We haven’t had the best luck when flying with on American Airlines. On our only trip this year, we were proactively offered a bump voucher to take a later flight. Then the flight we were put on instead was delayed and delayed and undelayed. The hassle was worth it because we each received a $400 voucher that was good for a year and all we needed to do was find a flight where we could use the credit.
Unfortunately for us, American Airlines doesn’t offer many non-stop flights from Orlando. There was one trip we could have flown with American but it was for a connecting flight and with their operational problems this year, we avoided them and booked with Frontier instead.
But now it’s approaching a year and we need to think about using our vouchers. I found flights for an upcoming trip that made sense and were the perfect price.
And then I realized the mistake I was so close to making.
There were two possible itineraries between Orlando and San Francisco. One of them had a connection in Dallas and the other in Charlotte.
While flying to Charlotte might seem out of the way, it only adds about 250 miles to the trip. On a cross-country flight, that’s a fraction of the flying distance and not much longer flight time.
The flights through Dallas are two hours shorter due to a more favorable connection but they cost $100 more per ticket and for some people that could be worth taking the longer trip.
Looking a little closer at American’s website, I noticed something missing. See that little power plug symbol showing on the bottom flights that are missing from the ones on the top. That’s the indicator for in-seat power. The flights through Charlotte are both on ex-US Airways A321 planes, as are many of American’s planes that fly through Charlotte. This isn’t surprising as it was a former US Airways hub. While American has invested to install Wi-Fi on these planes, they still do not have seat-back entertainment or power. That means no plugs for a computer and not even a USB connector to charge a phone.
I can deal with a shorter flight on a plane with no power, but the flight from CLT-SFO is blocked at 5:48. That’s almost 6 hours in an uncomfortable economy seat. With my laptop. if I’m using Wi-Fi I’ll be able to get 2 hours, maybe 3 hours tops, of power from the battery. So much for getting work done on the plane if we take those flights.
Flying through Dallas will split the trip into two generally equal segments with a time to get up and stretch (or more likely run to get from one gate to another). The flight to Dallas is on one of American A321’s with seatback entertainment and power outlets. The DFW-SFO flight is on a 737 which has the new American interior design featuring a tablet/phone holder. These planes do have power outlets for your own devices.
What could be an even worse flight that one with no power or entertainment? Here’s a return flight where the plane doesn’t even show as having Wi-FI. This might just be a glitch on the website as American has supposedly installed Wi-Fi on all of their A321 planes, even the former US Airways ones.
I’d chalk this up to being an oversight but this isn’t the only flight showing with no Wi-Fi so either it’s a larger technology error on American’s side or there are plenty of flights I wouldn’t want to be on between Charlotte and San Francisco.
I guarantee you that the majority of people searching for a flight aren’t looking to see if the plane has seatback entertainment, power outlets or even Wi-Fi. They’re shopping for price and for the best schedule. That’s why American Airlines can get away with offering a sub-standard product on some of their planes for the past six years (and no plans to install power or IFE anytime soon). People may be disappointed when they board when they see no seatback screen. They’ll be more upset when there are no plugs and then the final hit will be if there’s no Wi-Fi.
Consistency is the main problem. In order to know what you’re getting when booking a flight on American, you have to dig into their website a little. At least after doing so, you’ll be an educated consumer and can make a decision if you’d want to pay for a better plane or will you be OK on the bare-bones version.
And then there’s always a possibility of a change of planes and all of your hard work will be for nothing. Airlines don’t promise any amenity in their contracts, only eventually getting you from point A to B. No more, no less.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary