Monday, December 20, 2010

And Just Like That.... My Seats Vanished



by Kate Collins

Losing a loved one just might be the most difficult and painful experience in anyone’s life. Losing a seat on an airplane doesn’t begin to compare. Except when they’re connected.

My husband and I were scheduled to take a trip in January, and as many of you know, he won’t be making that trip with me now. Because this destination is a special place for us, I’ve decided to keep my reservation and escape the cold for awhile.

I needed to cancel my husband’s reservation and ask for a refund on his ticket, so I called American Airlines customer service number and explained the situation, which always brings on a flood of tears. The woman was sympathetic and told me what to do -- fill out some forms and send in verification. (I can’t tell you how many forms I’ve had to fill out.) Then she switched me to the reservation desk where I once again had to explain the situation and ask that my husband’s ticket be canceled.

During this process, I had my reservations pulled up on the AA website, and as I watched, the seats that we had chosen for the four flights –two there and two back --disappeared. Vanished. SNAP. Gone.

I politely told the woman that I was still going to need my seats (in coach, by the way). She told me, not so politely, that I couldn’t have those seats anymore because I wasn’t a GOLD member. I explained that I used the same Advantage credit card that my husband did, and flew every flight with him, so I had helped him earn those GOLD points. Furthermore, I had asked for his miles to be rolled into my account. Wouldn’t that help?

She repeated in an even sharper tone that HE was a GOLD member and I was not! Period.

Trying extremely hard to remain polite, I said I still needed seats. So she put me in the very back of the plane on 3 of the 4 flights and informed me that on the 4th, I would have to ask for a seat assignment at the gate because the seats were all taken.

“But I had a seat on that flight. How can I NOT have a seat there now?”
“You’re not a GOLD member. That’s a GOLD row. The rest of the seats are taken.”
“So my husband passes away and you’re taking away my seat, too?”
“Yes.”

I hung up crying. Later, I called back and talked to someone at the Advantage desk, who explained that there were indeed seats on that plane, but the rows were being held for GOLD members. They won’t open up until 90 minutes prior to boarding. I’d have to ask for a seat then. I guess I should start praying now that there will still be one open.

Over the past few months I’ve had to talk to many people at banks, credit card companies, and other businesses to close down my husband’s accounts. In all cases, they were kind and helpful. In all cases, that is, except this one.

So thank you, American Airlines, for proving once again that we are at your mercy. Captive audiences. That we mean nothing more than how much more money you can squeeze from us. And just so you know, I was with my husband on every one of those flights that earned him GOLD status. I pushed the button authorizing payment on his credit card, too. So have a jolly holiday, American Airlines, and hope that one day you don’t find yourself without a seat because you’ve lost your GOLD member. And yes, I’m aware of the double entendre and I still mean it.

Are all airlines that heartless? Have you had any experiences like that?

Kate, still fuming