No, Anti-Consumer Changes To Airline Rules Shouldn’t Be Applauded

American Airlines updated its rules (‘contract of carriage’) to make clear that it has almost no responsibility to you, the customer, when they delay or cancel flights.

I made clear in covering this that the changes to American’s terms and conditions largely just match what was already American Airlines practice. They stopped being generous putting most customers onto other airlines during delays three years ago, and have largely stopped reimbursing customers for hotels that they book themselves during overnight delays – even when their own system for offering rooms breaks down.

Cranky Flier covers the changes and said, “I’m glad American made this change, because it conflicted with what the airline actually did in practice. This should have been fixed long ago.”

I believe he got this backwards,

  • American Airlines policies weren’t fully consistent with their contract of carriage
  • They should be called out for that

Instead of taking responsibility for customers getting to their final destination when flights are significantly delayed or cancelled, putting passengers on other airlines – which was practice until recently and largely eliminated recently as a cost-cutting measure – they’re making clear they won’t do this.

And saying the most they’ll do for passengers in the event of a four-plus hour delay is a refund just underscores that the four hour standard itself is a pandemic-era change to lock customers in. American says they’ll keep your money unless they delay you four-plus hours, rather than providing a refund when they’re unable to deliver the promised transportation within a shorter period of time. Sure, other airlines have made moves like this during the pandemic to hold onto your money, but that’s hardly an excuse for doing so.

American may want to limit customers getting their own hotels and sending the airline the bill – but then they need a better system for actually providing rooms to customers during irregular operations. In the past several months they haven’t even been able to provide rooms to their own employees properly with flight attendants sleeping at the airport and a pilot without a room sleeping in a hotel lobby.

I agree with Cranky and noted up front that the changes to the airline’s terms aligned the language with the policies the airline put in place. But these policies, and statements to customers, are a bit of a slap in the face and American should be called out for that – not defended, as Cranky does. Bear in mind that the history of changes to the airline’s rules is a history in anti-consumer language. Remember five years ago when the airline declared in the AAdvantage program terms that they had no duty of good faith or fair dealing towards customers?

The airline cut 30% of management employees during the pandemic (even though they received about $10 billion in subsidies to keep everyone employed). This represents $500 million per year in payroll. Yet they still have lawyers on staff spending time figuring out how not to take care of customers when they fail to deliver transportation as promised.

I guess we should be grateful that American Airlines tells us its rules at all, since it took the Department of Transportation to require American Airlines to actually post its Contract of Carriage online last fall, after the airline had removed it from its website.

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. We all have a choice when booking travel. I had 3 choices when booking a seat to FLL. It was a toss up between Delta and jet Blue. AA wasn’t a consideration. Bet you’re surprised.

  2. Since Brett actually worked for two airlines, I give his opinion far more weight than someone who’s labeled himself as a “thought leader.” I’ve never seen you post your credentials, so you may have worked for an airline. If that’s the case, I’ll have to readjust my thinking a bit. I realize hyperbole and self-promotion are part of today’s media environment, but what is a “thought leader”? This comment isn’t a personal attack, but about the tone of your writing. It sounds like you think you’re the “thought police” (with my sincere apologies to George Orwell), not a “thought leader.”

    I’ve flown on nearly all the major airlines (and many of their predecessors) at one time or another over the 60+ years I’ve traveled, and I find there’s nowhere near as much difference among them as you claim. But that’s simply my personal experience – and I paint it as such. I don’t for one second think I’m a “thought leader.” It almost sounds as if you’re hoping that American gets liquidated and hundreds of good, hard-working people lose their jobs. Why is that?

  3. It used to be airlines were responsible from getting you to Point A to Point B within a reasonable time frame agreed upon in advance by both parties. Now it’s been reduced to “We’ll get you there how we feel like it, when we feel like it, and only if we feel like it – otherwise, here’s your money back, end of bargain.”

    That’s the sort of thing that leads to re-regulation or a passenger’s bill of rights.

  4. If you believe that airlines should tell you what you are getting upfront instead of surprises when they fail to deliver, then AA’s disclosure is appropriate.

    It is just a signal for the other airlines to state that they owe you nothing except to take and maybe refund your money, if they fail miserably. Airlines have become bottom feeders. Each follows the others’ public pronouncements to see what they can get away with, in other industries, it is called collusion..

    It is how monopolies operate until they’ve over-reached and government must intervene….

  5. Its always been there but you people never read your COC before flying.
    All it says now is you cant just book any hotel and expect AA to pay for it, you have to go through them.

  6. Nothing changed. AA still rebooks on OAL for IROPs. I know I do it everyday. This just spells out to those who think they know everything and don’t read things in context. This makes it clear. You will be rebooked on next flight with seats, AA first, OAL is an option if nothing available in near term and OAL has seats (with exception to Delta as they continue to refuse to confirm seat requests). You can standby for earlier full flights and maybe get on, yes it happens. Many misconnected still don’t show. Or if you want to throw a tantrum and strand yourself get a refund. This thinking is not smart as OAL will be full of theirs and everyone’s cx pax so price will be high.

    It kills me that pax think weather isn’t a thing to inconvenience them. It’s been part of the travel equation forever. When you plan your trip ya gotta know this can happen especially if it’s summer or winter storm season. If the cost of a hotel isn’t in the budget then think twice when buying that cheap ticket. Airlines have never given hotels for weather cancellations. Never.

    Nothing to see here. . .. carry on

  7. Maybe Mayor Pete Buttplug can start paying attention to the consumer protections side of his agencys mandate instead of focusing all of his attention on kissing Biden’s ass and on which pronouns are used to address people on airplanes.

  8. Chris right on. It seems that the airlines are more concerned about social issues ( that they should be staying out of) instead of focusing on customer service issues such as what was discussed in the above blog. “ The woke, cancel culture “ is well and alive in the airline business

  9. Among the other fallouts from AA officially establishing this policy: If there were any shred of loyalty to AA left among passengers (elites excluded because they’ve made their bargain, perhaps for good reasons), this confirms only fools will retain that loyalty. The airline has no loyalty to its passengers (the bargain with elites excluded); so far as AA is concerned, we’re all cattle. We have no rights or reasonable expectations; AA has no responsibilities or obligations. It will take our money and, if everything works out for AA, it will deliver us to our destination — as @ C_M says, “We’ll get you there how we feel like it, when we feel like it, and only if we feel like it – otherwise, here’s your money back, end of bargain.” And I’ll add, “Now shut up, go away, and leave us alone. We’re busy, and you don’t matter.” Nice!
    This will be a notable factor as I choose which airline to use.

  10. Hey Radio,
    you drone on endlessly that, because you can’t tell the difference between different airlines, there must not be any difference.

    The DOT has collected statistics from US airlines for decades and they do so for millions of customers and not just you

    They ACCURATELY note that American runs a far less reliable operation than other airlines but not as bad as their partner JetBlue – or even Southwest this summer.

    American got 4X as many consumer complaints than Delta for the month of June, the last month for which they have released operational statistics.

    AA’s on-time was about average and nearly the same as UA’s but it was substantially lower than Delta which had the best on-time of any continental US based operation (only Hawaiian was higher overall).

    In every category, American was middle of the pack or worse – with baggage handling their clear Achilles heel.

    So, no, all airlines are not alike.

    Delta customers are much more likely to get to their destination on time which means they are less likely to need a hotel – but Delta’s language in its conditions of carriage provide a greater commitment to putting you on another flight to get you to your destination and to get you a hotel if necessary. Compare Delta’s section 19 to American’s.

    And Brett worked for Doug Parker at USAirways. it is no surprise that he still feels a need to defend AA’s actions no matter how bad their performance and decisions are.

    The only award that AA gets out of this is that they are being honest – undoubtedly because they DoT is making them to post what customers can expect and they sure as heck are not going to put anything more generous on their documents than they have been doing.

  11. AA-think seems to be that passengers are a gross inconvenience and that flights would run much more smoothly and on time if there were none.
    Be careful what you wish for, AA.

  12. Man.. all Gary Leff ever writes about are complaints about AA. Is this all you do, Gary? What a miserable life you must lead.

  13. You’re right Gary that it is unfortunate American Airlines management has made a bad policy change and has hurt the brand. However, the payroll support shouldn’t be used as a reason for them not to do it. The payroll support was basically given by congress to protect union jobs of flight attendants and airport workers who would have been laid off and collecting unemployment. Payroll support did nothing to help the viability of the Airline or its shareholders.

  14. Jackson,
    the question is not whether AA should do it to preserve its finances.
    The question is why Delta and United haven’t made the same moves, why American wants for its Conditions of Carriage to look more and more like low cost carriers (such as Southwest), and how many business passengers will pick up and move their business over to Delta and United once business travel returns.

    and the difference between the big 3 is that Delta is simply running a much more reliable operation so the chances of needing hotels or rebooking on other airlines is much smaller on them to begin with. Getting where they want to go w/ the least drama is ultimately the number one feature that an airline can sell.

    The DOT’s air travel consumer report covering July flights should be out later this week and it is certain to not look good for American and Southwest. Again.

  15. I choose to avoid American Airlines whenever possible. Pre-pandemic my wife and I were flying from Cancun to BWI, via CLT. When we tried to board our connection, the AA staff in CLT refused to let us board. We were told American’s “computer algorithm” predicted we would miss our connection – obviously in error. To say we were angry would be an understatement. The AA employees made it clear that they did not care and told us they were “not responsible for what the computer did.” Moreover, they told us they didn’t need to do anything for us, and that I could find that language in the COC. After complaining about being left stranded (while we watched our flight board and leave without us) they offered us 1000 ff points. Absolutely DISGRACEFUL. If this is how AA treats passengers systemwide, they don’t deserve government bailouts.

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