Where do I even begin with this?
American Airlines is, by far, the worst airline I’ve ever flown with and I’ll never fly with them again. I usually try to keep this blog fairly positive but I also like to keep it honest with my reviews of various products and services related to travel as I want others to benefit from my experiences. In this case, I have basically no choice but to write a scathing review of my experiences with American Airlines.
American Airlines and Me
Ok, so with that introduction, I’ll give you a little backstory on my relationship with American Airlines. I travel a lot, as I’m sure you all know by now, but I haven’t flown with American Airlines in ten years until this past weekend due to a string of bad experiences with the airline. After they significantly delayed my honeymoon in Europe and handled the customer service situation really poorly, leaving poor little 23-year-old me crying at Los Angeles International Airport, I decided I was done with them for good. Fast forward ten years later and I gave them another chance. Big mistake.
I only gave them a chance because I had decided to fly into Fort Walton Beach, Florida, to visit a friend for the weekend. This friend happened to be heading off to join the Navy soon and I wanted to visit her before she started her training as I wasn’t sure when I would be able to see her again. I usually try to fly Southwest Airlines domestically because I’ve found them to have superior customer service and reliability compared to other domestic airlines. On this occasion, however, I chose American because they flew directly into Fort Walton Beach (where she lives). If I had chosen Southwest, I would have had to fly into another airport about an hour away. In retrospect, I should have done that, but hindsight is always 20/20. I figured it would be OK so I booked with American. I almost immediately regretted my decision.
Policies that aren’t friendly to customers, and a website that doesn’t work.
Not too long after I booked the trip, my friend was informed by the Navy that she would be moving up into an earlier class, meaning she wouldn’t be there when I flew into her town. I tried to re-book for an earlier date but was basically told by American Airlines that I was SOL (shit outta’ luck). American Airlines does have a policy of flight changes due to military orders changing, so we tried. My friend even offered to send copies of her letter to the airline, but they didn’t care. I wasn’t the one in the military so no dice for me. Fair enough, you may say, that’s their policy. However, Southwest, their competitor, has a policy where you can cancel a flight all the way up to ten minutes prior to departure for any reason and retain your flight credit that is good for a year so you can re-book yourself on a different flight that works for you. So, if I had chosen Southwest, I would have been able to immediately cancel and book myself on an earlier weekend before she started training without losing over $400. That was my first mistake.
I was a little distressed and wondering if I should just cut my losses or go out there anyway and try to make the best out of it when my other friend who lives in Fort Walton Beach (who I met through my Navy friend) offered for me to stay at her place that weekend. So, the plans were back on and although I was disappointed I wouldn’t get to see my friend going into the Navy, I was excited to hang out with my other friend and have a fun weekend in Florida. We started planning the activities we would do while I was there and I started to look forward to the trip once again.
During the time between this and the actual flight, I had several issues with American Airlines in relation to my reservation. The first one came when about a month before the trip, my friend asked me what my flight schedule would be so she would know when to pick me up, drop me off, etc. I couldn’t remember the actual times so I logged on to American Airlines to check and discovered that my flight times had been changed and my seat selections had been erased. I tried to get new seat selections, but their website kept throwing back an error over and over again and showing me as not having a seat selection. More distressing still, it was showing only middle seats or paid upgrade seats were available. I had originally chosen aisle seats because I tend to have to get up and pee a lot (TMI? Whatever). I tried a frustratingly large number of times before I wrote their customer service. I waited a while and heard nothing back, so I tweeted to them. Apparently tweeting to American Airlines that they suck is the only way to get a response, because I got one pretty quickly after that. After what was a way too complicated process, my seat selections were back and they were, mercifully, aisle seats.
Also apparently the flight change and removal of my seat selections was, according to American Airlines, due to a change in their schedule. They said they had emailed me about it, but I never got any email (and yes, I checked my spam). They confirmed with me that they did in fact have the correct email address, but the email never came. So either they are lying or their system is broken. Either way, not good. A large company like American Airlines can certainly afford an IT department and a website that works.
The next snag along the way came when I tried to check in for my flight online the day before the trip. Again, I kept getting the error message “we can’t check you in for your flight online” over and over. Again, nothing from their customer service, and only tweeting got the problem fixed. Seeing a pattern here?
Flight day arrived and to be honest, I was kind of dreading it. I had encountered nothing but trouble at this point so my confidence that nothing else would go wrong had been shot. Still, I boarded the flight, excited to spend the weekend with my friend in Florida.
I flew from my home in San Diego to Dallas, Texas, where I had a fairly long layover. The original flight had me scheduled for a shorter layover in which I would have landed around 8:30 PM, but I was not not going to make it to Fort Walton Beach until 10:30 (this information will be important later). The San Diego to Dallas flight went smoothly and was actually fairly comfortable, as flights in economy class go, so I started to wonder if i had been worried for nothing. I started to relax. I spent three hours wandering around DFW airport, having snacks, and making the most of my layover.
And now for the part where it all fell apart…
I boarded my flight to Fort Walton Beach and was relieved when the captain told us that the weather in Fort Walton was clear and it was predicted to be a smooth flight. I heaved an audible sigh of relief at that news. It was about 8:30 PM at this point (note…weather was clear at the time I had originally booked a landing. Again, important).
So, we fly to Fort Walton and when we get there, the pilot tries to land, but fog has rolled in since we took off. We then sat through what was a frankly terrifying three attempts at landing where the pilot would come in all the way and nearly touch the ground, then accelerate rapidly and take off again. This happened three times and it was so scary that the lady behind me was loudly praying to Jesus to get her through this situation alive. Not kidding. The pilots explained that they were trying to land from different angles and that the fog was so thick they couldn’t see the runway so they couldn’t land.
Fair enough. Weather isn’t something they can control and I understand that we couldn’t land, but it was what happened next that really put this whole situation over the top.
We had to divert to Jacksonville, which isn’t anywhere close by. We all wondered why we couldn’t divert to one of the closer airports (Pensacola, Panama City Beach…Hell, even Mobile Alabama would have been better). But nope. Jacksonville. So we go to Jacksonville while my poor friend is sitting at the airport wondering where I am. I text her when we get there and tell her to just go home and I would keep her updated.
So we’re in Jacksonville now and my fellow flyers are starting to form an angry mob in the terminal because it took a while for anybody to come out and help us or tell us what would be next. When somebody finally does come out to tell us, we find out that we’ll all be spending the night in Jacksonville and heading to Fort Walton the next day. Only problem was that with such a short turnaround time on my trip, I wouldn’t have any time to do anything other than sleep a night in Fort Walton before I would have to go back to San Diego on my scheduled flight. So basically, my whole trip was ruined by this. They booked me out on the next flight to San Diego (connecting in Dallas again) but because I would be leaving so early in the morning, there was no time to go to a hotel room. So instead, I ended up alone, in tears, and attempting to sleep on a cold bench in the Jacksonville airport with bright lights blaring at me and a guy yelling on his cell phone ALL NIGHT LONG. I kid you not, it was 3 AM and this guy was still yelling on his phone. All. Night. Long.
Mostly I sat on the bench, crying, and talking to my husband on my cell phone who was back in San Diego and couldn’t do anything but try to make me feel less alone all night.
American Airlines did give me a $12 food voucher but unfortunately nothing was open in the airport that I could eat. As you long time readers of my blog know, I have celiac so my food options are limited at best. I figured I would get some egg bites or a gluten free breakfast sandwich when the Starbucks opened at 5am but they didn’t carry those items at this particular Starbucks, and nothing else was open, so I got a coffee, bought the lady in line behind me a bagel, and starved all the way to Dallas. Nothing else in the airport would open until after my flight boarded. Out of luck.
So, starving and sleepless, I was now crammed into an uncomfortable middle seat all the way back to Dallas. I had to pee but the guy in the aisle was asleep so I suffered all the way to Dallas. I didn’t have time to get food in Dallas due to a shorter layover, so I continued starving, subsisting on tomato juice when the drink orders came around (couldn’t eat the free snack…again, celiac.). The flight from Dallas to San Diego was, again, a middle seat with the guy on the aisle fast asleep. I had to wake him up three times so I could go pee.
I should also note that I get nauseous when I don’t sleep, so I spent most of both of these flights blaring the air at my head and attempting not to vomit.
My husband was supposed to be at a bachelor party all weekend, but he canceled to come pick me up in San Diego because of all I had been through. I should note that he had booked flights with Southwest Airlines for the bachelor party to San Francisco, and had no trouble canceling them and getting FULL flight credit for later use the night before the flight. We’ll use that credit to go do something fun on my favorite airline later. Thanks, Southwest, for your superior customer service).
After what seemed like a year of my life, I finally arrived in San Diego and lugged my heavy bag that had been on my back for nearly 24 hours to the car and mercifully, he had brought me some food. Bless him.
I got home and slept the rest of the day, then I slept all night and didn’t get up until around 11am. Then I rested and slept some more. Only now (two days after getting back) do I have the presence of mind to even write this.
So basically…it was a waste.
So what it boils down to is that I paid over $400 to sit in economy class, fly all the way to the East Coast (complete with harrowing moments and long layovers) only to spend the night freezing cold and alone in an airport, and then get on an early flight and do it all again on the way home. I never made it to my destination. I never got to see my friend. I wasted money, two days of my life, and a little piece of my sanity. American Airlines didn’t have any sympathy for me. They didn’t even try to make it up to me by offering me a refund, or flight credit, or miles…or hell, even a seat upgrade to a better seat on the way home to at the very least make this hellish experience a little more comfortable (there were empty seats in exit rows and first class on the way home).
So basically, American Airlines is awful. I’ve never flown on an airline that has treated me as badly as American Airlines has, and I’ll never fly with them again. If I’m in a situation where American is the only airline that goes somewhere I want to go, I guess I’ll fly a different airline a little farther away and rent a damn car. It’s not worth it. If the flight prices on AA are cheaper than other airlines, I’ll just pay more and fly with somebody else. It’s not worth the frustration, the exhaustion, and the feeling that they really, truly don’t give a crap about their customers.
So, that’s my story. I’ll never fly American Airlines again, and if you have a choice when you’re booking a flight, I would advise you not to fly with them either. It’s not worth it.
One last note…
I should note that a month ago when I was coming back from North Carolina with a scheduled layover in Chicago on Southwest Airlines, we were diverted to Cincinnati because of heavy fog in Chicago. Southwest kept us fully updated the whole time and handed out lots of drinks and snacks while we waited. Then, when the fog cleared and we were able to get on our way to Chicago again, we had naturally missed our next flight. There was a long wait at the gate and we had a small bit of trouble, but Southwest apologized and offered me $100 in flight credit EVEN THOUGH they STILL managed to get me home the same day on a later flight. I never even asked them for flight credit or compensation in any form, they just gave it to me because it was an inconvenience and they wanted to retain their customers. It was a small gesture, but I really appreciated it. What a stark contrast between the customer service of those two airlines. I’ll be choosing Southwest in the future every time I can. No airline is perfect, but it’s the little things that show they actually care about me as a customer that will keep me coming back again and again.
***Update December 8th, 2017***
After writing this story, I tweeted it to American Airlines. Their social media team got a hold of me and said they had forwarded it to a customer support specialist to review the case. I hadn’t heard anything in a while, but today I’m happy to report that they emailed me saying that they will be giving me a refund. I was shocked and of course happy about this news! It still doesn’t make up for that experience and for missing out on visiting my friend, or the time I took off of work, but I did want to acknowledge that American Airlines did offer me a refund. It’s supposed to take a while so I’ll update you guys again when I actually receive it. I do have to give credit where credit is due in this situation. The social media team at American Airlines are top notch. Time and time again I had trouble getting through to the airline through the official channels, but time and time again, their social media team has helped me out. So although their airline has a lot of problems, their social media team deserve some praise.
***Update December 11th, 2017***
I actually received my refund. You guys, I’m shocked! I’m still not happy with them because that experience was, quite frankly, awful. But I did want to report back to you that this happened. So that’s good at least. Still not loving the idea of flying with American. The whole experience was more complicated and full of problems, big and small, than I’m used to with other airlines, but I will have to give them credit where credit is due and say that they did issue me a refund. Hallelujah!
I apologize as this was, by far, the most negative blog post I’ve ever written. But let’s face it…as wonderful as travel is, sometimes it just sucks. This was one of those times.