Run to Your Gate, Lose Your Seat: Two New American Airlines Policies Leave Passengers Stranded

American Airlines has made two changes in the past year that make it harder to get where you’re going.

  1. They have a new system for automatically rebooking passengers when their flights are delayed or cancelled. If their computer predicts you’ll miss your connection, they will take away your seat and give it to someone else, putting you on a later flight. You may luck out and get to your connecting gate in time, but your seat is already gone.

  2. If you want to stand by for an earlier flight – say, you run to a gate and get there before they finish boarding, and there are seats available – unless you are a Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum, ConciergeKey or oneworld emerald member they will tell you tough luck. You have to request the new flight online (website or mobile app) and those requests must be made at least 45 minutes in advance.

American’s new AURA system, the “AUtomated ReAccommodation” tool, rebooks passengers predictively when their flights are cancelled or delayed. It identifies passengers that they believe are certain to misconnect and gives their seat to other passengers. They take passengers off of flights who haven’t missed them yet, but where the airline is believes they will misconnect. Only sometimes they do not misconnect!

I’ve written about passengers having their trips upended – without compensation – because American has given their seats away to someone else. And the passenger gets nothing for American’s mistake. Here’s another case:

The passenger has met the conditions of carriage to fly. That is an involuntary denied boarding and under DOT rules they should be paying cash compensation. I’ve never heard of their doing so in this circumstance, however.

That’s not the only way customers don’t get where they’re going because of a recent policy change by American. If you’re merely a lifetime AAdvantage Platinum member, and if you land early in Dallas and want to get on a flight home to Austin, you’re probably not at the gate 45 minutes prior to departure – 10 minutes before they begin boarding, even. You’ll just be turned away and stuck with dinner alone at Pappadeaux instead of with your family.

American has been driving towards staffing reductions, and has automated many of the functions that were handled by gate agents so that domestic flights that are less than 80% full now have just one agent managing boarding. That’s tough because it makes them less likely to process last minute upgrades, and makes them less able to monitor passengers for intoxication prior to boarding. But it saves money. And limiting the ability for customers to request stand by at the gate supports this goal as well.

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 have acquired an attitude about damn near every airline, all are absolutely inept at running a business of any kind. This happened to me damn near 40 years ago. Closed the door in my face, after running half way across LAX, my luggage made it I did not. That’s when I experienced my first taste of poor customer service and it’s been down hill ever sense. 911 was the death knell and Covid was the Coup de Grace ! The only thing airlines have positively managed to accomplish is to suck the pleasure out of traveling by air !

  2. I am now trying to get compensation from American airlines after they changed our non-stop 3-hour flight into a “direct” 7.5 hour flight with a 2-hour stop in another city. They also had us leaving 4.5 hours earlier, which meant we would have had to get up at 2:00 a.m. to catch it. I booked the non-refundable flight in September, and they changed it in December without notifying me. Had I not looked on the app, I wouldn’t have known. But the new flight did not meet their contract of carriage provisions. Ugh! No more American if I can avoid it. Ever.

  3. Coupled with their new policy of not allowing people to get loyalty points if they book through a non-preferred travel agency, these new policies are showing that they are becoming increasingly customer unfriendly.

  4. American Airlines has reached a point of customer DISservice where I’m going to put them on my personal DO NOT FLY list. I don’t live in an AA hub city and have an alternative choice to reach almost everywhere that I may be flying.

  5. Thanks for posting this, we had this exact thing happened to us in DFW and couldn’t understand why they gave away our seats after running through the airport. We made it to the gate 15min before departure and they had already given away our seats. Luckily they let us on (in separated seats) because the flight wasn’t full, but we departed 5min early leaving other passengers that didn’t run as fast as us.

  6. This happened to me a few days ago…I had first class seats and got to the gate 8 minutes before departure time and I was refused to be allowed to board the plane. I cancelled my advantage membership. I’ll NEVER fly American again!

  7. It would be helpful if Gary could get an American executive to participate in the discussion and explain AA’s position on the many issues which are alienating formerly loyal AA customers. Simply complaining about poor service and saying “I’m never going to fly American again” solves nothing. There are 100’s of new passengers for every passenger who self-boycotts AA. CLT is becoming more crowded every week is a sign of the real world.

  8. Yes, they should compensate any passenger who is bumped in this way, but I also understand the virtue of them giving the seat to some other desperate passenger when you’re not going to make it. If you are the desperate passenger you would say “hooray.” The answer is to almost never get it wrong, so rarely that you can compensate handsomely. The answer is to let you give permission to the AA app to track you in the airport, so it can get an excellent appraisal of where you are and if you will make it. To even notice if you are running or walking. To send a golf cart if doable. To beep at you and tell you to run or yield. It’s the 21st century and your phone can do this. If they do this right, everybody wins.

  9. Tired of AA flights. They never leave on time and this past week got caught twice by them not staffing correctly and not having a flight crew where it was needed. – left me in Boston looking at $1000+ hotel rooms unless I wanted to Uber 15 miles out and the offered ZERO compensation because they could claim it was weather.

  10. Also while AA was canceling flights and running late Delta was taking off early and landing early

  11. American is GREAT if you’re a Concierge Key, they are “OK” for Exec Platinuns and horrible like all the other airlines for everything else. I lost my Concierge Key earlier last year after having it for 5 years. I now hate flying, talking with someone on the phone is almost impossible (I’m just a Gold now), 6+ hours wait, chat works sometimes, but unless you are really persistant they won’t help you, I found that sometimes “Twitter” ( X ) is the easier way to communicate, but even than, if you’re not a CK or Exec Plat. you are nothing but another number or someone bothering them…

    Unfortunately Delta or United are just as bad, and the others are even worst (Haven’t tried Breeze yet, waiting for them to have a larger network, nothing works for me yet).

  12. My worst connecting experience pales when compared to some of the nightmares already described however here goes. Business Class. Arrived on a delayed international flight to LAX (due to hurricane) which made up some time though. Got thru immigration fast but because now an hour to the conn flight leaving (4pm) had to take bags and dash to new terminal. Conn flight was delayed! BUT, arriving at check-in with plenty (about 3/4hr) time to new departure time was told too late. I only protested meekly. Auto-rebooked next morning! No access to lounge because domestic First by then!!! OK could I get on the next flight. NO, only midnight flight? Yes but downgrade to economy. OK. On board before we take off several passengers called to go forward! Not me!!! Awful flight hardly dozed let alone slept. Arrived Houston 5am knackered. I will never forgive Continental Airlines. Oh wait, they don’t exist any more. I wonder why?

    The other awful experience – Continental 747 London to New York. Descending my wife says there’s something wrong with the plane. Me: I’ve flown 10,000hrs its OK. Landing, fire trucks etc alongside. Stop on runway. Captain finally makes an announcement (nothing earlier) – we have lost a hydraulic system and will be towed to the terminal. Baggage claim – our bags were left in London. We’re on a tour and they fail to catch up with us before the bus leaves for New England. Our 1 1/2 days in New York sightseeing turns into shopping for essentials. Our 2 nights sleep turns into being woken up to be informed our bags have been delayed another day.

    Why do I hate Continental? Oh I forgot again. They are no more. I wonder why.

  13. This happened to me in Hong Kong a few years ago. My flight from Hanoi Vietnam to HK, HK to DFW was a tight connection. I arrived at the gate in HK 15 minutes before the gate closed and they had already given my seat away. In fact, while I was standing in the boarding area after being denied boarding because they told me “I was late”, they allowed another 20 other passengers who arrived “AFTER” me to board. I was totally bewildered. Worked out in my favor though as I booked a replacement flight from HK to DFW with a layover in LAX. The flight to LAX was EMPTY and I had three rows to myself! Slept almost the entire way to LA. Connecting in LAX is normally dreadful, but since I have Global Entry, it was a piece of cake. Made my connection to DFW no problems. Still, to this day, never understood how/why AA was able to just kick me off that flight from HK to DFW.

  14. Has this happen multiple times last year I was EXP. They dared to rebook me into economy in three separate occasions on paid first class tickets.

    Twice I had to go through hoops to fly first on a later flight. One time i was desperate and had to take the downgrade (on my birthday no less).

    I Moody fly delta now. Much more professional airline, much better lounges.

  15. Next you’ll tell me the airline will charge me big bucks to store my suitcase in the luggage hold under the plane unless I lug it on the plane, delay boarding and deplaning, and store it in the coat rack above somebody’s seat.

  16. They are awful. Lost two days of vacation due to a broken plane. They refused to rebook us on a Delta flight. On return flight was delayed. Friends who opted to try to make the connection had their seats together cancelled without their knowledge while in midair and managed to.get two seats one near the front, one near the back rather than together. I will now drive 3 hrs to another airport to take Southwest rather than American.

  17. American was run by Doug Parker until fairly recently. I founded the Keep Delta My Delta campaign in 2006 to thwart his attempted takeover of Delta when he was CEO of US Airways. We knew back then he was a horrible CEO. He intentionally kept unions at America West and US Airways from signing contracts after the two merged. So the unions were at each others throats.

    Honestly I hate American. I lost a $1700 credit because American was the only major airline that forced you to use your Covid credits by the end of 2022. All other airlines gave you an extra year.

    Avoid them at all costs.

  18. This has happened to me. Despite the fact that I’m concierge key, was seated in row one, and the premium services rep called the gate to let them know she would pick me up and take me the 15 or so gatex down I needed to get on my next flight

    By the time I got to the gate my seat was gone (booked in first).

    I saw there were a lot of seats in first empty and asked why she wasn’t bumping those pax instead of putting me in row 30. She let me talk her into an exit row seat. When I got there someone was in it so I ask the FA what to do. Turns out the gate agent upgraded the person in my seat to to first so I could have her ‘premium’ seat, but obviously the person sitting there didn’t know it yet.

    I didn’t end up in the right cabin till the FA asked the pilot to intervene and got me into the cabin I booked in.

  19. I am Platinum Pro and my wife is “only” Gold. Let me describe how the new AA process helped my wife and I. On the way to the airport (5pm) I checked our boarding passes and found to my horror that our flights had been separated – I was rebooked thru Chicago and my wife kept her original seats thru Miami! I spent over an hour on the phone with a AA agent who kept trying to rectify the situation. Our first leg was Tucson to Phoenix and went uneventfully, however when we arrived in Phoenix (I’m guessing here) the new program had changed our flights again, they (after another hour or so of working the issue) managed to find me a seat in coach (I paid for 1st for us both) but the flight was delayed from the original 8:19PM until 5AM the following morning. I had been put on standby for 1st and there was a cancellation so I was seated in first – not with
    my wife. Eventually when we arrived in Miami we had to work with another agent for about forty minutes to get seats on the Miami to Puerto Rico. We arrived in Puerto Rico just over 24 hours after we began this saga. We are both in our 80’s and had to spend the next day of our vacation recovering from the trip. If this is AI then it’s AI with an extremely low IQ. This flight makes me question if I will, after over 30 years and 2 million miles, of flying with AA needs to be reevaluated.

  20. I repeat what I said a few months ago : this is America West management. Ask any seasoned legacy AA employee who hasn’t been canned yet (usually non-management employees). Sometimes I wonder if they throw darts at a board and read an 8 ball to make their decisions.

  21. My flight on Emirates from Durban SA to Dubai was delayed making my connection to a flight to Manchester dubious.
    I asked one of the flight attendants what would happen and she told me not to worry as there were several people on the flight with the same problem.
    She told me that the Dubai= Manchester flight would be held up until we had arrived and had boarded.
    Never chose a American airline and chose a great airline, like Emirates.

  22. With so many people flying, they don’t have to worried about customer satisfaction. Supply and demand.

  23. If the USA had a Rule 261 benefit like Europe, this type of stuff would be eliminated, since as long as you met the conditions of carriage, you would be eligible for compensation as a “cancelled flight” s noted above. I’d be willing to pay €2 (about $2) which is what Ryanair adds to tickets to cover their cost of Rule 261 payouts. This is cheap “insurance” which would provide compensation of up to $800!

  24. As usual Awful American is a complete mess. They let you book flights with one hour connection times at Heathrow, which are almost impossible to make anyway, then tell you that you have to have cleared the second security site 45 minutes before departure and then it is a 20 minute walk by which time your seat is gone and/or they have closed it. Even if you are EXP. Given that the arriving BA flights usually are at different terminals and they tell you to allow 1-2 hours for the transfer, what the heck is wrong here? I also was offered 35 minute connections in the US to international flights. Even if the inbound is on-time, good luck with that. They need to break up this airline and start over. It is the worst mess I have ever seen…all, no doubt, to get an extra 2 cents in revenue.

  25. How is that going to work when some of American’s layovers is only 40 minutes? Your had before you leave the ground!

  26. Trying to book going thru PHX and found that almost ALL OF THE LAYOVER TIMES are 25 mins. If you in the back half of the plane, no way to get out in 25 mins. much less get to a possible gate almost one mile away with not people carts to be found. Made an official complaint on
    and they came back and indicated they do this for “Competitive Reasons”. Seems that they could care less about customers and prove it every time they can. What about seniors that need help, not even with a wheelchair could you make most transfer in 25 mins. or less! I suspect that the person responding to me has never flown on a plane and probably some low paid person in a third world country being paid a low wage.

  27. Back in the day I actually had a Northwest plane come back to the gate and get me, look how far downhill we’ve gone. They book too many close call connections that are nearly impossible to make. Delta does the same shit In Atlanta. The government needs to make an example of American and break them up, pass some more passenger friendly laws or just RE-regulate altogether. All of us know that other airlines can pull some really stupid shit sometimes but AA definitely wins the award for being best at it. We need more airlines that are full service and buy decent jets and treat passengers like a valued customer. AA and United were too big 30 years ago now look at them.

  28. I had this happen to me and a colleague flying through CLT on May 5, 2024. We arrived at our gate during normal boarding, scanned our boarding passes, and were told our seats had been given away. We were on US government contract city-pair fares, which should provide last-seat availability.

    We were put at the top of the stand-by list and luckily cleared. However, before we cleared, the gate agent said we would not be compensated for being involuntarily denied boarding even with a confirmed reservation, last-seat availability, and being present to board when our group was called.

    The irony was that my checked bag would be on that flight even if I wasn’t. Since I was flying onward to another city at the end of the day, I could have ended up on the west coast with no luggage.

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