One advantage of taking a major airline (American, Delta or United) instead of a lower cost carrier was the ability to get rebooked on another airline in the case of a flight delay. Airlines enter into interline agreements, a system that allows one airline to book a passenger onto a competitor’s airline at a pre-negotiated cost. Say you’re flying on United and they cancel your flight due to a mechanical issue and they can’t fly you until tomorrow. United can arrange for you to fly on a Delta flight. You’ll get to your destination and you’re not mad at United for cancelling the flight.
These agreements are costly to the airlines, as they need to buy a ticket for you to fly on one of their competitors. However, they are seen as a necessary cost because the only other choice is to strand you with the options of waiting until you can get on another flight on their airline or give you a full refund and tell you to find another way to get to your destination, resulting in an angry customer. Interline agreements were one of the big things that still separated the major airlines from the low cost carriers. That is, until now.
American Airlines had already decided that passengers who booked a “basic economy” ticket were not worth getting rebooked on another airline. It turns out that wasn’t good enough for them, as American has now instituted a policy where economy passengers without elite status will no longer be placed on other airlines’ flight in the case of irregular operations (weather, mechanical or any other delay).
If you’re an elite passenger who flies more than 75,000 miles a year with American, you can still get this benefit, along with First Class passengers (on planes with First, Business and Economy cabins). If you fly 50,000 miles a year with American Airlines, they’ll rebook you on another airline, but only if your delay will be for five hours or more.
The people like Sharon and I, who have no status with American, will have to wait until they’re able to find space for us on another American flight. That makes buying a ticket on American no better than buying a ticket on Southwest (and you saw what I had to do to get to my destination when they cancelled my flight from Washington DC to Austin).
While I’d already decided that there was no real advantage of taking a legacy carrier, this change by American means I need to compare them to Southwest, Frontier and Spirit on price alone since I’m not going to be treated any differently on either airline because I’m not an elite flyer.
I can deal with that. Honestly, I find the experience on JetBlue, Southwest and even Frontier to be better than on American. They’re just giving me another reason to shop on price instead of service. I hope that American and their shareholders are able to deal with the flights I’m not going to book with them because of these changes.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary