What American Airlines Considers Great Customer Service

I’ve written about how badly American’s operation is performing this summer so it’s only fair to note that while they’re still suffering, the fifth week of the summer schedule was slightly improved.

American Airlines didn’t meet their (very modest) operational goals, but they hit higher marks than in weeks three or four.

In sharing this news with employees American recognized an Airport Customer Service instructor for “going the extra mile for our customers this peak travel season” during irregular operations.

On June 16, Dallas Fort-Worth :experienced 330 cancellations and 447 delays.” This staff member “engaged with a customer at the customer assistance desk.” Then later in the day she saw that same customer come back. Showing up more than once for rebooking is a bad travel day, indeed.

The passenger was “visibly distressed, almost on the verge of tears” so the employee offered him a bottle of water, and put him on the phone with reservations. The passenger said thank you. He was traveling to see his sick father who was being removed from life support that night, and American almost prevented him from getting there in time.

The employee reports that know she “helped this customer on an important life journey, as sad
as it must have been for him, really made [her] day.”

At American Airlines, an employee putting a customer on the phone with reservations is considered ‘going the extra mile’ and indeed significant enough to warrant a company-wide feature story. I’d say this was the ultimate example of George W. Bush’s ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ but she did also offer a bottle of water.

Indeed, customer service usually has ‘refuel and refresh’ carts with bottled water handy during irregular operations.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Obviously “no good deed goes unpunished” as the effort to blog AA into submission, continues. (Or oblivion).

  2. I consider it going the extra mile when an American flight attendant is not surly. It’s all about expectations

  3. Can’t do anything nice without criticism i see. Why do the agents even bother trying to help out.

  4. Gary makes a good point. The fact that something so small gets cited tells a lot about expectations. June 16 was the day I got the run around from several AA staff before finding someone willing to take responsibility for getting 16 people rebooked from one of those canceled DFW flights.

    As I told the story to a friend, he interrupted with, “And you booked American instead of Delta to save a few dollars?”

  5. @ Amapas @Tony
    The customer paid what the company charged for a flight from a to b on a certain time. If the customer wanted to travel (way) later that day or the next day, it would have purchased a ticket for that flight. BUT NO!
    American airlines sold the ticket but didn’t fly, twice! I do understand that problems arise sporadically, but this is political. The company failed the first time and then a second time. Giving a bottle of water and rebooking a third time is not going above and beyond, it’s below the minimum American airlines should do. Some other unspeakable company not long ago chartered a whole flight to bring back a mis-dispatched dog. American airlines fails on what’s the most basic reason for an airline to exist, transport people in a safe a punctual manner.

  6. @DaveS “And you booked American instead of Delta to save a few dollars?”

    That’s what I think about Gary everytime he writes another AA sad sack story. Stop flying them.

  7. What I don’t understand is if you hate AA so much, as evidenced by your constant complaining and criticism of them, then why do you still fly with them? You have many other choices, just stop flying them, move on, and get on with your life.

  8. @Tony. Uhhh because its their job. If they don’t want to help customers, they should find another line of work.

  9. Couldn’t help but make an irrelevant and stupid political comment?
    Chronic complainer who sees the worse in everything,

  10. AA needs to be PROACTIVE in their customer service and not offer (and celebrate) it when they are making up for IRROPS. Sure, it’s great that that agent tried their best to get that man to his destination during a tough day in his life. But what about the thousands of other travelers in the airport? Everything AA does focuses on what it costs in Doug’s spreadsheet and not how it makes the traveling experience better for the customer.

    UA/DL have recently been doing things that actually make a customer’s travels better; ie Delta improving int’l economy or United improving the app to help during IRROPS. All these things cost the airline money but doesn’t result in immediate profits. But it helps the traveler. This seems to be the one trend AA management decision AA hasn’t copied/stolen.

  11. I agree that this “level” of customer service is indicative of major troubles and low expectations at AA that comes right from the top down, and also a lack of focus and spending on the cusotmer experience.

    I’m also very curious why the AA rep had to put the pax on the phone with reservations instead of having someone on a DFW computer due the rebooking.

    I can give you examples of the kinds of things or gestures that might indicate a higher or excellent customer service experience:
    *AA overbooked a flight to get the IRROP distressed pax on;
    *AA somehow expedited the distressed irop pax or their bags to ensure getting on a flight or similar;
    *AA bought a full meal (not a $3 meal voucher) to ease the pain of the irop distressed pax or got them a hotel or got them ground transportation;
    *AA took volunteers to bump other pax so the distressed irop pax could get on. USAir used to do this in the good old days based on agent discretion even for elite standbys;
    *The AA agent gave the irop distressed pax their cell# so they could follow up if somehting happened or called to check on them once they got to their destination;

    Those are the kinds of things and tangible examples of practices and behaviors to me that represent exemplary customer service.

    A bottle of water and a phone call to reservations, I’m sorry, does not, represent exemplary customer service.

    And, I’m not sure about Gary, but I’ve largely ditched AA for JetBlue Mosaic, Southwest AList Preferred and Companion Pass with a little DL and UA sprinkled in.

    I’ve taken 1 AA flight this year, and it was a hassle because of their rediculous no rerouting change rule on same day confirmed. Also the agents were 100% stymied by the new Sabre interface that makes it difficult for them to override business rules like the dumb rule on no routing changes. I got them to change my flight out of sheer tenacity in the end, but again it was a hassle. Never an issue like that as a JetBlue Mosaic!

  12. Gary its time to fly other airlines out of Austin, Southwest domestically has more nonstops than American, combined with Delta, you could completely eliminate your need to fly US Airways dba American Airlines.

  13. I’m a lifetime Plat and Dallas resident and yet I have only bought 1 one way ticket on AA for my past 10 flights. I avoid them on principle. Yet, I still appreciate Gary calling them out for what seems like a relentless degradation in the product. Living in an AA fortress hub I actually want to see them succeed, but I am convinced Parker is incapable of making that happen. If the critics like Gary hasten his demise, I’m all for it.

  14. When AA runs out of “Kool-Aid,” it is refreshing to know distressed passengers may instead receive a bottle of water for rehydration to survive their seven hour wait for the next and potentially to be cancelled flight.

  15. “At American Airlines, an employee putting a customer on the phone with reservations is considered ‘going the extra mile’ and indeed significant enough to warrant a company-wide feature story.”


    Anyone with two eyes can see how badly the customer service has deteriorated at e.g. LAX, MIA, JFK due to the old death by a thousand cuts method

  16. Can I ask where you get this info? I’m not questioning it; I want to cite it in a complaint to AA! 🙂

  17. If you want to be thought leader, today’s real story is that — somewhat surprisingly — AA’s operation is continuing to improve each week. They’re down to a very small number of mechanical cancellations this week. I’m guessing it’s because the mechanics are now working.

  18. As long as Doug Parker is at the helm of AA, nothing meaningful will change. AA’s only saving grace is that some front line people are still trying but their hands are tied. I have heard that very thing from them many times.
    I would leave AA altogether as suggested in many of the comments if I did not live in Philly. Sadly the options are far and few in between here and as a business traveler I have to get there when I need to be there.

  19. The notion of great customer service has all but disappeared. I used to compare some positions with working in the “Lost Luggage Department “. You almost never have a good day. The degradation of great customer service has been the result of the “penny pushers” and others in upper management who feel that showing a larger bottom line is way more important than giving a customer great customer service. Also, you get what you pay for. If any company tries to hire as cheaply as possible that is what they will get. Inexperienced people who do not care. We paid our receptionist double the going rate to get great people because back in the day when the phones were manned by real people and not a recording our owner realized that this person was often the first point of contact with our company and he wanted this to be a very professional experience. I am amazed on almost a daily basis on what passes off as customer service but I do not know who is responsible. Too often it is the upper management who establishes policies and they are governed only by the profit margin.

  20. My partner and I flew to London twice a year. We leave Knoxville, fly to Charlotte and then non-stop to London. We have NEVER had a problem that was American’s fault, nor have we had unpleasant attitudes from their employees. They really do go out of their way to make everyone happy.

  21. I saw American bring out one of those food carts once account of delays and employees and Prospect Contractors rushes it like cockroaches and started grazing and filling their pockets. Lol

  22. American Airlines, should be close to be the worst airline in the market, however in my experience all flights are full, which drive me to believe that one of the reasons is strong concentration in the offer. On the other hand we, as passengers, have no rights, moreover the governmental body responsible for protecting our rights, allows regulations that are only favorable to the airlines, therefore the lack of passenger rights protection trigger the abuse of America corporate in any field.

  23. I have learned to tune out when comments are excessively negative or they suggest ridiculous solutions. While there is one case of DL rolling out another aircraft this is often impossible due to location, crew, aircraft type etc. AA hubs have been hit with some bad weather and I’m sure they could improve in some areas but come on, this post is just a childish rant with no solution other than beating the airline down. I flew 90+ flights on AA last year and it’s heading that way this year. They gladly rerouted me on other airlines a few times, the staff has been helpful even buying us pizza on a long delay. I still think they can be more realistic with announcements and they can communicate more accurately but this rant seems to be like those on Trip Advisor that make me WANT to go to the hotel or restaurant because the ranting is so ridiculous they’be got to be wrong. Perhaps it is that AA uses Airbus aircraft and some are if it ain’t Boeing I’m not going children or some have no other outlet for their political views. Either way this CLT based traveler is not going to stuff himself on ancient DL MD 80’s or board without assigned seats with the mob on SW where there is 0 % chance of an upgrade!

  24. I cannot believe that giving a customer a bottle of water and dialing reservations is now considered great customer service! That’s pathetic!
    I have watched as Doug Parker has systematically dismantled AA. I live in a city that is only served by American Eagle. I have been EP for the past 10 years & Platinum for many of the years prior. My status is directly due to a certain agent on the EP/CK desk who actually booked all of my flights. With an email to the EP desk, she would return my call when she had a chance. She could comparison shop and find upgrades I could not. With the latest policy change, I can no longer book with this agent as they are forbidden to return phone calls. How is preventing an agent from returning phone calls for complicated domestic and all international flights make sense unless no customer service is the goal?
    In case any of you are considering making the jump to EP. Unusable EP perks : It is impossible to use the 4 SWU’s earned unless you use an agent and 90% of the EP agents are clueless and/or too lazy to look. Unlimited upgrades- what a joke! They’ve again increased the spending necessary to qualify for EP status. But this is the final straw. I will use my accrued milage to fly out of my home airport and fly Delta, Southwest or any other airline.

  25. Doug Parker and his America West generals have destroyed the former AA brand reputation and customer service standards. The legacy AA was know for it’s ‘’something special in the air” motto for years, on single digit margins. Yet today with 15% + margins they continue to cut and reduce their inflight and customer service standards. This isn’t AA anymore, it’s the reincarnation of America West, disguised as American Airlines. I’ve had to significantly lower my expectations whenever I board an AA flight. Living in a fortress hub, it’s hard to avoid them. Even with earned Executive Platnium status, (not gifted CK status) staying a ‘loyal’ AA business traveler keeps getting harder to justify my continued patronage vs. connecting more on DL or UA.

  26. American Airlines died… it was laid to rest when USAir acquired it. Since then customer service has tumbled so low you are treated better by your local public transit agency.

  27. Customer Service agents are under enormous stress when there are major operational disruptions. They are working flat out, many on overtime. Under adverse circumstances, any time an employee goes the ‘extra mile’ this should be appreciated and rewarded, not slandered. You showed the nice picture of the free refreshments for delayed passengers and barely mentioned it in your zeal for criticizing an airline with an employee who tried to do something nice. Your obvious bias detracts from the credibility of your blog. Very disappointing.

  28. Quibble and quarrel all you like. Excoriate Doug Parker (deservedly) or Gary Leff (not deservedly.)
    All I know is that I am no longer Executive Platinum, King of the Hill, just an old person traveling rather infrequently.
    I always dread the experience of American Airlines. I’m ashamed they call themselves American. And, I always amaze myself at how relieved I am when I can find or finagle a flight on Alaska. (JetBlue is mostly just not possible.)

  29. I appreciate what Doug Parker did to improve US Airways. I lived through those days when I lived in Pittsburgh and the fleet was ancient, subject to frequent mechanical delay and service was reflective of the leader (Fox, if I recall was his name). I do believe American suffers from decisions made to compete with low cost airlines back when that appeared necessary. However, I have flown extensively with American this past year and can’t say my experience flying Alaska or other airlines is necessarily worlds apart better. I must say, they have improved their food greatly and the extension of drinks to MCE was a great perk. I don’t like that getting upgrades is harder but hey at least there is a first class section unlike some other airlines! I do believe the company has many areas to improve but there is just way too many people just dumping all their travel woes onto AA these days.

  30. In Dallas yesterday American did nearly nothing for the thousands of us who had canceled flights.

    After 3 hours of lines stretching past 10 gates, American pulled out a snack cart.

    The only evidence I have that American employees are human is that they show anger toward customers who have flights canceled.

  31. Just took 12 hours to get home (after renting a car) from LGA to DC. Our pilot and copilot were dead headed in but timed out when their flight was delayed, and our plane which was waiting at the gate) was given to the flight that was scheduled to leave to DC an hour later. We should be heavily compensated since our cancellation was not due to weather but to the fact that they didnt have a pilot!!! Flight 2115 people from LGA to DC at 3pm on July 7th, 2019 START COMPLAINING!!!!

  32. I took now cut off my friends when they give me air travel war stories with “American?”.

    My wife had a delay in CLT due to no pilot and they could get her home to San Diego in 2 days, but ran out of hotel vouchers after she waited in the CS line for 3 hours. She got a hotel, another flight the next day to LAX and took an uber to San Diego. AA wants to compensate her costs with travel vouchers, not the USD cash she spent. Days later I fly American via PHL and get the same set of lies plus some new ones from the gate agents. I was compensated with AA vouchers.

    I think we will use the AA vouchers as TP and fly with an airline that will get us to our destination. I would still consider AA if the fare was over 50% less… other than that… I’ll boycott.

  33. I think many of you (including the author of this blog) have unrealistic expectations of the airlines in general. They are here to get you from point A to point B safely. If weather causes an irregular operation then everything goes to hell in a hand basket. The operation stems further than customer service and senior leadership is out of touch with the traveling public. If you don’t like one airline stop complaining about it and move to another. All of them have very similar problems. Safe travels everyone!

  34. Just wanted to say thanks! By enclosing that screenshot in my complaint to counteract the claim that “very few of our flights are delayed” after explaining a debacle of a delay that was completely unnecessary (you wouldn’t even believe it if I told you!), I was given 10,000 miles. Prior to the screenshot, I was given nothing more than a “sorry it happened.” You are the best!

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