When you think of this story about a new American Airlines program, imagine that you've made plans with a friend.

Then, a few hours before you're supposed to get together, something comes up. You're afraid you won't be able to make it, and your friend might have rushed all the way across town to meet you, only to be out of luck. Do you:

  • Text your friend to let them you're not sure you can be there, so that they can decide whether it's worth it for them to try to meet you--or maybe reschedule?
  • Or, keep this information to yourself, and allow your friend to show up--so as to not risk inconveniencing yourself? 

Tough choice? Not at all. That's why when you learn that American Airlines is now trying a test program where they'll text or email passengers ahead of time, when there's a good chance that their flight will be overbooked--you might well have two quick reactions:

  • Good for them.
  • Why the heck weren't they doing this before?

Truly, there's not much worse than going to the airport, fighting your way through check in and security, slogging to the gate, and then waiting around--only to learn at the last minute that you're being bumped off your flight.

Of course the issue isn't limited to American Airlines. You remember Dr. David Dao, of course, who was dragged from a United Airlines flight in 2017, and whose misfortune did more to draw attention to involuntary boarding than perhaps anything else in history.

So yes, it's good that at least American will try to let some passengers know it's a possibility that they won't be allowed on their airplane, and give them some options, even before they get to the airport. Here's how their new pilot program apparently works.

As reported by Travel + Leisure, American has started notifying some passengers (in a pilot program, no pun intended) via email or text if there's a good chance that they'll be bumped from their flight, either due to equipment switches or other circumstances.

Then, they'll be asked to dial a toll-free number to get possible new travel arrangements and compensation for being willing to be bumped. It's up to the passengers then to accept whatever American Airlines offers, or else try their luck at keeping their plans and trying for their original flight.

"If we have an equipment swap that may have less seats on the aircraft, and the flight is leaving greater than 24-hours out," an American spokespderson told Travel + Leisure, "we proactively contact customers to see if they would be willing to take an alternate flight, which may include a more desirable routing along with possible compensation."

Although, as Gary Leff at View From the Wing points out, American's internal guidance doesn't suggest that customer service agents should proactively tell passengers that are contacted under this program that they have a choice.

"I can certainly see the 87 percent of passengers American says fly at most once a year not understanding this and not explicitly asking, [thus] agreeing to be moved to a less desirable itinerary, thinking they have no choice," Leff writes.

Again, it sounds great, or at least less horrible than simply showing up and learning you're out of luck. And American isn't the first airline to do something like this

But it's just such a smart (and dare we say obvious) thing to do in order to make customers' lives a little less difficult, especially when flying in economy, that you wonder what other obvious things aren't being done.

Published on: Aug 28, 2018
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