Letters – November, 30 2004

Letters – November, 30 2004

AAdvantage On the Carpet

I noticed mention of the changes to the American Airlines upgrade policy on page 10 and page 13 of the [November] InsideFlyer. It appears that the full ramifications of this change are not fully appreciated by InsideFlyer.

I called American about purchasing two roundtrip tickets to Europe and was told that the fee is $250 and 25,000 miles for the upgrade each way. That means that a roundtrip would be $500 plus 50,000 per person. That effectively adds $1,000 to the fare for two people to upgrade roundtrip, with all the commensurate hassle of finding an upgrade seat. The articles in InsideFlyer made it appear as if the $250 would cover the whole trip.

Basically, a roundtrip airfare of $800 per person now becomes $1,300 per person, plus the 50,000 miles. What American has done is very disturbing and, in light of the Joe Brancatelli article, a major step in the wrong direction. They have effectively debased my miles again and made me wonder why I should bother with them any longer (both my wife and I are lifetime Platinums with almost 3 million miles each on American). If I can fly Aer Lingus in coach for so much less, or even Premier class for the same amount without worrying about trying to get upgrade seats, then American has just lost two more preferred customers. What the heck — if I have to pass through Heathrow to get somewhere, then why not Dublin?

I have written to [American Airlines CEO] Mr. Arpey, pointing out that this policy is misguided, and I would encourage InsideFlyer to send a stronger message to all flyers that this policy would be a mistake for any airline to make. Unless, of course, their goal is to lose good customers to smarter airlines like Aer Lingus or the more proactive discount airlines that are about to add premium-class seats to overseas destinations.

More and more I find myself in agreement with Mr. Brancatelli. The old legacy airlines, even the ones that may be a little smarter as evidenced by the fact that they haven’t declared bankruptcy yet … just don’t get it! American spokesman Tim Wagner spins as follows: “With fares so low, the disparity between discount and premium fares is too great to be offset by miles alone.” Aer Lingus shows that the problem with American’s disparity is not the “too low” coach fares but the “too high” premium fares! American is not likely to survive either the onslaught of smarter competitors or the ineptness of its management.
Dennis Gimian

Editor’s note: Dennis, great observation. Your comments are most welcome and we’re glad your comments to Mr. Arpey have joined ours. This topic has been around a long, long time since it was first introduced to members of the Continental OnePass program many years back. It’s not one that we have ever gotten accustomed to, just more accepting of (if indeed these moves are made to strengthen the temporary bind the airline industry is in). The AAdvantage program is very much aware that while I understand the change in revenue disparity, I also understand changes to these programs that are not done with a bigger picture in mind. As for our good friend Joe Brancatelli’s idea that Aer Lingus gets it right, well, until they can do that and still have hundreds of flights daily taking me to where I go, I’ll accept the fact that niche players always look nicer under glass.

Mr. Postman Please!

Here’s a copy of a letter I sent to United today. A flight attendant on my flight today behaved in a bizarre manner. Do the airlines not train their air crews any more?

Dear Sir or Madam:

I’m writing to tell you about the bizarre and offensive behavior of your cabin attendant, Ken, on a flight from Denver to Raleigh/Durham.

Before takeoff, he spoke over the intercom at an incredibly quick pace. He spoke so rapidly that I’m sure non-native English speakers could not have understood him. I could only make out about three-fourths of what he said.

He repeatedly described himself and the other flight attendant as “Ken and Barbie.” He said the names of the flight crew were “Captain America and Captain World.” Several times he said he could not remember the number of the flight and that it did not matter.

Here are some of the things he said:

“When the air mask comes down, you can stop screaming. If Barbie [the other flight attendant] tells you, you can stop screaming.”

“If you’re seated by a child or a person who acts like a child, put the mask over their face.”

“If you press the flight attendant button, we won’t come, but we were required to tell you how it works.”

“If you’re a smoker, you can go sit on the wing.”

“When the seat belt light goes off, hey, you can go use the potty.”

“[In the event of an emergency], the emergency path lights up, and that’s kinda cool.”

“There are 50 ways to leave your lover, but only four ways out of here.”

Before the plane began to taxi, he said, “You have 10 seconds to change seats.” (Then he began to sing the theme song from the game show “Jeopardy.”)

Once in the air, this flight attendant said the following:

“The use of little adult toys is permitted.”

“If we have any frequent travelers onboard we extend a handshake and a nice hug to you.”

Before serving liquor, he said, “We have party discounts for those of you who’d like to get started early. It’s always great to have a little boost before that meeting.”

I take good notes because I’m a magazine editor.

This employee should be fired for his outrageously inappropriate, insensitive and, frankly, scary comments, particularly about the possibility that the cabin might lose pressure at high altitude, causing passengers to scream.

I’ve flown a lot in my 45 years, and I’ve never witnessed anything as unprofessional as what I experienced today. It’s hard to believe that this man actually attended a serious training program designed to teach your air crews the importance of showing respect for your customers.

I wish you the best of luck, and I hope I never have to fly with this particular air crew member again.

George Spencer

From Near and Far

I am from Sydney, Australia. I would first like to say that I am a great fan of your travel magazine.

It seems to me that there are not a lot of articles on frequent flyer programs with different airlines. In case you are going to do one soon, my experience may help with your research.

Most airlines would try to maximize their profits, although they would rarely mention that in their frequent flyer program. In my case, I am in Cathay Pacific’s Asia Miles program. I have no problems whatsoever with the airline. Actually, Cathay Pacific is no doubt one of the best in the world, unrivalled in the world in many aspects in all its classes of travel.

I do, however, have a problem with the way they value their loyal customers. In March, I tried to book an upgrade in December for a trip to New York. They have placed me on their waitlist, even though it was 10 months in advance. At the time of booking, there was no one on their flight booking at all. And no seats were allocated at all for this award.

I understand that there are restrictions to upgrade awards as well as availability issues at that time of the year. When I e-mailed my concern to them, they sent me an automated reply, telling me that more seats will be available closer to flight date.

It is now only two months to the departure date, and I may have to cancel the trip altogether. They haven’t allocated the upgrade to me, and despite my several emails to them, they also sent me similar automatic replies.

Here is why I think their frequent flyer program is inferior to others: Being waitlisted does not mean you will get a seat. In my case, I still cannot book any tours or make any arrangements even though it is so close to the date.

It is simply bull**** (please forgive me for the wording) that they are using the excuse that they cannot do it in December. I have booked another trip in May next year, and the same thing [is happening]. Even though it is regarded as their very low season, and the upgrade request was made in July, all of the sectors are again waitlisted.

Cathay Pacific recently advertised very heavily on its now twice-daily flight from Hong Kong to New York. That is almost double the seats since July this year. And there are going to be three daily flights from Hong Kong to Sydney in November. Even if there are more people traveling, the increased number of flights surely [should] make things easier.

I have mentioned on two occasions that I am flexible with my booking, which means I can travel on dates close to my intended itinerary. On both of those occasions, I have those auto-replies back again.

Compared to other frequent flyer programs, or even oneworld partners, Asia Miles that are accumulated are only valid for three years. If you do not use the points by the expiry date, you have to pay up to renew the points. And this does not mean that you can use them because of limited availability.

I am sorry for going on so long, but I think that travelers in the world should have an informed choice of which airline would value their loyalty. Certainly, in my experience, Cathay Pacific does not make it, even though it is the best in the world.

Keep up the good work!

Michael To

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