Maybe American Airlines Isn’t As Bad As I Thought (Hmm…On Second Thought, Yeah, It Still Is)

Photo courtesy of Grant Wickes from Flickr

Over the course of several years, I’d convinced myself that American wasn’t that great of an airline to fly on. This isn’t taking the destruction devaluation of the Advantage frequent flyer program into account; it was just the experience we had when flying with them. Their gate agents tended to range from indifferent to downright surly. Take the flight where the gate agent insisted that Sharon’s bag was too big for the overhead and the other flight where the exact same thing happened again.

All of these experiences led to American placing 5th on our list of best U.S. Airlines only beating out the ultra low cost carriers (and United, which we flat out refuse to fly). Honestly, our experiences on Frontier were better than our flights on American. At least their cabin crews acted like they actually wanted to be there.

I was admittedly trying to avoid flying on American wherever I could, but in some situations, I just couldn’t avoid them due to cost or schedule. Then something happened.

We had a decent flight on American

It was our flight coming home from Thanksgiving in New York. I couldn’t pass up an award ticket where we could fly for 7,500 Avios and $5.60 each. We were each checking bags (which were free from having American Aviator Red card) so we stuffed them to the max and left our carry-on bags lighter and emptier than normal.

The staff at JFK was decently pleasant (at least we didn’t have any issues with them hassling us like they do in Orlando). On this flight, we got to sit in Main Cabin Extra because American gave Sharon Platinum Pro status for no reason whatsoever. It makes a difference having a few extra inches legroom.

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Then I had another set of pleasant flights on American

I didn’t have a choice of airline when booking these flights, as they were paid by my employer as part of my first ever business trip. I ended up working on the blog during the flight so I didn’t miss not having any entertainment system. It was a short flight so my laptop battery worked the whole time (I had the Wi-Fi turned off because it was running so slow it wasn’t worth using. That probably had something to do with it).

There was nothing memorable about the flights except the feeling when I landed that I arrived at an airport that was still under construction, and that’s not American’s fault.

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I finally figured out what American was doing differently

Why were my last two trips on American different?

  • I reset my expectations
  • Getting a better seat was an exception, not the norm.

I’m no longer comparing American to the airline they were. I’m now comparing each flight against experiences on the airline they have become. Flying on American is now more like flying on Frontier. If we need to check a bag, we need to make sure and be to the airport with plenty of time just in case the check-in line takes forever because the counter is, typically, woefully understaffed. Sharon and I know we have to make sure our carry on bags are sure to fit in the sizer to avoid the ire of the gate agents (more Sharon than me on this one. I’ve never had a problem). We don’t expect a comfortable seat so I always pack my travel pillow to put behind my back for support. I’ll expect just enough legroom so I’m not claustrophobic and there’ll be just enough space between seats for me to open up a laptop and get some work done (as long as the person in front of us doesn’t recline).

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Hey, I might have had to type like T-Rex but we had in-flight entertainment on this plane and I could charge my phone. We might have WiFi but it could be slow or not working at all and we’ll make due if that’s the case. I’m not expecting the employees to be nice or engaging; instead, I’m happy if they’re not outright cranky.

Does that sound like a pleasant experience to you? Nah, me neither. However, it’s now the product I expect from American. If I get that, then I’m not upset. I’ve also changed my behavior to minimize the inconveniences you experience when flying with American.

What about our most recent flight?

I knew I was pushing my luck by booking a connecting flight on American through Miami. I really had no choice besides paying an obscene amount of money for a ticket on a different carrier. Imagine my surprise when they called before the flight and proactively offered a bump to a non-stop flight and a $400 voucher each? When they booked us on the new flight, we were assigned seats in the exit row.

Before things got to rosy between us and American, we had to deal with our flight being delayed, then un-delayed and then re-delayed. That was when we ended up sitting at the airport for an hour because American operations forgot to call the cabin crew at their hotel to tell them the flight was un-delayed. That’s a total FAIL!!!!

Final Thoughts

I’m just realizing that for two of the last three trips on American, we’ve been seated in Main Cabin Extra. Maybe that has something to do about why I have the impression that our recent flights were tolerable. Well, it could be that combined with the lowered expectations.

If I was crammed in a seat with a sore back from having no padding and spending a flight typing like T-Rex with non-functional WiFi, I might not be thinking about how American isn’t so bad. But If I did spend a flight just like that, I wouldn’t be shocked. It’s what I expect when buying a ticket on American.

That’s why I’ll only book with American if their fares are much lower than other airlines we like more or if they are the only airline with flights that perfectly match our schedule. Now that I see what a difference flying Main Cabin Extra makes in keeping the flight experience tolerable, it might be worth it to pay the extra money. I’ll have to consider that when comparing fares between airlines. Just like I have to add in the price of checking a bag or a seat assignment when flying on a Low Cost Carrier.

But maybe that’s what American wants? To make the Main Cabin experience just bad enough that you’re willing to pay up to a better seat but not so bad that you refuse to fly with them at all. And if that’s the case, what really makes them any different than Frontier or Spirit?

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

Title Photo courtesy of Grant Wickes from Flickr

One thought on “Maybe American Airlines Isn’t As Bad As I Thought (Hmm…On Second Thought, Yeah, It Still Is)”

  1. I haven’t had the pleasure of flying MCE, but it sounds a lot like coach in the old days, except with the slimline seats that are unfortunately rearing their ugly heads all over lately.

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