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June 26, 2017


Delta Airlines, American Airlines: You Suck

by Anne Paddock

I used to have a lot of empathy for the airlines because I saw firsthand how difficult passengers could be:  demanding wheelchairs to board the plane ahead of everyone else and then miraculously walking off the flight when the plane arrived at the destination (because passengers who want a wheelchair have to wait until the other passengers disembark) or carrying 3 or more suitcases, duffel bags, shopping bags, purses, and backpacks. The most brazen would be asked to check their bag at the gate only to tear off the ticket and walk on the plane with their extra baggage and then ask others to help them hoist the 40-pounder overhead. It was enough to almost make you feel sorry for the airlines.

But, things have changed. My most recent experiences with Delta and American Airlines have pushed me to the other side. I now have great empathy for passengers who have to put up with the lack of customer service and greedy, inefficient policies of both Delta and American Airlines.

Let’s start with Delta. Delta Airlines has a frequent flyer program called Skymiles which has four “Medallion” levels:  Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. In 2016, my husband was awarded Gold Medallion status which he earned by flying more than 50,000 miles AND spending more than $6,000 on airline tickets in the calendar year.  He usually flies Delta because they often offer him a seat (“Delta Comfort”) that has more leg room and this is a nice perk for someone who is 6 feet 4 inches tall. So, he tends to fly Delta often.

When a friend of his passed away on June 16th and the family announced a memorial service to be held on Saturday, June 24th, my husband asked me to book a ticket on Delta to Albany, NY so he could attend the service. I went on-line and tried twice to book a ticket (the cheapest being nearly $700 for a ticket 7 days in advance) on Delta and kept getting a message to call their customer service number to book the ticket. So, I dialed the number and got a recording that said all the agents were busy but someone would call me back between 1 hour and 4 minutes and 2 hours.  Yes, between 1 hour and 4 minutes and 2 hours. I thought it was a joke.  Gold Medallion members have to wait more than an hour for a callback because their website wouldn’t allow me to book a ticket on-line. Screw it. I decided to call American Airlines – thinking I’d show Delta.

I went on-line and booked a ticket on American Airlines for $701 and then tried to select seats, which American wouldn’t let me do unless I agreed to buy a seat for $9, $12, or $37 on each segment meaning the ticket would cost an additional $45 – $185 bringing the total to $745 – $885. At first, I thought this can’t be true. This isn’t Spirit Airlines where a passenger just purchased a $300 no frills cheap ticket. This was a 7-day advance ticket that cost $701 to fly from one east coast city to another (total miles: about 800) and American Airlines wanted me to pay for a seat on each of the five segments (two going and three coming back). There was no way I was going to buy a seat on each of the five segments after paying a premium $701 for the ticket. So, I told my husband that I would get him a seat assignment when I checked him in 24 hours before the flight.

On June 22, 2017, I tried to check my husband in on the American Airlines website and I was able to get him a seat on one segment (although American tried to block out the one available blue seat and get me to purchase a $12 seat which looked exactly like every other seat on the commuter jet) but the website wouldn’t allow me to choose a seat on the second segment from Charlotte to Albany unless I paid $37 for a seat – and, therefore could not complete the check in. I thought “you have got to be kidding me!”

So I called American Airlines and spoke to a very polite customer service representative who basically told me that I cannot check in on-line unless I pay for a seat; that my husband can check in at the airport up to 4 hours before the flight but no less than 1 hour, 30 minutes and “request” a seat. Really. Is this a joke? Who puts up with this?  I told the poor customer service representative that I didn’t blame her for American Airline’s shitty customer service but did ask how American Airlines can  justify coercing a passenger into buying a seat after having just paid $701 for a ticket. I mean really….fuel is cheap so their costs are lower (and yet they haven’t reduced airfares) and they have to be making money on a ticket that cost $701 to go 800 miles.  All the representative could do was apologize but that’s not enough. I wanted a seat assignment and she refused to provide one.

My husband went to the airport and was given a seat on the first segment but American Airlines refused to give him a boarding pass for the second segment from Charlotte to Albany telling my husband he has to get his boarding pass in Charlotte. In Charlotte, the customer service counter refused to give him a boarding pass and told him to go to the gate and ask for a seat. Yes, as unbelievable as that sounds, it is true. He had to go to the gate and wait until they felt like giving him a seat in exchange for the $701 he already paid for the ticket.

So, what’s up with Delta and American Airlines?  Delta has some customer service issues and some people might even say that American Airlines is run by greedy bastards who want to gouge every penny out of customers so the executives can get paid millions and millions of dollars (in 2016, executive compensation at American Airlines was about $40 million ranging from $8 million to $18 million for the top five executives). But, I think the problems are a lot deeper than that.

Delta and American Airlines have lost sight on how to treat customers who are willing to pay a reasonable airfare. It’s really that simple. Over the past few years, they have added a cost to everything – checked baggage, carry-on luggage, food, wi-fi and more…and people pay these fees but enough is enough. When American Airlines wants customers to pay for “regular” coach seats over and above the airfare, I ask what is the airfare without a seat?  And, why do customers have to pay change fees but the airlines don’t if they change the travel plans? The relationship is too one-sided and too heavy-handed on the side of the airline, especially American Airlines.

So Delta…get with the program and provide better customer service. To American Airlines I say goodbye, adios, sayonara…you have a lot to learn about being decent, honorable, and fair.

  1. David
    Feb 4 2018

    I have no sympathy whatsoever for any American airline lately. Their attitude plus the constant games with seats, fees, baggage allowances, etc. It’s pathetic. If they were all to fail I honestly wouldn’t miss them. Poor service, cramped seats, mere peanuts or pretzels, etc. etc. etc. Foreign carriers wax the floor with these stateside dinosaurs.

  2. Jul 16 2017

    Thanks Paul..couldn’t agree more!

  3. paulifeblog
    Jul 16 2017

    I can not speak for Delta, but the problem with American Airlines lack of customer service stems from the top and has well-permeated the company. I wrote a review recently of their domestic first class food (which again shows their customer service problem). Good article – I have felt your pain before with the exact same situation. Ridiculous.

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