The Gate Agent Who Argued With Me About The Difference Between 40 Seconds And One Minute

American’s mobile app now notifies you when your flight begins boarding. That’s great because the airline isn’t very good about updating flight delays. In my experience flights regularly show on time up until departure time, even if there’s no aircraft at the gate.

If you wait until the boarding notification, and don’t need to be one of the first to board (planes with larger overhead bin space should mean not having to board early), you can keep working in the lounge or get food in the airport.

A 90 Minute Delay Without Communication

Thursday night I had a 90 minute delay out of Washington National. Since I don’t fully trust American’s technology I went down to the gate 15 minutes prior to scheduled departure since my flight showed on time. Fifteen minutes was plenty for me since I was traveling my favorite way on this trip. We had no gate. Gate agents had no information until scheduled departure time when we were told,

  • Our aircraft was on the ground, and passengers would still need to deplane
  • Then instead we’d be getting an aircraft brought over from a hanger “in a couple of minutes”

Our flight then showed with a 10 minute delay. I went back to the club. Shortly thereafter the flight showed departed and ‘awaiting takeoff’. Since I wasn’t sure if the boarding notification would work for a plane that had already departed I went down to the gate to see what was happening. Fortunately I was leaving just two gates over from the lounge elevator. There was still no aircraft. As I’ve said before failing to communicate delays disrespects your customers.

  • No delay was ever posted until after scheduled departure time
  • There was no aircraft at the gate, yet when American posted a delay after departure time it was only a 10 minute delay
  • Passengers were told the plane would arrive in a couple of minutes but it took nearly an hour
  • There were no updates after that, even when the flight showed as departed and awaiting takeoff, except being told that “we might be moved to another gate” and the destination listed at the boarding gate changed.

Getting Backed Up On A Later Connection

We ultimately ran about 90 minutes late after a boarding slowed by too many carry on bags, bags in the bins with emergency equipment, and a wait behind several departing aircraft while several more came in to land. It wasn’t looking like I’d make my connection.

Inflight I pulled up availability and saw 5 seats for sale on the connecting flight after mine, and the flight after that – the last flight – zeroed out. I couldn’t call American inflight, but I direct messaged them on twitter asking them to back me up on that next flight. They did so. It’s the first time in a long time that the twitter team was willing to and actually did help me.

Running To Make My Original Flight

Fortunately my connecting flight home was delayed 10 minutes. Still, it began boarding out of gate A11 while we were taxiing into DFW’s gate B6. A flight attendant made an announcement asking all DFW-terminating passengers to remain seated while connecting passengers got off. This was the first time I actually saw passengers listen. I made a dash from row 13 up to the front, passing by Candace Owens in the first class cabin, and ran.

What’s The Difference Between 40 Seconds And 60 Seconds?

I made it to my connecting gate 11 minutes to our rescheduled departure. The door was closing and latched closed as I approached the gate reader. The agent there shrugged. I said, “I have one more minute do you think you might open the door?”

She knew it was true, but didn’t have to help me. Fortunately she was willing to, but not before arguing: “actually, you only have 40 seconds.” Umm, ok. “Well thank you for being so flexible” I said as she opened the door.

I Shouldn’t Still Have Had A First Class Seat, But American

I told the gate agent my seat number and she went to enter it. She didn’t actually scan my boarding pass. She closed the jet bridge door behind me. On the way in I wondered, “will someone be in my first class seat?” My upgrade had cleared and the gate agents should have given away my seat if they were closing the door and sending the plane on its way.

When I made it onto the aircraft my first class seat was still empty. They were going to send the flight out with an empty first class seat, which was great for me, not great for the next person on the upgrade list.

We arrived on time and that makes American’s operational stats appear improved but the little pieces that matter to customers along the way are still a problem.

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. Is it possible that gate agent thought you were an AA employee, given that the average passenger doesn’t know how many minutes they have left to board – and isn’t boarding closed at 15, not 10?

    Not that I want to defend the gate agent, just that your verbiage there had a whiff of employee-to-employee chatter.

  2. ah American and their world crass customer service
    I do hope you learned your lesson between 40 seconds and 60 seconds!
    She should have spanked you for your mistake

  3. While I thought AA’s policy was ten minutes, I recently was removed from a flight prior to that. I arrived at the gate 14- minutes prior to departure, and the flight was closed. I even took a picture of the gate closure with AA’s time shown.. AA insists that their policy is 15 minutes.
    And Customer Relations rudely informed me that my 10-minute assertion was incorrect. Here’s their response:
    “Thank you for writing back to give us the opportunity to answer your question more in depth.

    I’m sorry you missed the boarding of your flight to Las Vegas. Mr , If passengers are not checked in at least 45 minutes before departure and present in the boarding area at least 15 minutes before scheduled departure time, reservations may be canceled. In order to ensure an on-time departure, our gate agents begin the flight close-out process 15 minutes prior to departure. In addition, our pilots have the discretion to depart the gate 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time.

    Mr. , you are a valued customer and I apologize again for disappointing you. I sincerely hope we have now resolved this matter so that it does not continue as a source of irritation. Please think of us the next time your plans include air transportation.”

    I missed the last flight of the evening, and I was ultimately accommodated in a 2-star hotel, but I missed a non-refundable hotel reservation. AA provided me with a $50 voucher and shifted blame to me.

  4. Last month, I had nearly the identical issue yet it was on the first flight of the day. I was at the airport (LAX) early enough to enjoy some coffee at the Admirals Club where both the board and the staff told me my flight was on time. Yet when I got to the gate, 5 minutes prior to scheduled boarding, I was told that they were going to “swap” aircraft and the original aircraft hadn’t yet left the gate. The flight still showed “On Time” and no updates had been announced. Back at the Club, a 10-minute delay had just appeared. In the interest of brevity, I’ll just say that this back and forth went on for over an hour until I gave up and booked the next available flight which wound up leaving within 5 minutes of the original. I would have missed my connection by a lot and although I was flying on a purchased F ticket, I was downgraded on my connection because my re-booked flight checked in full in front. The lack of communication and honesty in announcing delays in 10 or 15 minute increments when it was obvious the delay would be much longer added additional stress to an already stressful situation. Not to mention that AA had a lot of time to “swap” equipment that had been sitting at the gate since the night before. Just another instance of AA disregarding its customers.

  5. This entire piece is simply a description of the hell flying has become. Gary, you know the technical ins and outs of each of these steps along the way. You are obviously capable and practiced. I find every single one of the technological complications a misery, a distraction and a waste of my life, all leaving me confused and exhausted.
    Particularly outrageous is that all the updating and information-conveying just does not function properly, does not help and is absurdly uncoordinated and inaccurate.
    Ninety percent of EVERY flying experience I cannot tell whether I am “on-time” or not.
    We don’t need more of this crOp, we need better. The communications systems are NOT ready for prime-time.
    My sense is also that the employees have been left exhausted, disconnected, impatient and mostly angry and snide.

  6. All this was to say that you actually made the flight, people at AA assisted you, and things went pretty smoothly as they should – yet you STILL find something worthwhile to bitch about. Gee, how surprising.
    Rather than make a positive post — or just not post, since really nothing unusual happened here — you find a way to turn it all into a click bait negative headline.
    What’s next? Will you be Facebook Live shooting your next attempted fight with a gate attendant?
    Getting old here, Gary……..

  7. AA will outright lie to its customers. Or maybe AA operations is just utterly incompetent.

    To wit: About a week ago I was on an AA flight from CLT-ATL. Plane was fully boarded and everyone was seated. Then at departure time an announcement came, “We are still missing our pilots, but they are just two gates away and will be here within a few minutes.” Departure time was then updated to a 15 min delay.

    Suffice it say that 45 min later, and three more updates to departure time in 15 min increments, we had another announcement. “Pilots are on the ground now, and will be here within 10 mins.”

    Go figure! Thus my statement that AA is either outright lying to its customers or operations is utterly incompetent to even know where their pilots are.

  8. Not as bad as the gate agent that shut me out on the last flight on New’s Year with 18 minutes left to go in CLT because she wanted to go home and stranded me in CLT. AA actually called me in person when I complained, but still was denied being at home on the Holiday due to Gate Agents (always the commuter flights) that really don’t care in CLT…they are the worst.

    Delta is far nicer to it’s customers, was delayed going into ATL, rebooked automatically on next available flight then booked back onto original flight when it too was delayed due to weather…all without a fuss…how nice.

  9. ” A flight attendant made an announcement asking all DFW-terminating passengers to remain seated while connecting passengers got off. This was the first time I actually saw passengers listen.” – I have pretty much always seen people comply with this instruction when on a delayed flight.

    ““actually, you only have 40 seconds.” Umm, ok. “Well thank you for being so flexible” I said as she opened the door.” – I don’t see how snark serves you well in that situation. As we have seen airline employees can be petty petty people and she wasn’t obligated to reopen the door.

  10. @Wardell you can lose your seat if you aren’t at the gate for a domestic flight 15 minutes prior. that’s not the same as losing your reservation. and strictly speaking AA’s systems have a check-in grace period that does let you check in less than 45 minutes to departure.

  11. @Gary- I had a connecting flight in CLT. I left the Admirals Club at 16 minutes prior to departure. What’s the difference between the 15-minutes you posted and the 10-minutes posted on AA’s website? The gate closed prior to 14-minutes before the departing time. I’ve decided to switch all of my flying away from AA because of their unclear and unfriendly policies like these, but now I don’t understand whether the flight closure is 15 minutes or ten.

  12. Poor communications from United still has me angry, as they created a major health situation last summer. A delayed flight out of my home base resulted in a very tight connection in Denver. Upon landing, the flight attendant announced and read a list of connecting cities, including mine, which passengers could make. The United app GAVE the connecting flight’s gate. Unfortunately, it was literally from one end of the B concourse in Denver to other. I am a 64 year old female, in decent shape, and ran the fastest I am able to go. I made it to the gate, SEVERAL MINUTES before departure. The plane was still there with the jetway attached. Breathless, I gave the gate agent my boarding pass. I was 1K, but knowing there was no chance of an upgrade, had paid personally to upgrade to first, as I for work for a nonprofit. When the gate agent looked at my boarding pass, she nonchalantly said, “Oh, we gave your seat away.” I said I would take take any seat. She communicated with the pilot who would not open the door. Why would United give me the connecting gate if there was no chance of me making the flight. AND I did make the flight well in advance of the departure time. The customer service at the gate was downright pathetic. Fortunately the staff in the United Club always come through. I spent the next month unable to travel for work due to the medical situation. It cost me my 1K status and has made travel that much more unbearable. Communication is key!!!

  13. Gary – as usual you have to find something to complain about w AA. While I agree their communication on delays is bad to make a statement that their twitter account “was willing to and actually helped me” is very petty. They helped you so get over it. I frankly NEVER depend on twitter communications as a primary way to get things done (and I’ve been in IT 40 years before I retired). Also, your headline is click bait. The gate agent didn’t “argue” with you about the time. You stated you had a minute (which was an unnecessary statement since you asked her to please hold the door) and she said no 40 seconds. You didn’t say anything about arguing back and forth – she simply corrected you based, I’m sure, on a countdown clock she has prior to scheduled take off.

    Why must EVERYTHING with you be so petty and malicious? Really?? SMH!

  14. Gary

    Pretty sure by saying “Departed and awaiting takeoff”, they gate agent gets credited for D0 or D-10 or whatever and that makes AA stats look better. Doubt AA gives a damn whether its true or not since its all about the numbers,

  15. Some time ago AA would wait a few min if an EXP or a passengers in F are running late by checking when their connecting flight is arriving. Now they do not care and try to complete boarding as fast as legally allowed.

  16. I have also had this happen at DFW last year, arrive with the door open and 11 to 12 minutes and they had given my seat away and did not allow me to board. They did the same to two other passengers that came up right behind me trying to connect off a Quantas long haul. When I got to the gate the boarding pass wouldn’t scan so the agent said stand over here to the side for a minute. 2 minutes later she informed me I was under 10 minutes and too bad as she closed the door. I have since moved most of my flights to Delta and Airfrance.

  17. Yet again another reminder why I stick with Delta or Jetblue. Let’s start by saying I currently have had no medallion status at Delta for 4 years, so my official customer value is 0 at Delta. 8 hours before departure Delta tells me via the app that my flight is delayed 30 minutes. I went to @delta on twitter and they booked me for free on an earlier flight in less than 15 minutes.

    Compare that to coming to DFW early and finding the next flight to home next door and boarding is open, with lots of empty seats. Did AA let me jump on that flight? Nope. So I had to fly in my next flight, which was overbooked and delayed.

    Now tell me why Gary is unduly harsh on AA?

  18. Funny how many of us become agitated as we recall the ways in which AA repeatedly treats their passengers as unworthy of common decency and courtesy.

  19. I find it hard to believe how important and entitled some of these comments are, OMG that you can’t be bothered to be at the gate more than 15 minutes before departure time.
    Of course blame the airline, that they are not giving you up to the second updates.
    Instead of making an effort to be at the gate a few minutes early.
    Wonder if it ever crossed your mind how complex an operation it is to operate a major airline and in reality how well it actually works is amazing.
    Gary, be grateful you got on the plane, and, in reality this was not worth writing about.

  20. Had the exact same experience at PHL earlier when I had a triple misconnect on my way to Japan.

    My Piedmont flight down was heavily delayed, putting my 9:45pm LHR connection at risk. It pushed 7 minutes early and I was forced to stay overnight. Go figure the flight landed an hour early. I certainly could’ve made it had they held the plane for a couple of minutes, with very little downside to them

    Was rerouted the next morning…got to my gate 15 minutes prior with the board already showing that the flight closed (wtf?!). The supervisor didn’t let me on without some lecturing about how their policy is to wait till “15mins for local, and 10mins for connecting.”

    Gary, can you reach out to get an official verdict on this rule?

  21. There was no way the gate agent could win with Gary. She’s bad because she was about to let an upgrade seat go out empty. On the other hand she would have been bad If she had filled it with an upgrade, and consequently Gary’s first class seat was gone.
    Here lies the real core of this blog. Blog AA Into oblivion with as much pure or slanted or twisted truth info to serve that agenda. And if the blog post is good enough, this echo chamber fills up with many comments. The proof in succe$$ful blogging is readers and comments. This stuff is red meat for the discontented entitled commenters here.
    If I ever encountered so many problems and poor experiences from anyone I do business with, I would have ran away as fast as I could. Of course doing so would deprive Gary of blog content

  22. Agrreing with Elmer. Why are focusing on the negatives.
    Just Wow. You got alot to complain about when you was clearly lucky and helped by AA staff when they could. Instead of highlighting the positives you only detail the negatives.
    First, why would you rely on the app? The gate agents have no control over the app when unexpected things happen. At most, their duty is to update the status at the local airport system. If there is a plane change with a different call sign being brought in, they can not update on the app, nor can they change the times it shows to be departing, this is handled way above their pay grade, and obviously is not going to be done by the few people that do have access that are at HQ when they do not even know the full situation themselves. Also so what if they said 10 minutes, you think they are the boss of the taxi staff that is bringing the plane from the hanger, do you think they have the power to tell anyone else “if this plane is not here in 10 min, your fired”, they simply rely the info other airport staff tell them (and they don’teven have to be AA). Someone at the hanger can easily say 10 mins to gate agents with no hair off their back.
    Second, privileged much? “Oh no I have to leave the comfortable lounge to go check on my depart status, even though if it left on time I wouldn’t even still be here. Woe is me.” How about you mingle with the dozens of other people in the same situation as you so you don’t have to worry your lil head in the lounge.
    Third, gate agent was nice to let you enter, once that door is closed they do not have to open it, 60 seconds 40 seconds, doesn’t matter. Atleast you somewhat recognize that, but yet you give sas as if the policy is governed by only time, mentioning it in the article like there is a difference. Fourth, privileged again. “My upgrade still here, great for me”. If it wasn’t, I’m sure this last bit of the article would had been you ranting about how it was confirmed, and they shouldn’t have upgraded anyone else. Yet as it stands the short 2 sentence ender doesn’t give thanks they held your seat.

  23. This story and many of the comments are exactly the reason I will never fly American Airlines and have even convinced my family and friends to avoid them. Flying is stressful enough without the airline I’m on trying to screw me over through apathy, arrogance, and incompetence.

  24. Hm I’m the last to be a fan of AA but having worked for six different airlines, I wonder if this might explain some of it:

    When an airplane is moved from the hangar on an airline that pushes flight plans via ACARS to the airplane, it’ll be initialized for that flight at that time. Incidentally most of the time these hangar moves would be before the downlink, but i suspect that since it was a delay, the aircraft would show off blocks and taxiing. Imperfect and aa doesn’t seem the quickest at resolving those sort of problems, but a removal of the block out time would always be a human manual process.

    As to the seconds, a countdown clock is part of their tools at the gate for the agent, I believe, and that counter as I think I’ve seen from a distance runs on seconds.

    If door closure is 10 prior and you are a known connection, it seems like the gate did the correct thing. The passenger list onboard provided to the purser has an upgrade list, and upgrading onboard wouldn’t need a printed card as one could just tell the crew just before closing the door and pulling the bridge?

  25. So basically rhis,was an art le about how your flight was,delayed and you almost m8ssed your connecting flight.

    At no point during this article dis uoubdiscuss whstvyour “argument” was about, only that you clksimed one minute and,she claimed different.

    As a so called professional you should at least know how to properly titlecyoyr article.

  26. AA flite to ORD boarded and full about 15 min prior to departure … went mechanical … AA sent out “delayed” announcement 1 minute prior to scheduled departure – to the passengers sitting on board.

    Thanks AA.

  27. Petty and Malicious…..Point. Set. Match! (And I can Only Imagine what AA thinks about Him….probably couldn’t Give a Rats Ass what He thinks, and I have a feeling He knows It) Informative Blogs are one thing….Yours are click Bait,drama filled and almost like a Drag Queen having the mic pulled out of their hand before they are done performing. SAD

  28. American is totally inept. I’ve seen this happen time and again. Their technology sucks and they are too quick to support their often indefensible employees.

  29. So, does the gate close 10 or 15 minutes prior to departure?

    My recent ticket has 10 minutes printed on it, but others above have contradicted this.

  30. Delta emailed me before I left for the airport this morning, informing me that my flight was departing 30 minutes late. About 15 minutes before boarding they emailed again to say it would be another 30 minutes delayed. Final departure time was 15 minutes later than that.

    1. The first email gave me time to eat breakfast instead of rushing to the airport.
    2. The second email gave me another 30 minutes in the lounge.

    The final delay of 15 minutes at the gate was not much of a bother.

    Moral of the story: if you (AA) just tell people what’s going on, they won’t hate you nearly as much.

  31. @Gary Leff – Your first class seat would not have been empty. Typically, once the door closes at the top of the jet bridge, the agent walks down with an upgrade list and then offers, in order, to move someone from coach to first / business prior to the aircraft door being closed.

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