The illness and subsequent death of a close relative caused me to take two last-minute round trips by air from Albany to Oklahoma City in the last few weeks. No flights were available on my preferred carrier, Southwest, so I flew on American (first trip down) and Delta (first trip back and both legs of second trip). Each of these carriers offered noticeably less legroom than Southwest, which, combined with the latter’s free checked bag and free ticket change policies, means my loyalty to Southwest (though that airline has slipped in some areas) will continue where its schedules and fares are competitive. Cabin staff on both American and Delta were courteous and professional, and I liked the selection of snacks on Delta, which included almonds that made me forget about the peanuts most airlines offered before concern with allergies caused them to be banned.
Beating the checked bag fees
I learned that there is way to check a bag for free on American and Delta – so long as it is small enough to qualify as a carry-on, and so long as you are willing to carry it to the gate where you will board your initial flight. Apparently the number of passengers trying to avoid these airlines’ checked baggage fees has grown so large that bin space for carry-ons has become scarce. To alleviate boarding delays and recriminations, both American and Delta offered free checking of my bag from the boarding gate to my ultimate destination (which required a change of planes on each flight) for free. While there may be some flights on which this service is not offered, for me it will be worthwhile when flying these carriers in the future to take my chances that it will be, rather than pay the $30 one-way bag check fee.
A rude awakening
When I booked my flight on American, I was offered (as I am when booking on Southwest) text notifications in case of flight delays or changes. As you can see below, early on the morning of my flight, I received a reminder of the unchanged departure information regarding my flight. Given my relative’s condition, my phone was left on all the time, and when I heard the text alert, I grabbed the phone and was wide awake. Not a good way to start a long day.
The American web site had a customer feedback page, to which I sent the following message, after identifying my flight number and travel date:
To American’s credit, I received an e-mail response within a day, though it seemed to me a little generic, and possibly machine-generated. While it did use my name, and it contained a reference to the nature of my complaint, it did not promise any specific action, and it certainly offered me nothing for my inconvenience. At the foot of the email, I was invited to take a survey. After saying a I was pleased with the timeliness of the response, I was asked, and answered, the following:
In retrospect, I would have checked “Other,” and written in “all of the above.” After sharing the above with relatives and friends, I suggested that the result of my survey response would not be pursuit of my complaint about the late-night notification problem but, if anything, urging the customer service department to tweak their auto-response algorithm to produce more personalized responses to complaints. They all agreed.
Missing bereavement fares
Because both of my trips were booked at the last minute, the fares I paid were exorbitant; so high that, were I not comfortable financially, I would not have been able to attend my relative’s funeral. I realize that high last-minute fares (which are booked by people who have to travel) allow lower fares for those who can plan ahead. The airlines realize this too, but used to offer bereavement discounts for those who could provide proof they were traveling for specific reasons related to the death or illness of a loved one. Bringing back these fares, even if the qualification requirements would have to be somewhat onerous to prevent abuse, would go a long way to helping the airlines’ reputation, which in most cases could stand improvement. The only thing worse than being squished like a sardine in a middle coach seat with no legroom is to realize that the person on each side of you paid two thirds less for his or her ticket than you did.