurate.

    Paper – not mobile – boarding passes clearly state “Boarding Ends 15 Minutes Before Departure”

    But it also is not accurate, and is not an accurate reflection of the airline’s contract of carriage either.

  28. Gary why post BS? “And even that isn’t a guarantee! While this doesn’t appear in the gate agent’s explanation, it’s possible that these were connecting passengers and American’s computers predicted they would miss their flight.”

    The passenger was LATE plain and simple. Kudos to the AA agent for doing her job and getting the flight out rather than waiting for a princess to appear. If connecting it would be different however AA suggests arriving 1 hour and 30 min prior w luggage or one hour for no checked DOMESTIC. Two hours INTERNATIONAL. She needs to get her life together and not blame others. . ..I say promote the agent and ban the EP so she can harrass the SPIRT employees.

  29. @I arrive early – the point is TO EXPLAIN THE POLICY that this Executive Platinum member did not understand. The agent might have… offered a better customer experience around it… but I do not claim they were wrong with respect to policy.

  30. The airline is right. But I am biased as I am a 2-million miler and have platinum for life. I spent over half million dollars with AA and am entitled to such perks

    You have to stay at the gate or you can get bumped on a full flight. Deal with it

  31. American Airlines has no regard for their passengers. Elite status means nothing. If American Airlines has no loyalty for their best customers, why should we be loyal to AA?

  32. Right or wrong, AA hasn’t learned the simple art of avoiding unnecessary drama by not being jerks to their customers.

  33. If anybody ever bothers to READ anything, AA boarding passes have ALWAYS stated that the doors close 15 mins prior to departure. For all of you who get on after, its pure luck. The agent absolutely did the correct thing. I did not personally see a line of people waiting to get on. The “exec plat” was WRONG. And to be honest, you may be surprised at how many people screw up, start yelling about status and have none. More often then you think.

  34. The article is an example of how airlines no longer care about customers. On US Airways (which Amercan bought), they cared about customers. I’ve experienced US Airways purposely delaying the connecting flight, put us all on a bus on the tarmac to cross the airport, where we would enter the gate and board with everyone already onboard. This would happen at the end of the day which saved us countless hours or having to stay overnight.

    That was what customer service used to mean for some airlines. Too bad American never learned this after buying USAir.

  35. American has a reputation. We will not use them ever again. The last straw was similar to this. Headed to Beckham Creek Caves, their flight from Seattle to Dallas landed 1 hour late. They set up the connecting flight and ASSURED us they were holding our first class seats (6 seats – said they called ahead). We literally ran from one gate to the other. As we arrived, 2 of our ,first class tickets were being given to American “employees”. We confirmed that they received the call and their solution was to place us on various flights getting in over “the next couple of days”. RUDE and raising their voices to us like we had done something to deserve this. HORRIBLE experience. WORSE customer service.

  36. I had an American flight connecting through Charlotte. The inbound flight was late but I sprinted to the gate and made it with the doors still open and people congregated. The gate agent denied me boarding. I argued to no avail, then stood there and watched as she gave my seat and half a dozen others to stand by passengers.!! I started to flip out but they said they would call security.
    A written complaint letter got no reply. I could not and cannot understand why they would give up my seat, when I was standing right there.
    . Is there a way to complain that will get some results? This was over a year ago but I am still agitated.

  37. If she was executive platinum she would have been boarding group 1. Groups 1-4 have their own line that is always open during general boarding. She wasn’t stuck in line because there is no line after the first few minutes of boarding if you are groups 1-4 which she would have been.

    The agent followed the rules and was in the right. Don’t show up late if its your initial flight.

  38. There are a few things here that are confusing, but let me make some suggestions. If the boarding pass says that the gate closes 15 minutes before departure, then if you turn up after that you are completely at risk even if the reason is that your inbound connecting flight was delayed. If you have status with the airline, that might induce them to go out of their way to accommodate you but you don’t have a contractual right to demand that any more than the jerk who tried to jump to the front the line 40 years ago because he had a cell phone and nobody else did.

    Regardless of your status, you should not expect the airline to put you on the plane and pull someone else off who has already boarded, but you should be treated no better or worse than a standby who shows up at that point.

    On the other hand, an airline should have to compensate you as an IDB if, more than 15 minutes before boarding, they give away your seat because their algorithm tells them (erroneously as it turns out) that you will not make the flight in time. Airlines use those algorithms for the same reason they overbook, and the same rules should apply. But note what I said: they should treat YOU as having been bumped, not (except in extraordinary circumstances) to put you on the plane and pull off a person who has already boarded.

  39. The saddest part in all of this is that American Airlines seems to have earned the reputation for consistently poor basic customer service skills and human empathy. The gate agent should have apologized for the situation and assured the passengers that they would do everything possible to accommodate them. While options may be limited, an apology and some basic kindness would go a very long way in diffusing a tense situation.

    This is where AS consistently fails and lacks simple human kindness.

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