This Man Says He’ll Never Fly American Airlines Again. Of Course He Will!

American Airlines imposes change fees on tickets. It’s a key component of their business model just like it is for United Airlines and Delta.

Southwest Airlines does not have change fees. However if you want to change a ticket you will pay the difference in fare between what your ticket cost and the price of a new ticket. Southwest only recently introduced free standby for elite members wanting to travel on an earlier flight.

Southwest also doesn’t charge for the first two checked bags. On the other hand they don’t have pre-assigned seats, and they don’t have a first class. I view Southwest as a great alternative for short flights. For the median economy traveler without elite status on American, Delta, or United they’re a better experience overall.

Ken Wimberly, who describes himself as Chief Visionary Officer for a commercial real estate firm in the Dallas area, says he’ll never fly American Airlines again.

  • He usually flies Southwest
  • He wanted first class tickets for his family of five, so he bought them from American
  • Then he needed to change the travel date for one member of the family

American wanted to charge him $137 to change the day his daughter would fly home – a $200 change fee minus $63 since the new ticket would be less expensive.

He asked American Airlines to waive the fee because he’s a first class customer. They wouldn’t. He wanted a supervisor to waive the fee because he bought five first class tickets and if they didn’t he would not do so again. They wouldn’t.

Here I was paying for FIVE full-fare first-class seats and the company was unwilling to waive a $137 (net) change fee. Amanda’s attitude was so typical of what I remember from so many miserable airline employees. She is part of a bureaucratic machine that cares more about “policy” than actually creating a customer experience that creates raving fans and lifetime customers.

So, henceforth I will no longer be a customer of American Airlines.

(Emphasis mine.)

In fact Mr. Wimberly did not purchase 5 full fare first class tickets. If he had there wouldn’t have been a change fee. He purchased 5 lowest fare first class tickets. It’s possible he did not realize that, and simply assumed first class meant free changes. Airline travel is complex. I even find it frustrating dealing with airlines much of the time, and so I do wonder how the median passenger manages to make it from city A to city B.

However he says he isn’t an American Airlines customer anyway. He’s based in Dallas which means his choices are largely limited to:

  • Southwest
  • American
  • Flights on other airlines when traveling to one of those carriers’ hubs
  • Spirit

American’s New Domestic First Class

His trip was to Breckenridge, Colorado and he doesn’t say whether he was flying into Vail or Denver. For Vail’s Eagle County airport American is the only non-stop option.

While Spirit Airlines astonished the world with its recent on time performance if his concern is being nickel and dimed he’ll run back to American after his first Spirit experience.

Instead he’s going to keep flying Southwest Airlines until the next time he wants “the extra room and early boarding” that makes it easier for him to travel with “a little one under the age of 3” as his only option is going to be American Airlines unless he wants to connect. Or the next time he wants to fly from Dallas to Vail.

Regular readers know that I’m a frequent critic of American Airlines. The problem here isn’t American though. The problem is the mismatched expectations between what the customer thought they were buying and what American offers.

Domestic first class simply isn’t a VIP white glove experience. I wish someone offered this. The closest we had was Virgin America before they were acquired by Alaska. Instead domestic first class is a bigger seat, earlier boarding, free checked bags, and on certain flights a meal that’s less good than what you’d be able to get to go in the terminal.

Virgin America First Class

That’s better than European business class, which is usually just a blocked middle seat (no extra legroom) and a meal (bundled with airport lounge access).

If there’s an issue here it’s about expectations. What product are airlines offering? What is it even possible to buy in a world where major airlines are protected from foreign competition in US routes, and even if they weren’t they have gates at government owned airports locked down so no new entrants can compete?

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 wish they would realign first class with their premium economy product given it is the same basic seat and service. I think that would simplify the cabin structure and better set expectations. On all of the carriers, not just American.

    Flagship First, Flagship Business, Premium Economy, Main Cabin Extra, Main Cabin, Basic

  2. It seems the CVO lacks vision…

    Really, if someone buys a first class seat outright they should get something like one change for free…

  3. The closest we ever had was Legend Airlines from DAL which was truly great. And we know what happened to them!

  4. What was it Sean Connery said…”Never say never again.” He’ll fly whatever he needs to fly, whenever he needs to fly it. Just like the rest of us…

    I try to avoid the USL3, *but* — for example — in 2018, I’ve flown UA SFO-DEN r/t¹, because AS cancelled the former VX route and the fly on Alaska would mean routing thru SEA. I *also* flew UA SFO-BOS o/w because the AS flight would have arrived too late to attend a business dinner. All my other domestic flights were on AS/VX.

    In 2017, I flew AA SFO-MSY via DFW because the timing of the AS flight would get us in too late for yet another business dinner. All my other domestic air travel in 2017 was on AS/VX (35 flight segments), save for one on jetBlue (B6).

    ¹ We didn’t fly WN because I booked the flight using UR points.

  5. No matter how much we open our domestic aviation market, the sustainability of any carrier’s premium cabin service to go above and beyond what we currently get is pretty low. Front of the flying domestic bus privileges aren’t going to be all that — except on a very small set of routes — since the financial interests of airline management will remain what they are. That said, allowing foreign carriers to have additional freedoms to fly domestically would be a good thing for consumers and thus I would welcome it for the benefits it would bring to back and front of the flying bus consumers.

  6. I truly miss Virgin America. The meals that I had in F were some of the best I’ve had. Their service was quirky, entertaining and superb.

    I can promise you that I’ll never fly AA again after last year’s inflight and gate area treatment by employees. I’m saying never.

  7. @Gary: Actually, if Spirit gets a mention then you should include Alaska, which offers service from DAL to all major west coast cities (it is the old Virgin hub — without the eastward spoke).

    You pass through Dallas from your secondary city and mistakenly believe that DFW is THE airport. Inhabitants hardly use it, choosing Southwest and Alaska from DAL.

    In fact, why is Spirit in the list?

    The Chief Visionary Officer you cite could have had something close to the AA first class experience by paying a token amount for early boarding on Southwest. No assigned seat, but you board first so you get the pick of the best seats.

  8. “attitude was so typical of what I remember from so many miserable airline employees. She is part of a bureaucratic machine that cares more about “policy” than actually creating a customer experience that creates raving fans and lifetime customers.”

    This is exactly right about the usual AA cabin crew. You have to fortuitously get a special human being for them to have any interest in making your flight enjoyable. Cf. Southwest. On a delayed layover they made regular status announcements for the adults and some of their gate staff organised games for the kids in the empty concourse. Just superior people throughout.

  9. With a Job Title like “Chief Visionary Officer” instantly loses what little credibility he may have in my eyes, but I do wonder what his reaction would be if one of his clients came to him asking to break a contract without penalty.

    Reading the comments on the linkedin article just goes to show either how confusing ticket pricing policies or peoples ignorance/expectations are. The Bottom line is, it is possible to have white glove experience, just depends how much you are willing to shell out.

    At the end of the day you live in Dallas and want to fly non-stop to a Non-Hub Airport, it is almost (I said almost!) American or nothing. To me (And I live 10 mins from DFW) that is why Discount Douggie and Co can get away with what they do.

  10. @gary is right. No-one will *never* fly an airline ever again. It just takes a few years for the anger to subside.
    Using my personal experience: US Scareways pushed me to Delta in the most egregious service failure I have ever experienced. But, after ed Bastion became CEO, Delta destroyed my loyalty by no single act, just constant assaults as a paying First/Delta One customer. Their loss, I am now CK at AA who got 600,000 miles out of me this year. I hope Mr. Bastion enjoys missing my business.
    I hope the honeymoon lasts…we have had some hiccups but otherwise I am liking AA.

  11. @ Gary — I too wish someone would bring back a true premium experience to first class in the US. Add back 3-4″ of leg room and make the food excellent. This would likely cost about $80 per F seat for a 3-4 hour flight. That assumes 6 less coach seats at $200 per seat divided by 16 F seats plus an extra $5 per meal.

  12. Next time, email the airline after they take your money and the trip is over. When they see the size of the transaction and the totality of your situation and the likelihood of gaining a repeat customer, they will probably refund the change fee and let you keep the difference in lower fare.
    Cornering the telephone agent, while expedient, forced AA to give you the standard response, or else they have to make an exception for everyone.
    In writing, if you have lied to gain a credit, they could have legal recourse, even though they would never go to that extreme.

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