When American Airlines suspended its service to Sydney that meant my award itinerary to see my family was cancelled. I spoke to the airline and was told they would re-accommodate my business class award on Qantas… in coach.
American had said it was “proactively reaching out to customers scheduled to travel on affected flights to offer alternate arrangements.” Their alternative to business class is economy, it seems.
This seemed odd to me – in fact, at odds with the airline’s published tariff – which I was only able to find because the airline put it back online after a consumer complained to the Department of Transportation.
The airlines write their own rules, but they do have to post those rules and actually follow them. And what I found was Rule 80 (C)(3) which suggested American had two options,
- Re-route on another American Airlines flight (and in some circumstances in a higher class of service), or
- “Endorse the unused ticket for the purpose of rerouting over another carrier with whom AA has agreement to do so”
The only out they seemed to have would be claiming their decision to suspend the route, because they lacked the aircraft to operate all of the routes they’d scheduled, is the result of a force majeure event under 80(C)(4) of the tariff. I asked American whether that was the case.
An airline spokesperson told me that re-accommodation was “at carrier’s discretion.” But that’s not what the tariff says. They have the ‘discretion’ to choose either to re-accommodate on their own flight, or on another airline’s flight. (And the customer has the discretion to reject this and request a refund.)
I pressed further and was told, in effect, that American lacks an agreement with their joint venture partner Qantas to endorse the unused ticket.
There are no Protect Agreements in place for the SYD market. We are handling these as regular schedule changes. For revenue tickets, we can rebook to AA*/Joint Business partner (QF in this case), maintaining same origin/destination, and may book in the lowest available inventory, up to and including H in the main cabin. We could also book a QF Prime flight, if the same inventory was available, but in your case it was not available.
In other words American says they are unable to do either of the two things their tariff gives them discretion to choose between. And this leads me to wonder what on earth is the consumer benefit of a joint venture?
The notion that when American exits a market it will not honor reservations in their ticketed class of service on a joint venture partner has important implications for the notion of consumer benefit that they are claiming as they defend a government lawsuit against their JetBlue joint venture.
American is regularly exiting markets and turning those over to JetBlue in the Northeast. American’s position here would seem to suggest that they’re within their rights to reject or downgrade tickets they’ve issued as they reassign flying between the two partners. That’s consumer detriment, not benefit.
Joint ventures encourage one airline to exit a market in favor of another based on, for instance, available aircraft. And this isn’t supposed to matter to customers, at least that’s the promise. Except that it does matter, when American says that tickets they’ve issued in business class will only be honored in coach on their joint venture partner airline.
I’m not going to pursue a Department of Transportation complaint, even though American I think is presenting a tortured read of their tariff. There’s no harm to me because I was able to rebook on Air Canada one way and United the other. Still it would be interesting to get their take. It’s bad enough when airlines write their own rules, but worse when they stretch the rules they’ve written with impunity.