Congrats American Airlines, You Did It! You Won The Race To The Bottom

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American Airlines Is The Worst

American Airlines Is The Worst Legacy Carrier With Their Recent Changes

American Airlines you did it, you really did it! You just completed the race to the bottom of legacy domestic airline carriers.  Spirit and Frontier have nothing on you!  At least they don’t hide behind the full service airline moniker, they wear who they are proudly on their chest as a badge of honor. You on the other hand, you slither and slink your way to the bottom of the pile on the sly. You do it under the cover of darkness, behind closed doors.

The crazy thing is that I am not even talking about your rude employees, or your uncomfortable seats. We aren’t even getting into the fact that you have basic economy solely so you can charge more for main cabin and dilute frequent flyer status. Nope, none of that. How about the fact that you still refuse to give full service on your flights? Not that either.  The devaluations in your program right and left, or how about you blocking partner bookings with your “web specials”? No, no these are games your comrades play as well. What I am talking about is you changing your terms in the last few weeks that is basically a big middle finger to your customers.

American Airlines’ Changes to Conditions of Carriage

Here are the main changes that I am talking about.

  • American Airlines says it is not responsible if a flight is delayed or canceled. “If we or our airline partner fails to operate or delays your arrival more than 4 hours, our sole obligation is to refund the remaining ticket value and any optional fees according to our involuntary refunds policy.”
  • When a delay or cancellation causes a missed connection, American Airlines will “rebook you on the next American Airlines or American partner flight with available seats.” This is a big change from the previous wording that said any “next flight with available seats.” In practice, AA has been doing this for a long time now. So this just makes it official. It also noted that you need “written authorization from American Airlines,” to book your own arrangements. Otherwise you’ll be “responsible to pay for your hotel, meals and other expenses.”

American Airlines Is The Worst

Why This Is Unacceptable – Flight Delay / Cancellation

This is essentially how low cost carriers operate.  They say that if your flight is delayed or canceled we will rebook you on the next flight that WE have available.  Most full service carriers will be willing to book you on another airline if something goes wrong. They do that in an attempt to get you to where you need to go in a timely manner.

This practice is called an interline agreement. It is where airlines will work together to get you where you need to go. American Airlines would help Delta get a stranded passenger to their destination and then Delta would return the favor later, all for a fee of course. American is trying to avoid that cost it appears, and are saying that we will put you on an American flight and that is all. That is the same way Frontier and Spirit operate. This may not be a big deal if it is an early morning flight on a route with multiple flights a day.  If it is an afternoon flight with a once per day route you could be in trouble.  That is a 24 wait at least, and could be more if the flights the next day or two etc. are sold out.

So what happens when this occurs and you can’t wait the day or two? You get the pleasure of paying a last minute ticket on another airline and American Airlines will refund you the remaining portion of your flight.  Not even the full cost of the flight, but just for the unflown portion, unbelievable.

And this is even if it is American Airlines’ fault for the delay. They messed up? Guess what, you get to pay more!

American Airlines’ policy also says if you spend any money while stranded, without prior written approval, you get stuck with the bill. Get stranded and rush to book a hotel before they sell out? You better get a good rate because that one is on you.

American Airlines Is The Worst

The Government Has Failed Us

Other countries have written rules for their airlines and customer protections.  If they fail to get you where you need to go they end up paying for it.  They will pay for your hotel room, rebook you and give you monetary compensation.  It is all written into the law so everyone knows exactly what they are going to get. Europe has the EU261 law and Canada has something similar but not as good.

We, as Americans, we have nothing.  We get whatever they feel like giving us. And it will vary widely by airline, even by flight within the airline.  Sometimes it comes down to the mood the agent you deal with is in. That makes an extremely stressful situation even more stressful.

This is still the case even though the airlines got billions of dollars in bailouts just last year.  That money came from us, their customers.  So what do they do? Turn around and bite the hand that feeds them.

When the airlines had their hand out the government had the leverage.  They should have required some new regulations on airline passenger rights.  That was the time to get it through. We give you money, you give our constituents some protections. Seems like the most government thing ever right?

I am not normally for more regulation but this is something that needs to be done. What other industry can they screw over customers so blatantly, not perform their duty, and then have the customer pay for their mistake? The airlines all work together, fall in line or get left behind, so there is no avoiding the conglomerate monopoly.  You can fly someone else but they often play the same games.  It just isn’t right.

American Airlines Is The Worst – Final Thoughts

This of course could all be written into the terms and just not enforced. Maybe they will only put it into action for very specific instances.  I kind of doubt that. I really believe American is done booking you on other airlines and will make you wait till they can accommodate you on an American Airlines flight. They will basically tell you to pound sand if you rebook on another airline.  If it is a flight full of people they may throw some vouchers your way to avoid the PR nightmare.  But, if you are one of the few stragglers missing the connection … good luck. We might want to start booking some back up flights on carriers we can cancel when flying American. Hello Southwest!

I am going to treat American Airlines as Spirit Airlines going forward. I’ll book it if it is the best price AND it is a non stop flight. If there are any connections / layovers I will be looking elsewhere.  American Airlines miles are best used for partner flights anyway ;).

Let me know your thoughts on these changes below.

Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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  1. I believe the carrier choice should be on the totality of all factors, not on a relatively rare issue, cancellation; over my career and personal flying history, fewer than a dozen flights were cancelled or came close to a cancellation situation, perhaps 3 or 4 percent of my flying history. I’ll go with the odds and make my selections on all factors, and this will be low on the weighted list. But then again, I’ve flown Spirit half a dozen times and found every trip to be perfect, so maybe it’s just me.

  2. I agree with everything you said but don’t understand why you mentioned the gov had the upper hand during the bailouts. What’s that have to do with anything? Sure they could have said hey delta change your rules to better compensate passengers. Maybe they would have….just to change them back later.

    Congress needs to pass the law to get it codified into law. The poor airlines really have nothing to do with it. And I also think this post is slightly chicken little. All the airlines often do this in practice and unless you know to ask often won’t suggest an interline.

    • I’m meant they wouldn’t have gotten as much push back from the airlines and lobbyists trying to get that law through at that time. They would spend a ton of money to try to stop it. Could have said we want no pushback on this if you want a bailout etc.

  3. If people would stop flying this airline, they would start heeding the words of the customer. But since most people do what they are told, this will be what lies ahead. I have not flown AA in many years and do my best to avoid that airline.

  4. Thanks for this article. I’m always in disbelief when people say “quit whining” or “fly someone else”. Most people are too ignorant to realize that these companies don’t make drastic swings. They slowly and surely start pulling the rug out from under you until you wake up one day and realize there is nothing left. It’s the same with companies like Google and Facebook mining your data, violating your privacy and it’s the same with companies like Apple purposefully making devices that are disposable and can’t be repaired. But hey, ignorance is bliss to those that think this is whining.

  5. This just happened to me a few weeks ago. AA mistake and I missed my connection and they refused to book me with anything but AA or partner even though I pushed them on it. Had to wait over 24 hours to get on a flight that wasn’t sold out. AA. IS. THE. WORST. Anyone that says otherwise is kidding themselves. Great article Mark i’m glad someone is speaking out.

  6. Check your calendar dude!!
    Don’t you think this article could’ve waited till maybe Monday instead of September 11… The 20th anniversary of American Airlines and United planes being hijacked.
    I’ll bet you don’t even list this message… Gotta love your moderation skills

    • What the heck does one have to do with the other? This article isn’t about terrorism, it’s about AA’s crappy contract of carriage. American Airlines suck wether it’s 9/11, 9/12, 9/13, etc. Stop trying to make this something it isn’t.

      • I’ll stand my my comment yesterday…that yesterday was probably NOT the day to release your article.

        That being said…and buried…

        I whole-heartily agree that more has to be done to get US laws changed to come inline with the generous protections EU countries have. Whatever happened to the “Passenger Bill of Rights” legislation?

        Bottom line is this…

        Airlines will pay, and pay, and pay (even it means bankruptcy for them) for lobbyist to protect their interests and payoff politicians with campaign contributions to ensure that they always have the upper hand. Politicians don’t care about us…and I’m sure politicians are somehow coded in the airlines systems so that they get free upgrades to biz/1st class and are coddled by the airlines to make everything appear like things are just great in the airline industry and not the cattle industry it has become.

        While I’m ranting…here’s the biggest thing that ticks me off the most about the airlines.
        They have been in the airline game for 50-80 years!!! They’ve seen EVERYTHING and have probably encountered every situation that comes up, yet every time there is the slightest issue (weather, fog, delays, baggage issues, re-ticketing, handling hundreds of customer all at once, etc…) they act as though this has never ever happened before and that whatever the issue is, is unprecedented…when it’s just a repeat of issues that have been happening since day 1 of commercial aviation. Airlines need to have EXTRA, ExTRA personnel on standby for when issues happen and to be able to handle them efficiently – they’ve been doing this for years!

        How is it, that I can pull into a Chick-Fil-A drive through that is two lanes wide, out into the street…knowing full well that they are so damn efficient at what they do that I’ll be leaving drive through in 10 mins!
        The airlines remind me of Whataburger – OMG – that place is a F’n joke….I’ll pull into drive-thru and that place with no cars and I’ll still be waiting for my order 15 mins later! It does not matter if I’m Texas or Florida….Whataburger is the slowest restaurant chain out there…bar none!

        Again, the airlines should be one of the most efficient industries out there yet they can’t handle simple wrinkles in their system ever.

        And finally, I’ll leave you with this…
        Passengers are becoming more irate as we’ve all seen – some people should just not fly – especially those with mental health issues! But I wonder how much peoples anger and frustration have already peaked before getting on their plane…just dealing with the damn airline industry and the BS one has to put up…again, for something that should run like a fine swiss watch!

        Biden thinks getting the TSA to double fines is going to somehow fix things…they guy is friggen clueless if he thinks double fines are going to someone calm passengers who have put up with a lot of crap from these airlines far too long.

  7. Retired Gambler. AA is relying on loyal suckers like you to say nothing do nothing and take out your CC like the pus..y whipped individuals that you are. Lol

  8. This is so dramatic, the interline agreements still exist. Literally just got rebooked on Delta last week. Just because they don’t explicitly say they’ll rebook you doesn’t mean they won’t.

    • Tony when you bought your ticket these terms where not in there. Probably won’t play out for a few months since most tickets were already bought. Only time will tell if they use the terms or not as I stated in the conclusion.

  9. I have 2 upcoming flights with AA which I wish I could cancel and get a refund but I can’t. The last flight they blamed the air traffic control and weather for the seat and wouldn’t give me a voucher for a hotel. Every time I fly them I’m delayed! I can’t stand it anymore.

  10. Would it be correct to expect that some of the better travel protection cards, e.g., Chase Sapphire Preferred, or Reserve, the travel insurance that comes with the card would cover buying a replacement ticket? For example, I’m traveling on a $500 RT ticket and my flight is now cancelled, and it’s a 6 hour wait until the next flight – so I rebook on an $800 flight – does the insurance cover the $300 gap? I doubt it. I’ve had two experiences with travel insurance, one was delayed luggage buying replacement personal items while waiting for luggage; that was paid and easy, as well as a rental car to get home from NY to MD when flight cancelled. But when I tried to get my meals covered for a flight that was simply delayed a few minutes short of the limit, no dice. So if you can’t “prove” the flight went 6 hours later perhaps because I didn’t board that flight but instead took another flight, I’m doubting that the insurance will cover the replacement flight. Thoughts?

    • If it goes over the limit it would count but it can be a hassle to wait that long to book it and the flights may not line up that way.

    • When our flight from NYC to Denver was cancelled due to weather in Denver, Jet Blue refused to book us on anything but Jet Blue, and the next flight with available seats was three days later. We spent out of pocket to book flights the following day on Delta. The Chase Sapphire Reserve covered our hotel cost, food, taxis and some incidentals, but did not cover the extra out of pocket cost for the new flight we had to book. The refund from Jet Blue – on which we had gotten a great fare – paid for not even half the price of the Delta ticket.

      Now this was a few years ago and it was due to weather. But AA’s changes are actually bringing them into line with what most airlines already do, as The Cranky Flier wrote recently.

      • That’s a great data point, thank you. Safe to assume had you waited 2 more days CSP would have covered the additional room nights, etc.? No need to respond if you don’t know.

  11. It is high time that EU261 and Rule 240 be codified into law so that airline passengers are protected. And prohibit any fare or fee hikes in response.

  12. If you don’t like them don’t fly them! Please quit whining. I will continue to fly them and so will many others. BTW I NEVER rely on an airline to take care of me and have no problem dealing with anything that may come up. Also lifetime Platinum w over 3 million miles so I seriously doubt they will leave me stranded due to flight changes regardless of what the contract says. That is worst case so they have something to protect themselves. BTW if they DID leave me mid trip I would just buy a ticket on another airline. No big deal to me.

    Quit blowing this up like it is the end of the world. Real impact will probably be minimal.

    • Not everyone has a the funds to buy a last minute ticket on the fly. It expensive even on domestic flights. Stop assuming that everyone is walking around like Daddy Warbucks.

    • You wanna play the sucker AC by all means go ahead. They are counting on people just like you and why service continues to deteriorate across all US airlines.

      • Please. I can’t remember the last time I flew AA when it wasn’t completely sold out. People need to fly. It’s very naive to say “just don’t fly them”. That’s not the solution but one person here and there does nothing. What we need is a law passed preventing every airline from doing this. I would argue you’re the sucker if you don’t think delta and UA will soon follow suit.

        Personally as a lowly gold AA has always taken care of me as well.

  13. Get a card with travel protections and be done with it. American sucks and we’ve all known it for some time. This should be no shock. The real concern should be will Delta and United follow right behind them. Only time will tell as they all tend to copy each other with these asinine policies.

    • I hope they don’t. Even if you have travel protections waiting 6 or 12 hours etc. may not make sense if you need to get somewhere now.

      • @Mark You’re definitely right. I believe 6 to 12 hours is much too long as well. However I’ll be much happier waiting 6 hours for my CSR/Ritz Visa protection to kick in versus waiting for AA to rebook me whenever they get around to it.

        Also, thanks for this article because it is another reminder to myself to keep lots of UR/TYP/MR points so that I can transfer currency to another carrier on a moments notice. Sure, not the best use of points when booking last minute but I can always earn more points, I can’t get my time back.

        Lastly, I agree wholeheartedly that there needs to be law because while those of us who enjoy this hobby can eventually figure things out…someone needs to look out for those who aren’t in this hobby and don’t have the ability to find alternative methods on a moments notice.

  14. Time for government regulation. And when the airlines cry – just point to this. This is time to do it – they have no defense now about it not being needed.

  15. brutal! AA will still be my no. 2 behind Southwest, but definitely have to be concerned about irregular ops and have a backup! (Delta has improved since offering no change fees but since they didn’t before I have little history with them).

        • Because you can cancel Southwest flights up to the minute before they fly….

          So you book it as a secondary option at a later time in case your flight on AA is delayed or cancelled.


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