One EXP at YYZ - A Tale of Drama! Cunning! Intrigue!

Discussion in 'American Airlines | AAdvantage' started by ChicagoEric, Jul 10, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. ChicagoEric
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    ChicagoEric Silver Member

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    OK, maybe the title oversells it a bit. This is a story of AA ticketing rules, the EXP desk and last minute ticket changes. It is not important in any way.

    The story I propose to tell, is, however, that of an interesting evening, and, I submit, a tale worth telling because:

    - I really am not sure if any of the actors in our drama behaved badly but I suspect someone did
    - I further suspect that someone was me
    - But it may have been the EXP desk
    - Or possibly the gate agent
    - I honestly don’t know entirely why things work at American; Milepoint knows all and may be able to explain it to me

    Allow me to set the stage for our drama. There are two evening AA flights from YYZ to ORD. One at 6:25 and one at 7:45. Now, and hour and 20 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but if I make the earlier flight I can see my son before he goes to bed. If I take the later one I’ll miss him. No, the world will not end if I take the later flight, but I travel a lot and so seeing the little man is important to me. Establishing motive, here.

    I called mid-afternoon and was told by the ever-efficient EXP desk that there were 5 seats on the 6:25PM flight. I had booked AAirpass last minute, so, as I understand it, the equivalent of a full Y fare. For those unfamiliar with AAirpass, economy pulls from Y inventory and is always changeable for no fee at any time. Since there were 5 seats, and perhaps because of some subconscious premonition of my impending inability to negotiate Toronto traffic, I did not change my ticket.

    Our tale begins in earnest, as do so many tragic dramas, with said bad Toronto traffic. I had managed to get on a highway going the wrong way, led astray by the not-in-this-case-particularly-aptly-named Neverlost system in my Hertz rental car (sidebar: my experiment cheating on Avis? Not so successful). After much quarreling between me and Miss Neverlost it became clear that I was going to be cutting it close for the earlier of two evening flights home. So I still did not change my ticket.

    For once, though, YYZ was not a mess. Breezed through passport control and security and actually made it to the gate by 6:00pm. The gate was very full and the agents were clearly harried. Given the proximity of the two flights they were putting people on the waiting list but also saying “we’re fully booked – all seats are taken.”

    I made my way to the front of the line. As I pulled my ticket out and started to ask about getting on the flight the gate agent cut me off with her ‘fully booked’ speech.

    Me: Do you have any seats to sell?
    Agent: We’re booked 50 out of 50 – every seat is filled.
    Me: But can you sell me a ticket – there may be no-shows.
    Agent: No.

    So this was when I did something maybe bad. I called the EXP desk.

    Me: Hi, are there any seats on the 6:25pm departure?
    EXP Agent/Imp: I see three seats to sell. I can’t assign you a seat, you’ll get that at the gate.
    Me: Full disclosure, the gate agent is saying she is full and can’t sell me a ticket.
    EXP Agent/Imp: She would say that, wouldn’t she? [mischievious giggle]
    Me: Umm…
    EXP Agent/Imp: It’s done. You’re on the flight.

    At this point I had a little “what have I done?” moment. I sheepishly returned t the counter, where they were at this point boarding.

    Me: Umm, the EXP desk said they were able to clear me.
    Agent: EXP desk can’t clear standbys.
    Me: Umm, they actually changed my ticket. I’m confirmed on this flight.

    At this point, the agent went apoplectic. She started making calls, glaring at me while describing the injustice of what the EXP desk had done. Done to her personally, at least as she described it. And she left me with the distinct impression that she thought I had done something illicit.

    Agent: Now I’m going to have to pay you to get off the flight.
    Me: Huh?

    Now, the ending is a bit anticlimactic, but it perhaps holds the key to all my questions. You see, in the end there WAS a no-show and so there was a seat for me.

    So in the end, perhaps the EXP desk was correct. They are allowed to oversell flights for a reason and my experience proved why.

    But still - - a few thoughts and questions:

    - I didn’t know you could change/buy tickets so close to flight-time
    - Did the gate agent lie to me, or, more charitably, ignore AA rules to make her life easier?
    - Did the EXP desk behave badly when they knew that the gate agent had told me she didn’t want any more seats sold?
    - Did I act unethically, given the fact that I knew the gate agent didn’t want to sell any more seats on the flight?
    - And what of the power of the gate agent? The EXP desk? Is the old adage that gate agents are all-powerful bunk?

    A postscript: I did, in fact, make it home in time to put the little man to sleep. But there was a very dirty diaper waiting for me – so if you think I behaved badly, there was a little bit of karmic retribution.
     
  2. Travel2Food
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    Travel2Food Silver Member

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    I had a similar experience out of BWI with IROPS. And I did end up on the flight - gate agent just couldn't clear one of the stanbys that she had. She did not make any phone calls, but was clearly not happy. Had BWI accepted mobile boarding passes, it might have made the situation less tense.

    That said...

    1) Yes, you can buy and/or change tickets that close to flight time. Usually has to be done at the airport, but some EXP phone agents know how to do it.
    2) Don't know. Had there been standbys, they would have cleared onto the flight. The flight may very well have had every seat assigned - I would have expected the GA to put you on a standby list if they couldn't clear you.
    3) At 20-25 minutes before flight time it's supposed to be under gate control.
    4) As I said, I've done it before during IROPS. I wouldn't make a habit of doing it, and frankly I wouldn't expect them to do it for me that close in.
    5) At boarding time, the GA does have the power.... and they're the ones that have to deal with any bumps.
     
  3. NYBanker
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    NYBanker Gold Member

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    You did nothing wrong here. EXP did nothing wrong here. The GA, while gruff, did what could be reasonably expected in light of the pressures they are under.

    You got on the earlier flight. Though the steps that unfolded weren't as anyone would like, the right outcome was reached.

    On full/overbooked flights, irops and other crazy situations (more the norm, less unusual?), GAs are under a lot of pressure. They are strongly encouraged not to be the one holding up the flight. This GA was looking at 50 seats sold out of 50 seats in total, and coming pretty close to scheduled departure time.

    I suspect GAs have all been burned once or twice - someone comes up to them to try to get on the flight, the GA says they'll try, and the pax's ticket is a mess - multiple carriers, international locations, etc, etc - and moving them over to the flight the GA is working turns out to be a nightmare - or impossible in the timeframe needed to get the flight out. Plus, there's a bevvy of other pax, many of which want to switch to a window seat, want to know if nuts are on board, if a wheelchair can be arranged at arrival, or who knows what else. Yours sounds like it was an easy one to tackle...and seeing EXP and AAirpass on your BP for the later flight could have tipped the GA off that it would be easy, but clearly didn't.

    Indeed, carriers oversell flights all the time. Just because it's 50 out of 50 and 25 minutes till departure doesn't mean AA won't sell a ticket. The agent probably should have moved you (because it was showing Y availability) according to a technical procedure manual somewhere, but battlefield rules dictated not to.

    So, while the GA could have been more accommodating, in light of the circumstances (50/50, 0:25 to go), their behavior doesn't seem out of line. You were generous in disclosing the EXP desk what transpired at the gate. I would have simply looked for availability on ExpertFlyer.com, and if it showed any Y availability, called EXP and asked for the switch.

    Had it come to this, you had a confirmed Y seat...and are EXP. AA's priority for involuntary denied boarding would not have put you at risk for not getting on the flight (unless every other person on the plane was also EXP on a Y fare). If it was 51/50, even if the other 50 had boarded, if you refused to 'volunteer,' the agent should have sought volunteers on the plane, and barring a volunteer, involuntarily pulled someone off (on a low fare, w/o status).

    If I were you standing there and it came to the GA going on board to do an invol, and there was a flight an hour or so later, I would have taken the VDB compensation and just gone back to my original flight....a few hundo richer I guess. If it were an optional change (which sounds like it was), I wouldn't muck up someone else's travel with an IDB. If, on the other hand, I needed to be somewhere as a matter of urgency, then damn right I would have had the GA pull someone off.

    NB: I don't mean to diminish bedtimes with the kids...I jump through as many hoops as possible to get home for those, too. Once I flew from SYD-JFK via asia (on CX) to get home 6 hours sooner, so I could make dinner and bedtime (after being away for a week), versus the shorter, but much later departing, LAX routing. But I probably wouldn't ruin someone else's day to do it.
     
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  4. Microwave
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    Microwave Silver Member

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    This is a great point, and important to keep in mind: the OP was an AAirpass customer (so already relatively high revenue) and EXP, so if the flight was showing Y inventory, I'm inclined to say that the GA should have given said inventory to the OP--in addition to accounting for no-shows, there's another reason full-fare inventory is available on overbooked flights: AA makes enough on a Y ticket to offset the risk that someone may have to be given VDB or IDB compensation. Since the OP had to get it from the EXP desk, the GA was further off base to suggest the OP would be IDB, since his status and fare should have put him at the bottom of the list, not the top.
     
  5. aamilesslave
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    aamilesslave Silver Member

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    I thought IDB was based on check in time? If so, wouldn't the OP likely been the last to check in?
     
  6. Microwave
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    Microwave Silver Member

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    Based on my reading of the IDB order on FT, as the OP was EXP and full-fare coach, he would have been well down the IDB list, if not at the bottom.
     
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  7. NYBanker
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    NYBanker Gold Member

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    The GA Probably should have offered the sellable Y inventory, but, with 25 minutes to departure, certainly battlefield rules start to apply - some ticketing changes seem to take more than 25 minutes to work out, a can of worms GAs can't afford to open.

    I'm sure there is a written policy on this. I wonder which trumps the other in AA's official mind. Regardless, I think I understand the ga's situation and don't think their approach to the initial encounter was inappropriate in light of the deadlines they're under. It sounds like the second interaction could have been a bit friendlier.
     
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  8. NYBanker
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    NYBanker Gold Member

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    I can't really think of anything that triggers off of check in time as the primary decider any more.
     
  9. aamilesslave
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    aamilesslave Silver Member

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    Check in time is certainly a factor for IDB, but I do not know if there are other factors (status, fare class, etc.) that a poster upthread suggests. Check in time still matters for standby and for SWU upgrades that do not clear in advance. The only related change in at least the last 10 years that I know of is that check in time no longer is a factor for sticker upgrades.
     
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  10. NYBanker
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    NYBanker Gold Member

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    Are you sure it matters for idb? I thought this was really a fare class/status decision, and time wasn't a primary factor--perhaps a tie breaker if fare and status are the same---but far from primary.
     
  11. ChicagoEric
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    ChicagoEric Silver Member

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    I like the concept that "battlefield rules start to apply" . . . certainly true.
     

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