How The American Airlines Club In Austin VIPs Their Guests

Several readers feel that I am too hard on American Airlines, or that I criticize them disproportionally compared to other airlines. I think they’ve made more missteps than the median airline in recent years, but also that American Airlines has more potential to be better than it is today than any other carrier.

And I actually get spectacular service from American Airlines, at least in my home airport. I’ve written several times about the wonders of the staff at the Admirals Club in Austin. I can’t refer to them collectively as ladies anymore since a man has joined the team there. But they’re friendly and welcoming every day – and they actually manage to make up for a lot of shortcomings with the airline.

This week I flew to Washington Dulles. One minute before scheduled boarding a gate agent for the Airbus A319 announced that we had a mechanical issue, that they did not know what it was yet, or how long it would be.

  • No delay had posted for the flight.
  • Yet agents in the club knew it had delayed, spoke to operations, and knew the reason for the delay
  • And so they knew that it wasn’t a short delay – that they didn’t have the staff on site to address it, so best case the airline would be flying someone in or they’d be giving us a different aircraft.

After waiting by the gate for a bit with no information, I walked back to the club. When I entered the agents knew I was on the Dulles flight. They welcome every guest into the club and for their regulars they know names and faces.

But not only did they know I was on a delayed flight, and which one, they had already put backup flights in my reservation. Wow. This isn’t something special they do for me, they were working on reservations for club members they’d seen on the flight.

There were very few available seats out of Austin to work with, and it was already afternoon so connecting flight options were limited. They’d found me a connection through Dallas into Washington Dulles and managed to keep me in first class. Since I’d be getting in much later than planned, I preferred to fly to Washington National, and they happily found me the one first class seat through Chicago.

We got a new plane assigned – oddly, a legacy America West Airbus A319 that had been sitting in McAllen, Texas for days. They kept watch over it and let me know they would leave the backup segments in my reservation and cancel them out once my flight had departed. Again, they weren’t just dealing with the customer in front of them, they were tracking a reservation after the customer had left the club.

The new aircraft was on the ground for a full hour before they commenced boarding, but they never catered the flight. Despite then taking a catering delay, they never boarded meals for first class. And I still felt appreciative of the airline thanks to the staff in the club.

Some of you will be sure they did this for me ‘because I’m a blogger’ or something like that. Believe me I do not receive special treatment from American Airlines. For several years I’ve been unpopular enough among certain members of senior management that I’m surprised I still have an AAdvantage account. I sill remember the minor media voice who claimed he was banned from US Airways for being too critical of the airline (here’s the rest of that story).

Those of you who know the staff in the Austin American Airlines Admirals Club know that what I received wasn’t special treatment at all, it’s how they take care of customers. They were certainly taxed during the summer of 2019 but kept everyone moving even when the airline didn’t. When I fly out of Austin I know I’m not on my own. In the Austin Admirals Club, everyone’s a VIP. If you ever visit there, stop and chat with the staff at the door. And tell them I say hello!

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’s my home airport too and I concur that the staff in that Admirals Club lounge are the absolute best. I had a frustrating flight delay about a month ago and they made sure I was taken care of. I’ve lived here for 12 years and the staff there (many of whom have been there the entire time) have always been top notch.

  2. I am a very small shareholder in AA so this is nice to read and is the reason I felt good investing in them years back…you can imagine the loss of value I endured…anyhow the annual report and proxy are here and I just want to say if any crew/employees of AA are reading this, you’re welcome to give me a heads up on voting for the board members or other issues.

  3. Airlines don’t have to suck. Planes break, thunderstorm happen. No problem.

    The real question is why can’t airlines duplicate at least some of this across their network?

  4. I am also an AUS based business traveler and use the AA Club a lot via my Alaska Lounge Plus. It is a really good Admirals Club based on the staff. They are excellent and they do remember faces and names.

  5. With all due respect, Gary, airline staff in medium sized/non-hub cities that have lounges generally are very good and that is true for all 3 US airlines that operate lounges outside of their hubs. If you know that you have been entrusted with assets that few other non-hub cities have been given, you are motivated to offer a little higher level of service, in part because those cities are highly competitive and, in some cases, are in other airline hubs.
    That doesn’t mean that the team in AUS isn’t great but similar situations exist with other airlines in other cities.

  6. I’m AUS based and just two weeks ago they backed me up during a delay before I even made it to the lounge. They’re awesome!

  7. It’s great to hear that the AA lounge in Austin is wonderful. Definitely not so in Chicago, at least based on what I saw and experienced.

  8. San Diego Admirals club was closed years ago
    The Aspire lounge a 3rd party operator there totally sucks and American agents pulled out completely as did Japan Airlines desk
    It’s now mostly priority pass customers and many are surprisingly low class in behavior
    They now offer free cheap food on a Buffett and the crowd looks Walmart ghetto as they gobbled up everything in sight like many hadn’t dined in weeks
    I sit in the gate area now it’s just a gross holding pen now typically on an average visit
    Sad really
    Was in Austin last week I can’t get over how crowded the airport was and Ubers
    were far more expensive than Dallas

  9. Airlines clubs are operated by people, and passengers need to realize that planes breakdown like our car. Airlines can’t predict weather pattern shift and control Mother Nature. I fly certain airports so often for work, the Admirals clubs in those locations got acquainted with me. Of course they extend all the courtesies. Some of these are large clubs too, LAX, JFK, LGA, and smaller ones are naturally very personable, SNA, SFO, SAN. My favorite is HNL; although it’s really a JAL Sakura Lounge. Every time I’m in HNL, Admiral Club staff always sends a invitation. Special Aloha touch I suppose. I like it now it’s much closer, and not the out of way Qantas Lounge before.

  10. @ Gary — I thought AA agents were explicitly prohibited from holding back up space nowadays. They used to do it for us years ago, but now I imagine we would be told no.

  11. I stopped flying American because of all the obvious reasons and the fact that their Twitter team seems to be run 13-year-olds who don’t know what PNR stands for. However, back when I did and they still had the putting green, I visited Austin quarterly for business and the agents were nothing less than spectacular. One time while returning my rental car I missed a call from an unknown number and let it go to voicemail. When I walked into the club and scanned my ticket she said “Oh Mr. XXXX, I just left you a message.” She went onto to explain that my flight was delayed and even though the next flight was sold out, several passengers on that flight were going to miss their connection and she predicted about 12 seats would open up. Sure enough, while my original flight was on a rolling delay, the flight leaving 2.5 hours after mine wound up being on time and due to whatever reasons were causing all the delays, I not only got on the sold out flight but my EXP upgrade cleared to.

  12. @Tim Dunn – the United Club agents in Austin are friendly, but an apples-to-apples test of your thesis and nothing like the agents in the American lounge next door. And the legacy American Airlines agents at DCA were great, even after the merger and it became a hub, sadly the best ones are now gone.

    Plenty of “medium sized/non hub cities” with lounges that do not come close to the agents in the Admirals Club in Austin even if they’re perfectly nice.

  13. You definitely take to bashing AA disproportionately and often salaciously, but you do raise a good point in that the airline does have room to improve. That said, having reached EP and a high tier of Delta loyalty at the same time due to client requirements for travel, I can say that I’ve had more delayed flights and surly service aboard Delta than AA. Delta has a stronger management team, aided by a formidable marketing team that manages to spin the story like crazy that Delta is a world class airline.

    The Admiral’s Club in AUS is wonderful. The staff are charming, knowledgeable, and helpful.

  14. @ Gary – Good to know next time these EXPs are told that “we can’t do that.” Unfortunately, we won’t be EXPs for long…0 LP and counting.

  15. Concur the Admiral’s Club in Austin is great because of the staff! We were there in Feb and enjoyed the hospitality and professionalism of the staff. Well done!

    I also want to pass along a Well Done! to the check-in staff at the Portland OR AA counter who provided us with assistance when I had to fly from there in early May after recovering from an illness (not COVID).

  16. AUS is also my home network and I agree with everything Gary says here, including his comment comparing the AUS United Club and the Admirals Club. I’m 1K and EXP, and I let my UC membership lapse years ago. I still keep my AC membership mainly because of the staff in AUS. And what’s so amazing about the customer service is that it’s the culture of the club, not just a few great people. I’ve been a member for 15 years, and the service has always been great. While there are a couple of agents who’ve been there the entire time, there are a lot of new faces too. Yet the service has remained top-notch. The AUS staff has a sense of pride that, sadly, is lacking throughout the rest of the airline.

  17. I fly in and out of AUS frequently during some times of the year on business. I agree completely. The Admirals Club manager and staff are better than any Flagship First or other Admirals Club staff I have encountered around the globe. They have saved me numerous times by protecting me on an alternate routing when a delay or cancellation is going to occur. I have had them alert me during a morning meeting of expected afternoon bad weather in DFW and offer to get me out early if I can finish my work early. They always know my name when I walk up even if it has
    Been one of those times when I have not been in the club in a couple of months. Truly outstanding. If AA would simulate that service company wide AA would not have any competition.

  18. I had this happen from ticketing agents at EGE MANY MANY years ago. The agent found us in the eating area and told us what was happening and put us on another airline.

    Gary, I’m glad AA did this for you in AUS but it shouldn’t take having lounge access to do this. In a perfect world, this would happen for all an airline’s customers.

  19. I’ll add that the AAngels at the AUS club really do go above and beyond. I’ve had them call me before I even left the house (no, not reservations, the ladies in the AC) to tell me my flight (last of the day) was going to be delayed and I’d misconnect. The delay hadn’t even posted yet. If I could rush to the airport early, they had me protected on an earlier option.

    So not only are they watching out after you leave, they may be watching out before you even show up!

  20. Evie and the whole team of AAngels in AUS are amazing! They’ve bailed me out while on business and family travel. I would look forward to seeing them on the Monday through Thursday business travel weeks. The new space sounds like it’s going to be a huge upgrade, and I hope the level of service doesn’t change.

  21. AUS has been my home airport for 20 years and I’ve been EXP about half of that time. I agree with all of this article. If the rest of the airline had the customer service culture of this club I’d never fly another airline.

  22. Gary –

    I think you almost certainly are getting special treatment, but not necessarily because you’re a blogger. You’re something better – you are a legitimate “regular.” I’m sure the agents there are very friendly and helpful, but you’re getting something above that.

    That’s nothing new – my dad was a regular at the TWA Ambassador Club in CMH, so they knew my family from when we traveled with him. They could not be nicer or more helpful.

    Those of us who are based in hub cities and aren’t Global Services or CK will never be able to get the same level of treatment, unless they’re traveling weekly.

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