Sam Hartman (hartmans) wrote,
Sam Hartman

Why I Will not Fly American

OK, that's it. I've been moving away from American Airlines for years, and they had sort of dropped to the "if there are no reasonable alternatives available," category. They managed to rise to the "after this last time, it's just not worth getting there." I feel dehumanized, manipulated, and I can't sleep because I have this sneaking suspicion that I'm a bad person for being upset that they're screwing me over. I hate it when I feel like I'm the one who has to apologize and beg when at some level I realize that someone else is being unreasonable. So, I'll rant in the hopes that I'll convince myself that it's not my fault and I can get back to sleep. If I convince others to take their business to a company that cares about customer service, all the better.

So, we're going on a family vacation this February to St. Kitts, as we often do. We bought tickets. American was the only airline that had an itinerary that got us back to Boston the same day that we left St. Kitts. All the other airlines required us to stay over somewhere else. We paid significantly extra for that itinerary; a couple of thousand dollars extra across our entire family. Tonight we get e-mail that they have made a schedule change and now we'll have to stay (at our expense) in Miami for a night. However if we bought the tickets today they would be significantly cheaper than what we paid. The difference would mostly make up for the hotel room.

So, I called. We'd like them to refund the difference. The agent talks to a supervisor and says she'll waive $50/person of the $100/person re-issue fee. So, for a fee of $100/person, they will give us the difference. This doesn't seem right to me. I ask what would happen if I just wanted to cancel the whole trip. The supervisor said they would be happy to fully refund it. I asked what would happen if I then went to purchase the tickets on their website. She said I could do that but we'd out the cash while I waited for them to process the refund and we might not get the tickets depending on availability. She doesn't see why I think that's a fairly high price to charge for $100/person when this is all because they changed the tickets after we bought them. Grumbling I ask her to go ahead and perform the re-issue. I've been on the phone for about an hour, when I suddenly find I'm disconnected.

I call back and after waiting another 25 minutes am connected to an agent. The supervisor I've talked to previously is unavailable; she's now on break. After waiting an additional 20 minutes I get connected to a new supervisor. The old supervisor made a note about the re-issue in only one of our three reservations. The new supervisor says she's unwilling to waive the change fee at all, and points out that a refund is not available only a travel voucher. If I want the old deal, I'll have to contact the old supervisor. The only way to do that is to call back and wait in the queue, talk to an agent and ask for that supervisor. If she's available I may be put through; otherwise I'll be asked to call back. The option of a full refund is no longer available because I've somehow already accepted the reschedule as being OK during my conversation with the first supervisor. By this point it's been around 2 hours, and I'm feeling really disgusted. I know I've been used badly, but I'm
feeling horrible about myself and horrible about the experience and I just don't have more energy to fight it.

What really interests me is why I feel bad about myself. As I try and deconstruct the situation, I realize that every time I've had a customer service problem (other than the time they refused to let me get off the plane because I was blind), American has done things that I think are calculated to make me feel bad and that it's my fault and otherwise manipulate me. Here's a list. Note that there are details here that are not described above.

The entire experience is set up to make them feel more important than me. There are long hold times. It's always my job to call back. Their break is more important than me.

It's very high-pressure. You must resolve things now. The first supervisor suggested that if I was unhappy with her answer I should call back and talk to another supervisor. She said that I might get a better deal, I might get a worse deal. She couldn't transfer me to someone else. I'd have to start all the way over and wait in the queue again. While on the surface this is intended to sound like it gives me the power to have some recourse, it's misleading. First, there's the record of what has been offered me. What supervisor is likely to be more liberal in interpreting policy than the person who has already dealt with things? Also, the subtext is all about whether I'm willing to take a risk and pointing out that I might well get a worse response. "Well, you could spin the wheel again, but you should be aware it could come up far worse than you got here."

There's a lot of hiding behind policy. "You wouldn't complain if the gas company or the electric company had a policy you thought unreasonable, would you?" Well, actually, Ms. Hudson, I would, but let's move along.

However what I've really noticed is that American supervisors try to focus on some small set of facts and ignore the bigger picture. Here, they were arguing that the schedule change was not a factor, nor was that we'd initially purchased more expensive tickets in order to get home in one day. We were simply talking about being annoyed that the fair had gone down. In a previous incident, I remember being graciously told after a huge mess involving them failing to correctly rebook me after weather, and some really unacceptable customer service incidents that they'd waive the fee to downgrade me to economy as compensation. That is, they had focused on how I was asking not to fly in business class, and that was all they could care about. There is explicitly no acknowledgement of my view of the situation. Not to say "well I can understand where you're coming from," or anything. If pressed you can get them to acknowledge that they understand what you're saying.

Together, these and a number of things I'm probably not noticing end up being really powerful emotional manipulation. I leave the situation questioning whether I'm being reasonable and feeling bad that I'm applying so much pressure to get what I want. At one level these are probably quite effective to reduce people's willingness to complain or request refunds or special treatment. Other than the part where I want to do everything I can to avoid doing business with American it might even be a winning strategy for their bottom line.

Writing this at least makes me feel better and feel more certain that I'm not being unreasonable. I still think it will be a while before I can wash the taste of the experience out of my mouth.

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