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. This will become the norm not just for airlines but just about every facet of our lives as predictive AI becomes common. Common sense solutions and empathy will no longer be part of the equation.

  2. Just wait til AI is used to calculate executive bonuses, regardless of context, for missing performance targets without any context.

    Just kidding, Isom gets overpaid regardless of performance or just about any other metric compared to his peers….

  3. I’m fine with AA using technology to make their operation more efficient, but AA shouldn’t take educated risks without an effective risk-benefit incentive structure. Otherwise, it’s “heads I win tails you lose”.

  4. After 10 years as an EXP, I status matched to a 1K last month. What a world of difference United had become.

    My 1 hour connection at ORD turned into a 10 minute connection due to weather (causing a 50 minute delay.) This would’ve been my first call to the United 1K line to work through a re-accommodation, except I automatically get a text message upon landing to “take a deep breath” because they are holding my connecting flight for me! Wow! So I make my way from C30 to B7 briskly but without having to sprint.

    United is absolutely the airline to fly these days!

  5. One positive experience….
    Lifetime Platinum, Business/First to Jamaica.
    We were returning on an MBJ/CLT flight connecting to SAT with a shortish connect time at CLT. Due to Tstorms at CLT, we were diverted to RDU and were on a groundhold there for over an hour which would make us miss our flight. During the ground hold, I received a text stating the system had rebooked us on the later CLT/ SAT flight together with seat assignments.
    FYI – This was an aberration for me as I usually try to book us on flights with 2 to 3 hour connect times when possible and believe this may be the solution to the rebooking “issue” if your flight arrival might be delayed.

  6. The Clowns at United did this to me at LAX even though I made it to my next flight in plenty of time.
    The gate clown said they “thought” I “probably” would not make it so they gave my seat away even though the plane was still in the process of boarding.
    I no longer buy tickets on United.

  7. Happened to me Sun 5/12. PHL-CLT-MOB, with long (4+) layover. I arrived well in advance of 1 PM flight, hoping to waitlist on either of 2 earlier flights to CLT & maybe catch earlier MOB flight, esp with threatening weather in local area. However, it was not an option, since I am not Elite. How is this good for performance / customer satisfaction?

  8. OK; I’ll admit this is may be a naive suggestion but could the AI being used to help manage misconnections be programmed to “protect” seats on a different flight until it is certain you would misconnect otherwise?

  9. DOT complaints for uncompensated involuntary denied boarding is the only way this ridiculous policy gets rolled back.

    The actuaries at AA have calculated that the amounts that it will have to pay out under these complaints is smaller than the $ saved by the program. Folks need to take action to change that math.

  10. “You are why we fly.” Oh really? Doesn’t quite sound like it.
    Makes sense when you realize AA makes money on credit card pimping, not flying folk.

  11. Had a horrible experience today where despite being at the gate 45 min in advance as a ExP blamed the system and passed me as #1 on the standby list as shown on both the board and the app. No empathy. No problem solving. Clearly an IT issue and all I got was blame the customer and told to pound sand. Watched as they cleared everyone and told me no seats left for me.

  12. Gary, would you post on how to petition DOT for involuntary denied boarding?

  13. I haven’t been flying AA because we live close to EWR & AA has almost no non-stops other than to ORD. With this info, I’ll just avoid them totally despite having a lifetime Platnum status

  14. At this point letting the airline industry fail is going to have to be the result.

  15. I don’t see why they need to cancel the existing reservation until they’ve finished regular boarding and are ready to board standby passengers. The only exception would be if there’s another flight within the next few hours and the connecting passenger risks not having a seat on on that flight if the airline keeps the passenger’s existing booking. If you’re going to delay a passenger 4+ hours, they should be given every opportunity (short of delaying the connecting flight) to make the connection first.

  16. Our A1 robot thanks you for your business.
    It hopes you make it to your final destination
    Our robot suggests you buy a new ticket if by chance
    we cancel your final leg
    Have a nice day/life

  17. This actually worked to our advantage a few months back. Fog and runway lights out at New Orleans, lead to our delay we landed at DFW A and leaving from D (no way) but we were rebooked before we left NO on the next flight to PHX. When we landed, the moved us to D and our orgional flight still boarding. The AA gate agent did have a FC seat any more (which was an upgrade anyways) but had MCE for us which is fine. Honestly, it’s a balance of getting there on time verses class of service. Which unless I am transcon or TA/TP, I prefer to stay on schedule. The wait for the other flight would have been 1.5 hours so would have gotten some work done. I so prefer this to the days of running through ORD, STL and MSP just to watch the plane back away or the gate be empty.
    Can it be improved, yes and is everyone going to be happy, no but remember the 80’s and 90’s travel boom and the nightmares of sleeping on airport floor due to a thunderstorm. . .I will take dinner on my own any day.

    BTW. . .good luch with DL in ATL and it’s raining!

  18. This actually worked to our advantage a few months back. Fog and runway lights out at New Orleans, lead to our delay we landed at DFW A and leaving from D (no way) but we were rebooked before we left NO on the next flight to PHX. When we landed, the moved us to D and our orgional flight still boarding. The AA gate agent did have a FC seat any more (which was an upgrade anyways) but had MCE for us which is fine. Honestly, it’s a balance of getting there on time verses class of service. Which unless I am transcon or TA/TP, I prefer to stay on schedule. The wait for the other flight would have been 1.5 hours so would have gotten some work done. I so prefer this to the days of running through ORD, STL and MSP just to watch the plane back away or the gate be empty.
    Can it be improved, yes and is everyone going to be happy, no but remember the 80’s and 90’s travel boom and the nightmares of sleeping on airport floor due to a thunderstorm. . .I will take dinner on my own any day.

    BTW. . .good luck with DL in ATL and it’s raining!

  19. Gary, where do you file an IDB claim. Enough of those will get AA to change policy.

  20. Automatic rebooking is one thing – automatic cancellation is quite another.
    Delta has been automatically rebooking for years.
    If your flight is delayed, they give you the option to rebook and if you accept their suggested rebooking, they release your original seat.
    If you keep your original reservation, they only cancel the flight you were on when that flight has departed and you aren’t onboard.
    Every airline has automatic gate closeout – it is the only way that electronic ticket revenue can be credited to the airline’s revenue.
    AA is simply not willing to potentially tie up 2 seats for a short period of time and automating two functions which should be separate.

  21. Regarding earlier standby, just stick with your original itinerary. You either booked what you booked due to the price, or you made an informed booking to account for delays or other mishaps. Either way, you planned sit time and dinner at the airport. No reason to complain about a flight you didn’t even originally book.

    Everything else though, such as the auto reaccom, if you’re denied boarding, note it and submit it to DOT and see what happens, don’t have a temper tantrum. If enough complaints come in (assuming no one in DOT is in Americans pockets), they should intervene.

  22. American did this to me two nights ago. Connecting in CLT. First leg IND to CLT was delayed due to CLT weather. Then we had longer than usual flight planned (about 1hr45min vs about 1hr15min). We barely left the ground in IND and the estimated arrival to CLT updated to give me a 10 minute connection. I was unchecked and rebooked onto the next flight to my destination. About a half hour later, Captain announced we got an ATC shortcut and we would be more or less on time into CLT. Couldn’t get back onto my original flight as they’d filled it up. Got downgraded First to coach on the next flight… which then canceled. Got then moved to a middle seat (which was able to change to an aisle) in coach on the even later onward flight. So all in, got to my destination almost 7 hours late when I would have made my original flight. As an Alaska MVP75k – I had to explain to an agent in the Admirals Club the other day that yes, I can get on the upgrade list on AA.

  23. That is ridiculous they should at least wait until the time limit has been reached and then those other passengers can get on.

  24. Or they could just charge a change fee like they used to do. Obviously people book the lowest fare they can find and then stand by for the desired flight they really “wanted”. Kind of like listening to people complain about not getting an upgrade!!!! If you want a FC seat, buy it.

  25. This sounds terrible. It seems like a way for them to be able to sell your seat at a higher price for someone on the stand by list while putting you on a later flight and wasting your time. Basically, this almost gives them the right to sell your ticket to someone else even if you booked a certain itinerary. There’s no way to tell if the rebooking was justified or was done only because they have a more profitable way for them to allocate that seat at your expense.

    I hope that the DOT will do something about this. It’s one of the most outrageous than almost any other practice I’ve heard about from the airlines in recent times.

  26. The airlines have complete monopoly control over travel with us even with this new reform, “bill of rights’ just put out by Biden. They’ll find something to get us with.

  27. Predictive is stupid. If one flight is delayed others very well might be, also. I’ve had a connection in SFO go negative due to weather, they gave away our seats. Yet we made the flight, admittedly at the very tail end of boarding. In that case no problem, they gave us new seats in business.

    What they need to do is fix their archaic systems and instead do predictive standbys. If someone is predicted to miss you process the standby but the boarding pass doesn’t become live until T-15 based on actual planned departure (what time they expect to depart when they begin boarding–if a delay happens after the passengers are on board it doesn’t count), not scheduled departure. If the scheduled passenger makes it the standby is invalidated. This gives the passenger every possible chance to make it, but gives the gate agent time to do things. There would be a downside in that standbys could be out of order (standby #1’s original passenger makes it, standby #2’s does not) but I think the system should favor the scheduled passenger.

    And I certainly think it should be considered an IDB if the passenger doesn’t fly despite being there at T-15.

  28. This is not a new AA rule. The very same thing happened to me 8 years ago in Charlotte. I arrived at the gate and it didn’t leave for 20 minutes after I got there. Agent said that I should look at my connection time when I buy a ticket.

  29. What the connection time minimum for AI (and airlines in general) before they boot you off your next flight?

  30. Hello everyone! Unfortunately we the passengers are nothing but a nuisance to the airlines. Seriously, all these policies that they are implementing are for the convenience and profit of the airline, and if there is any positive benefit to the passenger, that was unintentional and merely a side effect.
    Their secret motto is: We win- You lose … All the time.
    The #1 priority of each airline is to provide the highest compensation possible for their CEO at the expense of everyone else. Understand that they are in the “human freight” business, the passengers comfort is of no concern to them adn is simply “window dressing”.

  31. What I don’t understand is why the system can’t keep your original flight intact. The gate agent is working from the PALL (Passenger Accomodation List) in Sabre, which will show guests waiting for a seat assignment – be it an oversell, upgrade, revenue standby, and non-revenue standby. Part of closing out a flight is “zapping” all the seats of guests unchecked in, then zapping seats of guests not boarded.

    When a guest is reaccom’d due to a *potential* misconnect, the system should have been designed to keep the original segment intact *unless* the inbound flight of the guest is most certainly NOT going to land until after departure time. Things change, pilots make up time, and you avoid this type of situation.

    We used to “reprotect” you on a later flight and kept your original flight intact. If you did make the flight, then we’d go in and clean up the record.

    but hey, what do I know… just 30 years in the biz, the last 20 focused on IT & res systems…

  32. This 80% rule will also increase the number of non ticketed passengers boarding. I watched a single gate agent boarding a plane, managing the PA announcements, and carry on checks in CLT. At one point she was on the PA looking at the gate area line to see if she should call the next group and she could not look at the person or the screen for the person who scanned through. Yes the system beeps but she was talking on the PA.

  33. Bad weather at DFW yesterday.
    SBA-DFW-ALB on full $1530 one-way first ticket.
    AA posted a delay SBA-DFW but DFW-ALB still on-time.
    Even before departure from SBA, they rebooked me the next day out of DFW via Charlotte with a 10 hour layover in CLT.
    Needless to say, I refunded the ticket and booked DL LAX-ALB.
    The funny thing is of course the DFW-ALB took a delay and I could have made the connection.
    AURA cost them $1530.

  34. Yep. Happened to us both ways on our last vacation. And we did run and made it, to no avail.

  35. Worst airline in the world. Flew to Key West and missed connecting flights coming and going . They’re completely disorganized and will never use them again .

  36. Thank you for this information, and the Reddit user who shared this article! This happened to us last night. Traveling with 2 other people, all arrived together. One of us was in an earlier boarding group and myself and another were in the last 1. Our boarding passes didn’t work and we were rebooked with about 6 others, and we confirmed there were multiple empty seats on the plane. Insane the agent can’t override their system and use common sense.

    It rebooked us for 8pm the following day, which we cancelled and booked ourselves on a 7am flight. So it’s not even rebooking the most common sense option. I’ll never fly AA again if I can help it.

  37. AA has been doing this kind of stuff for years, if not decades. I flew in Feb 97, took a flight from AUS to DFW, my arriving flight from AUS sat on the tarmac for an hour while two ground workers took their time to change a tire at our gate. Finally we got to the gate and I had to literally run from my arriving flight to my connect. I got there right as they were closing the doors and they had given away my assigned window seat. I ended up being squeezed in between two other passengers for a several hour flight to BWI. When I followed up with them later, they were pretty non-chalant even though I did get a mileage compensation (which I never got to use as they stole my miles a year later when they converted their system to mileage expiring, even though my accumulated miles were not to expire as they were all earned prior to their change. They didn’t care when I called them out on that). Bottom line American has not cared about their passengers for years and if you continue to fly them, you get what you deserve for continuing to patornize them

  38. Delta did this to me 5 years ago.
    My flight arrived 15 mins early but the gate wasn’t available. I ended up being 30 mins late on an hour connection. Sprinted, and made it to the gate, at the back of the boarding line with my boarding pass and seat assignment in hand. I got to the front and they scanned my ticket, told me my seat was no longer available, closed the door and walked away.
    Had to wait 6 hours for the next flight and customer service wouldn’t so much as give me a food voucher, not to mention a refund/credit. They said my flight was delayed due to weather and so it wasn’t covered. Filed complaints to everyone, fought with multiple customer service reps, did no good.
    I haven’t flown delta since.

    I haven’t been on a flight in years that i could say was a pleasant experience. There’s always something where the airline is trying to screw you or make your life miserable in hopes of making an extra dollar.

    We need a total reset. The whole industry needs to burn.

  39. AURA has a hidden problem. That problem is: “It is okay to be late.”

    Of course, this doesn’t apply to the hapless passenger who arrives on a late flight. It applies to AA, which sees no financial risk in being late or keeping first commitments to passengers.

    When AA is late, AURA mitigates its revenue loss by filling empty seats of those who missed connections. Those passengers who are bumped certainly don’t perceive or receive any benefit. They are left behind, in some cases overnight.

    Flying over 40 years, the number of times that I’ve seen a passenger make a flight late can be counted on one hand. Flights are late because the airline itself, or occasionally, the weather.

    If AA had a decent refund policy, AURA would have somewhat less impact. But we’ve all known for years, AAdvantage is just a disadvantage.

  40. AA not the only airline doing this now. BA now allowing AI to make such decisions as is Border Control at LHR T5 connection centre where AI removes any common sense decisions on such vagaries allowing staff to say, “the computer says no”! No discretion no common sense or human courtesy. We’re truly f^cked.

  41. I’ve been in a couple of situations with DL where they give me a backup booking in case I miss my connection (yes, I’m on listed 2 planes). If I don’t make the plane I’m supposed to be on, they give my seat away, and I get the backup reservation seat. If I make my connection, they cancel my back up seat. This was many years ago, so maybe DL doesn’t do this any more, but it sure was nice when they did it.

  42. I try to only use AA when there is no connection. If a connection is absolutely necessary, then I always try to get 1.5 hours at a minimum. If I have to connect, I will first look to United. Until they fine-tune their AI, it will cost them more than it saves. Even as a lifetime Plat, AA is a pain if there is any bad weather.

  43. This happened in February 2024. I got to the gate for an American Flight about 5 minutes before the door closed in Charlotte on a tight connection. I was assigned a middle seat (Basic Economy ticket) but from looking at the seat map on my connecting flight saw the plane was relatively empy (but only had middles), I stopped and asked the gate agent if there was any chance of a window seat and she said “I only have middles left” before vigerously typing and “well lots of people are being dropped from this flight” and handed me a window seat (I assume from someone who the computer decided was going to miss the connection). I ended up getting poor man’s buissiness class and the whole row to myself!

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